A Peek Inside Bouchon, and Some Tips for Survival

Pictures from Sean & Erica’s Wedding.

bouchon_napkin.jpgOur walk-in refrigerator is seriously impressive; a gleaming food library of shiny beveled steel and smart plastic containers. It surpasses by 200% every restaurant refrigeration system I’ve ever seen in terms of organization and cleanliness. There is a place for everything and everything MUST go in it’s proper place.

All products are stored in brand new plastic cambros with color coordinating lids or in deli containers–no other container is acceptable for storage. These storage containers must be properly labelled, dated and initialed with green tape, and this label placed approximately one inch from the top of the lid on the front side of the container.

We categorize the shelves, so there’s a shelf for herbs, a separate one for vegetables, yet another for lettuces, condiments, prepared foods, etc., and a separate walk-in entirely for seafood and meat, another for beverages, a third for dairy and one last for bakery products. Everything is alphabetized from top to bottom, left to right. Heaven forbid one of the upper-level chefs (in our complicated hierarchy of chefdom) should find your initials on an improperly stored product!! If you see something in the walk-in that has been improperly stored or that has not been consolidated, you fix it. Even if you’re not the one that screwed it up in the first place. It is the responsibility of each chef to take the walk-in’s sanitation personally.

There are blue aprons and there are white aprons at Bouchon (I’m a blue apron). A white apron means that that particular chef is an intern or recent hire on a probationary period. And though you treat everyone with the utmost respect, blue always outweighs white. It is important to make the rounds every morning when you arrive and every evening before you leave. This involves saying hello/goodnight and shaking hands (when possible) with everyone (from dishwashers to Executive Chef) in the kitchen, and thanking them for their help at the end of the day. Always address everyone as Chef (Insert First Name Here), or you are in breach of the Bouchon Code of Inter-Personal Communications (read: not giving your co-workers the Respect they deserve as employees of this fine establishment).

Question yourself endlessly. Consider why everything is where it is. Does it belong there? Is there a better home for it? Fix it. Clean it. Do it the Right Way.

Never have idle hands; there’s always something else that needs to be done. When in doubt, clean, organize, consolidate.

Bouchon is an upscale French bistro, but it still amazes me how many people speak French in the kitchen! On the line during service if something goes especially well, one of the chefs will exclaim “Viva la France!” and the rest of us enthusiastically echo it down the line. If a Chef asks you to do something, most often the response is “Oui, Chef.” Several of the waitstaff communicate in French and a few of the chefs regularly thank me (“Merci, mon cher”) in that musical language (I envy their beautifully perfect accents).

On a slow morning we serve breakfast to about 180 people, on a busy day up to 300. At dinner they do about 220 on a regular night, so all in all, we’re doing at least 400 covers a day–that’s where all of this militant organization comes in handy! Even though it may sound like kitchen bootcamp, everyone is extremely friendly and the kitchen emanates a positive, upbeat aura of success; it’s not quite as intimidating as it sounds!

In other news, the weather man changed his mind about it only being 98 degrees on Thursday. That’s right folks, triple digits all week long. Yippee! I can’t wait until monsoon season starts.


  1. Carrie · June 15, 2004

    And you questioned why Julie and I took French all those years – remember the never ending argument about how you “use” Latin? 🙂 haha. Not that I remember anything anyhow. Maybe you should get one of those tapes from the library to learn the french accent, and just in case you need to ask someone in french where the post office is (Ou est la poste?), you’ll be all set!

  2. Carrie · June 16, 2004

    Is this the place you work at ? 🙂


    It looks extremely hot! Can ya send me some of the food ? 😉

  3. Shira · June 16, 2004

    Yup, that’s where I work! Ding! As a recipient of the pastry of the month club, you will be receiving some bouchon-ish pastries soon. Ding!

  4. Caitlin K · June 16, 2004

    Hiya!! the kitchen does sound very organized but it does sound like fun too! congrats on your blue apron!! i just wanted to let you know that i won’t be at my North Chicago address for any of july…so if you are sending out more goodies…don’t mail mine there! try me in warsaw! miss you and good luck staying cool!

  5. ben · June 17, 2004

    yeah, that’s pretty wild. Doesn’t really shock me though, it is a casino afterall. The whole thing is that organized I imagine. Hope life is good. We’re holding down the fort at about 78 degrees in the north country 🙂

  6. Shira · June 17, 2004

    78!!! Oh man, I would KILL for seventy eight!!! It must be heaven. How’s the new homestead?!