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How should I approach this?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Hello all. I was wondering if you seasoned pros can help me with the approach I should take in finding part-time employment.

Here is my situation: I am currently working in an unrelated field (telecommunications). I am begining a culinary program this August at night while continuing to work during the week at my regular job. I am interested in finding an entry level position in a restuarant (I live in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago). I am pretty much willing to do anyting...wash dishes, prep work, mop the floors, etc. in the hopes of proving myself and being able to do a bit of cooking down the line. Now, with work and school, that will take up my whole week M-F. I am available to work during the weekends only.

What advise can you give to someone in my situation that want to get his foot in the door? Do I just pop into the restaurants I am interested in working at and ask to talk to the Chef? What are the best times of the day and days of the week to do this? I know enough to not go in during lunch or dinner hours and definetely not on the weekends...but are Mondays at 3:00 better than Weds at 2:00? When would the Chefs be most reseptive?

Also, how much of my current work/employment history do I share during an interview? Do they want to know how much money I currently make? I currently make 6 figures and am planning on giving that up to pursue this field...would that sound arrogant to discuss if it came up, or does that show a sign of determination to follow a dream and work hard?

Anything else that I can prepare for that you think someone in my position (no past work experience at all) should be thinking about?

Thanks for your help.
post #2 of 17
Glad to see another prospective Chicago chef. I reside on the southside, graduated from CHIC, and am currently studying at Kendall College. Here is what i did to get my foot in the door, after 3 months of patience I finally got my first gig at a TGIFridays.

Print out 500 resumes. Polish your shoes, brush your teeth, and get a haircut. Walk into every restaurnt, hotel, club, anything remotely related to food production.

The best time I have found is early afternoons (10:00am - 1:00pm), but if the restaurant seems busy, try coming back when things are slow. Ask to speak to the chef or whoever is in charge of the kitchen, if they are unavailable, ask to fill out an application and give them a resume as well.

Repeat until successful.
post #3 of 17
I'd suggest calling ahead in the off chance that someone could set something up. Check craigslist up and down for jobs. Send in your resumes and follow up even if it says not to. If you call a place and they say nobody's there, wait an hour and go in. Start with your top choices and give them a week so you don't have to end up taking a position at McDonalds. You're lucky that you have the opportunity to wait on a job. Go for the highest end places and apply for the lowest end jobs...dishwashers usually (though nobody can live without them-thanks DWs!)

I truly would not suggest taking "whatever job you can get" in your situation. If you have a bit of time and money to spare, get a night/part-time gig when a good restaurant comes along. Make sure there's a good chef/Sous in there, and that it's getting good reviews. Check it out. It should work for you as much as you (definitely) will for it.

Note: if they hire you onto the line or even to prep with no culinary experience, it's not a good place.

And to answer your other questions, Chefs will probably never be receptive. Just go with it.
Don't give them a salary history unless they ask, which they shouldn't. Just list jobs, contacts, and length of employment.

Best of luck!
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
RAS and Young Gun...thank you both for your input.

YG, you are right, and I did not think of it that way when you mentioned that I have time on my side. I will go with your suggestion about starting with the places I want to work and moving from there.

I will let you know how it all goes.
post #5 of 17
You should get a pair of shoes with good support. This is especially true if you are transitioning from a desk job or you're a hefty guy (like me). Be aware you'll be on your feet for 8+ hours a day.

The best shoes have a steel shank in the sole, so they only bend near the ball of your feet. They should also have really good arch support. Make sure they don't have a ventilated upper incase of spills.

Once you find a good shoe get a pair of Shoes for Crews Slip-Resistant OverShoes The stuff they use for the sole gives you great traction! You'll need to clean the treads everyday or so though.

As you go on in the biz, you may want to invest in a second pair of shoes, and alternate them. Buy decent socks.
post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 

Can you recommend a name brand of shoes like the ones you descrive above? That will give me a frame of referrence to go off of...

Also, I believe I read on these boards that a lot of people liked Birkenstocks, but to me those are sandles, and not at all what you mentioned above...
post #7 of 17
I'm wearing Brooks right now, but I don't remember what the other pair is. If you go to a good shoe store, they should help you out. The main thing is that the shoe is stiff from heel to the ball of the foot, as well as good arch support (the Brooks has some sort of fiberglass reinforcment in the arch).

I also had the pair of orthotics made due to plantar fasciitis(there are some excercises there that really help with foot pain).

I'll do some digging around afterwork, I think I kept the shoebox with model # for storage.

Edit: These are the Brooks I'm wearing (different color though). They have a mesh upper, so I trade ease of cleaning for cooler feet. I only wear them if I'll be in back all day. The're also fairly skid resistant.
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 
Well, I just wanted to follow up and let you all know what happened and maybe you can lend me some insight as to what you may think will traspire...

The day that I posted this original thread, I also send an email to an establishment in my neighborhood that has three facets to their company: 1) they cook and sell food retail so people off the street can come in and buy meals, 2) they do cooking classes that are done both on a schedued coarse or if you want, they can do these classes as a private party and 3) they do catering.

I sent an email saying that I was working full-time in a different industry, but was going to culinary school starting in August and wanted 1-2 days a week doing whatever they needed. They called me the same day and I had an interview set up for the following day. I spent about an hour talking with the owners and met one of the cooks. The position that had open was as a dishwasher for Sundays. This was with the understanding that I wanted to gain some experience cooking and they promised that they would get me some experience when it was available to help the chef and other cooks when needed.

I started yesteray. When I walked in, I was told that the head chef had quit 2 days ago and that the other cook that was there is taking on more responsibility because of that. I was told that I would be taking on some of the prep work and such becuase he is so busy.

Anyway, I wanted to share that. I am pretty excited about the opportunity (and my feet and back are not on speaking terms with me after 10 hours of mostly washing dishes). I was wondering from your experiences what you think may happen in this situation. I know I am only there one day a week due to my other full time job and school starting soon, but do you think that I can gain some useful experience in this situation?
post #9 of 17
of course you can, even if you dont touch a piece of food.

If its quiet, ask if you can do basic prep. Dont be afraid, most of us love having kp's/dishwashers ask for jobs
Insured By The White Mafia, Hit Me And They Hit YOU Harder
Insured By The White Mafia, Hit Me And They Hit YOU Harder
post #10 of 17
Sounds like you have both feet in the door. Does the place feel comfortable-coworkers etc. Hope So!
On the shoes, I wore Birkies for almost 30 years, they make a closed toe and heel one, can't remember the name? I was getting the heel half soled once a year and a whole sole once a year. Work long hours and obviously don't pick up my feet! Three years ago I needed a new pair (cork bed breaks down) there were none in my town so switched to Dansko work clogs. Am really happy with.
Both of these shoes are a b****h to break in. You could wear them on your days off.
Have heard good things about shoes4crews. I got these from blue moon.com and price was good.
Good Luck,
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your responses. The people I work with (so far) are great! They are interested in helping me learn when I can and are easy to talk to. The owners are very hands on and understand what I am trying to accomplish and are willing to work with me. It is not a restaurant, so it is not as hectic of a kitchen as most places, and at this point, I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I consider it good because it may provide more of a chance for me to step into a prep role or more if the opportunity arises, but it is bad because I do not gain the experience of the hectic environment. Either way, it is a good opportunity for a very green guy.

I have been looking at the Dansko shoes...they take a while to break in? How long? I can wear them around the house or even to my day job to break them in, but was wondering it it takes a week, more? I see the proces for the Danskos are about 120. Is that the price you pay as well, or do you know of places that sell them for less? I am a firm believer that shoes, if anything at all, are the one thing that you cannot skimp on. You get what you pay for...
post #12 of 17
Congrats Goose! Welcome to the dream.

It's hard at first to learn the skills of the trade. The work is very physically demanding, so don't get discouraged when your body is in agony.

Start practicing your knife skills so you can start off running. Here's some of the stuff I did at home, while I was in culinary, to improve my skills.
  • Get a sack of potatoes and a ruler. Practice making a perfect 1/2" dice, 1/4" dice, 1/8" dice, and julliene (1/8"x1/8"x2 1/2")
  • Get some chickens on sale and practice the methods for breaking them down and deboning. (You need to be able to cut through the joints w/o cutting the bones)
  • Get a whole fish. Clean and fillet it.
  • Get a box of frozen shell on head off tiger shrimp and practice peeling and deviening. (Go for speed!)
  • Find something to do with all of those potato scraps. (You'll have a lot more when you practice the tournet)

You should get a copy of Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen. Most culinary schools use it so you'll probally need one anyway.

Also get a copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold Mcgee.

One more thing! Get a copy of Jaques Pepin's Complete Tecniques. It has step by step photos for everything.
post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks Tin!!

It feels good to be among the living, if you will. I look forward to this work, even as demanding as it is on my body at the moment...It gives me something to look forward to on Sundays instead of the lousy desk job I have now. I hope that my body gets used to the demands and it gets easier.

Thanks also for the book recommendations. I will pick those up.

I never thought about practicing my techniques at home...what a great idea! I know that I am pretty slow in many knife techniques...how did everyone else start out as far as speed and accuracy is concerned? How long did it take you to get to a "prefessional" speed?
post #14 of 17
Okay, buy yourself some quality clogs with closed backs ( Shoes4Crews has excellent clogs).
Next, work with just your knife and a cutting board. Work on proper technique using a guide hand and holding your knife properly. Now develop your speed. You do not need to cut product to improve your speed. Finally, read all that you can and practise your technique as often as you can. Work on your cooking techniques at home, watch what the cooks do at your job and try to emulate their methodology at your home. This will make school easier, and may give you a step ahead of the rest of your class.
Good luck!
post #15 of 17
Wow, tincook, thought I was the only one AR enough to try and learn new things at home. I am self taught and worked several jobs by myself, did o.k. food was good. Then worked a dinner house with one 3rd generation chef
and two who had been to school.
I was also the first woman ever in that kitchen, because of my experience and after several interviews, I was prepping in the a.m. and doing the saute - salamander station for apres ski (Sun Valley, Idaho) and same station for dinner. I did well on the line and before winter was over moved all the way up to broiler as season wound down and people needed relief. Still can't believe it. But, when they first watched me prep, there was some cringing, my product was nice, but was doing so many things the long way around.
I finally had to say "o.k. you guys me the correct way", then they started to give me pointers.
They wanted me back the next season, but the money was better back in logging camps and on boats. But, when I got back I was probably working and hour less a day due to my new prep skills!!
Other thing, also a self taught baker, but no one there baked, we started doing some fruit, pastry, buffets for meetings and they wanted scratch made stuff, so I got to show off.
Was one of those jobs where when I think about it now, almost 30 years ago I smile.
post #16 of 17
Oh, sorry that got so long, on the Danskos, i am in small town in Southeast Alaska and they were $120 on sale here three years ago.
However I lost that pair and went to replace them. They had been showing no wear. Little ugly from being scrubbed down.
Anyway went to get new ones and they weren't carrying the work style--seems they last so long everyone in two had some.
From the blue moon place, the were $113 including postage.
Good luck, keep up posted,
post #17 of 17
Thread Starter 
I really appreciate everyone's comments! They may not seem like much to pros like yourselves, but for a newbie they are invaluable!

Thanks again, and I will keep you posted if anything exciting happens.
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