Oct 092012

(So does everyone else.)

Google a little and find a list of “What Headhunters want in their candidates” .  or: “How to get your resume to the top of the pile”, or: “Resumes that will get you in with headhunters.” Aside from the fact that I would not want to be considered a “headhunter” (too cannibalistic for a business that needs to be aware of the welfare of both sides of an employment equation, don’t you think) as a recruiter I can tell you that all of this is a heap of gerbil dung.

It’s  nonsense, unless you prefer working for fools. Wise people hire based on your track record. If your track record does not hold up to any company’s laundry list of requirements, you will not be considered. It’s that simple.  (Fools go for the glitzy bits in resumes, but more about that in some other entry).

I am in a slightly different position than the usual restaurant owner, as any resume I receive may not be sufficient for the position I seek, but might be just the background some later client desires. I keep good records. For this the suitability of the applicant’s background to just one job is not the only thing I consider. There are a few elements on a resume and in a candidate’s nature which are enchanting. I have a system of checks in my data base. When I discover these characteristics, the boxes get checks,  so I can find that person faster.  Here they are:

1)       Care to career. A chef who  has carefully chosen his positions and guided his actions to keep them. This is not a matter of talent but of character and focus. A logical career trajectory is a delight. Someone who began as a cook in a local restaurant, continued to work for a few years in a better location,  then took a couple more positions in good quality kitchens to secure  his place and profile.  The quality of  his kitchens either stayed the same or rose.

2)      Stability. I do not care how many great restaurants you work at, if you only work at each one for a few months or less than a year, you do not promise the quality of any of them.  I know it is not easy to work for great chefs, and it frequently pays poorly, and it is just that application that tells me this candidate has more than talent. He has character and drive.

3)      Commitment.  Some people call this “passion”. Committed cooks and chefs are not likely to take any sharp turns in their careers to accommodate convenience. They bring with them several levels of integrity, culinary only being one of them. They are not ideologues but people whose history is testimony to their love of their chosen profession.

4)      A sense of community. We are a community and every restaurant is a community. The chef who understands himself as part of the whole will always achieve better results than the lone genius. Consider it a basketball game. It’s hard to find community sense on resumes, but it’s easy to see where it is lacking. Interviews usually reveal it quickly, as the community spirited chef will always talk about  his people and what they were able to do, rather than counting down what he presents as his sole achievements.

5)      Common sense. Every so often I will offer a young chef a job I think he can do, and he will say “No thank  you. I need to learn more first.” A chef who realizes that he is being flattered (not by me) to accept a questionable situation. They will succeed.

6)      Niceness, gratitude. Again it’s hard to see niceness, but the opposite is often very visible. Anytime someone says something like “I was so lucky to be working with her. She was fabulous” you know you have a nice person. Make that gratitude, if you will.  A while back when people were saying the French are mean (they are not), I responded that   Hubert Keller was a terribly nice guy. “Oh, said someone, “that’s just their schtick.” I like that schtick. Look where it got him. Nice guys frequently finish first.

7)      Honesty: Really. Don’t mess with me. I very much dislike it. Everyone does.

8)      Self-assessment and acceptance of one’s own humanity. Nobody’s perfect so anyone trying to appear so just looks silly. Someone who can say that their strength lies in X and they are still working on Y, anyone who realizes that their own behavior contributed to whatever caused their last job issue, is a candidate worth keeping close. Applicants who  know what needs improvement are in a position to effect it and usually do.

9)      The opposite of arrogance. I am  not sure what this is, but it is neither  humility (humility is creepy) nor modesty. It is the understanding that your own great efforts to move ahead would not have been enough without fortune and some help along the way.

10)   Straight shooting. (but with tact)  As in no name dropping. No posturing. Just what you did. Just be you.

Of course that this is what floats my boat need be of no consequence to  you cookies and cheffies out there, except that it is what floats everyone’s yacht.

Oct 182010

Electronic Toys for Chefs.

Although the last Luddite on earth has yet to read “Computers for Dummies”, most chefs by now are pretty technically savvy.  You order online, write spreadsheets, do projections and rely on Open Table for guest information. Courses in restaurant technology are even offered by the University of California at Berkeley in the extension program.

Beyond this battery of the standard technical arsenal, a growing selection of technological products and applications not only offer advantages in the job search and hiring process, but are very  useful in day to day operations. Some of them are pretty nifty.

Iphone or Ipod/ Windows Mobile Phones. These are useful for a lot more than tweeting, Four Square and music storage. Unfortunately the programs created for the kitchen for the first generations of PDA’s  (scheduling, ordering, inventory) seem to have all but disappeared, but online ordering systems, document storage and editing software like Documents to Go or just the Windows Mobile System) and handheld database apps like HandBase make it possible to read and create documents,   (aka schedules and ordering lists), menus, to do lists etc in your pocket or access them online. Scanner Aps such as Turboscan with OCR (optical character recognition) turn the camera of IPhone into a mobile scanner, which can translate menus, receipts, lists into text documents (consider, for instance, the amount of literature offered at a wine tasting or a restaurant show.) Shared shopping applications for private use are equally useful for purchasing plans for single restaurants.

Netbooks. You may already have one. Small laptops with net storage and up to about 200GB drives, which you can dump in any briefcase or shoulder bag for work and home. They’re much handier than fifteen inch screen laptops for travel, taking to events and meetings and just about anywhere you need connectivity.   Some  come with several gigabytes of online storage, and all take storage cards and usb storage devices. A caution: If you look at one, find one with a right shift button you won’t confuse with the up arrow. A laptop mouse makes them easier to use.

IPad: Pricier than netbooks, it offers a wide number of programs include full office suites, and can be synced with other programs. Competing and competitively priced touchpad computers are expected on the market soon.

Business Card Readerss.  If you use more than a few cards a month, you you also collect them. You’ve probably got a box or a drawer full of them, which you rarely look through. If you are organized you carefully enter them into an Excel spreadsheet. What a waste. Card scan and other card readers let you feed business cards into a palm sized scanner  and builds a searchable database from them with a picture of the card attached to the contact information. It will synchronize your address list with your Ipod,  ACT, Outlook and any number of programs.  You can organize your contact in categories. Shape (poor reviews) and Abby offer card readers for the Iphone for   $3 and $9 respectively (Desktop OCR programs can cost up to $200).  Some lite versions are free. Neat receipts scans not only business cards but scans and organizes hard copy receipts and integrates them into an accounting program. It is reported to be harder to set up than Cardscan.

Compact Cameras tend to take better pictures than most smart phones. If you are serious about documenting your work, but don’t want to carry around a five pound camera, you will live them. Canon is considered the gold standard, but all of the new models are better than the best four years ago. Or take pictures of the bad shipment you received to send to the broker.  Desktop reader programs like One Note and Top OCR can turn your camera into a mobile scanner.

The Cloud: SkyDrive and Google Docs: Free, secure online storage space combined with online productivity software. Let’s you produce Word documents, graphics, spread sheets from a netbook, smart phone, Ipad or any computer anywhere. Work on menus, wine lists or business plans with your sous chef or partner using these or “WIKI” services like OneBox.com. Access your job search or candidate folders from any cafe.

Thumb drives: Keep any docs or spreadsheets you need on your key chain. The main advantage of a thumb drive is its small size.

E-Readers: To be more precise, the Sony E Reader, which permits you to store and carry most document formats in your pocket or backpack.  Store magazines, cookbooks your personal documents, plating diagrams, itineraries and more.  Thousands of out of copyright books including many old cookery volumes are available on line. Books from the E Reader Store cost less than hard copy, but Amazon’s books on Kindl are more reasonable, and the Kindl has both free connectivity (you can buy on a whim) and lower book prices, but only stores PDF and the Kindl proprietary book format.  The Ipad offers much more, but also costs more. A Kindl Reader is available for the Ipod, Iphone and probably the Ipad and probably other smart phones. Of course, they’re good for books as well.

What does this have to do with job search and hiring? A lot. Organizing data and having it accessible is essential to seeking successfully. These toy-tools also allow you to access or pull up information, pictures and more during an interview, beam or send your resume or references from any coffee shop, organize your candidates with pictures in a database or keep information on line in a cloud for your decision making staff to review and comment together, or scan hard copies of information brought to interviews on your netpad.  Keep pictures of candidates.  As a bonus you can continue to use all of these tools and toys when there is no position to be found or filled.

Oct 152010

You do have a kit, don’t you? I do.

What’s a kit?

Your kit is a digital folder of documents, media and information you keep on a computer with a second copy on line in a service like Google Docs, which offers 1 GB of free disk space. Documents and files you might need quickly in case Job search, connection, media. It contains the things you might want handy if or His Highness the Duke of Windsor calls to see if you’d like to open a restaurant for him, or the Cuisine Channel calls and asks you to be their next star.

What’s in it?

  • Your resume, which you update every time you change jobs or mobile phone numbers.
  • Two bios. One should be short – highlights of your education, history, awards, etc. The other can be a bit more extravagant, but should be a short page.  If you are called for a media quote, if you are interviewed for anything other than a job, you may be asked for it.
  • PDF copies of any certification and degrees you have earned. If you don’t have a scanner to convert them, ask a friend or try a service like Kinkos.
  • Copies of menus from various places you have worked. Seasonal menus, banquet menus, etc.  These, too, can be scanned, if you don’t have them on disk.
  • Favorite recipes with photos of the dish. Not too many, but if you are called and asked for one, it’s nice to have them ready.
  • Head shots in  your whites or whatever uniform you wear.
  • A few pictures of you in action. (Note: If you  have huge digital files, you should reduce them out of courtesy to anyone who receives them and to save a little disk space, although 1GB should be plenty.)
  • Copies of any press, awards, media about your restaurants, you, anything that relates to you.  (Before you leave a job you can copy the web site as a picture by opening it on your computer and pressing alt + PrtScrn. Open Paint or any  graphics program and paste the image into a  new file, then save it as a jpg. )
  • A list of references
  • It’s not a bad idea to keep a short list of people to call for references, etc.
  • Anything else you could need to produce quickly at some time.


You never know when an opportunity might come your way, whether it’s a new job offer, a request for a media interview, or a nomination for something or other. Opportunity unfortunately has  a nasty habit of knocking when you have no time for it. If you have a job and media kit, you can just pull out your Iphone or netbook or sit down at your computer and send information about you quickly, appearing to be much more organized and on top of things than most people actually are.

Windows Skydrive (Hotmail) also offers online storage with free online Word and other Microsoft Office programs.  For either you create an account with a dedicated email address, which you use for career only. You’ll want to forward email from that account to your main address, so you know when you get mail.   For either one you will need to sign up for a free account.

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.