Jul 112013

(Scams 3.0,)

Working with Linkedin to locate candidates who fit my clients’ needs, I instead continue to encounter an ever more irritating series of scams coupled with a dispiriting revelation of the general level of intelligence around the world. Potential fraud victims respond to even the most obvious scheme with the internet job search equivalent of “Me! Me! Choose Me!”.  (Please View My Profile), occasionally providing email addresses, phone numbers and other personal information. (More of which they will happily offer when the con artist contacts them.)

The most recent example:

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE Looking for the following posts

TitleAll Bar ManagementButlerChairman/CEOChef de PartieChefs & CooksChefs – CommisChefs – Executive/HeadChefs – PastryChefs – SousConciergeChief EngineerConference/BanquetingDevelopment ManagerEAMExecutive Assistant/PAF & B ManagementFinanceGraduateGuest Relations OfficerGeneral ManagerHotel ManagementHousekeepingHuman ResourcesIT ManagerLeisure ManagementLeisure StaffNight ManagerOperations Manager/DirectorPorterReception/ConciergeRestaurant ManagerRevenue .

Either the Same or a fellow Con Artist has added a similar ad for Cunard Lines in the comment section.

These are scams. Cunard, Hyatt, Luxury Resorts, the Yacht London, Holland America lines and any number of other attractive employers do not post jobs as comments or in job seeker forums. Previous posts explain  how these scams work and describe one of the many potential consequences.

Of course you want the jobs, but the people offering them on free job posting sites do not have them to offer, and there are easier and  less dangerous ways of applying for them: Every major player has a web site with career submission postings. Even if these calls for staff were real, you would do better approaching the corporations directly, as a candidate without a fee attached is better than one who costs a company money. (I say this as a pretty good recruiter..there are times when you will do better without us.

So, go to the sites. Here are a few. You can usually find a career or job opportunity page with most major organizations:

Holland America


Hyatt International


The Yacht London, a frequent flyer on the scam circuit, does not have a page but there are a number of yacht recruiters in Britain.

When not to go to the web site:  If a recruiter contacts you with a specific position, you should let them work with you rather than going to the group web site. (When we rarely encounter this issue, we inform the potential employer, who would not want to hire a candidate who does this).

 Jobs as CEO’s and upper management positions will rarely be publicized, as these are done by very serious executive Search Firms under the radar. If they want you, they will research you (possibly on LinkedIn) and reach out directly. These positions can rarely be approached directly.

 Anytime you see an ad of the sort above, don’t send your resume or provide your number. Go directly to the site (another way to spot these frauds, by the way, is the revelation of the client. Recruiters rarely do this.)

Summary: If you encounter a bulk job posting (listing many jobs at once) on a free job posting site (Especially LinkedIn) using the name of a well known luxury company , it is probably fraud.  You should not send them any information or comment but instead go directly to the employer’s website to apply directly through their career page.

Have a nice career.

Jul 212012

This is the third in a loose series of pieces summarizing the most widely applicable conclusions I have made about what makes for career success in restaurants. The “Don’ts” are generally extracted from the most common termination causes I have witnessed or behavior that throws up career obstacles.

“Road Dirt” means that none of this is in any way wisdom, but a collection of the second hand mud splatters I’ve been hit with over the last 25+ years. You might want to read Road Dirt 1 and Road Dirt Redux, as well.

There is, of course, no guarantee that following all of these will make you a great chef, or that not agreeing with a few will not. You need skill, some talent, some intelligence and a spattering of good character plus a little luck to get the gold ring off the Merry Go Round. None the less, I hope you will find them worth at least considering.

18) Never argue mad. Adrenaline is infectious, and arguing with your levels raised only incites the other guy. In the end nobody gets anywhere, and you both carry away a piece of grudge. (Fact: A high adrenaline level prevents people from hearing and comprehending what the other person is saying. ) Get out of a high energy exchange – put it off until everyone has cooled down. If your subordinates are angry and excited, give them a time out, then readdress the issue when they are not about to explode.

19 ) Treat visionaries with care and caution. Don’t waste your valuable time on someone else’s dreams. Realistically assess the value of new projects.

20)   At some point you may have to decide between money and your soul. I frankly see nothing wrong with money (as long it’s honest) but I know of chefs who have regretted the tradeoff.

21)   Keep out of kitchen politics. Do what you do and let others smack talk each other.

22)   Travel. Travel young and work in another country. It doesn’t have to be France. Stage. Work abroad. You will learn things that won’t be clear to you until years later.

23)   Keep contact with the people you work with. Learn their last names.  Get to know them. You will all need each other at some point or other.

24)   Write. Record everything. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling – you can correct that later. Keep a ledger of what happens at the restaurant, your menu items,  your recipes, your problems, your achievements, your failures and your triumphs.  If you don’t need this to document an incident or your behavior, you may want to use it in a book (lots of authors don’t spell well, either, so don’t let that stop you). Failing that, you will find it fascinating reading later as will your progeny. Mostly, however, keep it for documentation.

25)   Kindness and graciousness have a great deal to do with the careers of the truly grand chefs. I can’t think of one I  know who doesn’t possess both qualities. If they don’t come naturally to you, work on them.Here’s the tip: You are never the most important person in the room. The most responsible, yes. The lynch pin, for sure, but from your perspective, the person you depend on to get things out, to get things done or your customer takes the top dog title.

26) Talent is only the beginning. It provides you the opportunity to be a great chef, but it doesn’t make you one. The rest is a mixture of knowledge, skill, character, commitment  and experience, which takes years to acquire.

27) Just because one kind of job is prestigious or popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Celebrity is far from being much let alone everything. For most of us there is or should be life beyond the kitchen and the food media. On the other hand, however, if your goal is a recognized and celebrated location, possibly your own, then you need to start by working in them.

28) Put dignity at the top of your goals. That’ s not pride. It’s the ability to deal with unpleasant situations with your chin up, not to lose face by “flipping out” at tough moments, to leave without baring your emotions if you must. Afford it to everyone in your kitchen.

29) Don’t ignore problems. Listen to your people but not continually (ie, don’t let whiners whine). Defuse or deal with their issues. If you do not, they become your issues.

30) Understand the difference between pride and arrogance. Know your value and insist on dealing and being dealt with accordingly, but don’t be dismissive of those you might think of less importance than you assume for yourself.

31) Take care of your brand. Don’t sell it early to projects that offer good money but will reduce its value later on. Don’t diminish it by behavior that plays into stereotypes. You are your brand. It is what you can sell until you retire. It is what will put you in the desired positions or keep you from them.

32) Manage your career by keeping the long view. Always think of how your decisions will impact the long term. There are few situations where you an sit back and take the easy way out in the food industry. If you go towards industrial food service, you will probably not be able to return to fine dining. Hotel chefs are rarely hired in restaurants. Five years in domestic service sends chefs back to the beginning of the restaurant queue.  These are generalizations, only, but generalizations are true for most people. Most of us are most people and not the exception.


May 172012

Sometimes my clients contact me with openings whose description is cut to one or two candidates as neatly as a Seville Row suit. These are usually candidates with narrow but very valuable skill sets, so ideal jobs for them are hard to come by, as are ideal candidates for those positions.  In nearly every case I have said to the candidate, “I don’t have anything suitable for you at the moment, but I will contact you the moment I do.” Because I consider their skills valuable, I only contact them with jobs that will not waste their or the employer’s time, which means not a barrage of weekly, “Please try it”, which would at least show clients I was looking.

Generally as soon as I have identified a match I reach out and wait for a return call. And wait. And wait. After about a week I will get a message and will try to call back. If I am foolish enough to hold traffic for the candidate, I will probably lose the job, so I move on. The next time she calls, I will simply tell her that I had something ideal but she didn’t have the courtesy to reach me (usually not in those words) so I may give her a call next time, but that depends.

I would feel bad about this, except it is what I hear from my clients constantly. “We keep calling people, and they don’t return our calls.” What’s going on? Should they start texting? Are job seekers really that lackadaisical about the opportunities out there. Or should I say full of themselves?

Apparently yes. And they are too stupid to breathe. I can’t get cell phone connection in the kitchen, says one chef. So? You can pick up your message, or no? I had another appointment, said a candidate I knew had not turned up for an arranged interview.  Neither of them is gen X or Y. What’s up?

I’d bring it down to priorities, and I’d like to say that their priorities are screwed up, so let me give you a few rules and facts:

1)      Anyone providing you a possible advance in your career, whether it pans out or not, is doing you a favor. The least you can do is acknowledge it promptly.

2)      Despite the number of creeps out there in all areas of the hiring industry, employers, recruiters, wing nut entrepreneurs, there are a lot of decent people, who deserve the same respect they try to give you (in my case by not calling with inappropriate jobs).

3)      This is a small industry. If you burn one bridge, the chance of others going with it is great.

4)      Nobody is afraid to hear “no thank you.” If a call suggests a job you are not interested in, just say so. Don’t just pass the call. Life is not Twitter. All communication brings with it an obligation.  If you don’t need the job and just let the call slip, then you will have at least one less ally when  you do need one.

5)      If you have actively asked someone to keep you informed of upcoming jobs you need to be accessible. I have written about this many times. It means checking your cell phone, You don’t need to answer when a call comes in, but call back as soon as it convenient..or inconvenient for that matter.  Don’t let your possible job calls go to a home phone answered by teenagers..they get lost. Be prepared to step out and talk in the alley way, if you don’t have a place where you work. But DO call. If you can’t communicate, let the person know.

The market is looking up at the moment, but that is no license to get sloppy or cocky about opportunities, and, frankly, manners never harmed any relationship.

Apr 292012

The most frequent dream job for an aspiring chef is working in a small to midsized restaurant owned by a visionary who cedes full control of the menu, concept and pricing, giving the chef full autonomy and the tools to gain the visibility that will lead to his own restaurant.

Sometimes it works..
When it does not, the greatest issue appears to be the question of the chefs’ autonomy. I love the quote from mostly Martha, “You are wrong. It’s your restaurant. It’s her kitchen,” even though it isn’t really accurate. The kitchen belongs to the restaurant and its expenses and practices draw from the bottom line. It, too belongs to the owner, which however by no means suggests that the chef cedes  responsibility or that the owner is free to override the chef in substantial decisions.

Actions by the chef – hiring an inappropriate person, ignoring labor laws or food safety standards, inadequate cost controls or low prioritizing of loss – come from the bottom line. Owners who call for new chefs complain that their current chef has hired friends without work visas or does not keep adequate time records because he does not consider them important. One chef who refused to note what he an apparently unimportant and trivial “sexual harassment” incident cost the restaurant $200,000 in damages.

Successful restaurateurs know enough to be cautious with menu autonomy, possibly the top item on any young chef’s wish list, so a lot of young chefs turn down promising positions for owners who keep control over their menus and concepts,  whether that means requiring a few well received items on the menu, or that all new dishes be approved before they are tried out at the beginning of the chef’s tenure.

“He keeps second guessing my purveyors,” says one chef, who doesn’t comprehend the owner’s desire to have a hand in the costs of the facility.

He has three sous chefs, sighs the plagued restaurateur. That’s one for twenty seats. Our food cost is great, but our labor cost is putting out of business.” “I have brought in great reviews,” says the chef, and raised the volume by 45%, not considering that labor or food costs may be resulting in lowering profits to an unacceptably thin or negative margin. Restaurants are not supposed to subsidize their guests.

“Visionary,” it has been remarked (often by me), “is a four letter word.” Grand ideas of new restaurant owners often collide head first with the economic realities and demographics of a location. There are of course those truly impressive first time owners who start on point and continue to run a successful restaurant for years with a strong vision and perfect chef interaction (I would mention Mark Pastore at Incanto here..one of the restaurant owners I most respect in the industry), but many face heart rendering challenges in their new ventures.

“This is not what I signed on to do,” sighs the new restaurant’s creative chef. They’ve changed the concept. They lied to me.” Well, actually they lied to themselves, following their dreams rather than the hard facts of who is willing to pay how much money for what kind of food on their plate. Once they figured it out, they told the chef to replace the basil scented vanilla bass with a burger or a steak, and he’s understandably ticked off. “This will ruin my career!” he moans. Actually it probably won’t but he has a point. Game changing is a bummer even when it is the only option.

Money in the restaurant business is a zero sum game. That would be simple, but the quest for kitchen/owner bliss is complicated by a number of factors including “culinary integrity”, prestige desires, ego on both sides and lack of communication on both sides of the kitchen door.  Often the chef sees additional value in press and recognition, which can only be achieved through more expensive food or a higher staffing quotient than the financials will bear. Owners appreciate the celebrity, but they still have to deal with budget questions. They also unreasonably expect to receive profit from their investments, as do their investors.

Chef’s with aspirations understandably tend to resent the consequences of these realities, which is somewhat like resenting rain.

Virgin restaurateurs, that is those with little or no previous restaurant experience, complicate the equation by lacking understanding of the boundaries between of the kitchen door. Many want to have a hand in everything. Others simply overstep their bounds. A dear friend was, for instance, known for demanding a hamburger in the middle or service. He went through a list of chefs before one slammed his fist on the table and said “No!”. Another, no longer a virgin, gives his generally very talented chefs full reign of the menu but makes up for the financial drain by shorting the dining room to the clear detriment of the kitchen. Good food needs to be delivered at the pre-ordained temperature without infuriating the diners.

First time owners and and some experienced restaurateurs, furthermore, tend to be more meddlesome than necessary. Stories abound of cooks fired for theft or other inexcusable behavior being hired back (thus undermining the chefs’ authority and necessitating his departure), of family members investors demanding special service on the busiest nights, of orders cancelled without the chef’s knowledge. When some lines are crossed,  irremediable barriers thrown up between employer and chef. Pity.

There should be a moral or an answer to all this. Instead there many which begin with decision making and end with communication.  And sometimes there is none. They will be addressed in the next post. In the meantime it would very interesting to hear your own experiences and solutions from either side of this, because you surely have plenty of them.

Please note that the verification for this site is a simple math question. If you can calculate food cost, you should be able to subtract five from six.  It should not stop you.

Oct 032011


 The good news: Things are improving.

The bad news: Not for everyone.

The fear of a double dip recession seems to be waning, and the dining public, whether because they are doing better or because they are just tired of pulling in their belts, are opening their wallets in restaurants again.

Hiring is up:

That means that restaurants are hiring once more, although not with the enthusiasm we saw four years ago and not at the prices. It is still very much a buyer’s market, with some positions going up to twenty thousand or more under the highest compensation of the restaurant boom years.

New restaurants are opening in most of the major dining areas, partly because property can be had and leases can be closed at attractive prices and partly because many qualified culinary and FoH professionals have preferred to open their own locations rather than continue to battle a bleak employment market.

What is more important is that restaurant professionals are beginning to reach their heads out of the trenches, so there is circulation in the job pool. One of the main causes of low availability of jobs during these last years was not that so many locations were closing or cutting back, but because fewer chefs or managers were daring to leave their positions to move on or up, resulting in a stagnant employment situation and a great lack of available talent. Think of the employment market as a game of musical chairs in which nobody stands up.

Improvements are not universal:

While this is changing, the change is not complete, and the improvement in the job market is not universal nor does it cover all jobs equally.

The currently most sought after position is that of sous chef.  Serious pastry chef openings  are still rare, and I question whether the pastry earlier pastry chef frenzy will ever be seen again.

Good chefs for some parts of the country are in high demand, but the market shows extreme regional differences. Florida appears to be the worst hit location for chefs and managers, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and New York, among other destination restaurant cities, are increasing hiring.  Texas, which did not suffer terribly during the worst of the downturn, continues to require qualified staff. Oregon, Washington State and Colorado all seem to be recovering nicely.

Internationally the main job creation appears to be in the United Arab Emirates followed by China, then the rest of Asia. This is an excellent time for qualified professionals – the sweet spot is for chefs de cuisine and Executive Sous Chefs – to launch their careers in some international five star properties.  These all require completed professional education, a stable background in recognizable restaurants of quality, usually at least two years minimum in each spot. Since only the USA follows equal opportunity employment standards, foreign employers can set requirements for nationality, age and gender. Most foreign jobs will go to chefs between about 29 and 42 years of age. Most prefer European training to American, although American chefs are sought after in some places.

It is going to be interesting to see how compensation develops. In “progressive” areas like San Francisco, where municipal and state mandates eat up large percentages of operation profits, some of the costs are likely to be taken from the salaries of the middle and upper food management.  The exploding cost of food, furthermore, is going to put pressure on salaries in a zero sum game, where raising prices will cause customer loss.

The Depression feeling of the age continues to influence menus, customers preferring simpler and less intimidating cuisine with few new attempts at cutting edge food and still limited opportunities for chefs who have put a great deal of effort into developing the newest and most complex cuisines. At some point this will change, but for the moment positions requiring small staff quality comfort menus vastly outstrip those requiring cutting edge, labor intensive processes.

Since so many chefs and managers have remained at the same location for the past three or four years, stability, which is often desired, is now expected. Those who have changed frequently will be competing with professionals whose resumes show a higher level of commitment.

There are a large number of self employed chef owners among the job seekers, With a few exceptions, the market is not welcoming them, nor is it welcoming those who have been independent contractors or consultants.

What this means for you:

1)      It is less risky than it was to seek another job, but there are still not so many available that you will find a safety net of other opportunities if the new position does not work out. This means it is important to determine that any change is well within your competence and with a solid business.

2)      Regional differences in hiring make it hard to move to some areas of the country, and job seekers in those locations will find that the ration of available positions to job searchers is low. You should not, thus, relocate to San Diego or Miami, then look for a job.  Even in the more active employment markets local candidates are generally preferred to those who have not been working in the area’s culture for some time.

3)      Salaries offered at new positions may not meet or exceed current compensation if you have been at a location for several years.  The competition for desirable positions is high, and all employers will take your salary requirements into consideration when making their choices.

4)      From the employer perspective, there are still some “deals” to be had in staff. Offering too little, however, creates the risk that a competitor will recognize and lure away your “bargain” chef.  Those who accept exceptionally low salaries, furthermore, generally reveal themselves to be worth what they are paid.

5)      While most of the weak restaurants have been culled from the herd, there are still some hangers on, who hire chefs just to get to the next month. While common sense and caution is important for everyone in the hiring process at all times, care in choosing a financially sound operation is especially important during times like this.

6)      Despite the state of the economy, the prime rules of job choice do not change. Choosing for quality and professionalism is always the best policy.

7)      We have no guarantee that we are really out of the worst of the financial crisis, despite the growing consensus that the double dip recession is not going to occur. Now, in Oct 2011, the weakness in the EU could have a profound effect on all restaurant markets. Keeping this in mind, choosing employment with strong businesses makes a lot of sense.

8)      Restaurant pastry chefs may indeed not come back for a while, although they eventually will. At the moment extreme pastry is getting a great degree of press (Foe gras ice cream, berry and estragon napoleon, etc.) but the overall demand that does exist generally involves highly developed bakery skills. Hotels, on the other hand, continue to hire and train pastry staff and will presumably continue to do so. Those early in a pastry career should consider these realities when choosing their path.

Above all the current economic situation of the restaurant industry means for you that you will continue to need to make you choices in the direction of your overall career and your next job decisions with more care than we assumed necessary a few years ago.

Apr 152011

The longer I recruit in restaurants, the clearer it gets that a large number of people seeking restaurant work do not understand the process well. We, the recruiters in the field, are perhaps the most mystifying part of the system.

The idea that recruiting is easy is only one of the abounding misconceptions regarding what a recruiter is and what a recruiter does. “How it works”, as the common terminology goes.

We, all of us, get ample proof in emails showing that the job seeking public misunderstands our position in the culinary galaxy. Here are a few points you should know.

1)      Recruiting has become a more or less legitimate field, notwithstanding a continuing number of rogue individuals practicing. On the whole you can expect professional behavior from recruiters.

2)      The Recruiter’s first loyalty is to his client, not the candidate. He is not your advocate or agent. The restaurant pays the fee and gets most of the recruiter’s time for that.

3)     The recruiter is a conduit for his or her client. He or she carries out their instructions and adhere to their laundry list of desires and requirements. He will almost never submit a candidate not matching them..

4)      Discretion is or should be a given for all parties. The recruiter does not reveal conversations with your employer to you or vice versa. He is a two way fire wall. Since, however, there are still a few rogues and scoundrels among us, it is always wise to state clearly  in your  submission that you except discretion and your search should confidential, with your permission to submit your data to any position.

5)      Recruiters prefer candidates from sources of trust. They know, however, who is where and what to expect from the places candidates show on their resumes. They will respond first to candidates who fit their current or frequent search profiles, and those who have background they feel will be in demand. Other candidates are generally kept on file and contacted as appropriate.

6)      Most have been around the block a few times.  They are not stupid.  They can tell bad excuses and don’t want to hear any excuses at all.  Even if you think you are sweet talking them, they are jotting down facts in the back of their heads. Recruiters are not obliged to keep abuse of their services confidential.

7)      Recruiters practice due diligence and get references using a variety of tools and their own connections. In signing with a recruiter you tacitly agree to this. (It is on our web site.)  References should follow candidate contact.

8) Once you work with a recruiter you represent them as well as yourself, and your behavior reflects on them. Since they may be in charge of the search for the next place you work, it  is unwise to behave badly.

9)      There is a difference  between Recruiters and Head Hunters. Head Hunters want to churn as many candidates as possible and are bottom line oriented. Recruiters value their long term reputations and subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath: Before all, do no harm. Calling a recruiter a “headhunter” is akin to calling your attorney a “scheister”. Some younger recruiters find the term very cool. It’s about as cool as the term “cool”.

10)      Unless you have specifically requested it, a recruiter should not broadcast your information or send it out without your knowledge and permission.(that’s what a headhunter does.) If you ever have any questions about this, make it clear to any recruiter that you must be informed before submission.

11)      Recruiters cannot always give you details about positions. If you believe you have been submitted previously to a job, you can point it out. Otherwise you should never discuss one recruiter with another.

13)    An ethical recruiter will not, on receiving your information, inform your employer that you are seeking a new position and ask to fill yours, but it has happened. It is also actionable (you have a fair chance of receiving damages through the courts if one does and you lose your job.)  A recruiter should  not discuss your search with any other candidate.

14)   You pay nothing to a recruiter. In the United States you do not pay to get a job. Some domestic and apparently some temporary firms charge a subscription fee, which they use to check your background. It should be less than $100.  If there is a cost, you will sign a numbered contract stating your rights. Offering you a job and asking for the fee is illegal and also cause for litigation, if it puts you between jobs. In this case you can simply refuse to pay or call your District Attorney’s office.

15) Recruiters usually require a certain amount of expertise and seasoning from their candidates.  If you  have not profiled yourself in the industry, you may do better without a recruiter. While you are still a line cook or a pastry assistant, for instance, you are most likely your own best advocate.

Look for more information on recruiters, what you can and should expect, what you should and should not do in future posts. A more complete discussion of the field and how it applies to you, the candidate can be found at the Chefs’ Professional Website.

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.

Oct 192010



Provenance is the term used to describe the origin of any work of art or artifact and its history of ownership, repair, changes and path to its current location. Its complete history, if you will. The provenance of an item has considerable impact on its value. Lack of provenance makes the authenticity and legitimacy of the piece questionable and reduces its value.

You, too, have provenance. It’s your history, your entire professional path to where you are now beginning with  an after school job busing plates, or or washing dishes at your uncle Joe’s Diner before you started culinary school. It explains the length of your experience, your commitment, who mentored you. If shows your foundations. Your provenance enhances the value of your career, which, after all, is a work of art. Employers love provenance.

A lot of chefs and managers are reluctant to share their early experience for fear that it will detract from their later achievements, but they are wrong. Employers look for candidates who learned their craft in the trenches rather than moving directly to management straight out of a culinary program. They want to see that you chopped onions at the Crab Shack. It’s far more satisfying than reading “Twenty Years of Experience in Top Restaurants.”

In a recent symposium during the SF Chefs event, restaurateurs Umberto Gibin (Perbacco), Craig Stoll (Delfina) and Giancarlo Paterlini (Acquerello) agreed unanimously that they sought staff whose grounding began at the bottom, regardless of the prestige of the operation or lack of it. They speak for most hiring authorities.

Why? Among the many reasons are the rhythm and muscle memory developed in lower positions,  understanding of the business from the ground up and somewhat of a guarantee that the employee, having experience the bottom rungs is not going to be a prima donna. Provenance is the advantage held by the great European chefs, who began sweeping out kitchens at the age of fourteen or fifteen. It stands to reason that if you have worked in a dishwashing station, chopped garlic and bussed tables, you are going to manage people who do it under you better.

Employers who have worked with vertical takeoff artists – those who shoot to the top within a year of culinary school – tend to agree that they lack the professionalism of chefs with provenance.  Provenance is important.

If you have it, then, show it. If you have to leave something out, drop a few honors or accolades. They’re better kept for interviews, anyway. Don’t start your resume with a management job. Working your way up from a greasy spoon to a fine dining restaurant is an achievement a good employer will recognize. Show your provenance.. It does you honor.

What if you haven’t?   You may be the single genius in the mass who doesn’t need it, but if  you are on your first chef job out of culinary school, perhaps you want to rethink you plan of attack.

Oct 052010

Ever since the word “Truthiness” vaulted into the American vocabulary from an entirely improbable linguistic source, it’s been popping up in my business.

My friend and sometimes gun for hire Chef Claude is involved  in a consultancy right now.   I’ve known Claude since I imported him from a famous Southwest restaurant going nowhere, possibly because Claude had been sold a glamorous and not entirely realistic or truthy  bill of sale by a celebrity chef with too much vision and too few math skills.  Vision is at times a four letter word. Math  skills are essential.  Lack of truthiness is one of the hazards of the industry.

Claude has my absolute respect and trust: He’s the WISYWYG Chef (What you see is what you get),  who plays no games. He knows his profession, is a terrific judge of people,  having in the past twenty years or so fired, hired, trained, and appreciated so many good ones and suffered as many fools and the occasional fiend. He can recombine facts to come to the underlying facts and problems of a business, knows the economy of scale from fine dining to fast food (different processes, different systems, different staff, all of which the restaurant needs to take into account).  Claude is also well known for down to earth and occasionally downright earthy pearls of kitchen wisdom in purest Kitchen Latin. None repeatable here.  He has no ego, but he knows he’s good.  What’s not to like?

I had a client whose chef is “doing a great job, but…”, who is now Claude’s client due  consultant referral service of  ours which could easily qualify as non profit.  Claude, being a pro, has reported back to me with a story that’s not really new.  My/his client’s problems, or better problem,  is a single issue with multiple symptoms.

The chef is not putting in the required hours and is giving a slew of transparent excuses, which Claude interprets as either “Tee Time” or “Wife needs someone to look after the Kid”. Things are not getting done – product not ordered (“I called them three weeks in a row and they were out”, “He didn’t return my call”). Policies are not being followed (“I don’t give them my schedule, so I can keep them off balance”), subordinates are not given tools and instruction necessary for success in his  frequent absences, so the chef says, “They’re not ready yet,” which you can interpret as “You absolutely need me.”  In other words: He lies.

You could make a list of other problems, but Liar sums it up tidily.  Excuses are presented, apparently credibly,  as reasons,  subordinates’ success is hindered, cost is ignored, produce prices not compared.  The well qualified sous is pretty much hog tied by the chefs’ obstructionist behavior in support of  his own indispensability, the food in the chefs’ frequent absences isn’t as good as when he is there, the subordinates are looking for other jobs, the owners are losing money, the produce companies are dissatisfied, because who knows what they have seen of this. This, like any situation where lack of honesty impacts the kitchen, is an onion. Without being there, I guarantee that more will surface as the layers fall away.  Having seen this in other situations, however, I’d say that Claude has a fifty percent or less chance of convincing the owners of what needs to be done.

The owners, says Claude, are terrific and kind people who are reluctant to fire anyone, because the “are our friends”. “No, they’re not”, says Claude. “Your friends don’t lie to you.” I’d add to that that they are caring for the wrong one, doing injustice to the rest.

Here’s what I know. Don’t listen to me, though. Anyone who lies at any time knows how it is done and will do it again. It gets pretty easy after a while.  Liars are bad for your business.   Anyone hiring someone who  lies during the recruiting process will experience problems with them in a position of authority.  There are no exceptions. As I said, don’t listen to me. Find out for yourself.  Why not?

Not only do liars lie and thieves steal, there’s serious crossover in the process. Frequently drugs are involved, quelle surprise.  Everyone has priorities, and it’s rare that the employer’s welfare is on the top of anyone’s list, him/herself having sole rights to that position.  Most people, at least I hope they  make up the majority, follow a set of rules to make sure they do right by their employers, making the employers’ welfare their own. Not so with liars.

Liars on the other hand use their skill to promote their own interests with no regard to their responsibilities towards their employers, always assuming they are smarter and can get away with it. Frequently there’s some form of compassion play involved – his wife is ill, she has had a hard life  – although it’s not a requirement.  (Real professionals manage the same thing by knowing their business and working effectively.) Liars  furthermore are usually not nearly as good as they would have you believe and can often for some time continue to appear, because lying works pretty well, and people with practice get really good at it.

As an employer I’d be insulted, if nothing else.  The employee who is lying to you, providing you with false excuses thinks you are stupid.  It certainly insults me as a recruiter.  I can’t understand why people who find their staff have honesty issues, including those having to do with financial loss, continue to insist that their staff are their friends/family and thus beyond termination. I wonder if they realize that they are not only harming themselves, but the rest of the staff, who have two choices – either join in the game or suffer the consequences of  an uneven playing field, because the one who lies always has the advantage. They’re scared?  They are easily manipulated?

In a world, of course, where obviously a lot  people continue to fall for Nigerian Princes and click on warnings that their bank account is about to be suspended, I suppose it’s possible that some of them run restaurants. At any rate, Claude’s story is too common.

My friend D., whose business it is to pull people’s chestnuts out of the fire after they’ve let a situation like this run on for a while and experience legal consequences at some point, and I sit around our lattes exchanging horror stories likes kid’s around a campfire trembling as the roast  marshmallows to tales of the hand.  They’re titillatingly scary and highly entertaining, and she’s got lots of them.

This story isn’t nearly as exciting as any of hers, but hopefully entertaining. Do with it as you wish. There’s probably  a moral in there somewhere. I am sure there is.