Some industries seem to be designed for networking, with conferences and trade shows a regular part of the annual calendar.
The kitchen, though, is a small, insular place where cooks and chefs see the same faces day in and day out. How are chefs supposed to make professional connections if they’re cooking all day?
It takes a little work, but it can be done. Here are 5 ways chefs can build their networks and support systems for both guidance and friendship in the culinary community.
Practice Talking to Strangers
You’ve practiced mincing, cubing, and balancing flavors. Now it’s time to practice talking!
Talking to strangers is a skill like any other, and it’s not one that comes naturally to everyone. It requires engaging in small talk without boring your partner. And you have to listen as well as you speak.
You don’t want to “practice” on the Michelin-starred chef that you’ve been dying to meet! Instead, look for low-stakes practice opportunities like the grocery store, restaurant, or coffee shop (from a safe 6’ distance!). Strike up a conversation with a stranger to get more comfortable talking to new people.
You can also get experience by getting out of the kitchen at your own restaurant. Can you spend a few minutes circulating the dining room and asking guests how their meal was? This is often a task for the Executive Chef, but they may let you try if you haven’t reached that level yet.
You could even set up practice chat sessions with other chefs who are looking to improve their skills.
“The more you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, or new situations, the better you get at being in those uncomfortable situations. And then being uncomfortable kind of loses its meaning and your confidence builds. You realize that you can do anything. I think that’s an important lesson.”
Escoffier Chef Instructor Emily Maddy
It can help to have an “elevator pitch” prepared. What will you say when someone asks what you do? You could just say, “I’m a chef at X Restaurant,” and leave it at that. Or you could say, “Right now, I cook at X Restaurant. But I’ve been studying French cuisine, and I’m hoping to get into fine dining.”
This approach is both a conversation starter and informs your partner of your goals naturally. You never know if the person you’re talking to has the connection you need unless you steer the conversation there.
Volunteer in Your Community
Nearly all fundraisers and community events have a food component, and they need chefs to volunteer their time. This can be a great way to connect and network with other chefs in your area. Strike up a conversation and exchange email addresses or social media handles!
These events have the added benefit of getting publicity for your restaurant.
Culinary students take note — when food festivals resume post-COVID, volunteer your time! You can get connected with big-name chefs in your area as their helper for the day. Make a good impression, and you may create a major opportunity for yourself!
Join Culinary Associations
Getting involved in local, national, and international culinary associations can lead to introductions to chefs from all over the world.
The American Culinary Federation, for example, is a large organization of professional chefs that hosts events for education and connection.
Some other groups share a namesake with Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, like Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Disciples Escoffier International. Les Dames is a culinary organization that promotes women in the food and beverage industries. And the Disciples are devoted to promoting the tradition of French cuisine. Members meet to discuss food and promote charitable causes.
These two groups require sponsorship to join, so try to connect with a current member if you hope to gain admittance.
Take Advantage of Social Media
Cooking is an inherently visual process, so there are many chefs that share their day-to-day and culinary creations on social media. These platforms put the chefs you want to connect with within reach. Social media also makes it easy to stay connected to your classmates from culinary school.
If you follow and regularly interact with the content of other local chefs, they’ll start to recognize your name. Post your own content as well to give other chefs an opportunity to see what you can do and engage with you.
While sites like LinkedIn are specifically geared toward professional connections, there is also value in the “lifestyle” platforms. Instagram, with its focus on photography and video, can be a particularly beneficial social site. Show off your food and ask other chefs questions about their cooking.
Social media is all about conversations, so don’t just post and run. You have to actively engage with others online to get any networking benefit out of these apps.
Maintain Relationships Over Time
Networking is a long-term process, not something you only do when you’re looking for a new opportunity.
Keep up with your culinary school friends as you progress through your career, and stay active in your school’s alumni association.
Escoffier’s Alumni Association has over two thousand members and gives graduates a place to reminisce with old friends and meet other former students they may not have encountered at school. It also has job postings and access to continuing education. Plus, you can provide mentorship and advice to younger graduates.
“I knew I would have the support of an amazing network ensuring my successful career upon completion of the program. I am extremely pleased with my choice to attend Escoffier.”
Suzanne Clancy, Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate & Kitchen Manager, Hillstone Restaurant
Another source of long-term networking and mentorship is the Chef Instructors you meet while studying at Escoffier. Many instructors share their personal contact information with students, giving them the opportunity to reach out with questions both during and after culinary school. Continue to cultivate those relationships with your Chef Instructors after graduation day!
Chefs often think of their networks when they’re trying to fill positions for their restaurants, before posting a job opening online. So keeping these relationships warm can keep you in mind for future opportunities. A robust network will also help you to find staff if you’re in a hiring position. It’s a give and take!
Consistency is Key
Attending culinary school provides nearly unlimited networking possibilities, with Chef Instructors, school staff, past graduates, and future graduates all within your reach.
Chefs must be proactive if they’re going to take advantage of these networking opportunities. It may be hard to fit it into your busy schedule, but it’s worth it. The best known chefs didn’t gain notoriety by hiding in their kitchens all day!
Other Chef Career Articles You May Like:
- How New Chefs Can Stand Out in the Kitchen
- 5 Effective Ways Chefs Can Communicate with Wait Staff
- What Does it Take to Be a Line Cook?
This article was originally published on December 15, 2015, and has been updated.