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A different situation

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I'm currently a high school teacher who is attending culinary school part-time. I would very much like to spend my summers off working in a good restaurant. I've heard the best thing to do in order to learn, is to work for free. The good news for me is that I have paid summers in which I can do that. My question is, as chefs, would you take on a late-twenties culinary student/special education teacher to work at the bottom of your kitchen for free?

I'm not sure how to go about this. It's not as though the want adds have this kind of posting. Any advice you can give me is greatly appreciated.
post #2 of 14
As a special ed teacher, I think you'd have a lot of fun people watching in a professional kitchen. :)

Anyway, yes. I'd never ask anyone to work for free though, but that's just me.
post #3 of 14
Don't work for free... unless you have no choice but to stage for free for a while to get in the door.

Instead make an appointment to meet with the chef and tell him/her your situation and assure them you are the hardest working, most dependable, rock solid work ethic possessing, most eager to learn, person he/she will ever lay eyes on and tell him/her you are glad to start anywhere then take whatever he/she gives you and do really well. If you given a peeler and told to peel 1,000 potatoes in two hours peel 1,001 perfectly in an hour and a half.

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #4 of 14
I also would never expect anyone to work for free, and would hire someone under these circumstances in a heartbeat. Passion in the kitchen is the most important ingredient!
post #5 of 14
hey mike...do you mind saying where you work in Chicago? Anyway, i lived there for just 2 months, but i'm interested in what goes on there cuisine-wise.
post #6 of 14
Don't do that, the chef will yell at you about food cost. ;) j/k
post #7 of 14
Nowhere fancy. I work in a commissary kitchen for a catering company nights and weekends. I was a waiter for years and I work days at a chef apparel/uniform company as a sales rep so I am very versed in what is going on in Chicago cuisine wise. This isn't really the place for that discussion or I would go into further detail.

I will start a thread.

As to the premise of this thread as kuan pointed out don't peel that one thousand and one'th potato stop at 1,000 but do it perfectly and under time if possible. Save the peels by the way just in case. Not every chef saves everything for stocks but I would say many do. Better safe than sorry.

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #8 of 14
My first exposure to a professional kitchen was as a stagiare, in which I worked for free. This is how I went about it: I luckily met a guy who had worked at this place, so I used him as a reference, though that really isn't necessary these days anymore, a lot of kitchens have people who come in just wanting to learn. Some restaurants even charge people now to come in and take classes! (which to me is crazy, I wouldn't do it.) Anyway, I called this restaurant, asked to speak to the chef (who's name I learned beforehand, btw,) and then told him I'd just be interested in coming in a few days a weeks to learn some stuff because I was going to culinary school. He told me to come in for an interview so I did and I stayed there for 4 months. I didn't even bring up money, I let them do it, unfortunately they couldn't pay me but I learned LOADS. This was a 3-star place in nyc and the chef totally took me under his wing because he saw how serious I was. I knew how to make terrines with foie gras, gnocchis, raviolis, cook duck breast, make duck confit, make stocks, sauces, etc before I went to school. They never threw me on the line of course, but I always assisted the saucier guy at night. That was probably my best experience in a professional kitchen ever and I didn't earn a single dime. But what I learned was priceless, and the chef took the liberty to call the school for me and give me a recommendation.

Anyways, I'm not sure what it is you are looking to learn, but as far as I know, a lot of higher end places don't pay for that kind of labor because they don't have to. Putting the name of a restaurant on your resume is enough. Not to mention what you learn by doing and watching is valuable. Personally I wouldn't want to work somewhere crappy without getting paid. It really just depends on what you want and what they can offer, I wouldn't even volunteer to work for free, let them bring it up first, they might pay you unexpectedly and that would be a fine thing as an extra bonus to what you would learn!

If I were you, to get that type of job, be aggressive. I used to pound the pavement, dropping off resumes and letters. Or I would just mail it in to places. Or even just call and ask to speak to the chef. Just explain what you want and see what happens. Its true as someone stated earlier: chefs want to see passion in workers, show that and you're in.

p.s. if you do call, call between 3-5 pm, when they're not in service, otherwise you may not hear such a pleasant voice on the other end!!
post #9 of 14
My suggestion is to contact your culinary school's job placement center. Often they will assist you in getting a job and/or internship. They may be able to give you a list of local restaurants who have alumni from that school in top positions, and with a call from the school you may have a job in a flash. That's what I did when first starting culinary school and worked in a four-star fine-dining restaurant the entire time I was in culinary school.
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi Everyone - it's been a while since I checked in. Just wanted to thank you all for the great advice. A quick update. I think I may have already found a place - a very reputable place here in the city.

I just received an email today from the exec chef that he was thought I had an "inspired idea" with trying to combine these two passions and he really wants to meet me - unfortunately, I didn't read your messages about "don't work for free" and offered to do just that. In his email he didn't say anything about pay or "working for free" though.

The important thing for me is learning. And being in a kitchen.

But thanks so much for all your help. I'll keep you all updated!

post #11 of 14

Great minds think alike

I too am a Special Ed. teacher at our local high school. I was a chef many moons ago. I even took classes at the CIA before it moved to Hyde Park. Left the hotels behind and went to College to Sp Ed and finished when they didn't need teachers anymore (even with 3 credentials). So ended up doing international trade with food exporters/importers and manufacturers. Finally got back in the classroom 8 years ago.
I did some personal chef work and folks gave me money to start my classroom kitchen. Having a blast Pi (3.14 or March 14th) is coming up, so we are baking pies for the math classes.

Now they want me to get a vocational teaching credential - oh well....

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks Jer

Good to know that I'm not alone - and completely insane :bounce:
post #13 of 14
I'm in Toronto and did the same thing you did a few years back. Cheftalk got me through the transition. If you need advice on the T.O. scene, don't hesitate to contact me.

Oh, and.. don't work for free. :)
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
oops...kind of already aggreed...but in a really really really good restaurant in the city. I thought this was the way to gain experience when you're starting out.
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