July 8, 2016

You may have the skills and desire to make it as a chef, but you can’t know what it’s like to work in a professional kitchen until you’ve done it. One way that many people who have taken online culinary courses go on to gain real-world experience is through an internship. Read on to learn about what it’s like interning at a restaurant and how you can find your own opportunity to build experience:

What’s involved in a culinary internship?
An internship at a restaurant is also known as a stage, from the French word for apprentice or trainee. When you stage, you are there to observe different techniques and the preparation of a certain type of cuisine in action. While you’re in the kitchen, you help out in any way you can.

“You stage to observe different techniques in action.”

That often means being asked to perform dull, repetitive tasks. Herbivoracious gave the example of cutting up three cases of tomatoes. You should check with the staff to make sure you are performing each duty, however simple, in the proper way, and you should always keep busy. If there’s no one to tell you what to do, start cleaning.

According to Eater, stages rarely do any cooking unless they are being considered for a permanent position. Nonetheless, many of the world’s top chefs began their careers with such experiences, finding the practical knowledge and inspiration to eventually run their own restaurants. New chefs discover how to communicate efficiently, delegate responsibilities and act as part of a team when the pressure is on.

Chef James Lowe commented to The Guardian on his own experience interning at kitchens in New York City and Copenhagen.

“It can open your eyes, make you think, you can learn so much even in one day sometimes,” he said. “If you go with an open mind and for the right reasons they are great.”

Finding the right environment
Some culinary schools include an internship as part of their curriculum. Otherwise, you may have to seek out your own opportunity. Chef’s Blade advised that you start by figuring out just what you’re looking for in your experience. One major question you need to answer is whether you can survive on an unpaid internship. While it can be difficult to work multiple jobs or go into debt during your training, many chefs feel the struggle is worth it to train at an especially prestigious kitchen and learn from the best.

Whether you are paid or not, choose a restaurant that is the kind of place where you think you’d like to work. Take into account factors like size, culinary style and the kitchen culture. That way the experience you get is more likely to be applicable to your career, especially if you have the good fortune to be offered a job.

Among these important considerations, there is also location. It may be impractical for you to travel a long distance in order to take up an internship, even if there is an opportunity in a great kitchen. Keep in mind that a big part of building a career in cooking is forming a strong network of people in the industry, so interning in the area where you plan to find a job is a good idea.

You may be asked to perform simple, repetitive tasks during your internship.You may be asked to perform simple and even dull tasks during your internship.

Acquiring an internship
Once you’ve narrowed your options, you must approach the restaurant about planning a stage. Poached Jobs pointed out that the best way to do so is by calling upon your network. If there’s someone you know who works in a kitchen, you have a much better chance of arranging an internship.

Nonetheless, it’s possible to get into a kitchen without knowing anyone. Begin by approaching the chef during hours when the kitchen is not busy. You can bring a resume or just a brief cover letter outlining your experience and why you want to stage in that restaurant.

If the chef is willing to have you, he or she will outline the expectations for your internship. You may be required to wear clothing in line with the kitchen’s dress code and bring your own tools, such as knives. Be sure that you are always punctual, keep meal breaks short and stay until the very end of the shift.

You can learn a tremendous amount about cooking and managing a kitchen from a culinary internship. This real-world experience complements the lessons you learn from an accredited online culinary institute and starts you on the path to a career in professional cooking.