Chef Lingo and Cooking Terms: New Vocabulary You Learn in Culinary School

Have you ever sat near the kitchen of a busy restaurant and heard the back-of-house team speaking in what sounded like a different language? Every industry has a unique vernacular, and the culinary world is no exception. Chefs have their own set of words and phrases they use to describe everything from menu items, to cooking techniques, to kitchen processes that may sound silly to the novice cook. If you’re just starting out on your culinary journey and don’t yet know chef lingo or cooking terms, don’t worry—you’ll learn the most important vocabulary in cooking school. While each kitchen will have its own unique dialect, the following terms are common in most restaurants.

Chef lingo

On the line

This is where the cooking is done in most restaurants. Being “on the line” simply means you’re a line cook. Most culinary students get experience in the kitchen as line cooks on their paths to becoming chefs.


Organization and preparedness are critical skills to master when you’re working in a busy kitchen. Mise, short for mise en place, refers to all of the prepped ingredients a cook needs for his or her station.

Running the pass

In a restaurant, the “pass” is a long flat surface where completed dishes are picked up by the waitstaff. The chef who “runs the pass” is in charge of watching the order tickets and making sure each dish looks good before it goes out to the dining room.


On deck/on order

As order tickets come in, the chef in charge of running the pass lets the line cooks know what dishes are coming up, or what’s “on deck,” so they can set up what they need to efficiently cook a guest’s meal.

Dying on the pass

This phrase refers to a dish that has been sitting on the pass for too long. A dish that’s “dying on the pass” has gotten cold and lost some of its texture and flavor because the waitstaff failed to pick it up.


In the culinary world, a “trail” is a second interview. After interviewing with the chef, a prospective cook will come into the restaurant during service to demonstrate how well he or she performs under pressure.


Cooks use the term “86’d” when the restaurant has run out of a dish. A dish can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with how it’s being prepared and temporarily wants to take it off the menu.


In order to avoid surprise regarding the 86-ing of a dish, every member of the cooking staff needs to pay attention to how much is left. This is called the “count.” An example of calling the count is, “We have a count four on the filet mignon.”


A new chef may assume this exclamation indicates there is a literal fire in the kitchen, but it actually means it’s time to start cooking. Some orders are prepared right away, like appetizers, so they can be eaten first.

On the fly

If you hear “on the fly” in the kitchen, it means a server needs a particular dish as soon as possible. Whether they forgot to put the order in or you forgot to make it, it’s time to drop everything and get it done.

Cooking terms

In culinary school, you’ll also learn new cooking terminology that will help you read complex recipes and create masterpieces of your own. The following are just a handful of the cooking terms you can expect to learn in a culinary arts program:


A recipe might call for you to “deglaze the pan with chicken stock.” To deglaze is to dissolve the thin layer of juices and tidbits on the surface of a pan where food has been cooked to make a flavorful sauce.


You’ll learn how to julienne when practicing your knife skills. A julienne is a knife cut in which the food is sliced into long, thin strips, similar to matchsticks.


Folding is a cooking technique used to incorporate a delicate substance, like beaten egg whites, into another substance without releasing air bubbles.


You may order seared salmon if you like the outside of your fish cooked but the middle to be rare. Searing involves using intense heat to create a brown crust on the outside of a piece of food, developing a rich flavor and appearance.


Braising is a combination cooking technique that first requires a chef to sear a food item at a high temperature. Then, the food finishes cooking while sitting in some type of cooking liquid in a covered pot at a low temperature.

Want a career in the kitchen? Learn the lingo at National Culinary & Baking School!

Chefs use a lot of slang terms in the kitchen to communicate with back-of-house staff and to keep service running smoothly. At National Culinary & Baking School in San Diego, our culinary arts program is supplemented with in-house job experience that gives students a chance to learn and practice chef lingo and cooking terms. Along with teaching practical skills like flavor balancing and presentation, our unique learning environment prepares our graduates for a successful transition into their culinary careers.

If you’re passionate about cooking and are considering a job as a chef, a culinary education will give you the knowledge and confidence you need to get there. Call National Culinary & Baking School at (619) 249-5180 or fill out our online enrollment form today.