Stuck in professional doldrums or disengagement, time comes when chefs may find themselves at the end of their culinary tether, searching for new opportunities and inspiration. If ambition and motivation have receded in a current situation and personal and vocational growth has stalled, a new chef job elsewhere may be just what is needed to get back in the groove.
Chefs looking for new positions generally go through a rigorous interview process that often includes performing some sort of tasting or cooking practicum for a search committee or club leadership. These tastings, usually one of the final steps in the search process, put chefs through their paces and reveal a sense of a candidate’s timing, creativity, knife skills, performance under pressure, ingredient knowledge and product usage.
A tasting serves to verify and appraise, in a practical application, stated abilities noted in a resume. For the chef candidate, the tasting portion of an interview can be anxiety-filled and stressful. Knowing the parameters and format of the tasting ahead of time can alleviate some of the pressure. Will a candidate be asked to prepare a “perfect” omelet or be given an hour to prepare ten pounds of braised short ribs? Will the tasting involve a “mystery basket” containing a box of random ingredients or a pre-determined menu with specific ingredients? Will the candidate be allowed to bring ingredients to the tasting? Advance awareness of what to expect is helpful for the candidate to prepare accordingly.
But lest we not traipse too far down the professional path towards a new position, it is important to understand that the tasting portion of an interview process comes well after a candidate has been considered and approved to move on to that next step. The candidate screening sequence requires a chef to first introduce him or herself to a prospective employer in the best possible light. If you are a chef looking for a new position there are some additional considerations to help you reach the tasting segment of the interview process:
During the discussion portion of the interview, state things about yourself that aren’t on your resume. The selection committee has presumably read through your CV and is aware of your background. The in-person meeting is an opportunity to reveal your unique story, your professional interests and your niche skills and capabilities
When on property for the tasting:
Dress professionally. As the saying goes, you have one chance to make a good first impression: crisp uniform, polished shoes, appropriate hairstyle and jewelry
Prepare dishes that are appropriate to the property. ( Again you have familiarized yourself with the kind of cuisine the property seeks to feature) If the focus is classic, approachable fare, an attempt to wow the committee with your molecular gastronomy mojo may leave a bad taste
Focus on technique, and, time permitting, showcase different preparations for individual ingredients
Upon completion of the tasting, the selection committee may ask that you spend some time with the group to discuss the food that you have presented. Speak to the selection committee as if they were guests in your dining room. Show openness to their assessments and never dispute criticisms. Justifying a decision that you have made about a preparation should not appear argumentative or condescending. Never accept an offer by the committee of any alcoholic beverage as celebratory gesture for having taken part in the tasting. Be sure to extend a genuine “thank you” to the group for the opportunity and follow up with a post-tasting email, or preferably, a hand written card.
Soon enough, the process of interviews and tasting will result in the committee selecting the candidate who most represents the qualities and capabilities outlined in their search. And who knows, their choice might be you! If so, a hearty congratulations and Godspeed to you! If not, don’t despair and never give up. This may have just not been the right spot at the right moment for you. Solicit feedback if you are not chosen and work on addressing those concerns and observations for the next time. The best opportunity is out there waiting for you.
Now, sharpen those knives and go get ‘em!
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.