July 10, 2020

Yesterday we were honored to have Culinary Agents founder and CEO, Alice Cheng join us for a virtual event hosted by Escoffier president and CEO, Tracy Lorenz. Alice and Tracy discussed topics and answered questions that are critical to navigating our industry’s evolving landscape amid COVID-19. We were excited to see students, alumni, staff and faculty from across the country, from New York to Hawaii, in attendance.

Culinary Agents was founded to help individuals find career related information, jobs in particular, in the hospitality industry. They have over 850k members who are able to connect with 26,000 businesses nationwide, including over 80% of all Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S. The best part for Escoffier students and alumni is that all Culinary Agents job postings are directly linked to the Escoffier Alumni Association website.

Questions addressed were submitted both before and during the event.

How has the culinary industry landscape changed due to COVID?

As the industry slowly begins to re-emerge and businesses begin to re-open, owners are looking at things differently. There may be more opportunities now for culinary graduates than there were pre-COVID due to re-imagined business practices and operations. Owners and managers are taking a more thoughtful and strategic approach to thinking about who they need on their teams now and who they will need in the future. This paves the way for culinary graduates to be able to perform multiple tasks including some FOH actions and why a solid culinary education can provide a myriad of diverse and even new opportunities going forward. There is the added benefit of businesses being able to provide employees with a better culture and workplace experience due to the changes being made.

How does Culinary Agents help AESCA students and graduates?

Businesses are constantly posting their employment opportunities on the Culinary Agents website. And with approximately 3 million food and beverage industry jobs that have been added in May and June, according to the National Restaurant Association, opportunities exist all over the U.S. right now. Students may be looking for part time employment to gain additional experience while going to school, while recent graduates are seeking full time employment. There is a diverse collection of jobs available to all, no matter what place you are at in your career. From dishwashers to cashiers to restaurant managers and executive chefs, these companies are seeking employees now.

When a prospective employee registers with Culinary Agents they have created a networking opportunity that enhances their association with the Escoffier Career Services department. Alice mentions that it’s extremely important for job seekers to have a digital resume that they can drop in front of prospective employers.

Currently there are over 6000 active jobs per month, and that number is rising, so now is the perfect time to get in front of these companies. She urges students and graduates alike to be proactive in their search.

How can a student or graduate expand their horizons when job searching?

Alice mentions that it’s important to set goals; figure out what it is you really WANT to do. Who do you aspire to work with and for? This is what can help you envision your future. Also she explains to keep in mind that not everyone wants or needs to work in a restaurant after graduation from culinary school. The industry has so many diverse career paths that basically your imagination is your only limitation.  A few she mentions in particular are health care facilities, cruise lines, educational institutions and sports arenas.  And while some of these are going to be very slow in coming back, their future opportunities shouldn’t be discounted if it’s something you dream of.

When the conversation turned more towards immediate COVID concerns, Alice was extremely helpful in putting our audience at ease.

What are employer expectations now post COVID?

Alice stated that we are in the early stages of new trends, however, mid-level and entry-level BOH positions are in high demand right now. With restaurants rethinking their business models and adapting to ‘to-go’ and delivery expectations, the need is building. Businesses are chomping at the bit to get in front of culinary students and graduates as they search for both experience and foundational education. Companies are looking to upscale and even cross-scale their employees as they might not be able to employ as many as they once did. So a culinary student or graduate who also has pastry experience is highly valued. A cook or chef who has also worked FOH or has business experience is a tremendous asset moving forward.

How do students find out what is being done for the safety and well being of employees?

Alice told our audience that it’s important to stay updated with current information. Two sites she specifically mentioned are the Occupational Safety and Health administration (better known as OSHA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many employers are now also writing their own playbooks, updating training materials and promoting this information to both employees and patrons. This is something that businesses should be publicly sharing going forward to put their staff and guests at ease. If they do not find it readily accessible, it’s important to ask, as it allows you the comfort of making an informed decision, should you be offered a position there.

What are some resources to help students stay informed?

It’s important to know just how many resources are available to Escoffier students and graduates. Our Career Services department is available as lifetime support for both students and alumni. The Escoffier Alumni Association is also a valuable resource for our graduates. By joining the Escoffier Alumni Association you can connect with fellow colleagues, network with industry professionals, access featured job opportunities, join special interest communities, and stay updated on key alumni events. Other resources are the Escoffier blog and online publications like Eater and Grubstreet, which have a great mix of industry and consumer information. Alice also urged students to pay close attention to what is happening with re-openings around their city, state or region, depending on how large of a job search they are activating.

The new expanded employee.

Many were wondering what additional responsibilities or skills they should have post COVID. Alice warned that it is completely realistic for employers to desire one employee to do two jobs.  They will be looking for ways to consolidate their staff and find overlaps in job requirements. For example a sous-chef may be asked to complete all or some prep work. She advises job seekers to present all skills they have regardless of the relativity to the position. Specifically, she recommends noting:

  • Different languages – are you perhaps bi-lingual
  • Wine experience
  • Pastry experience
  • Managerial experience

New roles are being created due to the COVID-19 crisis so the more skill diversity you have the more attractive you are as a potential employee.

The important thing to remember is to craft your story carefully in order to put forth your best impression. And if you’re in need of assistance with this, our Career Services department is only a phone call or email away.

In closing Alice left our audience with a few key takeaways:

  1. Take a step back and ask yourself what you want to do. Armed with your education and experience you are well positioned to get any job you want, but what is it you really want to do?
  2. Define your goals. Are you looking for a job that will offer financial security, health insurance, etc?  Identify those companies that reflect your goals.

Culinary Agents recently conducted a survey to bring light to the talented people who keep this industry running. You can view the results here.