After honing your skills in a culinary arts program , you will set out to find your first job as a professional cook. This can be a daunting task, especially if you are interested in continuing to grow as a chef and making the kinds of connections that will allow you to progress in your career. Here are some tips for finding your first professional cooking job:
Consider working outside of restaurants
Many people enter culinary academy with the goal of someday becoming the executive chef or chef-owner of a celebrated fine dining restaurant. However, that path is not ideal for everyone and you should at least investigate some other employment possibilities. As the Chicago Tribune reported, non-restaurant jobs are increasingly popular among new chefs because of their higher starting wages and less grueling hours.
You could, for instance, seek an institutional cooking job in a university or hospital cafeteria. Hotels and country clubs also often hire recent culinary school graduates. Many chefs find work in catering as well.
Find a quality apprenticeship
If those other possibilities are not appealing and you still wish to pursue a career in the restaurant industry, you are not likely to jump immediately from culinary school to a high-paying job as an executive or sous chef. Probably, you will first pay your dues as a prep and line cook.
You can take your first step in building a career and finding out whether the restaurant industry is right for you by taking on an apprenticeship. Depending on the restaurant, you may have an official title of “apprentice” or “stage.” Either way, you should choose a restaurant that has a menu and staff you truly admire for this formative experience.
Chef Shuna Lydon recommended bringing a resume and asking to speak to a chef outside of busy meal times. Explain your appreciation for the food served in the restaurant and ask if he or she would be willing to take you on for any job in the kitchen. Be humble about your own background and enthusiastic about your desire to learn from that particular chef.
If the chef agrees, plan to show up early, stay late and take copious notes. You will learn by careful observation and by performing simple tasks many times, rather than receiving any extensive lessons from the staff. These people are busy with their own jobs.
Work your way up
As chefs emphasized to U.S. News & World Report, the most important factor in eventually reaching more prestigious positions is gaining real-world experience in the kitchen. Keep in mind that while making stock or working on the line is not glamorous, these jobs provide a major opportunity to master your craft.
You practiced your knife skills and learned the basics of many cuisines in school, but being put through your paces on a daily basis is a different kind of training. Under the pressure of a professional kitchen, your abilities will be tested and expand. This is also a chance to observe how experienced cooks and chefs organize their stations and assemble their dishes.
Perhaps even more importantly, you’ll learn to communicate and cooperate with the kitchen team. This human element matters for both preparing quality dishes and continuing to develop the professional network that will keep you moving forward as a chef. Knowing other people in the industry and staying on top of the latest culinary trends make a huge difference in building a successful career. Strengthen your resume by staying at restaurants for a year or more, and keep an eye out for the next job by constantly expanding your contacts.