Why Do Chefs Say Oui?

If you have spent any time around a kitchen, or simply spent time watching cooking shows, then the chances are you will have heard chefs saying oui (pronounced wee) to one another.

So why is this? With this article we will take a look at why chefs say oui, and when it is appropriate. Hopefully, readers will then begin to sound like professional chefs in no time! (even if the actual cooking ability will take some catching up!)

Chefs say oui as a replacement for the word yes. Kitchen culture is heavily rooted in French cuisine and there are lots of French phrases used on a daily basis. The word oui is French for yes and can be used in many instances.

The reasons why there is a heavy French influence in kitchens is beyond the scope of this article and would deflect us from the matter in hand. Safe to say that lots of French phrases are used on a daily basis such as

  • Mise en place – prep work or prepped items
  • Blanch – part cook
  • Julienne – cut into thin strips

Also worth noting that the whole brigade rank structure from Commis chef to Sous chef take their names from the French language, and we begin to see that the french influence is everywhere.

Knowing this history helps to make sense as to why chefs may choose to use the French word for yes, rather than just saying yes!

Although there are no hard and fast rules; there are times (and indeed kitchens) when oui is more appropriately used.

When Is It Appropriate For A Chef To Say Oui?

Chefs are most likely to say oui in higher-end kitchens with a classical background, particularly if the menu has elements written in French, or if some of the chefs are French. Some head chefs will even insist on the use of oui for various reasons.

A career as a chef is a very transient trade. Whichever part of the world a chef happens to be working in there is a chance there will be chefs there of French origin. Using oui is a tip of the hat, or sign of respect, to the classic French chefs who brought cuisine forward in leaps and bounds.

Anytime a chef is required to answer yes they can replace it with the word oui. The two are interchangeable and will be used sporadically throughout the day.

The above statement may seem strange to some. I doubt there are many office jobs where the staff put the occasional French word into the mix. However, as eluded to earlier, there is a heavy French influence in all areas of the kitchen so throwing in a French yes just seems to fit.

Do Chefs Say Oui Chef During Service?

As eluded to earlier, chefs will often say oui during service, in fact some Head chefs even insist upon it. They feel it gives a higher caliber feel to the kitchen and a more professional sounding service.

Putting myself in the shoes of a diner, if I where to hear the kitchen staff all shouting “oui chef” in unison through the swinging kitchen door, my instincts would tell me that it must be a very professional kitchen in there, and I am going to enjoy my dinning experience.

During service chefs are required to answer yes chef to indicate they have heard every time a ticket comes in or is called away. This can result in a lot of yeses during a shift. Replacing yes with the word oui also helps to break things up a bit.

Do chefs Say Oui During A Normal Day?

Chefs will often use the word oui during the day as a sign of respect to their superiors. If a Head chef asks for a task to be done, a perfectly polite response is to say oui chef. It is not often used when addressing someone lower in rank except for a few circumstances.

An example of when the word might be used whilst speaking to a lower ranked chef, is during a very busy and heated service.

From experience, if everything is getting hectic, using oui with the chefs below you is a good indication to them that things are getting bumpy and we all need to go into professional mode.

Do Chefs Say Oui For Discipline Reasons?

We often find that as the pressure builds, the best kitchens up their discipline levels. Generally, in the less well run kitchens, the discipline goes down during a busy service and the quality spirals out of control.

Picture the different types of kitchen;

  • In the first, all the chefs are communicating shouting “oui chef” and generally working together showing each other respect.
  • In the second, everyone is shouting ‘yea’ or ‘coming’ or some variation to each other. We can instinctively tell the kitchen is going to be less well run and the service will suffer because of it.

Chefs shouting oui during service is a great way to show that everyone is still in control, are maintaining their discipline levels and still pulling together as a team.

When Would A Chef Saying Oui Be Inappropriate?

A chef saying oui at an inappropriate moment or with the wrong tonality could convey sarcasm rather than a sign of respect.

Saying the word yes to any boss is all about the tone which is used. Chefs like everyone else are no fools to the underlying message in the “oui chef”. If the words that leave our mouth say ‘oui’ but our facial expression and tonality say ‘no chance’ it usually doesn’t end well for us!

This clip of Gordon Ramsay will help to illustrate the point better than words can do justice! (skip to 3:10)

Are There Any Variations On Oui Chef?

Oui and yes are the typical phrases that we hear chefs say in the kitchen. However, in less formal kitchens ‘yo’ is used a lot as an informal way of acknowledging the request has been heard. As a rule the more relaxed the kitchen the more variations we will hear.

I was fortunate enough to work with some French chefs who originated more towards the south of France. They taught me that the cooler way to say oui is pronounced “way”. A kind of laid back shrug to the word oui. However, this did not go down very well with the Sous Chef at the time and I was re-educated in the way he preferred pretty quickly!

To Sum Up

I hope that has covered everything there is to know about the use of oui in a kitchen. It is not something I would focus too much energy on if beginning a chef career. Beginners will quickly pick up on the vibe of the kitchen and what is appropriate.

A quick point ill add is that it can feel odd starting out and being expected to use lots of French phrases. Try not to worry and just say the words as best as you can. We all quickly discover that very few chefs can actually do a French accent so no one sounds out of place!

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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