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Advice needed on how to get into a decent kitchen

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

Hello all,

 

I am in the process of moving to a new city and really need some advice on how to go about getting experience in a professional kitchen. I am 25 years old and am seriously considering attending culinary school in the near future. Before making such a financial commitment I feel that I should acquire some experience in a professional kitchen. I have never worked in a professional kitchen before and am finding it to be a little daunting trying to get an intro level job at restaurant when I don't have any previous kitchen experience. Are there things that I can do when inquiring about potential jobs that will impress professional chefs and restauranteurs?

 

I am currently 25 and have been fairly successful throughout my life thus far. I held various leadership positions while in college and was accepted into a highly competitive organization immediately after college. I have recently been accepted to law school but find myself moving towards a career in the culinary industry more and more. My resume may be great for a typical business job but it is void of anything culinary related. How can I get into a decent kitchen and gain experience that will ultimately influence whether or not I decided to pursue culinary school? Thank you so much for your help and advice!

post #2 of 17

jfresch,

 

Your posting is a very good start.  I am sure any chef would entertain someone as sincere and honest as you have come across. In reality, kitchen entry-level work is often more about reliability than talent.  The same things that have made you successful in other aspects of your life, will make you successful in a kitchen. Demonstrate your passion, integrity, and be honest about what you think you can bring to the team.

 

Chefs are trying to build stable units, and replicate a culture in new employees.  Turnover causes inconsistencies in operations, and in reality, may actually make a chef have to work harder.  You need to allay a chef's fears that you are itinerant.  If you have had problems getting a post up until now, it is because of the "I am not sure this is what I want to do..." thing. No one wants to invest time into training someone that may jump ship once they figure out it is not for them...if you truly want a post, make a guarantee to a chef for a certain timeframe, and convince him/her of your stability and reliability for that spell.  To me this is much more important than low-balling a chef, or offering to work for free...all chefs need to watch their labor line...but, and it may just be me speaking, I would much rather pay someone a fair wage and count on them, then have free labor and not be able to...

 

I appreciate your candor in trying to figure this out...I can honestly say that, of the 15-20 people in my rolling culinary school class, probably a third are still in the business...Truth be told, this industry is not for everyone.  The hours, while not always long (but they can be) are irregular and can make social-life hard.  The work can also be difficult...15 years later, and head of 9 stores, and I still occasionally find myself having to pump dishes out the dishroom...

 

I wish you the best of luck in your choices, jfresch.  Your situation is very similar to some choices I made years ago.  I had significant options outside the culinary world as well...but for what it is worth, I do not regret switching gears, and going back to culinary school, and becoming a chef.

post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the advice I really appreciate it. Do you think an email like this would be effective?:

 

 

Dear Chef ___________,

 

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to offer me any advice or help.  I am currently in the process of trying to begin a career in the culinary industry. I am 25 years old and graduated college two years ago. After I graduated college I joined a program called Teach For America. This program places recent college graduates in impoverished schools and trains them to become teachers. I ultimately taught chemistry and physics to over 240 students during my two years in Houston. After leaving this program I started to seriously reflect on what I see myself doing professionally. Throughout my entire life I have always had a passion for food and the enjoyment that it brings to people. My friends and colleagues have always pushed me to pursue a career in the culinary industry and it is only now that I am beginning to take their advice.

 

I eventually want to attend culinary school but feel that I should get some practical experience before making such a commitment. I will soon be moving to Indianapolis and wanted to ask if you had any advice for a person in my position. I have yet to acquire any substantial experience in a professional kitchen and am looking to learn as much as I can by any means possible. At this point in my life I am looking to learn from and observe people who have a large amount of knowledge and experience within the industry. Your restaurant looks like an extremely fun and creative place when it comes to composing innovative and unusual dishes. I understand that I may not qualify for a paid position at _______ and wanted to inquire about the possibility of you allowing me to intern at your restaurant.

 

I have an extremely hard work ethic and consider myself to be a very quick learner. I have held numerous internships with various companies in the past and understand the role of an intern. I would work around whatever is most convenient for you and would regard the tasks you assign me with the upmost of importance. I understand my initial lack of experience is not optimal but I want to assure you that I am extremely reliable and dedicated to learning as much as I can while at the same time contributing to your kitchen team to the best of my abilities. 

 

My uncle owns a fine dinning restaurant and bar in my hometown of Baltimore, MD that recently burned down. I understand how challenging it is to effectively run and operate a high quality restaurant.  I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to observe and learn from a team that has created such a highly regarded establishment.

 

I know you must be extremely busy this time of the year and I am thankful for any help or advice you would be willing offer. I understand if an internship is not possible and would greatly appreciate any advice you could give me regarding how to find a meaningful kitchen experience. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

 

post #4 of 17

Honestly it depends on the chef.  Personally, I put a lot more stock into personal conversations and meetings where I can look someone in the eye.  It is a little embarrassing to admit that I seldom read cover letters.  Often I have a stack of applicants and resumes, and I will scan the resumes first.  If it jumps out at me, I call or schedule a meeting, and begin building a relationship that way.  Cover letters (emails) and resumes are just a way to get an introduction, or to get your foot in the door.  It is only the start of gaining an employer's trust, and convincing them of your worth as an applicant and potential employee.

 

Instead it may be more worthwhile to stick your head in the door of the restaurant where you'd like to work.  It will show motivation and a true desire to be there...be careful to come on down times only, and be respectful of the operation.  If you call during a busy lunch or dinner shift, you may not get another chance...do research on the restaurant and explain why you want to work there, and of course what you think you can offer...it is as much in the interest of the chef to find talented people, as it is for you to find a position...

 

side note...if you do send an introdcution letter, keep it short and Spellcheck!!!!

post #5 of 17

If you're going to send a cover letter or email, make it three paragraphs or less.

  • Why are you writing?
  • What are you looking for?
  • Request for contact (include ALL ways to get in contact

 

Attach anything else you so desire but make the cover letter/email punchy enough to make the recipient WANT to read your attachments.

 

In you case:

  • Hi, I am making a career change and I want your help
  • I need experience in a commercial kitchen
  • Please email/phone/write me with you suggestions

 

 

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #6 of 17

Absolutely right!...and I also see that I did not follow my own advice on brevity and working hard to make sure everything is spelled correctly!

 

Best of luck jfresch!

post #7 of 17

Don't write, go to restaurants and ask to speak to the chef about staging. Do not do this during service. I'd say between 14:00 - 16:30. Some of the chefs around here that run or have run kitchens can probable tell you when the best time is for them to give 5 minutes to someone looking to stage. You may want to call ahead to see what time is convenient for them to spare a few minutes. Again, don't call during service.

Apprentichef - Six stitches to go home early and you can't die until your shift is over.

 

Reply

Apprentichef - Six stitches to go home early and you can't die until your shift is over.

 

Reply
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you for all of the advice everyone. When I go into restaurants and ask to speak with the chef are there certain things I should expect? And what will the chef be looking for from a person who has little kitchen experience? Thanks

post #9 of 17

Hi folks,

I am extremely happy to find this site and forum. this particular thread hits home for me. I am a bit older than Jfresh here, and am in the process of not only changing careers, but also changing location in the near (6 - 8 months) future. Being 46, and having a family to support, I am not able to spend years in culinary school. I am a accomplished cook, and have good basic skills and clean work habits.

 

I have tended bar (12 years) in the past and have owned my own business. I am familiar and comfortable with front of house. Anyway, I am planning to open my own bar/restaurant in the sarasota Fl area, within the next few years.

 

I love food... I have a great palate... I have a concept...

 

But I do not know the back of house, and have never worked in a kitchen for real!

 

I have been searching (within a half-hour drive) locally for a kitchen that will hire me, and keep hitting a brick wall.

 

My local pub allowed me to help prep, and watch a service, I also spent a day with the head chef going over inventory and placing orders after making his menu.

 

trouble is, he has no space in his kitchen.

 

I am looking to apprentice.... yes i will work for free....

 

I feel like i can learn better that way, also I have told them, that i am available for at least 8 months

 

am I doing this all wrong? I would gladly take any job and I want to learn....

 

I am even considering opening a small catering company in the interim, but that will not get me to my eventual goal.

I am of the opinion that unless you are familiar with every aspect of a business, you have no business owning one.

 

any opinions or advice would be appreciated

 

Thanks

 

~Bones~

post #10 of 17

"I am of the opinion that unless you are familiar with every aspect of a business, you have no business owning one."

 

 

Thank you for wanting to do it right.  There are too many poor operations out there...that make us all look bad.  how far are you from Tampa...too far?

post #11 of 17

yes, sadly i am in North Jersey.

I have been considering moving down to the area early. And it is certainly not out of the question.

 

Plans as of now are to stay here in NJ until house sells, or until it is prime time to open the restaurant.

 

But if the opportunity presents itself, I could re-locate easily.

 

are you in the tampa area? if so i have a few questions to pose to you.

 

thanks

post #12 of 17
No...actually I am out of Atlanta. I am the corporate chef for an upscale group and we have two spots around Tampa. I am in the area a lot so, depending on the question, I may be of some help...
post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alticibi View Post

No...actually I am out of Atlanta. I am the corporate chef for an upscale group and we have two spots around Tampa. I am in the area a lot so, depending on the question, I may be of some help...


most of my questions are area related... Sarasota is the choice right now, but as with everything, there is much more research to do before that is a definite.

When you say you have spots n Tampa, do you mean one I can jump into, or just places your group owns?

Because if the place is right, and I could intern / work there it would be ideal. I have family in the Clearwater area I could stay with if there was a learning opportunity.

It would be perfect for me, especially since I can scope out Sarasota on my down times from there.

If you would like you can email me direct at bonesdilligaf@yahoo.com

thanks again for the response, it is very timely.... I have been looking at alternatives in my area, like opening a catering co for the summer... lol

this would be much more beneficial to my ultimate goals.

 

~Bones~

post #14 of 17

I'll shoot you an email shortly...

post #15 of 17

Just my .02 here:

 

At your age, I wouldn't reccommend going to any sort of culinary school.  The amount of money and time that it will take you, can be used more wisely to gain on-the-job experience.

 

If you currently have a job, my suggestion would be for you to volunteer your services at a restaurant that you're interested in.  If you have a day job, try volunteering a few nights a week to get your foot in the door.  By volunteering, I am suggesting working without pay.  Once you are in, with hard work and dedication you can leverage yourself to a full time, paid position.  

 

Finally, as one of the above posts states:  do not walk into a restaurant during a lunch or dinner period and ask for a job.  When someone does that to me, my instant response is "sorry, I'm not hiring."  

 

Good luck with your endeavor!

post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by searingxheretic View Post

Just my .02 here:

 

At your age, I wouldn't reccommend going to any sort of culinary school.  The amount of money and time that it will take you, can be used more wisely to gain on-the-job experience.

 

If you currently have a job, my suggestion would be for you to volunteer your services at a restaurant that you're interested in.  If you have a day job, try volunteering a few nights a week to get your foot in the door.  By volunteering, I am suggesting working without pay.  Once you are in, with hard work and dedication you can leverage yourself to a full time, paid position.  

 

Finally, as one of the above posts states:  do not walk into a restaurant during a lunch or dinner period and ask for a job.  When someone does that to me, my instant response is "sorry, I'm not hiring."  

 

Good luck with your endeavor!

I agree with you,

on the job is how i want to train.

I am collecting unemployment right now, and have been to every decent (clean well run kitchen) within an 45 min drive from my home since October.

Even offering to apprentice / work for free I have hit a brick wall.

they are either too busy (Dec mostly) or they have just blown me off. I had two places say come back in Jan, I was there First thing on Jan 2nd and they decided they didn't want me.

I spent a few days in one place, but they had no space to put me for any length of time... besides doing a bit of prep for them, I just mainly watched the dance with dinner.

I have spoken to my butcher, and he will allow me to watch and learn as they prep some meats and make some sausage...

but that is just extra curriculum... lol

never thought i would have such a hard time with this... but maybe i am just in the wrong area...

I have options, I can work in NYC for quite a few people, but it would cost me more money than I am willing to spend right now.

It is also a 2 hour commute each way....

at the end of the day, I want to learn, but i want to learn properly...

 


 

 

post #17 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alticibi View Post

I'll shoot you an email shortly...



looking forward to it....

 

thanks

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