Applying for a Job: From Cook to Sous Chef to Chef
By John Brand Executive Chef, Hotel Pearl – Kimpton Hotels | August 18, 2013
Applying for a job these days has grown from its dependency on skill and experience to include the added value of knowledge and the pursuit of information. As a cook, sous chef and chef, one must have basic culinary skills and kitchen operation knowledge as a standard to get in the door. We used to hire for depth and stamina and we still do but equally important is attitude and disposition in the kitchen. One of the crucial details I look for in an interview includes knowledge, does this person have it and know how to utilize and share it. Will they bring a fresh perspective, unique experiences and technique? Will their experience enhance the culture of the kitchen?
All cooks applying are brought in for a stage, or an ‘estagier’. It is important not just to judge knife skills but demeanor. I am looking at how they interact with the rest of the team. I do not schedule the stage when service is calm and all is perfect. I truly want the applicant to see the crunch time, I want them to see the hustle and sense of urgency as the line sets up right before we open. Usually at that time the hotel undergoes a shift change of sorts, the mentality of management changes as the sun sets and the daytime decision makers leave property. The hotel and kitchen can get busy with guests checking in and ordering food from the bar and room service.
The not forgotten employee café will get its last push and nothing halts the magic of a chef de cuisine who has prepped an amuse bouche and celestial special like running out of peanut butter in the café to find the storeroom has closed. It’s crucial to see the reactions and interaction of the applicant during these moments. This allows the applicant to work with a potential team, to retrieve something from the cooler or to assist with minimal prep and ask questions. I hope they hear good, positive answers from a professional, this determines the standard expected.
At the same time, I may have the applicant cook something, such as a burger, sauté some onions, cut chives, make 8 ounces of a vinaigrette, or a four egg hollandaise. This will force them out of their comfort zone and might cause them to sweat a little. What they may not know is that everyone else on the team has also had to undergo the same routine. This is not a pass/fail, it is an exercise to show strengths and shortcomings. For a higher level cook position, I will test butchery, knife skills, searing and the making of a sauce as they hold a conversation. Integral to the job is remaining calm and multitasking.
Applicants have 30 minutes to cook, cut, and clean with proper sanitation. This sounds easy but for some it is a struggle and they go quiet, not something I need from a leader. After they have left, I will get feedback from certain members of the team and their perspective.
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