A Quick Look at Culinary Language by MJ Post

A Quick Look at Culinary Language by MJ PostWelcome back to contemporary romance writer, MJ Post, as she talks about “A Quick Look at Culinary Language.” Enjoy!


First, an apology to yiz who were following the column until it popped out of existence, and thanks to my old pal Beth Barany and her able aide Marsha for not kicking me to the curb before my mission is done. All of yiz rock! Things have been rough in MJ-land the last couple of months, with a family member being destroyed by cancer. I ate food, but I just couldn’t write about it.

On to the article.

The language of the culinary industry is our topic. Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned by watching TV food shows. Restaurant: Impossible, Bar Rescue, Kitchen Nightmares, and Hell’s Kitchen are some great ones I’ve learned a lot from.

The rest of what I’ve learned is from internet research. I can’t help recommending that you give these info sources some serious love, just like I did — because new vocabulary and expressions are always rewarding!

Culinary World: Front of the House 

The basic vocabulary you should know begins with people’s jobs. We all know about servers (waiters and waitresses), bartenders, and hostesses, plus of course those who bus and wash dishes. They work in the area called the FRONT OF THE HOUSE. 

The front of the house may or may not have its own manager, who supervises the rest of the front-of-house staff and helps with customer complaints. 

The goal of the front of the house is to make the customers happy and also to TURN TABLES, which means to keep the service efficient so that customers finish and new customers can be seated. This is also called TURNOVER.

Culinary World: Back of the House

In the kitchen, which is the BACK OF THE HOUSE, you have a number of workers.

The PREP COOK keeps ingredients organized, provides them when needed, and does some cutting and chopping as required.

The EXECUTIVE CHEF or CHEF DE CUISINE creates menus and is the big boss of the back of the house. This person is often the owner as well.

One or more SOUS CHEFS (pronounced SOO) serve as deputies to the executive chef and often are in charge of the kitchen.

A large enough kitchen will have an EXPEDITOR who calls out orders to the line cooks and then posts the TICKETS, or orders by table.

LINE COOKS work at stations in a large kitchen, where they prepare the same menu items repeatedly to maximize quality and efficiency. In a fine-dining environment, there are specialty roles. Fans of Forrest Gump the movie remember a character who is a saucier — that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

SHORT ORDER COOKS are cooks in diners and fast food restaurants who specialize in speedy preparation of breakfasts, burgers, and other comfort foods.

A huge kitchen may focus on mass production using electronic means. For example, line cooks in the Cheesecake Factory have a computer display that tells them what to prepare next, along with ingredient lists and pictures of how the plate should look.

For more on the front and back of the house, explore here.   

Culinary World: How Food is Served

How the food is arranged on the plate is called, as you might expect, PLATING, and it’s important. The saying out there is, “People eat first with their eyes.” I’m sure this fits your experience, whatever sort of food you like. Desserts are particularly cruel to us this way!

A dish consists of an ENTREE (usually a protein like meat, fish, poultry, or tofu), one or more SIDES (vegetables and starches) and possibly a GARNISH (edible, but decorative). These foods are usually SAVORY (salty or spicy), except for desserts and some garnishes, which are sweet.

When food is ready, the cooks put it on THE WINDOW or THE PASS, an area where the expediter, if any, can look it over, and then servers can collect it and deliver it. If food doesn’t reach the pass as fast as desired, the cooks can be described as SLAMMED or IN THE WEEDS.

When you are near someone who can’t see you, you may say BEHIND, BEHIND, which isn’t flirting, but means “I’m behind you, so don’t back up or we will bump into each other.” I learned this expression from the show Chopped, and I say it all the time now, even though most people don’t know what I mean.

Culinary Language: More Resources

Studying cookery is a super-complex enterprise, but if you just want a glossary of food terms, look here:  https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/culinary-terms. 

This one is also nice:  https://delishably.com/cooking-equipment/Cooking-Terms-Youve-Probably-Never-Heard-Before.

Like most hard-working, specialized jobs, culinary jobs include a sometimes crude lingo all their own. You can find a good list of those terms here:  https://firstwefeast.com/eat/kitchen-slang-101-talk-like-real-life-line-cook/.

My favorite from this page is “cropdusting,” which means farting near customers in the dining room. Of course, I completely DENY that I ever do this with my students. Really, I’m far too dainty to do that!

I hope you’ve enjoyed dipping your toe in the complex language of the culinary field. Be sure to write to me on social media and tell me your favorite words and expressions — especially if you work in a restaurant and know better than I do!



MJ Post (pseudonym) is a Brooklyn high school teacher and writer from Queens, NY. Educated in the South with an attitude straight out of Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, MJ writes contemporary new adult romance and romantic comedy with a multi-regional flavor. MJ is happily married.

MJ’s work includes five romance novellas with Mysti Parker, one solo romance novel, and under her real name, five novels and two nonfiction books as well as miscellaneous other collections.

MJ’s novel Chef Showdown: A Romance, two young chefs fall in love while competing on a reality TV cooking show under the watchful eye of the toughest judge imaginable. It will make you hungry for some love and some great food.

Amazon author page:  https://www.amazon.com/MJ-Post/e/B074HX7TJK/
Facebook Readers’ group and street team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/432743907149227/
Facebook Author page:  https://www.facebook.com/MJ-Post-Author-302156203319243/
Newsletter signup:  http://eepurl.com/dyVqqz
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/MJPostAuthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/MJPostAuthor

You may also like...

  • This is a wonderful article. I have characters that cook at home, go to restaurants. To have words to describe the space, the food and employees is a wonderful addition to any story to help bring the reader into the scene. Thank you!

  • >