Do you ever wonder how chefs and other kitchen and restaurant staff got their start? There are many different routes you can take within the catering and hospitality industry which will lead to a successful and rewarding career. Many chefs work their way up solely in the kitchen, starting out as a Kitchen Porter or KP. Meanwhile, others start by clearing tables before becoming a server and then going to culinary school.
Either way, restaurants are fluid. Where a porter is hooked in to take on greater responsibility elsewhere in the kitchen, it means someone else is brought in, or, more likely moved into the now open position of kitchen porter.
What Does A KP Do?
In this video, William Drew, editor of Restaurant Magazine becomes a kitchen porter for a day at Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden.
Kitchen Porters are the unsung heroes of a restaurant. A kitchen hand, or porter, works in the back of the house, or the kitchen of any place that serves food. This includes cafeterias, fine restaurants, catering companies, and hotels. The main idea is that where there is a kitchen that prepares food for public consumption, it is likely there is a porter in place.
The kitchen porter is dedicated to washing, cleaning, and food preparation. It may not sound like a lot unless you know how many pounds of potatoes a fish and chips shop uses every day, just as one example. Additionally, the level of cleanliness in a commercial kitchen or restaurant is as stringent as a surgical suite.
The porter needs to demonstrate their dedication to achieving and maintaining a high standard of hygiene and cleanliness according to industry practices and local regulations. Beyond cleaning dishes, usually with the help of a dishwasher, they have to handle dishes and silverware with care that maintains hygiene.
In addition, the porter has to be able to prepare food in keeping with recipes to help recipes achieve the right texture. For instance, if they have to dice 25 pounds of potatoes for weekend brunch, it needs to be diced to meet the recipe’s needs. If they are called on to prepare dressing they need to be accurate in their distribution of ingredients according to the recipe.
There are two important aspects of becoming a kitchen porter that are necessary. Beyond having a commitment to cleanliness and maintaining hygiene in handling kitchenware, they need to be able to work well on a team.
Kitchens heat up and become intense during the course of a shift, especially depending upon the pressure put on the kitchen staff to pull off an event, or serve a high volume of demanding and discerning guests in a timely manner. This is where a kitchen porter proves they are a good team member.
It is really a sink or swim situation. Being an asset rather than a liability in the face of the pressures of working in a kitchen forges a career path for the kitchen porter. As they prove themselves as reliable and competent in their duties, the cooks and chef may entrust the kitchen porter with increasingly greater responsibility for time.
What this means is that they will make their own path and become an asset in time. They need to continue to be reliable as well and be consistent to be considered for the long term and higher up positions.
Other ways to move around the restaurant industry are to follow one another around to different kitchens. If the chef leaves for a new restaurant, opened by a former waiter who used to be a porter, other kitchen staff may follow suit. They will leave to work with their favorite chef if they all work well together.
There is also a good network of people within the industry who share where the opportunities are and report back on what restaurants treat employees well, and which do not. If a porter can stand the heat, then they are poised for a solid career.