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.