Man at His Best

The Best Music For Chefs

On sounds in the kitchen, and what they mean to cooks.

BY Ming | Jan 6, 2017 | Food & Drink

It all begins with prep. The quiet, muted hum of fridge compressors is broken by the sharp click of light switches. Fluorescent tubes flicker on, illuminating the space. Fans whirr alive—their breezy swoosh expelling the stuĀy kitchen’s stale air trapped since last night. Next comes the fresh air intake aided by exhaust fans, all bassy and thrumming. Moments ago, the room was still and nearly silent, but now, there’s a mix of vibrations, motors and moving parts melding into a constant baseline of background noise whose presence you soon start to forget.

The gas mains are cranked on, a turned handle greeted with a friendly hiss. Shiny steel surfaces get covered with pans; their percussive clank is met by the denser thud of heavy wood and plastic cutting boards being laid down. Screeching brakes give way to the steady rattle of an overworked diesel engine belonging to a refrigerated truck that has been parked awkwardly. Horns blare from cars blocked in the narrow lane.

The kitchen is now in full swing. Thick cardboard boxes bulging with food are dragged oĀ chattering trolleys and torn open. Elsewhere, a fridge makes faint sucking sounds, as its magnetically sealed doors are pulled open, followed closely by a weighty slap, as those same doors are bumped shut.

Gas equipment is lit with a rush and stoves open with a throaty roar. Poorly lit fires pop, and then whistle, their hollow tones a sign of improper ignition. The staccato chop of knife-on-board is interrupted when its user picks up a ceramic honing rod to realign and straighten an errant edge.

During service, various diversions tug at your attention. The constant chatter of the trench: “Knife! Corner! Behind! Hot!” The persistent beeping of an alarm. The unmistakeable sound of shattering glass piercing the general chatter of the shop, when an unfortunate frontofhouse staĀ drops a crystal wine goblet. Guests might gawk and stare, but your seasoned colleagues don’t miss a beat. Above the din, the clarion call of the ticket printer galvanises everyone into action.

The flat top grill on high heat? A splash of oil on the surface starts to shimmer, and thick slabs of marbled pork collar are dropped onto it. Emanating from this is the holy grail of kitchen sounds: an assertive crescendo of bubbles, denoting water being vaporized oĀ the surface of meat in hot fat, as the pork browns in the singularly unique process of sizzling meat in a screaming hot pan. As rapidly as it starts, the sizzling stops as the pork is removed from the pan and plated.

The frenzy suddenly ceases, as last order looms. The constant thrum of the exhaust fan is replaced by a distant whine as its motor dies down. The sudden silence is almost deafening. Was it really that noisy? The last customers leave, and most of the lights are dimmed. A skeleton crew remains, going through paperwork and updating lists with last-minute orders. Then someone hijacks the sound system and puts Bowie on.