Aug 012013

Stop me if you have read this before:  The first thing employers and recruiters look for in an applicant is quality. The second is stability. This is done with a quick scan of dates and locations. If the ratio of years  to jobs  is less than about 1.5 (That is, a new job every year or less) most of us will pass and go onto the next, even though that chef’s background is not nearly as exciting.

I just took a second look at a resume I passed over two months ago, knowing that  I could not present  his  background of short stints in great locations to any of my clients. Being a bit disappointed about it, I read further into the resume hoping for something that would make  him a viable candidate. This is what I read.

3/2010-3/2011   Sous Chef                         The Priory:
Award winning restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)
4/2011 – 3/2012 Chef de Cuisine            The Rectory:
Three meal restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (duties,etc)
4-/2012 – present Chef de Cuisine         Jacob’s Ladder
Michelin star dining room at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)

He has been in the same location for 3 ½ years – which I missed, as all I saw were about 11 jobs in the past decade.

I feel less bad about missing the details knowing that my clients would have missed it, too. I  have had to explain similar resumes to my clients too many times to believe they will be faster than I am on the pickup. In fact, I frequently make notes in their emails that kitchen a, b and c were either all on the coat tails of a mentor or all belonged to the same company, and I still have to explain it. That’ s my job, but my candidates would do themselves a great favor it they would stop expecting everyone to connect their resume dots;

The Point: If your background includes multiple properties under the same company, chef or group or within the same hotel or resort, make it very clear on your paper.

Here’s how:

3/2010 – Present Winnepeg Resort and Spa (Five Diamond Property)
Sous Chef : The Priory – Award winning restaurant.
Chef de Cuisine: The Rectory – Three Meal Restaurant
Chef de Cuisine: Jacob’s Ladder – Michelin star dining room

See? Same information, but presented so that the reader cannot possibly miss your remarkable tenure. With this three year stint, by the way, and your collection of ten top restaurants you become immediately irresistible to the job of your dreams. Really. You move from potentially explosive material (“gee..what’s wrong with this guy..he can’t stay anywhere more than a year”) to absolute catnip. Trust me. I know this stuff.

How easy was that?  This holds true whether you worked for five hotels in a management group,  half a dozen restaurants in a corporation or have moved around from unit to unit in a resort. A slight variation shows that you followed your mentor for five  years. (2009 – 2012  Worked under Chef Adam Fritzenphal at the following properties).  Add whatever details the next employer will want to know – who you worked under,  the nature of the product you served, your duties.

I have said before that it is in your best interest to consider everyone receiving  your resume either tired, stressed or even stupid and to kindly make your positive points crystal clear to them/us. Putting things clearly is your job. We don’t miss every beat, but you don’t want the beat we miss to be you.

Nov 072012

This is for the few of you who have the good fortune to work in the best kitchens and are disheartened.

I’ve had a run of very desirable jobs recently including openings in Orange County, New York and the Bay Area. All of these require background in high discipline kitchens, which means by definition high visibility, quality and usually celebrity locations.

The result of  my outreach for candidates has been the usual dreaded flood of “could have beens”, that is chefs who started out in in the most respected kitchens and then left them early in their careers. The classic resume shows half a year at some place like Daniel, perhaps a couple of years at one of Joe Bastianich’s kitchens or Cyrus, then a move to a less known hotel  kitchen, possibly a restaurant popular outside of the white hot fires of New York, Chicago or San Francisco, then a choice for something perhaps off shore, but not on the general radar,  or possibly  industrial food service,  a retirement home, a school kitchen, an Embassy  Suites restaurant. These chefs because they have once been in the best kitchens now feel they  have the background to give them entry to a Michelin or some five diamond property. They couldn’t be more wrong.

They started with a full bag of chips, and they cashed them in too early. The thing about top level dining is that it demands top level focus and top level discipline. The word for that is “rigor”. Careers are like knives – they have to stay sharp. If you leave them dull to long, they lose that original edge. You can re-sharpen knives. Careers are much more difficult.

I understand why these chefs did this – the next step offered more money, a better title, promises of more freedom. That’s easy enough – the price for sticking in the top level of the industry is a longer path to fulfillment. You will not be a sous chef in five years. Your opinion will not be asked or even tolerated before you have been involved for at least seven or eight. By bailing on the demands and lack of early rewards chefs prove that they are better than the kitchens suppose them to be. Or maybe not.

Some rethink their priorities. Perhaps fiancés or partners insist on more attention. Some young chefs do not have the patience for the nit picking and hard standards of the top kitchens, and if that is the case, they should not be there. The top kitchens cull their staff by not promoting those who do not stand up to what some consider abuse. For them to leave is not only appropriate, it is intelligent. There are a lot of satisfying places to work in the A- down leagues.

For the rest, however, leaving them wastes an investment of time and energy, because you can only trade on the credibility those restaurants lend you for limited time. Once you are out of the loop, it expires.  There are back doors to be sure – old colleagues who stayed the course and are willing to pull you back in to their openings in a subordinate level or just the occasional accident, but they are iffy.

There is nothing wrong with bailing from the top.  Working in less demanding and more approachable locations is a pragmatic and appropriate choice. For one thing there are more people willing to spend their money there, and the rewards can be great. But starting at the top and then turning away generally means losing some of the value your energies created.

Anyone who has left the upper echelon did so for a reason. Not everyone can succeed in them. Those who left need to remember that reason and determine where their best options within the available jobs lie. Being the best food service director is better than struggling to stay above water as a hopeful subordinate in the Michelin leagues. Those still in the arena, however, will do well to think hard on the long range opportunities they may sacrifice by taking the more comfortable or flattering route.

What if fine dining is not what you really feel you want to do? Consider this: I have the privilege of knowing some of the chefs in top chain and food corporation positions, all earning well into the six figures. None of the kitchens or products they oversee require exceptional culinary rigor, but the chefs all have long careers in demanding, will recognized restaurants and occasionally celebrity status, because the corporations who have hired them require that their leaders are infinitely better qualified than their products require.  Nobody who ever accepted a better salary or a better title at a less demanding location gets these plum positions. Think about it.

Good luck to you all.

Feb 212012

Following myu own advice, that the human attention span is short, I divided the collection of observations  acquired during over a quarter century of watching people shoot themselves in the foot into shorter lists . Here the second installment. They are in no  particular order.

1)   Keep your ego on a short leash, at least in an interview.  Be wary of compliments and suggestions that you are the only one who can fix a properties issues or bring back flagging numbers. That’s probably exactly what they told the last guy.

2)   New Job: Hold your own while showing respect for the existing culture. (Walk softly and carry a big stick). Get to know the culture before turning it on its head.

3)  Trust your instincts.  If you think someone is out to get you, they probably are. If you experience subversion causing staff unrest, consider the soothing effects of a public hanging.

4)   Follow policy. Really. If you can’t deal with the policy, don’t take the job. Management has a reason for policy, and they won’t let you be you, very possibly because that puts their own jobs in jeopardy.  Read the employee handbook and apply it. As you get to know the place better you may be able alter policies and write your own.  People who ignore policy get fired.

5)   Focus your career, and hold a logical career path. Find good places and stay there. Diversity and assortment are good on a buffet table. Less on a resume. Keep your career focused and follow something like a logical path.  Employers (should) always look for a history of  logical progression rather than two bursts of glory in jumble of jobs.

6) Don’t let staff issues slide. If someone is not performing now, they will not perform in five months. Document it and deal with it.

7) Document everything pertaining to running the kitchen and keep a copy for yourself. The chance that you may need it someday is too great for you not to.

8)   If you want a great career, choose opportunity and quality over geography, unless the geography leads to opportunities in quality restaurants.

9)   Marry someone who not only excites you but understands the demands of your career. Chefs are glamorous,  until partners find out that they can’t go out and celebrate with the crowd or babysit in the evening. People with nine to five jobs somehow think their partners can be celebrated chefs and be home for dinner at the same time. Even if they say they get it, they probably don’t.

10)   You can’t have it all. If you want to work five star,  you can’t have nights off.   Decide what’s important and realize that you will probably not be able to change your career trajectory once it is set. The best training spots often pay less for starting positions.

Unfortunately there are many more.  In the meantime, there isn’t a man/woman/person Jack among you, who doesn’t have his/her/their own observations. Please do share. The comment link is below.


Nov 012011

When I took over the flagging family recruiting firm I have since  been running for some 25 years, I learned early that what seemed obvious to me as often or not had nothing to do with the truth. A candidate who avowed his passion really wanted to sell fish, or a chef who  had come to San Francisco to enter the big waters of the culinary world really wanted something out in Stockton or down in Cupertino.

More importantly, I learned that things which seemed obvious to me were only obvious to me and not to anyone else. Things I assumed to be general knowledge were completely foreign to my candidates and clients,  whether it was a restaurant or a technique or just some technical policy or the quality of a location “everyone” knows.

After one terrific shock and epiphany as to how much people in general  – even full professionals – don’t know, I taped a sign on the inside edge of my desk, where nobody but me could see it:

I am still learning to be sure my candidate or client is on the same page as I am, that they know what I mean when I reference a chef or resume, and I still catch situations where people I’d swear would know simply don’t. .

This  rule, “Make No Assumptions”,  is as important to you as a candidate as it is to me as a recruiter, or, for that matter, anyone who hires you. That level of assumption – giving your audience more credit for general knowledge and industry insight than  s/he deserves – is a career stumbling block.  You, too,  need to be able to communicate all important and pertinent information about your background clearly and completely to potential employers, whoever they are and however all knowing or not knowing they may be.

When you write a resume,  you are writing it to someone. Half the time you won’t know who that someone is – A savvy restaurant owner? A  secretary? An intern or temp? An administrative executive with good business sense but limited  culinary resources?  – so your best bet is to aim at the lowest common denominator and clearly state everything that is pertinent to your background.  Begin with the premise that your audience doesn’t know the obvious about the places you worked, what you did there, or now and then,  much about the industry and its values at all. The rule I tell candidates is that you have to account for the small but important possibility that your resume’s audience is:

  • Just  not all that bright
  • An intern or a temp with a laundry list of simplistic candidate requirements
  • An administrative assistant who knows little about the business
  • Any one of the restaurant staff: Tired, over worked and unfocused or just  ADD.
  • So stressed and hurried that they only read the captions.

They probably won’t be, but it happens often enough to justify the practice of not omitting information that they might be looking for. It’s not that nobody knows anything, but that a some  people don’t know everything and won’t take the time to educate themselves, so that becomes your job.

So: If you worked at Mo’s Tavern, Missouri, and Mo’s Tavern is a high end French restaurant serving 400 covers a night, and it just got nominated for the James Beard Award, that’s pertinent. Communicate that information. Potential employers and their minions are not going to go find it for themselves. If you were in charge of five outlets, communicate that. If you worked for the same group at five different restaurants, show it. Don’t expect a manager or an HR clerk to know that your restaurant part of a celebrity chef’s empire. Tell them.

If you as chef of La Rondelle did all the butchering or the pastry or oversaw a bakery, let them know. If they don’t, few will go out and do some research.  I do, and every now and then, but I am the exception. It is your duty to shine a clear light on your background, not mine or some restaurant owner’s to figure it out for ourselves.

It’s that simple. Tell people what they need to know in order to make a logical decision whether they should pursue you as their next great hire or not. It helps a lot. If they do know, then your explanation will not harm your chances, and if they don’t, it’s at the very least considerate of you to make the process easier for them.

Small side story: About fifteen years ago one of SF’s grande dame hotels called me to ask about one of the best sauciers in town. The young man had gone back and forth to France, mostly because he liked the girls, and had in the process worked  in some of the top Michelin starred restaurants. One of the great old French chefs sent him to me when he returned to the states, and, as he needed money and a friend with a chicken-in-a-basket kind of place needed help on the spot,  I sent him for an interim position, which he did beautifully while he looked for something more suitable.

His resume eventually landed in the in-basket of the hotel’s HR department, from which a young woman called me to verify and describe the fried chicken job. I did,  adding that he had worked at several restaurants with two and one with three Michelin stars.

The hotel staffer did not respond.  She continued to ask about the neighborhood joint, and I, perplexed, kept forcing the point that he had far more interesting background. Finally I asked, “Why do you want to  know about the pub, when he worked at MICHELIN starred restaurants??”, to which the HR employee responded – “What’s that? Is it important?”

That young woman is more likely than not going to be the one reading your  resume first and deciding if it goes to someone able to make the decision to interview you. Act accordingly. Make no assumptions.





Mar 312011

And don’t kid a kidder. Also: Stop kidding yourself.

Did I already say that? It bears repeating.

Like so many people in recruiting, both free lance like me or in restaurant groups, I’ve been around for a few years.  In that time I have learned what happens in various venues – clubs, hotels, tiny restaurants and hot spots – and I have a pretty good idea of and respect for what the people who have developed their careers have in their tool boxes – and a fair amount of disdain for those who convince me they have something else.

Applicants continue to surprise me by presenting me with statements of their qualifications which experience – it’s all in the mileage, son – shows cannot possibly be true, thus sending their resumes straight to the “We’ll call you when Hell freezes over” file.

What, for instance: A chef, really a kitchen manager, from a series of corporately held and managed family style restaurants or steakhouses like Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday’s maintains that he is an award winning culinarian known for his creativity. Let us be clear that any chef who has learned in these environments has positive talents, but they don’t rate awards and they are by definition not creative. The chef might want to be, but claiming the attribute is just plain silly.

A banquet chef of a Marriott conference center writes that he is specialized in Asian, New American and Haute French cuisine. Excuse me while I try to clamber up on the turnip truck I just fell from, but we who suffer chefs, even the fools, gladly, know the value of a banquet chef , but also know that his identity is not the newest trendy cuisine but strategic planning, development and oversight of items that have holding power and can be delivered in an organized manner and a profound sense of timing, plus some more neat stuff.

A manager from a chain claims to have a strong sense of fine dining. You get the blunt point.

The finer point is that this is a small community, and the people who hire for restaurant A probably know about the kitchens of restaurants B, C and W and fifty places and they read the papers and industry news, so misstating your qualities, whether through self delusion or in an attempt to get what you think you want will more often than not have an adverse effect.

Having aspirations and wanting to do something beyond the limitations of your current situation is a great idea. If you work at Morton’s steakhouse and are interested in a restaurant with a New World menu, you can state that you have had a deep interest in the cuisines of the Southern Hemisphere or that you are seeking a position offering you more opportunities to be creative, and someone may listen and give you the opportunity based on what they know about  your ability to follow structural guidelines (not a small thing) and organizational discipline. If you tell them you are an expert in the field, they will deep six your paper or put it in the ’86 file, as I do.

Saying you are coming from a strength which has not even got a toe hold in your visible employment history allows two possible interpretations, neither of which work well for you: 1) You are trying to have them on and do not respect their intelligence and 2) you are mildly clueless and don’t have a sense of what your own strengths and weaknesses are. Why would they pick up the phone and call?

Jan 282011

Career Goal: Top Chef Contestant/Media Star

If the culinary graduates or young cooks verging on sous chefs ten years ago had their eye on the five star wine country bijou or NY/SF Celebrity restaurant, an alarming number of today’s upcoming  cheflings have media ambition. Questions: “Can you get me on the Food Channel?”,  “Who do I speak to at Top Chef”?  Answers: A) Only if they happen to ask me to find you (which they have) and B) There is an annual competition and application process   Look it up on the Net. Join their Facebook pages.

Gordon Ramsay, a chef once known in Britain for bringing the refined manners of the soccer field to the world of fire, steel and boiling liquids, set the tone the second season of Hell’s Kitchen by proclaiming that a pretty girl in her early twenties was the image of the perfect chef, thus throwing oil on the burning ambition of thousands to make it to the top by shortcut. It is the only ten minutes of Hell’s kitchen I have ever watched, and my stomach went into a knot considering the consequences. My stomach was right. He changed the cook world forever.

Most if not all of the winners of Top Chef seem to have done quite well. The exposure it provides is invaluable not only for luring diners but for attracting investors, and the contestants are pre-selected for their backgrounds and abilities, so you would expect them to thrive.

Hell’s Kitchen winners  don’t appear to have the same success. A number of them are teaching rather than working in restaurants (not that teaching is undesirable, but it’s a curious thing).  Some are private chefs, some “consultants”. You can look all this up on the web.  That’s logical.  Unlike Top Chef contestants most were, of course, not seasoned chefs on entering the program, so it would be hard for them to take up their career again where they left off for the show – some however did – rather than try to get as much out of their time investment in the show while they can, and they appear to be doing well.

Of the rest of the graduates of both shows, some  appear to have new connections to and futures in media, quite a few from Hell’s Kitchen are working as private chefs for the Glitterati, and a few are missing in action or not meeting expectations. It’s a bit better across the board than one would expect from the general culinary population, with a few extraordinary opportunities thrown in.  A few of  course have shot themselves in the foot by showing their dark side to the world in general, and the introduction, “HI, I was on top chef,” is to most of the hiring public somewhat of a turnoff, but on the whole, if you have the opportunity and it suits you, why not? It could be fun, and it has definite financial benefits for some.

Actually  there are a few answers to “Why not”, but they are not conclusive. For one thing, being involved in the shows is time consuming and interrupts a normal culinary career. Your contract will restrict some of the things you can do or reveal afterwards, and you may have to interrupt your next positions to return for one or a series of episodes. For another, the temptation to let an interlude go to your head puts you in peril of being wooed by the wrong people or bungling opportunities you might have had later, but there’s  an app for that: Common Sense.

Most importantly, there aren’t nearly as many slots as there are aspiring cooks and chefs who are just biding their time in restaurants waiting to hit the pixeled screen. It’s kind of like sitting on a Hollywood soda fountain stool waiting to be discovered like Lana Turna.

The disconnect between the desire to be a television star and the industry of cooking is that it confuses two objectives.  Cooking, for which one attends culinary school, is a trade requiring endless skill and knowledge in addition to talent. Even though cooking schools correctly offer media training, they are not acting schools. You are extremely unlikely to get to television via the kitchen, and getting into media may only be a short term boon. In short, your odds at TV from cooking absolutely stink.  I think therefor, and I’ve been wrong often enough, that getting to media should be an option, not plan A.

Plan A should be becoming a great chef. I spoke with a number of the now top national television chefs before they had their shows, and their goal at that time was not to be in pictures. It was to be great chefs with great restaurants.   Being that (along with having a strong PR firm and much more)  is what got them their media exposure. Of course getting to the Food Network or on NPR requires much more, but the foundation of their success is their identity as chefs, which they continue to be. If you have an opportunity to speak to employees of chefs like Emeril Lagasse or Wolfgang Puck, you hear not hero worship but professional respect.

I have spoken to a number of thoroughly qualified chefs over the years who have quit their day jobs and were preparing pilots for their own shows. Not many are on television.  There are a few who have launched Web shows and thousands on You Tube, but does that equate to a culinary media career? That is not a redundant question. I don’t know.

What does this mean for you? I suppose whatever you want it to. Being good- no, excellent –  at what you do can get you to the media, so concentrate on being good before being famous. Your long term chances of being satisfied and successful are greater outside the media than in it, but somebody who puts it all on one number always wins the high stakes. So: If you want to get into media, pursue it. If media approaches you, listen and consider it. (I am at this point), but don’t start a culinary career with the long term intention of baiting and switching to become the next couch potato chef darling. If you want to be in pictures, go to acting school. It’s the easier path. Otherwise, carry on.

Some of the culinary schools are reportedly recruiting candidates with the lure of a career in culinary television. That is like a 4 year college promising a career as Senator. Some will certainly get there, but it’s a bizarre and unfulfillable claim. If a school dangles food shows in front of you, you, you’ll do well to keep looking.  (Media training, however, is a good idea, no matter where you take your education.)

Before you decide to embark on a television chef career, Google the contestants of the shows to see what they are doing now. Whatever you do, if you are a young culinary job hunter and think your future lies in bright lights, don’t tell anyone in an interview. It makes the hair on the back of their necks stand on end.

Jan 132011

Keeping your restaurant job search approach professional

An impressive HR director from a terrific company just sent me the following comment on a resume she had received: “Orgasm is a word that does not belong in a cover letter.”  She has a point.

The person who sent the resume suggesting those tasting her food experienced When Harry met Sally “Ill have what she’s having” reactions  was obviously trying to impress the employer with her bubbling personality, and impress them she did. She finished by stating coquettishly that she was not the right fit for just any organization, implying that the firm should be honored by her application.  The company agreed, deciding immediately that they were one of those organizations she would not fit, as most well run businesses would.

I would never hire this woman,  and I would never refer her. Her inappropriate and presumptuous attempts at jocular bonding raise flags.  How would she interact with her staff? What complaints and issues would arise for the employers if she waged a clever quip to a sensitive employee? Her tone, furthermore, shows disrespect for the people she intends to woo.

I recently ill-advisedly responded to one of the many “Dir Sir” applications I receive with a note that I was a dear madam rather than a sir.  The upper management applicant responded that he could hardly have known that, as there was no name on the web site.  “By the way,” he continued, “You have  a beautiful name.”    While the assumption that the manager of this firm would naturally be male should be a small red flag (how many of the important management positions in his last company went to women?  Would my clients be facing discrimination issues if he were hired?),  an attempt to gloss over the glitch  with superficial charm not only shows a surprising level of cluelessness, but insults the employer’s intelligence.  The application went straight to the electronic round file.

These two applicants attempted to bond through familiarity and what they believe to be their irresistible personalities,   a profoundly dumb strategy. It hardly ever works. For one thing, the person who reads your resume is not in familiar  mode when  reviewing candidates. It is a purely serious process, whose success impacts the future of the company and the lives of everyone who works there. Employers want information, not entertainment. For another, what sounds funny or clever or charming to you in your own mind has little chance of being received that way.   As you see from the two examples above, in fact, the achieved effect is generally one that will exclude you from the pool of candidates under consideration rather than put your papers on top.

When it comes to resumes, your favorite flavor should be vanilla. Show what you have done in the best light and make your strengths and experience clear. You don’t know what the person on the receiving end wants or appreciates, and this is no time to start guessing. “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” is a good policy to follow in job applications. If you feel that your personality will help you, you can gingerly test the waters in an interview, where you  can read the interviewers expression and decide how far you want to go. Even then, however,  smarmy charmy and smart-alec  are risky modes .

Until you know who you are dealing with, a respectful distance is always the best policy. Don’t try to bond over an electronically generated document. It just doesn’t work.

Jan 052011

Resumes follow a fairly set pattern, which makes them easy to write and easy to read.  Somewhere during the formalization of that pattern, however, a couple of unnecessary standardized items slipped in and became accepted as rules.   One is the thoroughly redundant ending,  “References Provided on Request” – of course you will provide references, but nobody reads that, so it really doesn’t matter.

The second usually equally redundant resume addition is the “objective statement”. If you send out a resume, your objective is probably pretty clear: You want a job or a different job or a better job. You want a recruiter to represent you or an employer to hire you. You want decent pay in a decent environment with decent people, and it should suit your background and give you a chance to succeed and build your career. None of this needs to be put in writing.

“But everyone has an objective statement,” I can hear you saying.  You’re right. As a matter of fact, nearly everyone has the same objective statement. The fact that someone started doing it and everyone thought they had to do it too, especially since nearly every resume template on the Internet including ours has one, doesn’t make it obligatory or even advisable.

Here’s the dirty truth. As a recruiter what you want is secondary to me. My primary concern is what my clients want. An employer doesn’t care what you want, either. As a matter of fact, an objective statement is more likely to get your removed from the possible candidate pool than not.

If you do decide to include a a statement in your resume, it should contain distinct and clear objectives:  “An Executive Sous Chef or Executive Chef position in the Tri City Area.”  Or: “A position which will permit me to expand my  knowledge of multi-unit management.”   If you are applying for a specific job or a specific company, that position is your objective: “I am applying for the position of sous chef in the new O’Conner’s Pub as advertised on Joe’s Job List,” “A senior management position with Tri State Grills,” etc. That is absolutely enough.

Most objective statements, however, say absolutely  nothing in too many words:

“I am seeking a challenging position in a quality restaurant and professional environment where I can  apply my talents,”  for instance.Who isn’t?  Can you imagine this, “Objective: A boring, poorly paid job slogging around a train wreck of a kitchen among dilettantes and fools”? No employer is going to read that and think, “Oh, gee. Too bad. We are a second rate hash house, so let’s not call this guy,” as every employer thinks his property is a professional, quality environment. Nor will they say, “Gee, this guy wants a professional environment and we are a professional environment. Hey, it’s a perfect match.   He’s hired.”

Here’s a variation that arrived today: “To utilize my experience, integrity, professionalism and skills, in a challenging position providing a high standard of service.” Now it’s your turn. What would the alternative be?

Some, such as, “I am an aspiring food diva,”  or, “I am looking for an Executive Chef  job in the best kitchen in the Boston area so I can improve their food, “are very funny.

Thumper said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say nuttin at all.” In a resume or in any professional correspondence you can expand that to, “If you don’t have anything meaningful to say, don’t say nuttin at all. “

I guarantee you, nobody is going to notice that you don’t have an objective.  Less in resume presentation is usually more.  Facts, furthermore, are far more valuable than declarations. Where you worked, how long, and what you did there – your actual job responsibilities – how big it was, and the nature of the business  will impress an employer, not a silly statement of the obvious or the absurd. Save your space for the important information.

Dec 222010

Every time I read a cover letter I find my self scoffing at best and throwing things at the wall in the worst case.

There seems to exist a wide-spread and thoroughly  mistaken belief  that cover letters are some kind of essay contest,  whose winner will get the best job, confounded by the equally groundless idea that the more you write the better grade you’ll get.

Most of what people write is a list of how terrific they are and all the things they have done. Some wax philosophical and others poetic. Frankly, My Dear, from a professional standpoint, I don’t give a damn. Actually, I do give a damn. I detest the pages of self-congratulatory bullets and have a very hard time warming to  the people who write them, reminding myself that they just don’t know any better. With that in mind, it’s perhaps a good time to educate a few of you. Ready?

The purpose of a cover letter is to convey important information you would not put in your resume. Basta.  It should do so tersely .  It should not resemble your eulogy. It is not a recommendation written by you about you, who we all know are the least subjective person on the planet on that particular topic.  If you want to praise yourself, write your own obituary – not a cover letter.

It should state  in a few pregnant sentences (i.e. tersely) – why you are interested in my business or my  job.  It can tell me why you are leaving your job or moving  or specify just what you want to do. It should not contain more than three paragraphs. Four at the most. It might explain why you are approaching me. It’s a letter, remember, not a flier. It should not begin, “Dear Sir”, since a) I am a woman and b) I have a name. Letters beginning with, “To whom it may concern,” generally get thrown out, since nobody is concerned about them.

Here’s an example:

Dear Mrs Jones (To the management of Bob’s Burger Bar/ To the recruiter a Sams Chef Stable)

Our mutual friend Jim Francis referred me to you/I ran across your web site and saw that you have a position open for a senior director of purchasing, which interests me greatly.  As chef of DoWop Diners I have had full product acquisition responsibilities and command both Windows and Apple resource administration software.

Although I am currently happily employed in Cleveland, my wife has an attractive job offer in the San Francisco Bay Area,  so I will be moving there in June at the latest. If an earlier opportunity should arise, I would move out first. My current employers are aware of this decision and are available for references / I have not yet informed my current employers of this decision, but I want to provide them with  at least 4 weeks notice.

I can best be reached by message on my mobile phone, 555 555 5555.  I am impressed with what I read regarding Joe’s House of Burgers, especially your commitment to quality, and I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with you about the job above or other opportunities you might have available.

Joe Dokes.

Now that’s a good cover letter. Joe has something to tell me. His resume will speak for the size and nature of the places he worked and what he did there. He isn’t telling me he is a great anything, but mentioning the specific points which might interest me for a specific job.  He knows who I am or he at least knows the company I work for.  I will probably call him. The restaurant manager who reads this will take note.

Obviously Joe tells  a unique story.  You can have a different story – you worked in California and want to return, you are seeking something in a larger organization because you want to hone your volume management skills – you are selling a successful restaurant due to issues with the landlord. Fine. It means something.

“I am a chef with 29  years  of highly acclaimed experience” does not.

If you don’t have a story, don’t write one. Just say that you noticed the company has a position open that would interest you, and that you’d appreciate a call. (Never ask them to call ASAP. It smacks of arrogant foolishness.) Philosophical musings on the shape of todays economy or the industry are out of place: “In times like this it behooves us to think beyond the box and reach for the stars.”  Oy Veh.  Again, it is not an essay.

Keep your cover letter simple, and keep it short, or just write a couple of sentences in the email you attach it to.  It’s the only effective thing to do.

Oct 122010

“I am a professional chef and Food is My Passion.” “I am a chef which is passionate about food.” “I’ve been passionate about food all my life.” Ah, the “R” rated resumes I get.

There must be a lot of heavy breathing going on in America’s kitchens. Everybody’s passionate about food/their art/their trade/chocolate. Cupcake makers profess passion for  their cupcakes. Grill cooks are passionate about their steak. Wine stewards are passionate about wine.  I get at least ten resumes a week claiming passion for food, wine, pastry or “my art,” which  means  that I have ten possibly hysterical people wanting me to represent them, which is at times unsettling.

Enough already.

Passion exists. It is a rare and precious state, the  polar opposite of reason,  the latter being a highly desirable trait in this industry.  It’s the grist of  “crimes of passion” and  “the throes of passion.”  True passion is your prime and possibly sole focus, which you pursue and defend from attack at all costs, including your own comfort, outside life and social niceties and sometimes family – possibly legalities.  Passion is more than joy or commitment, and it  carries those blessed or cursed with it forward with fearful, purpose driven momentum.

What declarers of passion probably intend to say is, “I am really interested in what I do,  I take joy in my work, I care about my business and am committed to it.” But since reality TV and the ever less articulate food press sling it around so much, it sounds cool, like the must have accessory for the culinary aspirant. It’s not.

I know people who seriously passionate. Wine importers Lorenzo Scarpone and Raphael Knapp.  Food experts like Joyce Goldstein. Chefs like Chris Cosentino, whose every sentence is somehow offal related. Their lives are their business, or better their calling, and their businesses are their lives with a space for family.  A few burn out early like a phosphorous fire, but the intelligent ones ascend to the top of their craft.  They are  kids who spend their vacations cooking for nothing, who put up 70 hour weeks if they are allowed to bask  in the shadow of some great chef for no pay, whose social lives are all about food or wine or what they do.  They submit to abusive positions to learn everything, even though their heads are about to burst with ideas about restaurants and pairings and odd ingredients. If their own restaurant fails they open another and another, running against the odds until they get it right, and when they do, the restaurant embodies an element of worship. It’s Pat the pastry chef who was fired from Moose’s because he wouldn’t go home until it was perfect. Most are extremely bright and articulate. Find yourself in a group of them and they talk food and nothing else. They live food, sleep food, play food, or wine or the object of their obsession. They have a thousand cookbooks.  They never say, “I’m passionate” or “Food is my Passion.” Many of them are slightly and delightfully off kilter.

There’s nothing wrong with not being passionate. For many practical purposes in the industry of bringing food to people being professional is actually better. Commitment, well-honed skills and knowledge are vastly preferable to passion for the majority of restaurants. There are plenty of celebrated chefs and restaurant world class professionals without passion, although they generally share a lot of hard work, dedication and practice. They take joy in what they do – who wouldn’t – they are dedicated and committed and grateful to have found a wonderful niche, and they are very good at it.  They have well trained palates, high standards and focused skills, and they are usually pretty rational.

I recently had the electrifying pleasure of watching two passionate chefs in conversation. A friend invited me to see Coi Owner Daniel Patterson and Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma in a two man panel. They were so engrossed in their discussion of food, without a moderator to hinder them, that the evening went over by about an hour before they had realized, infecting every person  in the room with their single minded absorption to their trade. Redzepi in animated exuberance spoke at machine gun speed of eating on the floor in a village with no store, his roots, his ideas , his dreams, his staff, his kitchen, his love of French food, this and that, with Patterson absorbed, interjecting, expanding, explaining, complimenting, a match of back and forth with two men of a single mind.

Redzepi calls himself a “seal f*cker” which probably has little to do with sexual congress with pinnipeds – but it works, because passion is carnal, driven and sexual.   It is not articulate. It is not vocal. It doesn’t profess itself.   Neither Patterson nor Redzepi even mentioned being passionate.  They didn’t have to. It was obvious. Real passion doesn’t have or need a spokesperson.  It shows through in what you do and how your speak of the things you hold dear. Even if it’s offal.

If you really are passionate about food, let the passion itself do the talking. It will. Talking it to death just deflates its meaning.  If you want to escape from the cliche try something else: Love my  job, dedicated to developing my skills, take joy in my work, committed, pleasure, fortunate, because you don’t claim passion. It claims you.