Do You Speak Restaurantese?

Kitchen slang can sound foreign to someone who has never worked in the food service industry, but I’ll bet you’re fluent.  Some terms are obvious – “on the fly” means fast, “deuce” means a party of two, and “fire” means to start cooking.  But here are some possible explanations for the more ambiguous terms you always use and never question.

Salamander:  The name of this stand-alone broiler dates all the way back to the 1600s.  The word “salamander” translates from classical Greek to “fire animal,” because of the amphibian’s mythical immunity to fire.  Today, the fire-proof salamander’s reputation lives on in restaurant kitchens around the world. 

86: The origin of this ubiquitous restaurant term is nebulous.  One explanation involves a safety measure known as #86 that sets a lockout relay into motion for electrical equipment. Another is a bar in Manhattan’s West Village called Chumley’s where patrons would sneak out the door on 86 Bedford Street to avoid police during Prohibition.  But Google Dictionary suggests the term may simply be derived from the word “nix.”

In the Weeds/Weeded:  Although perhaps the most widely used term, this one was also the most difficult to find an origin for.  The most plausible explanation is rooted in prohibition; bars would store extra alcohol outside, so when the bar was busy, a runner would be sent to retrieve the additional supply, but would never come back quickly enough.  The bartender would then look for the runner, and when asked where the bartender was, the answer would be, “In the weeds.” 

Monkey Dishes: While none are confirmed, some explanations include that similar bowls used to be made from the skulls of monkeys, organ grinders’ monkeys used to collect tips in small bowls, and that they’re bowls the size of a monkey’s hand.  Regardless, their multi-functionality is what makes them kitchen staples.

C-fold Towels: This explanation is simpler than I expected; the towels are folded in the shape of a “c.”  Who knew?

Hotel Pan:  This word possibly stems from a time when hotel owners would serve meals to all their guests at designated times, and use such pans to hold large quantities of food. 

Now you can impress your co-workers with your in-depth knowledge of these common terms!


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