Depending on the job coming up, you will be asked to do a tasting.  The tasting may be Market Basket, a creative tasting which you can partially prepare, or simply a run through of some of the property’s signature dishes.

Generally tastings show a few but not all important aspects of a chef’s abilities: Sense of flavor, work habits, quality of food and timing, and to some extent how the candidate deals with people. As snapshots rather than extensive exposes of a chef’s talent, they are limited.

We have seen a lot of candidates who are very well suited for positions fail to get them on the basis of the tasting. The following rules should help you to do well in yours:

1)      Determine what the employer is looking for. This is the most important rule.  Be sure you know what the company wants and expects. Listen very carefully. If they stress local ingredients, or French style or comfort food, they mean it.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Take notes. If you have a question before the tasting, write an email.

2)      You should never miss a tasting. Rescheduling is permitted only in the case of death or influenza. Plan an entire day for local tastings. If you need to travel to it, expect to get there the night before. Never stand a business up for a tasting, especially if they have already secured ingredients. There are too few bridges in the restaurant community to burn them with extreme rudeness. (Not showing up for a tasting is unforgivable.)

3)      Know the parameters of the exercise: Are you to create the menu, will it be their menu, what should you prepare or bring? For how many will you be preparing? How many items do they want? What is the timing?

4)      Stay within your comfort zone. Prepare items you know.  A tasting is no time to challenge yourself.  Choose items you can create easily and have often prepared.  Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, never do anything new in a tasting. Avoid last minute changes.

5)      Be painfully aware not only of taste but of presentation.

6)      If possible, do a run through of the tasting at home.

7)      It is policy to take your own coat and knives.  Avoid items which require special utensils or hard to find ingredients. Be sure that the kitchen has those basic utensils you will need.

8)      Be respectful to everyone in the kitchen. You are being watched. It is not unusual for employers to ask employees what they thought of a try out chef. You are a guest in their kitchen.

9)      Stay calm and stay neat.  Work cleanly and professionally. Do not expect anyone to follow you with a rag.

10)   If possible, check out the space in advance. Arrive early to set up correctly.

11)   Relax.

12)   Go into the dining room when the tasting is finished, unless they come to you or you are asked not to.  Treat the employers as guests. Ask what they thought of the meal. If there were any issues, tell them.  Explain and discuss the dishes you created and prepared.

13)   Clean up after yourself. Thank the staff you worked with. Thank the potential employers. Even if you think things went poorly, smile. Shake hands if hands are offered.

14)   If you are offered an alcoholic drink at any time during the process, decline it politely. Do not have a drink at the bar afterwards.

15)   It never hurts to send a  “Thank you” email.

One of the most distressing events in my business world is the failure of what I am sure is a perfect chef/restaurant pairing because of a misunderstanding between the parties. In theory it is my duty to navigate the choppy waters between resume submission and hire, but as the saying goes, “There is no foolproof system, as fools are so ingenious.”

Dougie just called and sent an email about the great candidate I had proudly sent his way. “He’s really angry,” says Dougie. “Who else do you know.”  The young  chef is cut to order for the restaurant: On the cusp of success as a chef, seven years as sous chef in some very fine properties where he was highly regarded, followed by a couple of years in two appropriate locations, where he got his “chops”.  Talented, knowledgeable and hardworking but still flexible. And mad as Hell. Unfortunately he seems to have taken it out on Dougie. No match.  DRAT!!

YoungChef has a right to be angry. His last position essentially abused him through lack of honesty (that never happens in this industry, does it?) and lack of professionalism, and his current location promising to be the next French Laundry decided it wanted to be a cafeteria within a month of hiring him. You can’t blame the guy, but he’s doing himself no favors.

So what’s the problem?  “Mad as Hell” comes through in an interview.

 I understand resentment, I really do, being a minor principessa of the  Kingdom of Grudge at times. Nothing is as hard to deal with as betrayal, and if you are cursed with the heart-on-your-sleeve gene,  keeping it to yourself is a daunting challenge, but it’s also a necessary skill. Being furious – justifiably or not – can deep six a job and a career.  An interview is a professional exchange in which emotions can be extremely damaging. You need to deal with your emotions before you go into a phone conversation with your next possible employer. How?

 You can tackle your resentment by  gaining some perspective on what you have experienced.

No matter how evil or sleazy or just unpleasant your past employers have been,  and how exasperating failure to achieve the success your expected in a job setting, there are always ways to see it in a mature and rational light, and you need to find them. A couple of suggestions:

1)      Realize that there is a difference between guilt and cause. Sometimes things don’t work out, and even if it feels better to blame personalities, it’s counterproductive.  Look for reasons instead.

2)      Understand that you may have contributed to the lack of success. There are lots of ways – expectations too high, not listening clearly to what the employer said in the interview, a little arrogance, etc etc etc. Taking responsibility for these things is not the same as blaming yourself.

3)      Accept the unfortunate truth that there is as much sleaze factor in this and in any other industry and console yourself with the fact that you can leave the bad actors (if that is the case),  they are not family or in-laws, and you don’t have to see them every Thanksgiving.

4)      Consider the possibility, if you feel your employer lied to you, that he or she probably believed every word said – the best restaurant, absolute support from the staff, etc – and is as horrified as you are that their own dream is foundering.

5)      Be a realist. The recent recession has torpedoed many  high aspirations.  A lot of well meaning attempts had to be rerouted for some businesses to be able to survive at all.

6)      Get over yourself. Look forward, not backward. You are getting out of the bad situation. Don’t project your frustration on the stranger interviewing you.

7)      You learned a lot working in a negative environment – you now know better questions to ask about your next job.   You have had the opportunity to compare methods and discard those you found impossible. That’s called growth.

8)      Remember that for all the anger and pain a poor job relationship or even deceit may have caused, the job paid your rent and groceries for a time. You had an exchange – labor and knowledge for money.  It worked. It was, in the end, just a job and not a good one, but you had a roof over your head and a kitchen or dining room to play in.  You don’t always hit the sweet spot, but you had a job.

 The other component of getting your anger out of your job search is working on your  presentation.  You need to speak to the person you want to work for calmly and positively, to avoid any manner of projecting your pain and your anger on someone who will otherwise not employ you.

 Preparing what you will say helps. I am not a fan of rehearsed interviews, but where emotion is part of the mix, it is important t work out a “schpiel” and get it down pat. Run it by your roommate or your cockatoo a few times to be sure you don’t falter or turn red and purple with rage as you do.

If you are asked why you left your last jobs, don’t vent.  Most of the time something like “It simply did not work out,” or, “It was a poor fit,” is enough. If  pressed for details, revert to the cause- before-blame strategy  and provide the reduced version, as in:

“In the end we discovered that our philosophies are fairly incompatible,”  covers a lot of ground. If asked, go into dry detail: The restaurant was financially challenged from the beginning and I was extremely uncomfortable in compromising the quality of the food we served past a certain point. He simply needed a chef with a different attitude.

“There was an issue with the existing staff, which I was unable to resolve, as I was given no authority to discipline them.”

 And take a piece of the old southern “bless her heart” trick.  “Georgia is a slattern, slime sucking bottom dweller of a man eater and family breaker with the soul of a Tasmanian devil and the mind of a newt, bless her heart,” seems to pass for polite conversation and sincere concern in some parts of the country.  “ They were unable to finance the level of competent staff for their aspirations. It’s such a pity with a restaurant of such great potential,” (= “bless her heart”)  should function  on about the same level. “Too bad. They have a terrific idea,” should do equally well.  “They mean so well,”…is often enough.

This is not hypocrisy; it’s maturity.  The truth doesn’t require complete revelation, but providing appropriate information rationally and honestly.  There are some things your future employer doesn’t need to know. An interview or pre-interview is not anger therapy. Keep your ire to yourself, smile to make your voice sound friendly, and remember that “Discretion is the better part of Valor.”

Your comments, criticism, tips and shared experiences as well as your tips are welcomed.

Or how to showcase your talent  subtly:

Every now and then somebody says that as a professional you have to be humble. Depending on what they mean, they are very wrong.  When you vying for a position, the last thing  you want to do is hide your light under a bushel. If you have qualities, your job search is the time to let them show.

The employers you apply to don’t want you to be humble. They want to know what you can do and why they should hire you.  Most don’t want anyone who appears arrogant, and that’s your conundrum: Strutting your stuff without appearing full of yourself. Showing your value without appearing arrogant is your goal, not humility or even modesty.

You have every right to be proud of your achievements and skills, and your pride and self assurance should be visible  in your life in the industry as well as your job search. Quiet self assurance, on paper or in an interview, is impressive, but putting it on paper is challenging. It can be done, though.  Here are a couple of tricks. Or really one: Share credit and don’t brag.

1: Bragging – I received five stars for my fine cuisine at La Chose. Not bragging: During this period as Executive Chef La Chose received five stars. Eh voila! You still get all the credit, and you have shown yourself to be a team player to boot.

2. Bragging: I opened this prestigious restaurant. Not Bragging: I was the opening chef/sous chef / manager for this five star restaurant.

3. Bragging: I brought down the food cost and increased sales by 35%. Not bragging: During my employment as Executive Chef the restaurant’s food cost was reduced by 12%, while sales increased by 35%.

4. Avoid the first person singular  if you can in any way. That, for those who don’t love grammar, the words ” I”, “me”, “my”.  Instead of I was voted the best restaurant, try “We were voted the best restaurant.” Or: The Plains Dealer readers voted Chez Shorty the best new restaurant of 2001. If you were voted best chef (obviously something you don’t share), try to avoid the pronoun. (“Voted best chef of 2007 by Foodstuffs Journal”)

5. Self praise stinks. Rather than stating on  your resume that you are “an exceptional leader,” a “skilled culinarian” or a “gifted chef”, let your history speak for you. Few employers give much credit to statements like “I am a consummate professional and an exceptional manager.”  They will see as much if you say you managed a staff totaling 75, training college students where experienced staff was not available, or that your duties included creating maximum cooperation between the service staff and kitchen to assure guest satisfaction.

As you see, it’s easy to display your achievements without “hogging” the credit. You show yourself to be a team player as well as the splendidly talented professional you are.

It’s not what you think you are that impresses employers, but what you can prove you have done. Don’t hesitate to lay it out clearly. If you developed a green waste management program  (or better  if you worked with the management team to develop one), let it be known. (“My responsibilities included working with the local utilities commission to develop a .etc.)

What if you received awards? That’s different. If they advance your case, state them. If not, leave them for an interview.

Every so often someone in an  interview says something like, “I’ve had the privilege of working with a terrific staff.” I know I am dealing with a star when I hear that.

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