French Expression: dans le jus

Translation: In the juice

Every kitchen has expressions for when things are going really really badly. In American kitchens we often say “in the weeds”. But in France it’s: dans le jus.

During the service there sometimes arrives a moment where you have tons of orders to fill all at the same time. This is normal. If the front of the house has booked the whole restaurant for 8:00 P.M. then there is really no way to get around it.

But in America we have this little thing called a COMPUTER where servers can input the orders and then the entire menu pops at each individual station through a little ticket machine. Each course is fired off via COMPUTER when it’s time to plate the next course. You post your little tickets up at your station and then fill them in the order they arrive unless the executive chef wants to go ahead with a different table first.

If you’re a visual learner, like me, then you’ll appreciate being able to see your orders.

But we don’t do that in France. We do everything verbally. The orders come in (up to 8 courses) and you must memorize it on the spot. We often seat 80 people a night so imagine memorizing that many orders. When a long order comes in you have to know what the dish ahead of yours is to be sure to get your plate prepared and ready to go. And mind you, one station could possibly have several different courses to fulfill for one table.

Are you following me here? Because I’m confusing myself already.

So there’s this horrifying moment when one is dans le jus when the chef starts calling out complete menus as well as courses to be finished at the same time. (my French is remedial remember) and you’re trying to finish one plate when another one has to go out before it and then another order comes in and you’ve already forgotten it because you were struggling to just get something to the pass.

Do you see where I”m heading?

And your whole station looks like a tornado swept through it. Shit everywhere. Plates half finished. And you’ve forgotten the rest of the orders that just came in. Did I mention: forgotten the orders that just came in?

Now, I am doubly dans le jus because I can’t count. If you want to be a chef, learn how to count in every language in the universe, because it will make life easier. The French word for ‘six’ which is also spelled the same in French but pronounced: seece, sounds awfully close to the French word for ‘ten’ which is ‘dix‘, prounounced: deece. Oh, and ‘eight’ is ‘huit‘ in French pronounced: wheet.

Seece, deece, wheet.

Need I say more?

But I am dans le jus in more ways than one. I’m training with another Chef de Partie so I can take his station and he can move to another one and a commis (cook) who both have more experience than me. Not in everything of course, but certainly when it comes to vegetables. Give me a rack of lamb, a chicken, a pigeon, a rabbit, a baby boar or any other feathered or fury critter and I’ll school you in preparation, but show me a carrot and I haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it. (ahem)

So basically right now, everyone thinks I’m stupid. No one has confidence in me. And I might as well be invisible because I don’t speak French. It takes me twice as long to understand. Twice as long to prepare everything. Twice as long to re-prepare everything because I’ve done it wrong the first time.


It occured to me the other day just how behind I am in the French system of educating cooks, when I looked over to see a 17 year old boy chopping mushrooms razor thin for duxelles at a speed and accuracy that would take me years to master. I thought to myself: by the time he’s my age he will be light years ahead. Talk about learning curve.

Dans le jus, dans le jus, dans le jus.

But you know what? I have have something they don’t have. I have tons of world experience. I have not lived my whole life inside a kitchen. I’m a trained actor, credentialed teacher, and an accomplished cook. And, I know some day when I have my own restaurant I will use everything that I have learned here, but I will add my creativity and my own personality in a way that represents my background.

I can only say right now, that I am thankful that the chefs have faith in me. It’s not exactly normal to be a thirty-something, still learning, female cook in this environment. And, I hope to live up to their expectations. I will live up to their expectations.

In the meantime I intend to take up swimming lessons so I can paddle my way out of this juice.

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