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Professional vs home cookery


Malawry
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I have one foot in professional cookery and one in home cookery. Yes, I cook for other people as my career, and I'm accustomed to cranking out meals for 35 to 60 girls on my own, but I feel like I approach my professional cookery in much the same way as I do my home cookery. I sit around dreaming up what I'd like to eat and I poll the people I feed (the girls I work for, my spouse, the friends I'm inviting over) to see what they want. I read a couple of recipes if I'm rusty or making something new, and then I go make it. The only real difference feels like the amount of mise-en-place (mental and physical) I invest in the process.

This seems surprising to me because I'd heard so many contrary experiences from professional cooks before I shifted to cooking as primary career. I heard that professional cooks never wanted to cook in their spare time, that they didn't enjoy it and were too tired from their work to be interested, that they didn't enjoy eating so much after working with food all day. Some of this can be true for me (I do rarely cook dinner after a full workday, and I'm just not that hungry after a day of tasting and working). But I'm always thinking about what else I'd like to cook, and when I might have time to do it.

Upon reflection, maybe there are differences besides mise-en-place in my personal approaches to home and professional cookery. I work harder and faster at work, where I have set mealtimes as deadlines to meet...I am less likely to take time for a perfect brunoise, I don't listen to music while I work, and I act like I'm behind the eight-ball even if I have all the time in the world for something. (I figure I can clean or make a special dessert if I have extra time.) At home, I try to make everything as perfect as possible...I pay attention to plating and I enjoy setting a beautiful table for my guests. I love a leisurely day in my home kitchen, love having the chance to linger over details that would only annoy me at work, even enjoy washing the dishes without having to set up a three-part sink.

We've touched on the differences between professional and home cookery in many threads around here, but I don't think we've talked specifically about how they compare in this forum. How do you perceive professional and home cookery? Are they different? How?

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Professional cooking and home cooking are large categories, with some overlap. What you're doing for your girls is what I might call professional home cooking: you're acting in loco parentis and preparing dinner for what is effectively a large family. I imagine that experience is radically different from what you saw when working the line at a restaurant, where you're cranking out a la minute dishes one at a time for several hours a night. That kind of cooking on a restaurant line is so completely unrelated to home cooking that it's barely recognizable as cooking at all -- to the uninitiated observer restaurant cooking looks more like a bizarre sport or ritual.

I think it's also important to remember that your background is rather different from that of most professional cooks: you entered the profession a little older and a lot wiser and better-educated than most; it's not a blue-collar job for you. You're not working in some institutional cafeteria or on a Carnival cruise ship. And most sorority and fraternity cooks don't have your enthusiasm -- your girls are extremely lucky.

One thing I can say about most professional restaurant cooks is that they eat like shit: pizza, burgers, anything with fat, sugar, and salt. And they rarely cook at home, especially the young macho guys who make up 99% of the brigade in restaurants the world over.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One thing I can say about most professional restaurant cooks is that they eat like shit: pizza, burgers, anything with fat, sugar, and salt. And they rarely cook at home, especially the young macho guys who make up 99% of the brigade in restaurants the world over.

in the late 80s, early 90s a friend of mine was a chef at the best 5 star chinese restaurant in new delhi (the teahouse of the august moon at the taj palace hotel); his preferred meal when at home consisted of ham sandwiches.

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When you mention the 30-60 people if they are all eating basically the same thing you are cooking like they do in institutions or catering. A close offshoot of home cooking just on a much larger scale. Were the rub comes in is if you have to prepare say 5 different entrées for the same number it night be closer to a short burst at a restaurant. If 3 of them want breakfast, 10 dinners and the rest several lunch items, short order cooking.

I think a lot also depends on the environment you are cooking in. Working a station at a restaurant is a lot different than slinging hash at a diner. Even working multiple stations depending on what’s needed can give it a different feel. Some people like having to do the same thing night after night while others like some variety.

As an example I worked at a couple of pizza joints. Essentially the same menu and responsibilities at each place but different environments. Cook and plate all non-pizza foods. Subs, sandwiches, Cheessteaks and some pasta dishes along with the burger and fry type stuff. One a boardwalk stand by the ocean and the other an air-conditioned kitchen in a joint outside an army base. Same sort of hours and foods but each had a different feel to it and a slightly different approach.

At the beach it felt more relaxed and like you were hosting a cookout. At the Hub it felt like you actually did something professional. About the only major difference was at the beach it was paper plates and boats, while at the Hub it was real plateware. Funny how the little things change how you feel about veal Parm.

Living hard will take its toll...
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...

We've touched on the differences between professional and home cookery in many threads around here, but I don't think we've talked specifically about how they compare in this forum. How do you perceive professional and home cookery? Are they different? How?

I have never cooked professionally and have never aspired to do so but what has surprised me, from reading various threads, is the amount of pre-cooking that seems to go on in even the better restaurants. I am thinking particularly of a recent thread in which Fat Guy noted that restaurants often pre-sear steaks and then finish them for service. I guess what I am getting at is that there are many things that home cooks might learn from how things are done in a professional kitchen that could make it easier for them to make more complex meals without that horrid hassle of trying to cook multiple dishes and keeping all the balls in the air at the same time. (ouch that's a very long sentence!).

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Certainly my current job is different in many ways from my stint as a line cook at a fine dining restaurant. Meal service is not driven by the influx of tickets, which ebb and flow...and I make everything, not just the salads and fried apps or whatever. But even when I worked on a line I was always thinking of food, talking about food. The pastry chef and I both usually cooked nice meals on Sunday when the restaurant was closed and then came in Monday morning eager to discuss what we did and how it came out. Some of the line cooks enjoyed making staff meals of whatever they loved to eat...I did the same for my coworkers a few times.

Some professional cooks eat like shit, but others don't. It's true that there were plenty of McDonald's runs and pizza deliveries, but people also ate lots of salads, many pieces of fish off the fish station, the jerk chicken pasta where I worked. (I was more amazed that they'd spend money on food when they could eat for free than I was at the content of the food they'd spend money on.)

When most people think of professional cookery they're talking about working on the line of a restaurant. But there are many professionals like myself that do not work in restaurants...that work in labs in New Jersey developing foods, that work in cafeterias, that work as personal chefs, that work as executive chefs. Where do the people who do these jobs fall along the home-professional chef continuum?

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It may not be a totally straight continuum, but for example I'd say a personal chef falls in the home-cooking overlap zone whereas a food chemist/flavorist-type chef is at the extreme opposite end of the continuum from a home cook.

Malawry, I don't mean to sound like I'm trying to define you as abnormal but, well, you sort of are. And so are the people you worked with at the restaurant. The very small subset of restaurants where the top culinary students do their externships are the bastions of caring about food -- the cooks at those places are the honors students, intellectuals, and Renaissance people of the industry. They're the few who are likely to pursue cooking 24/7, save up in order to travel to Europe to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, etc. But if you go one step down in the pyramid -- to the normal restaurants that actually feed a significant percentage of the population -- you're going to find an overwhelming majority of cooks who are essentially laborers, mostly young and male, and who don't have the kind of enthusiasm for the enterpries that you do.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ive been cooking for a living for over 25 years now and I love it. I also do 90% of the cooking at home and I love it. Cooking good food for people just makes me happy.Maybe its a zen thing but working with food is like meditation for me.

As far as eating food at work I have always done pretty good and so have my employees. I let my staff make themselves breakfast , lunch and dinner with the products in house and it works out pretty well as theft is almost nil by following this practice. As far as my eating habits well working around food all day can be tough on the choices. I tend to go in trends for short periods of time though I do remember one (about 3 months strait) time I used to eat a French Dip Sandwich made with leftover deli shaved prime rib piled high on a butter grilled sourdough french roll . OK , Im hungry now.Later, Doug...................

The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity!

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When I line cooked years ago, I never wanted to eat anything we had on the menu after my shift. Give me an apple or something no one has touched.

Becoming the chef meant tasting everything. My cooks always brought me samples or I walked through the kitchen with tasting spoons. Once on a day off, I felt an unfamiliar pain in my stomach only to realize it was hunger. I hadn't eaten that day since I wasn't at work.

Cooking at home has always been for fun and love. A glass of wine, good music, getting to sit down and enjoy the meal. I don't think I put any more or any less energy, devotion or desire for perfection at home or work. It's cool to be able to share with friends the skills I've learned at work.

I was fortunate many years ago to be working next to a cook who was mangling a duck while boning it. The chef came by and asked why the mess. The cook said it was going into a soup or something like that where it didn't matter. The chef said something I've never forgotten. He suggested that every time you do something - even as simple as dicing an onion you're going to puree, that you do it as perfectly as possible so that when you really need to do it perfectly, it's just second nature.

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The biggest difference between professional and home cooking is this..when you step away from the stove with a steaming heavy pot of cooked pasta, heading for the sink to drain it, at work people instinctively get out of your way. At home, they just stand there and wait for you to say, "Excuse me."

In 17 years of living with me, I've never been able to make my wife understand that I behave the same way at home as I do at work. I'm still working, this is what I do, get the hell out of the way. This is not relaxing. If I want to relax when I cook, I'll cook when no one is home. Otherwise, it's just like work. No, it is work.

It amazes me how many people stumble through life with the peripheral vision turned off. If you weren't aware of where everybody was, and learn how to tuck in at your station when someone came behind you, you'd be burned and scarred.

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I think one of the basic differences between professional and home cooking is the strict prep work and making sure the product is exactly the same every time it is served.

There is no room for spontaneity in the professional kitchen, as a rule.

The attention to detail in maintaining portion control, time in, up and out, is important if the house is to make a profit. One of my teachers used to carry calipers to measure the dice and every piece had to be identical......

I began as a baker (Dunwoodie school, Minneapolis) in the mid 1950s and after I graduated worked in the bakery owned by my mother. I loved baking then and still do although I changed professions in the 60s and worked in the medical field.

Besides my day job I began working part time as a pesonal chef after I took some culinary classes and I did this for quite a few years, until arthritis in my knees made it impossible. I also worked from time to time in a friend's restaurant when his sous chef was out with a "migraine" (hangover).

I love good food and still love to cook and although I live alone I prepare a meal the same as I would for guests.

I still do a lot of baking, mostly breads, and experiment with new recipes.

I also have developed some new recipes (at least ones that I have not been able to find in my collection of cookbooks) and have also modernized some very old recipes - in particular a dessert mentioned in one of my great-grandmother's journals when she was travelling in France in 1871. It is a bit complicated and I doubt that very many home cooks would ever bother to try to prepare it, however it makes a beautiful presentation. Essentially it is an egg custard surrounding brioche buns that have a marzipan filling. It takes two days to prepare which is why few home cooks would bother. It is a bread pudding carried to the nth degree.........

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The biggest difference between professional and home cooking is this..when you step away from the stove with a steaming heavy pot of cooked pasta, heading for the sink to drain it, at work people instinctively get out of your way. At home, they just stand there and wait for you to say, "Excuse me."

in this spirit i'll also add that i suspect that it is the rare professional cook who is expected to do the dishes, clean up after herself or put the leftovers away in the refrigerator. this is not just a cutesy comment: there are many things i could cook at home but don't because the thought of either the prep or the cleanup or both is too offputting.

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As far as my eating habits well working around food all day can be tough on the choices. I tend to go in trends for short periods of time though I do remember one (about 3 months strait) time I used to eat a French Dip Sandwich made with leftover deli shaved prime rib piled high on a butter grilled sourdough french roll . OK , Im hungry now.Later, Doug...................

Ya!!...; that is it exactly, you are eating on the run at work, so you go for the straight line, so sometimes that something worked, you go with it for a while, mine for a while was the pork loin for my poor boys heated wtih creole sauce, put on rice and sides of red beans. God I loved it, if I ws really hungry i would grill some chorizo.

steve

Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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in this spirit i'll also add that i suspect that it is the rare professional cook who is expected to do the dishes, clean up after herself or put the leftovers away in the refrigerator. this is not just a cutesy comment: there are many things i could cook at home but don't because the thought of either the prep or the cleanup or both is too offputting.

Are you kidding me? "The rare professional chef....." When I cook at home it's almost always food I shopped for and paid for, lugged into the house, put away, prepared, served, cleaned up, and emptied the trash and sorted the recycling stuff, and lugged it out to the curb on Sunday night. The women I live with lack the muscle groups that professional chefs use to nourish other human beings.

One daughter lives on macaroni and cheese, won't eat meat, but makes an exception for Bell and Evans chicken wings in Texas Pete hot sauce. I don't know what the other daughter eats, as she is hardly ever home and won't be eating much for the next week or so after having her tongue pierced over my objections today. 15 next Friday!

My wife will eat almost anything I cook, but comments on it. I can be upstairs and smell when she has the fire too hot under a saute pan. I can't go in the kitchen when she cooks, and she doesn't want me there. She'll cleanup after herself, but in what I don't know is either a fit of exhaustion, or passive aggression, leaves one pan soaking in the sink.

She absolutely hates it when I freelance something. Wants to see a cookbook there. Doesn't understand that a guy who worked all those years as a saute cook can improvise all night long. I can make a meal out of the dregs of the cabinet and refrigerator, not swill, understand, but a box of pasta, a little oil, whatever veg and cheese or gardenburger is hanging around. Won't kill you, tastes ok, but it isn't grilled shrimp, and I am unfairly judged by the amount and frequency of grilled shrimp that comes out of the kitchen.

I was trying to explain to daughter no. 1 the other night how a person can have an intense intellectual interest in a subject, with Fergus Henderson propped on my belly in bed, and an emotional disconnect from it, as in NOT wanting to cook anymore for people who whine, won't eat it, or don't come away from the computer card game when I say the leg of lamb with roast tourneed potatoes, haricot verts with garlic, and the six dollar jar of mint jelly is ready, served on the damn Wild Rose antique platter I bought on Ebay, carved with a Hammacher Schlemmer horn handled knife. I'm into the accessories.

This myth of dinner being a family time, with everyone helping out and Buffy and Jody setting the table while I sip my orange juice and she her laughing Kangaroo or whatever plonk it is this week...don't worry dear, I'll clean up tonight. You go watch the Star Trek marathon....I'm telling you..it wears me out. At least in restaurants you get paid for it.

And speaking of restaurants..there is a comment somewhere above that there is no room for straying off the reservation as far as what's being plated. I'm sure that's true, but in my last job, some time ago now, I was able to go out into the dining room, chin with the customer and make up their dinner. Not for everybody, but I had people who egged me on, and that was a lot of fun. To a certain extent I can do the same thing now at the bakery in the earthycrunchy grocery store. I go way out of my way for people and collected a nice prize this morning for a month long contest for customer service.

Edited by McDuff (log)
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I'm a working personal chef, so I cook professionally in homes, other peoples' homes, essentially a different home each time I walk out the door. I make a customized menu for each client, go shopping, usually prepare four servings of 9-10 dishes about 95% from scratch, package them all for freezing, clean up after myself, and get out of there in about 5 hours.

Beside being a good cook, the main skill needed to do what I do is an extreme level of organization. I find that this carries over to my home cooking, allowing me to try more complicated and new dishes at one time that I would have dared to before. I now do a lot of mise, and as much advance prep as possible, when cooking at home. And I do come home from work and cook a nice dinner almost every day. Like someone else above, when I'm not actually cooking I'm often thinking about cooking, reading about cooking, or talking about food.

I still choke on calling myself a food professional, since this is actually my third career and I have no training, or even restaurant experience. But finally, after 2 1/2 years in business, I realized "hey, people pay me to cook, a lot of people pay me to cook, so by gum I must be a professional."

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Yeah, thats the spirit,eating on the run is what often happens.I remember one place where the prep used to take a bunch of scraps and including chilis and run this stuff through the buffalo chopper and make us cooks a bunch of burritos rapped in foil so all we had to do was plop them in the oven for a bit and chow.

Ive seen cooks come up with some realy wierd concoctions also just to brake up the monotony of the meals they prepare for others ! I know some chefs & owners who realy get upset by this behavior as it is against healht dpt regs but get real! In a busy house a cook might have time to use the bathroom during there shift let alone have a break and a meal.

If anybody doubts this than go to a local popular restaurant on mothers day and take a gander at the employees . If you ask one of them when they get a break the normal response would be when the restaurant closes.

Yeah, and I love this biz too.......... Doug.........

The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity!

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Having been a manager of a resturant back in the college days...I find that being a home cook allows for much more creativty. As was pointed out by others, a resturant is all about portion control, cosistiency, and speed. No room for "inventing" or trying new things. For most home cooks (I do not have a culinary degree, so I'm only a cook), its all about creativity and trying new things. Much more to learn and try.

So...for me...I prefer to be a home cook at this point in my life. Home cooking has provided one thing for me thats very special...my likds range from 15 to 22 (all 4 of em'). They are moving out on thier own and starting to cook for themselves. Have two of your kids come into the kitchen and help make dinner (without being asked) is an unbelievable experience!

Mark

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in this spirit i'll also add that i suspect that it is the rare professional cook who is expected to do the dishes, clean up after herself or put the leftovers away in the refrigerator. this is not just a cutesy comment: there are many things i could cook at home but don't because the thought of either the prep or the cleanup or both is too offputting.

?

Granted it's been a decade since I've been in a professional kitchen, but I think you're just wrong.

Maybe you can just walk out after service if you're the head/executive chef, but any line cook who walks away from his station without it being spotless, without all food being properly covered/wrapped and put away, and without cleaning the work tools, is asking to get severely beat down.

Someone gave me a copy of "The Soul of a Chef" that I've been reading. The third story in it is about The French Laundry and talks about Keller cleaning up his own prep station and sweeping floors.

Doing dishes is about the only thing on that list that cooks tend not to do (although I've done those as well while working line).

For me, the big difference is a matter of resources. I just don't have all the stuff in my house that I had in restaurant kitchens. No salamander, no convection oven, no giant griddle, no brick oven, no 6 top range, no rotisserie, no gyro spit, etc. (not all in the same kitchen). Not to mention the limited number of ingredients in my house as opposed to restos

I still cook like I am in a resto kitchen - my wife hates watching me cook at home because I'm always moving at a slightly controlled panic level high speed.

What restaurant work taught me for home use?

1) PREP!

2) Timing dishes

3) PREP!

4) How to improvise recipe replacements

5) Did I mention prep?

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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in this spirit i'll also add that i suspect that it is the rare professional cook who is expected to do the dishes, clean up after herself or put the leftovers away in the refrigerator. this is not just a cutesy comment: there are many things i could cook at home but don't because the thought of either the prep or the cleanup or both is too offputting

But on the other hand mongo's claim is perfectly valid: at a restaurant you do (hopefully) have a full brigade of people contributing to each plate - many restaurants, you've not only got dishwashers to wash your pots, you might have one cook doing the meat, one veg, or you've got prep cooks doing half your mise - whether it's haute cuisine or McDonalds, much of what you put out, you've gotten help from others. You're part of a well-coordinated team. Home cooking solo, absolutely you might be tempted to make the plates a little simpler, to save yourself some of that extra work. Would Thomas Keller go home and serve his wife a 9 course tasting menu every night? I would hope not.

Seems like professional cooking is much about building flavors, building complexity, where home cooking (eGulleteers excepted) often tends towards the more simple, the better.

Emily Kaiser

www.emilykaiser.com

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all the critiques of my post are perfectly valid, but i was thinking more of "chefs" than line-cooks. but do even line-cooks peel and chop their own vegetables? it isn't just a matter of what happens after you cook but also before. if i had 2 people in my kitchen ready to peel and chop everything for me i'd be making pretty fancy meals every day.

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I think Emily's critique of my critique of mongo's post (I think that's the right order :smile: ) is spot on.

Mongo - While prep cooks will do most of the basics for mise, almost all line cooks will do the more complex/demanding prep work themselves, especially when it involves expensive ingredients!

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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The biggest difference between professional and home cooking is this..when you step away from the stove with a steaming heavy pot of cooked pasta, heading for the sink to drain it, at work people instinctively get out of your way. At home, they just stand there and wait for you to say, "Excuse me."

In 17 years of living with me, I've never been able to make my wife understand that I behave the same way at home as I do at work. I'm still working, this is what I do, get the hell out of the way. This is not relaxing. If I want to relax when I cook, I'll cook when no one is home. Otherwise, it's just like work. No, it is work.

It amazes me how many people stumble through life with the peripheral vision turned off. If you weren't aware of where everybody was, and learn how to tuck in at your station when someone came behind you, you'd be burned and scarred.

This happens to me too. My fiancee has the slightly annoying habit of standing either in front of the sink or next to the range when I'm cooking. Usually when I'm plating, I'll pull the saute pan off the range and grab whatever's cooking with tongs. She doesn't move unless I say "Hot coming over!"

She always tells me I'm not at work. I may not be, but after so many years of cooking professionally, it's ingrained. If I slip up and not let people know I'm coming down line with something sharp, heavy, or just going to grab stock, either they're getting injured, or I am. And I don't wanna work that guy's station too.

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Some types of professional cooks, including me and Abra, do ALL the dishes and ALL the cleanup every day.

Fortunately my girls eat their lunch off of paper plates, so it's only dinner dishes that I have to handle for them. But I do all my prep dishes too...and believe me, I do whatever I can to minimize them and work neat so my end-of-day work is not so overwhelming. I do the same thing at home.

I say "behind" and "hot coming through" at home all the time...but since I work alone I never need to say it at work. Which is nice...this also means that when I put down my good knife nobody picks it up.

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I think that one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed here is that when you are cooking on the line you are pretty much following orders (no pun intended). Someone out there has told you what item on the menu he or she wants to eat and you must prepare it the way it is always prepared, unless told otherwise. Cooking at home is not the same thing at all. You spend time thinking about what you might want to prepare and how you might want to do it. If you have guests you think about how they would best enjoy this thing you have decided to serve up. That is what makes cooking at home much more fun and also why I think telling the chef to prepare what he thinks you would like makes sence in some cases.

HC

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