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Approaching chefs to volunteer in their kitchen

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hi chefs,

I'm 25, working a 9 to 5, and like lots of other idiots, thinking about making a career change to cook, go to culinary school, etc. I've got a couple years of experience in restaurants, mostly waiting tables though I spent a few months back of house doing prep work, etc., but I'd like to volunteer my nights and weekends working in a kitchen to remind myself what I'm getting into before dropping everything to devote myself to it.

My question is: is there a good way to approach chefs to ask to volunteer? (I mean, volunteer to do anything -- I'd be happy to wash dishes and take out the trash in order to hang around in the kitchen and get the feel of it again). Should I write an email/or letter, or just walk in mid-afternoon and ask? Does it make a difference if it's a small or large kitchen/restaurant? And should I expect to get turned away by most chefs?

Thanks for your help!
post #2 of 12

Selling yourself short

I admire your desperation but I think you should rethink the value your time is and at minimum request minimal wage and no, washing dishes isn't the job of someone who wants to learn culinary arts. I would encourage you spend $50 - $95 taking weekend 4 - 6 hour classes at your local culinary schools on different food interests you might have. There is often no pre-reqs to attend these and they are taught by often very good instructors open to the public. Often they include a demo only so you should check to see if the class is hands on or demo only and you will get to get a feel for what school is like and develop a greater understanding of your interests as a chef.

Good Luck
and dont sell yourself short
project and affirm a great apprenticeship and have pride in yourself that you are a value to someone and will support them with washing dishes and taking out trash in the event it also values you.

I would encourage setting a good intention on what it is you want and making sure you clarify with your options your hope is to progress as a professional chef, and not a short order line cook (I would assume from your interest in culinary "arts").

Roderic Burks
post #3 of 12
No offence to roddffc, but culinary school isn't the same as a restaurant. Though volunteering seems a bit much to me. My advice, apply for a job, dishwashing, prep whatever just to get a feel for it, and get paid. If we are to belive Anthony Bourdaine, anyone switching fields should spend time in the dishpit. Chefs was dishes too! Good luck
post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks to Roderick and Jbyl. I appreciate the input.

In response to Jbyl, I think my main concern is being able to find a kitchen job with hours flexible enough that I could work around my current job -- though I know it's definitely do-able. Beyond that, I'd prefer to hang around a kitchen in a good restaurant, rather than an Olive Garden, and I feel like being able to work and learn in a great kitchen might require some flexibility or sacrifice on my part, even if it meant working for free (like a stage for an amateur, or something).

And yeah, Bourdain really does stress the whole dishwashing thing, huh?
post #5 of 12
Hey, if you're up for working for free, it would probly make it easier to get a job in a better kitchen. Some chefs prefer inexsperienced workers. Good luck, and props to working in a kitchen before deciding to jump into a new industry.
post #6 of 12


What you are looking for is called a "stage". It can vary from a day, to a couple of weeks, to six months. You don't get paid, or maybe the legal minimum.

Like anything else in life, you need the first "in". Approach a knowledgeable guy whose work or place you admire, and ask about doing a stage. Once you have one or two behind you, you can get referrals, and slowly climb the ladder.

A great place to start is the festival circuit, or charity events. Keep your eyes peeled in the society columns. These deals are usually such a cluster**** that even a tightassed chef will put up with an outside volunteer for a day or two.

Little bricks build a big wall. My sous-chef just picked up a full-time job at one of the best restaurants in Spain....based on a three-day stage at a festival.
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for everyone's input. I approached a few chefs via written letters and started a stage/internship last week at a great French bistro, and worked four nights straight. It's been great. It's a small place, so besides doing lots of prep I get to work the garde manger station, and when they're not in the weeds, the other cooks are happy to show me a thing or two. My knife skills have been improving rapidly.

Just the other day, though, another of the chefs that I contacted called me, left a message, and asked me to come in and talk with him if I'm still interested. I had intended to tell him, 'thanks, but another chef took me on -- perhaps sometime in the near future,' but this week things have been slow at the bistro so the chef told me a couple times not to come in, 'maybe this weekend -- I'll call you.' The arrangement is very up-in-the-air, and I'm wondering if it would be a okay to talk to the other chef and make myself available, at least to trail some night. I want to remain loyal to the chef and restaurant where I've already been working, b/c he and his staff have been great, but I'd also like to get as much experience as possible. After all, I'm working for free, all I get out of it is the experience/knowledge, so if one chef can't find something for me to do (prep? clean the walk-in? etc), I can't help but wonder if it would be alright to look for additional work.

Any thoughts on this?
post #8 of 12
If it were me, at least I would talk to the other chef that approached you. How can you make a choice between the two if you don't fully know all the options you're choosing between? You're volunteering your time and your time is valuable to you isn't it? I'd say -- Get the most from it!
post #9 of 12
..."all I get out of it is the experience/knowledge"...

That's probably the wrong way to say that. I realize it's probably not what you actually mean, but ANY experience/knowledge will help in the long run.

Good luck, and good cooking!
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Well, I was trying to underscore the fact that I'm doing it solely for the experience and knowledge.
post #11 of 12

Stagier politics....

Just talk to your chefs. Personally, I am thrilled when one of my paid or unpaid workers has a chance to go and work somewhere else, part-time or no. You are building a foundation, one brick at a time.....you need a lot of bricks. Besides, each new experience makes you a better chef, which means everyone you work for benefits. And hey, maybe they will wind up competing, and throwing you a few bones.....
post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks. I'm actually going to meet with the other chef this afternoon to try and work something out.
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