Restaurant Menu Mastery
So at my part-time job in a Chinese restaurant, I am being transitioned away from the dish pit to focus more toward the food prepping and kitchen stuff. In particular, the main addition to this change will be working the ‘cold station’ of the restaurant’s very compact kitchen. I will be learning how to read the incoming tickets and then setting up the dishes so the cooks can quickly whip up the food in a timely manner.
On Friday evening, I had a crash course on this station.
OK, so when I say this restaurant has a very compact kitchen to work with, I am not exaggerating. I had more space to move around in back at my college dorm. Honestly, it is amazing how this little kitchen can produce so much food, which goes to show why this restaurant has prospered for so many years.
So below is a quick map I drew of what the kitchen looks like (be jealous of my Paint skills).
The “cold side” takes care of reading the ticket orders and then proceeds to place the required elements onto setup plates so the cooks on the “hot side” of the kitchen know what they need to make. Done correctly, hardly any words are exchanged.
So anyway, I need to master what every item on the menu entails. Below is one-third of the menu …
XIAO CHI “small eats” $3 each - a rotating selection of primarily vegan cold nibbles
CALAMARI RINGS or SESAME PRAWNS $9 – calamari rings or sesame coated prawns with sweet chili dipping sauce
DUMPLINGS (JIAOZI) $7 – seven steamed pork & cabbage dumplings with ‘red sauce’
WOK ROASTED VEGETABLES $8 – potatoes, broccoli, carrots, etc. with a side of ‘furu’ dressing
BON BON CHICKEN or PRESSED TOFU $6 – carrot & cucumber shreds, chcken or tofu topped with sesame dressing
ANTS CLIMBING TREES $7 – glass noodles, pork, chile, garlic & sichuan peppercorn
SOUP DU JOUR $1.50 cup, $3.00 bowl, $7 family bowl
VEGETABLE FRIED RICE $7 family bowl
JASMINE RICE $1 PER PERSON
So let’s say a ticket comes to the window asking for an order of dumplings. I have to see if the ticket is for in-house dining or if it is to go. This is the easy part. For this dish, seven dumplings are required, so I have to set seven dumplings onto a setup plate. I then get the dumpling garnish ready by getting a bowl or to-go box and setting a bed of cabbage shred at the bottom with a few bok choy leaves for a bit of a salad. I then pass it toward the braised side of the kitchen. When the dumplings are prepared, I then top the dish off with our homemade dumpling sauce before sending the food out to the window to be served.
OK, another example would be lemon chicken (one of my favorite dishes at the restaurant, by the way). Lemon chicken requires eight ounces of crunchy chicken to be weighed out. I then throw in four lemon slices into the setup pan with the chicken so the cook knows that the dish is lemon chicken (remember – done properly, very few words are needed to communicate in this kitchen). The lemon chicken garnish is a bed of cabbage shred and then two slices of tomatoes on both sides of the plate.
Basically, every dish has a lot of random things that you need to recall on the fly in the heat of a busy service. The ticket system abbreviates most of the menu items (e.g. Yu Xiang Qiezi, Chinese eggplant in hot garlic sauce, becomes YXQ on the ticket).
It thus becomes a game where you have to remember what goes with which dish, whether this dish has baby corn, or whether I need to cut tofu up or if perhaps another dish needs some pickled vegetable. During my crash course, it was definitely a lot of information to take in all at once, but I think I will eventually figure it out. Fortunately, despite the seemingly complex structure of the menu, many of the dishes have “base setups” that simplify the process.
I do not think learning this menu will be impossible for me. I am more than capable of memorizing a lot of information. For instance, because I play “League of Legends,” this game entails me to learn about every individual character within the game and their abilities. So there are 80+ characters in the game to choose from, and each character has at least five different skills a player has to keep in mind as knowledge to use. So at just 80 x 5 for simplicity’s sake, this is 400 different things you need to know, among other things. And this is just one game. I had to do a similar memory thing when I used to play “Defense of the Ancients.”
So yeah, I think my brain is certainly capable to soak in a Chinese restaurant’s vast menu. I think it will be more of a case of becoming acclimated with where everything is located in the kitchen, learning how much weight of food each dish requires, learning the small nuances with each random dish (e.g. if I need to cut roasted red pepper) and then building up a cadence and respectable speed to keep up with a given dinner service’s high volume of orders.
Overall, I am extremely excited to try my hand with working in a real restaurant kitchen.