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Mar 062013
 

What’s the difference between a chef de partie and a station cook? An executive chef and a head chef? You need to know this whether you are applying for a job or hiring applicants. Since there is no licensing process for kitchen staff in the United States, titles are movable targets.

Terminology and titles are dealt with fast and free in the food and beverage industry. Sometimes we receive resumes for “sous chefs” who turn out to have full charge of the kitchen, thus be Executive chefs in practice. More often we get Executive Chefs who would be very challenged in some of our sous chef positions. One man’s Executive Chef may be another’s cook. Your title in a position is what you were given, but it doesn’t hurt to know the correct titles.

 “Chef” comes from the French word for director, head or boss of a team, a department or a business. All chefs, in the culinary world, are cooks, but not all cooks are chefs. A chef has some leadership and management responsibility or at least some specialization.

Second, “Master Chef” is not a job title. It is a certification. “Star Chef” is a media creation, which means absolutely nothing. The titles only apply to chefs with European Master Chef certification or American CMC certification through the American Chefs Federation, .

The Big ones:

Chef: Anyone in charge of professional food production from a professional kitchen.

Misuse: Anyone who cooks. That is a cook. Your cousin Winston is not a Chef just because he makes great chicken. Using chef instead of cook. Chef comes from the French and means “bos”.

Misspelling: Chief.

Alternative Terms: Working chef / Head Chef.

Working Chef / Head Chef:

Definition: A chef who works “hands on” in any kitchen. Head chef correctly denotes the person in charge of production, purchasing, etc in a small kitchen with a small staff. The connotation is that this person spends most of his or her time working with the food and not in an office.

Alternative Term: Chef.

Executive Chef:

Strict Definition: Has full responsibility for a kitchen, determines menus, develops menus and recipes, responsible for purchasing and vendor decisions, food safety, menu strategies and  costing, has final say in all b.o.h hiring decisions, trains, schedules or supervisors someone who does, responsible for product, distribution or resources, staff oversight etc.

Extreme Definition: The person in charge of operational issues in multiple units of a hotel, cruise liner or other complex food and beverage delivery system. The Executive Chef may develop recipes or not, he approves all product and supervises a range of kitchen managers or unit chefs.

False Definition: A chef who is in charge of any kitchen or a chef who only cooks with no management or administrative responsibilities.

Misuse: A chef in charge of a small kitchen.

Misspelling: Execution Chef / Execution Chief

Misunderstanding: All executive chefs carry clipboards and none cook. This is not the case. Many are hands on, while others are involved mainly in operational activities. It depends on the environment.

Synonyms and related positions: Food and Beverage Director in some properties where the chef is still responsible for but not active in production, so the chef responsibilities are operational management.

Corporate Chef:

Definition: The chef charged with all culinary development and kitchen operational responsibilities for multiple restaurants in a corporation. Duties include R&D, menu development and implementation in separate units, hiring and training of management staff, equipment selection, development of new kitchens, and much more. Corporate chefs generally travel and spend several weeks at a time at various restaurants.

Misuse: The Executive Chef of Kitchen Manager of a single or multi-unit corporate dining facility. The appropriate term would be Executive Chef.

Alternatives: At the high management responsibility level of Corporate Chefs there is a great deal of inventiveness in title creation. Vice President or President of Culinary Development, for instance. R&D Chefs, although their function is non-operational, are frequently titled “Corporate Chefs”.

Synonym: Executive Chef for the company/corporation.

Misuse: The head or executive chef of a corporate dining room or an executive dining room. A chef working for a company like Bank of America or Google. These chefs are generally Executive Chefs, Kitchen Managers or Chefs de Cuisine, depending on the level of responsibility.

Regional Chef:

Definition: The chef in charge of multiple corporate restaurant units. Like the Corporate Chef the Regional Chef is responsible for frequent restaurant checks, works on new openings, works with unit chefs on occasional hiring, but is not responsible for day to day kitchen operations such as scheduling. Regional chefs may be stationed at a single unit, where they also function as Executive Chef.

Misuse: none.

Alternatives: Regional Executive Chef, Corporate Regional Chef, Multi Unit Chef.

Executive sous chef:

Definition: The direct subordinate to the Executive Chef in a volume restaurant, hotel or other volume or multi-unit property. The Executive Sous chef is in full charge of all kitchen and culinary operations in the chef’s absence. In extremely large properties the Executive Sous Chef may actually perform the duties understood under Executive Chef including banquet planning supervision, ordering, all supervision, training, etc. Depending on the property, the Executive Sous Chef may either be hands on or have extensive office duties.

Alternative: none

Misuse: The person directly subordinate to the head chef in a small property. The term “Executive” indicates volume and complexity.

Sous Chef:

Definition: The person directly subordinate to the head chef in a smaller property or the Executive sous chef in a larger one. There are also departmental sous chefs such as banquet or pastry sous chefs. The sous chef’s main duties are production, frequently receiving, carrying out the chef’s menu and depending on the property some minor management. The sous chef may contribute to specials. Sous chef is generally seen as a transitional position in which an experienced cook who has proven him/herself responsible is trained and groomed for a chef position.

Definition 2: In some hotels the chef in charge of any single outlet may be given the title of sous chef, although he is in full charge of the kitchen and would qualify as chef or executive chef of a mid-sized property.

Synonym: In some cases (see above) Chef de Cuisine.

Misuse: The person under the head chef in a two or three man kitchen. This is generally a cook or chefs’ assistant.

Misspelling: Sioux Chef, Sioux Chief, Sue Chef, Sow Chef.

Chef de Cuisine:

Definition 1: The chef in charge of an entire hotel restaurant with responsibilities extending from writing the menu to hiring subordinates and everything in between. The position is similar to a restaurant executive chef or head chef with the exception that hotels have departments which take care of some duties of the independent chef.

Definition 2: The Chef under the chef owner of a free standing restaurant. The chef owner is usually established as a culinary figure with a signature cuisine. Chef de Cuisine is responsible for executing the chef’s cuisine and most of the kitchen management. It is a highly responsible  position which requires a great deal of kitchen discipline and subordination of the Chef de Cuisine’s creative forces to create the chef’s vision.

Synonyms: Sous Chef, Unit Chef, Restaurant Chef.

Restaurant Chef:  The chef of a single restaurant in a property with multiple outlets. S/he is responsible for the production in that kitchen and may or not be responsible for menu development, hiring, ordering.

Synonym: Chef de Cuisine, Sous Chef.

Kitchen Manager:

Definition 1: The Kitchen Manager is the person in charge of all administrative and supervisory duties in a property with a preset menu. This can be a family dining concept chain restaurant, a retirement facility or a unit of a industrial, educational or retirement food service facility. The Kitchen manager is charged with maintaining company policy and keeping order, food safety, and quality standards in the kitchen. This position involves little to no creative input and implementing all of the provisions of operational and employee manuals.

Definition 2: The person in charge of all administrative and management issues in a free standing or hotel kitchen. These may include receiving, accounting for employee time, scheduling, checking produce and much more. The Kitchen manager may also cook, but the purpose of the position is to relieve the chef from the time burden of operational administration.

Synonyms: Depending on the venue, either Food Service Director or Sous chef for a restaurant.

Chef Manager:

Definition: In the recession many restaurants have decided to try to save money by firing a manager and giving the chef a slight raise. In theory at least this chef is in charge of both front and back of the house and FoH office duties like Workman’s comp. Considering the time demands of a well running kitchen on a chef, it is hard to see that any chef can do those and all FoH jobs well.

Abuse: The term in itself is questionable, as no one person can take care of front and back of restaurants. It requires further investigation of the actual duties and capacity of any person using it.

Synonyms: Chef&B, restaurant owner.

Chef Partner:

Definition 1: This generally refers to the Executive Chef of a multi-unit operation who has bought into the company. As such it is not a title but a definition of organizational structure. The Chef Partner for most operations is depending on the nature of the corporation or restaurant for all practical purposes the Executive Chef.

Definition 2: DA chef who owns part of a property either in partnership with a corporation or with an individual. This person is both Executive Chef and Chef Owner.,

Definition 3: A person who is given a non – equity partnership, that is, a partnership which expires when s/he leaves the property but allows him or her a percentage of the profit during employment. This person, too, is in reality an Executive Chef or Head Chef.

Misuse: The title is vague. If you are hiring, you should ask the nature of the partnership. If you are an applicant, you should clarify it as much as possible.

Synonyms: Executive Chef with non-equity partnership. Executive Chef and Equity Partner.

Expediter:

Definition: This is relatively rare as a title, as it generally indicates a duty rather than a position. The Expediter is the chef or cook who oversees the interaction of front and back of the house, calls out orders, checks food going out. In newer, trendy restaurants it is the person you see standing at the counter, often with an earpiece. In most restaurants the chef in charge takes care of this.

Synonym: Wheel man.

Banquet Chef: The banquet chef is the culinary professional in clubs or  hotels in charge of banquets. S/he generally is responsible for meeting with clients to discuss recipes, often for developing recipes and menus working with the Executive Chef and Banquet director, ordering, supervision and execution. The banquet chef may also function as Executive Sous Chef. The position requires very specific skills and holds a great deal of responsibility.

Synonyms: Event Chef

Celebrity Chef:  This is not a title.  It is applied either to someone who gets a lot of media coverage (As Thomas Keller or right now Josh Skenes) or someone who is a media personality, for instance Martha Stewart. You cannot apply for the job of celebrity chef.

Synonym: Star Chef

Misuse: Calling yourself one. It shows bad manners at best.

More: Stay tuned.

-pastry
-garde manager
-tournant
-poissonier-entremetier

-saucier
-pantry
-Executive Assistant or Assistant to Executive Chef
-chef de partie
-roundsman
-tournant
-station cook

-prep cook

-pantry

-pizzaiolo

-baker-chocolatier

 

Feb 072013
 

I just got off the phone with the third order for a San Francisco Chef this month. “There are a lot of strange people out there,” I ventured. Good chefs are in short supply right now. I knew my new client would agree, as that is why she called.

“We’ve seen a lot of them these past few weeks,” she replied. I added, “..and I’ve experienced quite a few who don’t turn up for their interviews.”

So has she. We pondered the possibility of a web site listing no-shows, so other restaurants would not waste their time, but we rejected the idea as attorney fodder. It’s not necessary, anyway. The word gets out. We (the people who hire people and those who deal with them) are a very small and tight community, and there is no law on earth which prevents us from sharing no shows. You wouldn’t know we did, anyway.

Interview stand-ups show us all a lack of respect which engenders not a little anger. Imagine the owner waiting for you, when he would rather be picking up the replacement fuse for the hood or slipping in a meeting with his accountant. Imagine her seething because this was her only half day off this week, and she spent waiting on a troglodyte sous chef with the manners of a wart hog.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am trying to tell you something here. It’s short, sweet and easy to  understand:

IF YOU MAKE AN INTERVIEW, KEEP IT.

How easy is that, I ask you?

Realized with horror it was already Wednesday, and you thought it was Tuesday all day? Call and apologize, They might not want to hire you anyway if you can’t keep your dates straight, but they won’t be talking about  you at the next gathering of the tribes.

Let me make this clear: We talk. People call me and ask (which they should not, but they do), Do you know anything about this guy Bob Jones?  Generally I can’t tell them, but if he missed an interview I set up, I will. I won’t say “don’t hire him”. It probably goes something like, I was dealing with him and he gave all the right answers and looked good on the phone, but he was a no show. “ It may not stop them from hiring him, but it won’t help.

So what’s a guy/woman to do, if you have two things going on at once and one seems more important?

Well, first have the decency and courage to tell the second interview that you have a commitment, but would love to talk to them. If they want someone who doesn’t keep his commitments, then they really aren’t people you should be working for. Really? Yes, Really. Decency is something you look for in management staff, and not showing up for an engagement is indecent. People who expect you to be indecent to someone else will in all probability be indecent to you.  Fact.

“It’s not important because a recruiter arranged it, and I don’t feel responsible to them.” But you expect them to work for you for free, so you just hang them out. You have just insulted two people, not one, and we will talk about it loudly, preferably at the next restaurant owners’ gathering. You are not to be saved. Go jump off something high.

What about getting called to work or waking up with a hangover or the husband/wife can’t take the tot to pre school? Easy: Get a number where you can reach them is something really,  really unexpected happens  and call as far in advance as you can and leave a message. Don’t wait until you are over the flu, because that is a clear message that you will not be showing up for work without an alert. (We assume no shows have no compunctions to fulfill their commitments once they are hired. Not a great leap of logic, that).

You decided you really shouldn’t have made to appointment, because you didn’t want the job in the first place? Have mercy, what kind of self serving, beer brained, fool savage are you?  You have two options: 1) Call ahead and explain that you have changed your mind or lie about something.  It’s an exercise in social courage. It will do you good. Or: 2) Go anyway, hear what they have to say, then decline politely. The advantage of plan B is that you meet someone you may  want to work with in the future (It happens a lot) and you may just find out that there are truly exciting aspects to the job.

And what about forgetting the appointment all together? What are you , a space cadet? Have you not heard of online calendars? Ones you can put on your cell phone and your computer? The year is 2013 and we  have ways to deal with things like that. We also have Post-it  notes you can put on  your refrigerator, in case you lose your phone (how often  have I heard that one.)

And really, if you do space the meeting,  you will do a lot better to call and apologize.

There is no excuse – Really ZERO – for skipping an interview or missing one and not apologizing. It wastes people’s time, it makes you look like the jerk you probably really are, and it gets the word out to other people.

In the triage of your busy life appointments for interviews should be at the top, prioritized right after rushing to the hospital for the birth of the baby but before your salmon order. You are a grown up now. Act like one.

Dec 312012
 

I just received a resume from an old friend in the industry. He is interested in one of my positions. I haven’t got a clue if I can hook him up or not for a very simple reason:

Like so many experienced chefs, that is, chefs with over twenty years under their belts, he has chosen to place what he feels is the most impressive information at the beginning of the resume and sort his previous positions accordingly.

This leaves me as an employer or recruiter with the job of figuring out the puzzle..in which direction has he guided his career, what is his current track record, etc.

None of us in the people industry really like playing connect the dots.

Therefor let’s do a snappy summary of the best practices for presenting your job history on paper.

1)      State your most recent job on top. List previous positions historically going back in time.

2)      If you are currently in your position and have been there  for at least three years, you  have no need to give the months, although I still prefer them. Shorter positions, however, should be presented with the months of employment. (10/04 – 9/06 for instance)  This will usually work in your favor.  Your job history is a history.

3)      Positions going back more than seven years or so do not need months, with the exception of positions in prestigious or celebrity restaurants. These should always show exactly how long you worked there.

4)      If you worked at different branches of the same company, you should list the entire time you worked for the company with the separate locations indented with months and years below.

5)    You can (and should) also use this trick if you followed one chef mentor or restaurant owner through more than one property. The point you want to make is stability or commitment.

6)      Simultaneous positions can be listed in succession with a mention that they were both at the same time.

7)      If you interrupted an ongoing position to take a stage elsewhere or attend formal culinary training, there is no reason not to list the entire period of your employment there with a note that there was a six month interruption for whatever reason.

To summarize, my clients and I, or anyone who is hiring, is more interested in your current career trajectory than  your illustrious distant past.

The best you can hope for if you try to put shine on your career by placing the cherries on top is mild exasperation. It is more likely that  you will disqualify yourself for trying to get something past them. In other words, we don’t appreciate being messed with.

To quote a very smart client regarding this situation,  “I don’t care where he was..I want to know what he did with it, what he is doing with it, and where he’s going now.”  Let that guide you.

 

Jo Lynne Lockley

Dec 252012
 

The ChefsProfessional site holds an extensive interviewing guide, which will be transferred to this blog at some future date. For an in depth discussion of interviewing you might visit it.   For  those with a shorter attention span, here are a few thoughts that should guide you through your interview.

1)      An interview is not an oral test, although you may be asked to show some knowledge. It is a meeting of two professionals to determine whether they will both benefit from their respective resources – knowledge and work for compensation and work environment.

2)      Regardless of the results of the interview, you will have the opportunity to meet another professional in the business and learn more. This pertains to both sides. The person sitting across you may be a future employer, or, if you do not work for her, a friend or colleague at a later time.

3)      The interviewer wants to assess your knowledge and level of professional conduct more than he wants to hear about your personal opinions  and feelings– unless these pertain to the business. Avoid the temptation to share too much.

4)      Be yourself.  If you can’t do something, say so.  You are free to respond more than yes or no to questions. A smart interviewer is watching for you to “break out” – to expound on the question. A good interview is actually a discussion.

5)      The interviewer wants to like you. Really. It’s not an ambush. If it is, you don’t want to work there.

6)      Tell the truth. Own to your shortcomings and mistakes (we all have them). Never profess confidence in something you are not confident about.  Nobody expects perfection, or, if they do, you probably won’t be happy working for them.  (See nr. 5)

7)      Don’t smack talk anyone. Nobody! Let go of your anger before you enter the interview room. Whatever happened at the last job, no matter how miserable, has ended or is about to end. If you worked for evil people, they are no longer your problem.  Period.

9)      When I get nervous I tend to prattle on. It’s not a winning strategy. If you hear yourself nattering stop for a moment, take a breath and ask the interviewer a question.  It will pull you out of the cycle.

10)   As mentioned before, an interview is an exchange. If you have a question or find something the interviewer says interesting, ask.  Nobody will hold it against  you. Don’t apologize for asking. It is expected.

11)   Leave money talk until last. Salary budgeting can change during the hiring process. The first thing you have to decide is whether you and the employer (or you and the employee) can make beautiful music together.  If you both think so, then you determine if you can afford each other. If you can’t, you can’t.

12)   Spend more time talking about what you do or have done than about  who you are. Do not try to sell yourself as if you were a used car. It is a turnoff.

13)   Do not hesitate to laugh and smile. Remember, you are two people spending an hour in a professional exchange. Humor is allowed. It’s OK to enjoy yourself.

14)   If you feel that something incorrect or uncomfortable is being said or requested, you can stand up and politely end the interview with a thank you.

15)   Always say “Thank you”. A note are short email never  hurts.

16)   The interviewer should always ask, “Is there something else you want me to know?” If s/he does not and you believe there is, just say so at the end  of the session.

17) Inform yourself about the employer before the interview.  It’s easier than it ever was to get menus, user reviews, magazine articles on line. If the restaurant is local, eating there is a good investment (and fully tax deductible as a job search expense, if you accept the position).

17)   Taking notes is always smart.

The following are “DUH” instructions, things that should be a given. You would be surprised how often they are not:

18)   When interviewing one should always show courtesy and consideration – this means not cancelling an interview at the last minute, arriving about a quarter of an hour early, dressing appropriately. Not showing up for an  interview is not only unthinkable rude, it is stupid. We all talk to each other, and that gets around.  Keep a good calendar (Outlook, Gmail, or a notepad) to make sure you don’t forget .

19)   Wear appropriate, clean and pressed clothing for the job you are interviewing for (that could be anything from jeans to a suit, depending on the position) be clean and don’t smell bad. If you smoke, wash  your hands. Perfume and aftershave are inappropriate for the food industry.  Take your hat off and do not chew gum. (The scent of kitchen prep is, on the other hand, absolutely acceptable)

20)   Be  dressed so that you could slip into a white coat and step straight into the job for which you are applying . That means no dangling jewelry for the kitchen (men and women), flat shoes and trimmed nails.  For FoH wear what you would expect to wear at work, as long as it’s not got a bunny tail.

21)   Brush. Floss. Rinse. Do not eat garlic before an interview.

22)   Sit upright, look the interviewer in the eye and try not to fidget. (This should also be more obvious than it is.) Turn your cell phone off before  you enter the interview.

And this:

Prepare for your interview. Jotting down a few questions, the things you really want to say and ask beforehand, will make it easier for you not to forget them in the heat of the moment. It is allowed to bring and to take notes. You should also bring a resume. They will probably have one, but take one anyway. You can bring a limited amount of show and tell with you – it can make an interview more interesting – pictures of your food, menus, documents. Consider putting them and your resume on a thumb drive or making them available on an Ipad if you have one.

 

 

Dec 122012
 

Just when I think I have wagged every finger about every bad decision and misconception someone comes along to remind me that there are more out there.

An acquaintance assures me that if I just meet his friend, who has been the manager of a café with lackluster reviews for the past five years, that I will see her potential and find her the back door to a better job and a better future.

I assure him that I cannot. I am in fact nothing but the extension of my clients’ desires and needs, and the fact is that my clients do not want someone with potential rather than  a proven history of activity in their segment of the industry – whether that is fine dining or high volume chain operation or bakery quality control. In other words, they don’t want someone who thinks or knows they can do it. They want someone who has done it.

My friend’s friend would, I believe, be very  happy to “take a step back” and use her skills in a better environment but at a lower position. Again, this is something I cannot do. My clients, on the whole, want someone who is working their way up not in quality but in title, not someone who has reached a higher goal in some other branch of the industry.

There are some rules to getting to where you are going. I have written them in different form before, but let’s make them clear.

1)      You have more options early in your career than you do once you have set a path.

2)      You choose the kind of place you want to work in at the start or, let me say it again, early. If you want to be in high end dining or high paying volume quality restaurants, that’s where you need to take your first jobs. You need to stay in that environment.

3)      You can’t throw in  your lot with a corner café and expect to be taken on, even as a server, in a Michelin restaurant. It doesn’t work that way.

4)      If you are trying to ratchet up your career,  few recruiters will be interested in you, as they will have to make a “sale” to a client of a product (that commodity would be you) they cannot really trust, since you have no history in the area to which  you aspire. ). I have learned the hard way that this brings grief to me and generally to both employer and employee. I suspect that most recruiters will agree.

5)      Exception: If you are very young and want to work your way up from a pretty subordinate job, you have a fair chance. Recruiters don’t figure into the algorithm, but they don’t need to.  Everyone loves puppies and is willing to train them more than they love and are willing to train unknown older dogs. There may be some begging involved, but it has been done.

6)      Employers generally want someone “on the way up”, not someone who has been up and is trying the catch him or herself on the way down then turn around.

7)      Where you start your career geographically is also important.

8)      Leaving a more desirable segment of the industry often means you will not be able to return.

To you this means? Obviously early choices are very important. That the biblical concept of “straight and narrow” also counts in restaurants. Why?

The pervasive rigor necessary in all high end properties can’t just be picked up – it has to be in muscle memory.  Employers suspect, generally correctly, that someone in a more casual or smaller environment than theirs will not have developed the habits and  “moves  required to fit in with the flow or their kitchen or dining room.

The good news is, as usual, that the culinary industry is a field where rules and generalizations apply, but only mostly. There are not a lot of exceptions but enough of them to make it worthwhile trying to get into a better niche. (Assuming that you think it is better. There are a lot of high end chefs and managers who back out to  open that neighborhood cafe and live happily ever after.)

People do transcend barriers between job types from time to time, so there’s no reason not to put a little effort into it.  I’ve even done it successfully a couple of times (but more times extremely unsuccessfully).  Those with a gift, a great temperament can and do manage to change their trajectory, but the effort will be yours. Go Craigslist, Monster, back door hopping. You can’t expect a recruiter to work for you (Remember – we work for the client) Nobody else can retool your career. It’s not their job. You are the beneficiary, so you need to do the work.

Given that, the obvious best strategy is starting out in the industry neighborhood where you want to end up.

Good Luck to 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.

Oct 292012
 

Every so often a resume claiming the distinction of “Master Chef” flops up on the screen.

Most of them are  full of baloney.

“Master Chef” is one of those titles that sounds impressive and in all but a few cases means nothing. PBS started this when Julia Childs, who was not in truth even a chef  launched her show of American Master Chefs.

Julia Childs was a visionary culinarian and possibly the best cook and one of the finest instructors ever to stand in front of a camera, and since she taught us all, she was ironically a “master” and definitely masterful, but not really a chef, because she did not manage a kitchen full of cooks.  (Chef essentially means “boss”)  Of course sine she was Julia as far as I am  concerned she could have called herself Queen, and that would be all right.  Most of the chefs she dealt with, however, were not Master Chefs, but the press picked the term up and has been abusing it like a terrier shaking a dead rat ever since.

The problem is that nobody knows what a Master Chef is, assuming it to be just another American hyperbole (exaggeration) in the style of “Top Chef” or “Culinary Passion”. It’s not.

“Master Chef” is a certified career station which comes from the European guild system and still exists there. The certification process lasts two years if done concurrently with work or four months in a full time course, and it requires at least five or six years of experience as a “journeyman” cook and sous chef or chef de cuisine – possibly more. “Master” (Maitre, Meister) means “teacher”. It does not address flavor or creativity but the ability and right to teach.

The purpose of the Master Chef certification is to certify apprentice masters, who thus can train aspiring cooks. Chef owners reap great benefit from the process, as they can keep and develop low wage and increasingly skilled  staff for two to three years. Hotel Executive Chefs and chefs with training responsibilities also profit from the title.

The certification guarantees that the Master Chef knows everything about products, production, technique, food safety, numbers, science, and all of the vast knowledge you would want your teacher to have. It does not guarantee fabulous food or talent or culinary brilliance.

Several years ago Ferdinand Metz and the Culinary Institute of America joined forces to create a Master Chef certification in the United States. This differs somewhat from the European model, as it does not require as much hands on experience prior to certification. I  have seen it more as an MA degree in food, and from those candidates I have worked with, a career choice which frequently takes the bearer out of the kitchen into the more intellectual areas of the industry.

The American as well as the European Master Chef / Meisterchef processes are demanding, and the certified chefs are recognized as experts. Those chefs celebrated for five star cuisine – those running the most  highly acknowledged kitchens – are  most likely not certified.

Real Master Chefs list the certification with date note that it is certified. The rest of the “Master Chefs” are pretenders or poor souls naïve enough to believe the blather bandied about by an increasingly ill informed media.  In other words, “Master Chef” is in most cases simply tacky resume bling. Not to be impressed.

Oct 262012
 

The agency is overwhelmed this week, but from what we are receiving in response to our outreach, it appears that the inhabitants of the culinary world absolutely need more clarification about how the job search process works, because it is fairly obvious nobody told them.

We have a nifty little piece about recruiters, which you may feel very comfortable calling “head hunters’, although that’s about as suave as calling San Francisco “Frisco”, but never mind. It bears reading.

It does not tell you how to deal with them. That covers a lot of area, so let’s just start with how to begin dealing with them.

Most recruiters are web based, so  you can look up their pages and read their requests for first contact, resume submission, etc. Since every recruiter has his or her own system or database, they may request your documents in Word or PDF or other format, or simply request that you add text to an email.  Most do not want pictures. If you are applying to an international firm, however, they require pictures. Not sticking to these requests/requirements prevent them from considering you. (Why should anyone consider a candidate for upper management who is unable to comply with simple requests?) so it is quite important to read the information on the web site and follow the instructions.

Most recruiters want a resume as the first contact. They appreciate a terse cover letter explaining your situation, but not an essay.  Some firms require cover letters, in which case the best advice I can give is to keep them to the point.

Overwhelming a recruiter with a dog and pony show does not endear you. Save your pictures, your self-praise, and, gasp, videos for later. Receiving fifteen pictures of your plating on my IPhone or IPad doesn’t impress me of your skills but rather of your lack of technical understanding, or worse, your lack of courtesy.  The web site question is still open, but if you have one you wish to share, you should not just a send a website and a note that you are a great chef, please look at my web site.

You  are not paying the recruiter and you are asking him  to help you. The exchange means that you provide your availability for free and they work for free, but do remember it is a free service and act accordingly.

Acting accordingly means:  It would be inexorably rude to send a recruiter a note asking if they know a great recruiter.  You should not make demands such as “Please call me ASAP” and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience, because my earliest convenience belongs to my customers in New York or in Russia right now, and until you meet my needs, you  simply have  no right to ask for it.

It also means showing the recruiter the respect you feel you deserve yourself. There is no rule against working with several firms, although that can create complications, but you should treat each person you speak to with respect. That means not sending an email blast to fifteen firms.

Remembering that recruiters see possibly hundreds of resumes on a bad day, you might want to cut anything remotely resembling a snow job. We have seen it all (and occasionally have a good laugh at the sender’s expense.) Present them with the facts, just as you would a very professional recruiter.

Understand that Recruiters work not for you but for your clients, with the caveat that none of us wish to do any harm to anyone, so we are concerned for both sides of the hiring equation, but we need to focus on our clients and those candidates who fit their needs. If your background does not, we probably won’t be able to talk to you. It’s not personal.

We will, however, contact you if you fit our desired candidate profile, and if we cannot use your information now, we will probably put you in your files so that we can reach you later.

Sometimes a recruiter will contact you.  Since I have hardly met a chef who did not understand how this works,  I see no need to discuss it.

Occasionally someone will refer you to us. If they do, it is because we  have a position we have discussed with them, and they think you might like it. It this  happens, do not hesitate to call the office, sooner rather than later (as the great jobs go quickly). It will be appreciated and can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  If you are referred by a friend of the recruiter, furthermore, go ahead and pick up the phone.  If we are busy, we can ask you to send a resume. If not, we will probably be happy to hear from  you.

We, recruiters, do need a resume. A Bio does not meet our needs. Nor will a string of magazine articles.Most of  us do not have time or patience for spin. Bio’s are for customers and media. Resumes are for job searches.

It is for us nothing more than a tool that jogs our memory, allows us to find that terrific looking chef who worked in Wilmington and gives us an outline to present and discuss with our clients.  We know you are more than a resume, but we can’t work without one. If we are any good at all and enter into your job search with you,  we will try to get to know you and where you have worked so we can help our clients decide if you are a good match for their needs (If you are not, nobody is served).  You can help us by sending timely and correct information.

As for the rest, the tips on this web site are very useful. Enjoy them. They, too, are free.

Oct 142012
 

I just received a resume I can hardly read. Written in all uppercase Copperplate Gothic Bold (the script of 80’s western themed menus) with no indentations, it is painful to read. Since he’s been at his current job for less than a year, I am also not motivated to look further, which I probably would, if it were easier.

Despite the massive amount of resume information on this site, perhaps a simple check list is in order.

When you finish your resume and have slept on it, run through these points before you send.

1) Did you remember to include all of your contact information including your email address.?Have you provided substantial information about you r places of employment including size, kind of food, numbers and responsibilities?

2) Have you proofread and spell checked the resume and handed it over to someone else to proofread?

3) Have you included the correct dates for all jobs including the months?

4) When you look at it at arms length, is it attractive, centered and well formatted?

5) Have you made it easy for a potential employer to read?

  • Are employer, date and title descriptions highlighted or made easy to distinguish from the rest of the information? (can it be scanned in a few seconds?)
  • Have you used space – either spaces between lines or indents – to set the descriptive part of the job entry apart from the title portion?
  • Is the font large enough and clear enough for the reader to take in easily?
  • Does it look professional?

6) Is it too wordy or long winded? Does it contain information which has nothing to do with the job? Can it be cut?
7) Did your spell checker (or your girlfriend) incorrectly edit any of your technical terms (Sioux Chef, Garden Manager)?

That’s it. The Easy Peasy Resume Guide should get you through the rest, and the Resume Philosophy guide is available, if you want to go all out.

Here’s wishing you good and easy resume writing.

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.