So here are a bit of random thoughts of what I have tried to piece together for people. It's about the process of how to look into this restaurant or other restaurants, and make sure that it is the ‘right’ kitchen job.
- First, call the restaurant and ask for the chef, tell the chef that you are a student willing to work whenever doing whatever if they'll teach you about cooking. Ask them when you can come into work.
- Call everyday until you talk to the chef, and if you can't get through after 3 days, just show up at the restaurant, even if it is closed to knock on the door and ask to talk to the chef. Bring your resume and references, as most chefs don’t have you fill out a ‘formal application’ until you are hired.
- If you show up, always wear a chef jacket, chef pants and bring a good/sharp knife and a peeler, because there is an 80% chance that they will put you to work right then and there.
- Never call or show up on Monday-Friday during their lunch (11am-2pm) or dinner (4pm-11pm) services or on Saturdays or Sundays. These are their busiest times and it will look badly upon your application.
- Don't bother to talk to the restaurant manager or front of the house manager about seeking a job, good restaurants split their hiring decisions, front of the house manager hires waiters and hostesses, back of the house managers/chef hires cooks and dishwashers.
Working in restaurants in general…
- Good restaurants will let you work or hire you for a few days to ‘check you out’. They want to make sure that you have the skills to fit into their needs. They will most likely make you do things like peel 100 lbs. of potatoes just to see if you crack or complain. After a few nights of work, they will tell you - you are ‘on the schedule’ permanently or they let you know that you are ‘not what they need right now’ - no worries, just find another restaurant and start the process over. If you really liked it there, just tell the chef, once you get some experience, you’ll come back and try out again.
- If you work hard, show up on time and listen to the chef and sous chef, always answer “Yes, Chef” to anything they say or tell you to do and ALWAYS make friends with the dishwasher – There is a 99% chance they will offer you a job, no matter what your cooking skills.
- Since you are just starting out ‘on the line’, which is what they call the stations each cook works in a kitchen, you will most likely start at the garde manger station (gar-mon-jay) were salads and cold items are prepared. As you learn about cooking and learn to execute the chefs preferences - you’ll ‘move up the line’, which may take months or even years. Frankly, if you are seriously considering a fine dining culinary education, I would not work at a restaurant that doesn’t call their salad station a ‘garde manger’ station.
Finally, some comments that others probably won’t tell you….
- Restaurants can be ‘mentally tough’ places for you to work. Kitchens are usually a man’s place, and sexist comments and suggestions will fly without notice in many places. The most successful women chefs battle these injustices with their knives, pots and pans. Don’t get angry or frustrated, just show them in your cooking/hard work that you can not only keep up, but make them keep up with you and that will change the way people interact in the kitchen more than any complaint to the chef or manager will.
- Restaurants usually entail physically or mentally exhausting work with a combination of long hours (14+ hr days), extreme heat and pockets of rush and then mayhem. Be it a silent kitchen (where the chef doesn’t allow talking) or a yelling chef (where they yell or scream at you and laugh if you cry), as you learn and grow in your cooking, you’ll find that every kitchen will teach you something about cooking, that has nothing to do with food.