How to Get a Job as a Restaurant Cook
Michael J. Beriau, the executive chef at the White Cliffs Country Club in Plymouth, Mass., has a wealth of pointers for prospective cooks. First, he suggests spending at least a year working in a kitchen (as an assistant, or perhaps on cleanup) to get to know the working environment and grow accustomed to the hours. Then, spend an additional year working as a cook in that same kitchen. Next up would be culinary school: “They also need to have great communication skills, great computer skills, and it helps to have a bachelor’s degree in restaurant administration,” he says. “That could launch them ahead of other candidates [with job prospects], maybe by even 12 years.”
The hiring process can vary by restaurant, but Beriau says the first thing he looks for in a potential hire is a well-written resume that shows a worker who has put in at least two years in one position. They might then receive a sit-down interview, and if that goes well, receive a call back for a two-hour “live” interview where they’ll need to prepare both a chicken and fish dish. “I’m not looking for them to knock the dish out the park,” he explains. “I want to find out if the food harmonizes with each other. Does the sauce go well with the dish. We’re also watching over them to judge their preparation skills, their sanitation skills, and their temperament.”
What is the Job Like?
Movies and basic cable have glamorized cooking. While it’s most certainly a profession with great sights and smells, the kitchen itself is a tense environment. Hot, crowded, and fast-paced, kitchens are also filled with sharp utensils and sometimes-slippery floors. Cooks chop, grill, broil, and roast at a dizzying pace to meet the needs of hungry patrons, and they do so in a safe, hygienic manner. Because of this, tempers may run short and emotions high. Beriau stresses that having a pleasant demeanor and an adaptable spirit are assets for someone pursuing this profession.
Beriau also says that the work schedule can be an adjustment. “Growing accustomed to the environment is the biggest and hardest obstacle for young people,” he notes. “Most of them haven’t experienced working Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday nights. It can be a big sacrifice at first to receive invitations from friends to hang out on weekends and have to tell them, ‘I have to work.’” Some line cooks might work part-time, but very few head cooks have part-time schedules. Early mornings, late evenings, and holidays are par for the course.