15 Kitchen Slang Terms You May Know From ‘The Bear’

The lingo used in ‘The Bear’ is very much the same as what you would hear in real-life restaurant kitchens. We spoke to a professional chef to decode ‘stage,’ ‘all day,’ and other slang terms you may have heard from the Hulu series.
Jeremy Allen White in ‘The Bear.’
Jeremy Allen White in ‘The Bear.’ / FX Networks

The Bear has introduced people outside the culinary industry to a whole new way of speaking. After binge-watching enough episodes of the acclaimed Hulu series, you may find yourself responding “yes, chef” to everyone who addresses you. Viewers who have never stepped foot inside a professional kitchen aren’t the only ones won over by the show—chefs love it, too.

“[The Bear] was one of the few cooking shows or movies I liked,” Shawn Matijevich tells Mental Floss. “It’s actually spot-on for the majority of restaurants.” Prior to his current role as the lead chef of online culinary arts and food operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, Matijevich served as executive chef at multiple fine dining restaurants. He’s well-versed in chef lingo, and he helped us decode some common terms. Whether you heard them from The Bear or an old restaurant job, here are the meanings behind 15 slang words used in professional kitchens.

1. Stage

Stage—pronounced “stahj”—comes from stagiaire, which translates to “trainee” in French. It's equivalent to an internship or apprenticeship in the restaurant industry. While unpaid jobs have become rare in many sectors, they’re still common in the world of fine dining. “Sometimes they pay you, but generally you work for free,” Matijevich says. In some cases, stages are a trial run that leads to a paid position. They’re also a way for established chefs to further their education in a new kitchen. “When you have some time off and you want to improve your skills or learn about something else, you’ll go work at a restaurant for a couple of days,” Matijevich says. “But typically we only offer stages like that to people who are already working in restaurants.”

2. Behind

Behind is a constant refrain in busy professional kitchens. According to Matijevich, it’s a necessary precaution when passing someone who could be handling knives, flames, or boiling liquid at any given moment. “There’s a lot going on in a kitchen. It’s very small space, and generally we’re focused on what we’re doing,” he says. “So we tend to over-communicate a bit to let people know where we’re at, because if you turn around real quick and someone has something hot and you bump into them, you’re going to get burned.”

3. Yes, Chef

Chefs in commercial kitchen.
You’ll hear “yes, chef” a lot in restaurant and commercial kitchens. / Ryan McVay/Stone/Getty Images

Some restaurant staffs are run like army regiments, and this is reflected in the lingo they use. If a chef addresses someone in the kitchen, yes, chef is the proper response. The practice is more common in some kitchens than others. As The Bear demonstrates, most fine dining chefs treat it as second nature while cooks in casual restaurants may not say it at all.

4. Heard

Heard is also an acceptable response to instructions and requests in a hectic kitchen environment. It’s more than a sign of respect. Like behind, it serves a practical purpose as well. “Kitchens are loud, and when somebody’s focused, all their attention is saturated into whatever they’re doing,” Matijevich says. “They can be listening to you, but it might not be sinking in, so you want some confirmation that they heard whatever it is that you said.”

5. All day

Somewhat confusingly, the restaurant term all day actually means “in this exact moment.” So if a kitchen receives orders for steak tartare from four separate diners, that means they need to make four steak tartares all day. The number covers the total orders of a particular dish the kitchen needs to prepare at that point in the service.

6. Expo

Chef preparing dishes at expo station.
‘Expo’ refers to expediting. / Sutthichai Supapornpasupad/Moment/Getty Images

In kitchen terminology, expo can either refer to the expeditor who makes sure order tickets are executed properly or the physical space where the expediting happens. Not every restaurant needs one, but they’re an integral part of the fine dining system. As Matijevich explains, expo is where hot dishes go before they hit the dining room. “If you've got multiple different plates for a table, sometimes they’re consolidated there—put on a tray so they all go out to the right place. And sometimes things are being finished on the expo station, garnishes and things like that."

7. and 8. Pass and Dying on the Pass

Pass is another slang term for the expediting station. There’s no clear reason why it’s called “the pass” in some kitchens and “expo” in others. “They’re usually interchangeable,” Matijevich says. “It just depends on what they call it at whatever restaurant it is.” The term is used in another piece of kitchen slang chefs never want to hear: dying on the pass. This phrase describes a dish that's at risk of becoming cold and unappetizing after sitting on the pass too long.

9. In the weeds

The phrase in the weeds also inspires dread in the hearts of chefs. It applies when the kitchen is struggling to keep up with the orders coming in, snowballing into a chaotic and stressful service. No chef wants to find themselves in the weeds, but the situation is inevitable after enough time in the industry.

10. Line

The line of a restaurant kitchen.
The line of a restaurant kitchen. / Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images

A line is where the actual cooking happens, and the people who work it are called “line cooks.” The area itself may consist of ovens, fryers, burners, and various assembly stations. Designating it as its own separate space is vital to running a safe and efficient kitchen. As Matijevich says, “That would be an area where you would only want cooks to be. The line is where active work is happening, so unless you’re actually cooking something you don’t belong.”

11. Mise en Place

Mise en place, or mise for short, is the foundation of any well-run kitchen. It literally refers to the station where a chef has laid out their tools and prepared ingredients, ensuring a smooth service when it’s time to start cooking. But according to Matijevich, the French term for “everything in its place” has a broader definition in many kitchens. “It’s really more of a concept than it is an actual term, because we use it for a lot of things,” he says. “Mise en place can mean everything in the kitchen has a place and it’s all got to go back there, because if you don’t put something back nobody can find it.”

12. À la minute

Hand laying garnish on dish.
Adding garnish to a dish. / Carles Navarro Parcerisas/Moment/Getty Images

This phrase meaning “in a minute” also originated in French kitchens. As the name implies, food that’s à la minute is made to order rather than prepared in advance. “In a restaurant you sit down and you get your food in 20 minutes, but many of the things you’re getting in a restaurant take far longer than 20 minutes to prepare,” Matijevich explains. While time-consuming dishes—like braised short ribs, for example—are in the oven before service begins, other elements of the plate may be saved for the last minute. This ensures the ingredients are as fresh and high-quality as possible when they go out to the diner.

13. Eighty-six

This is one restaurant slang term that has crept into everyday parlance. When something is “eighty-sixed” in a kitchen, that means it’s eliminated from the menu or a dish. “You’re calling out an order and you might say ‘burger, eighty-six onions,’ and that just means that customer doesn’t want the onions on it,” Matijevich says. He also shared that the phrase doesn’t apply to food exclusively. “We also use it when we fire somebody. We say that we ‘eighty-six’ them because now they’re no longer on the menu.”

14. Fire

Chef in kitchen cooking with flames.
You might hear the word ‘fire’ in a kitchen more often that you’d expect. / Monty Rakusen/DigitalVision/Getty Images

When a chef yells “fire” in the kitchen, it’s usually no cause for alarm. If a dish is ready to be fired, that means the line cook should start cooking it right away. The pace at which order tickets are fired is crucial to a smooth meal service. 

15. On the Fly

On the fly is another phrase that’s commonly used by non-chefs. In a professional kitchen setting, it’s a push to pick up the cooking pace. If a dish needs to go out as soon as possible, a chef might tell their line cook to prepare it “on the fly."