I Promise to Clean My Kitchen Equipment

Written by: Rose Cowell  

Close your eyes and picture your kitchen.  Pull a fryer off the wall, look under the hood system, open the coolers, and check your gaskets.  What would you find if you took the time to look? Did you put off servicing something that desperately needs attention?  If you’re not making regular rounds to assess the status of equipment, things can and will go unnoticed. Unnoticed issues, without being addressed promptly can snowball into technical malfunctions or safety violations that can put a wrench in your daily operations. Come along with me on a journey back to the summer of 2018, where I learned firsthand the importance of cleaning and maintaining kitchen equipment.

Daily Routine

Chicago is experiencing sweltering heat and humidity, so high yeasted dough proofs in 30 minutes flat. I’m commuting into the West Loop four days a week to work on a Pastry Team of three others at a Michelin rated restaurant. I clock in, grab my clean chef jacket (can we all just take a moment and appreciate uniform laundering services?), set up my prep station, scan over the daily production list, and make my way to the pre-service meeting. After being updated on the night’s reservations and dinner specials by the FOH Manager and Chef de Cuisine, I climb the narrow rickety stairs to the Pastry Kitchen, where I then spend the next 10 hours practicing my craft.

My trusted yellow legal note pad (you’ll still catch me with one today) with a daily production list keeps me on track as I go through the well-learned motions of prep. The Pastry Kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine; seamless and bursting with palpable synergy. I weave in and out of my colleagues’ footsteps as we dance around each other’s kitchen movements. We duck and bend when a hot sheet pan comes soaring out of the oven and when a command is given, we harmoniously answer, “Yes, Chef!” in synchronization. Every kitchen item, from spatulas to mixer attachments, silpats to sauté pans, has a designated home. Once used, an item is cleaned and returned promptly, no exceptions to the rule. Nothing is ever out of place. We fold, whip, beat, knead, zest, mince, slice, and finesse our way through the shift. And then without skipping a beat, as though biologically we were born with internal alarm clocks, our four-person team abruptly halts.

Production has paused. The gears in the machine have stopped spinning. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, indicating dinner service starts in a mere thirty minutes. It’s time to tear the kitchen down for an intermission of deep cleaning. All food items are either put away in the cooler, freezer, dry-storage or wrapped and placed high on a shelf. The Executive Pastry Chef grabs a bucket and fills it with hot soapy water, tossing a new sponge into the sudsy liquid. The Sous Chef runs downstairs to the dish room to acquire the broom and mop, and I start pulling all the kitchen equipment away from the walls. Then one after the other, we follow each other in procession around the kitchen, scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, squeegeeing, and buffing every surface available to us. Counter-tops, ovens, ranges, coolers, freezers, walls, even smallwares and small appliances. The ice cream machine is checked to ensure all its small parts are accounted for and are in proper working order. The gaskets lining each cooler and freezer door are wiped down, ensuring a proper seal is achieved for temperature retention. Aluminum foil lined drip trays placed under ranges are swapped out for clean ones, ensuring grease and fat drippings don’t combust. The hood grates are removed and wiped down, making sure airflow and ventilation is not being hindered by built up grease. Nothing in that kitchen can hide from our cleaning endeavors. Our cleaning frenzy is fast and furious, lasting only 10 minutes, but the results are noticeable. Our beloved kitchen has returned to baseline; clean, organized, and ready to take on the next few hours of dinner service. We are a disciplined team and know the importance of maintaining our workstation and equipment so that we can be more effective in our combined efforts. We strive for excellence, so we expect excellence from our kitchen.

The Cleaning Checklist

The kitchen is exposed to contaminants from uncooked food and staff who have kitchen access.  An unclean kitchen can affect your business negatively from health inspection violations to negative customer reviews.  Keeping the kitchen clean is easy.  It takes a little bit of scheduling, organization, and consistency. This check list may help you stay on task.   

Daily
Weekly
Monthly
Clean all surfaces including cutting boards, outside of ice machine and refrigerators
Clean interior of ovens, coolers and refrigerators
Wash all surfaces behind fryer, stove and oven
Sanitize slicers, sinks and faucets
Clean cooler and freezer gaskets
Empty and clean freezers
Sweep and mop floors and floor mats
Filter and/or change oil in fryers
Check equipment is in working order
Clean grease traps
Clean hood system
Launder rags, aprons, and chef coats

Forming Good Habits

Pinned to my bulletin board at Carter-Hoffmann’s corporate office is a quote by Jocko Willink; “Discipline equals freedom.” This is my daily reminder that I can enjoy the freedom a disciplined life has to offer. When we exercise discipline in our daily lives as Restauranters, Chefs’, FOH Staff, Managers, Barista’s, Line Cooks and Servers, we are released to put effort towards what brings us the most satisfaction: developing recipes, running a kitchen staff, prepping mise en place, and observing a packed dining room, filled to the brim with customers enjoying our craft.

Schedule time with your staff to regularly clean throughout the day.   Carve out some time, whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly (whatever works best for you) to walk your kitchen and evaluate your equipment. Every time you walk your kitchen, you won’t be finding broken gaskets, faulty pilot lights, or bent hinges, but preventative maintenance is proven to reduce the likelihood that you’ll be sideswept one day when your employee tells you something has broken, and no one saw it coming.  If you incorporate the discipline for good cleaning and maintenance into your routine, the habits become second nature.  

About the author

Rose Cowell considers her greatest skill set to be her time management and organizational skills. This serves her well in her day-to-day responsibilities as Brand Account Manager & Corporate Chef for Carter-Hoffmann, Doyon and NU-VU. Representing three brands, serving her customers, training end-users, and ensuring her house plants stay alive while she’s away on business requires an attention to detail and logistical planning worthy of NASA accolades. Having a background in the Culinary Industry and being a certified chef, Rose’s primary goal in her daily interactions with everyone she comes into contact with is to create a connection centered around empathy and fellowship; food being the pinnacle of those interactions.

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