Feeling Unprepared for Kitchen Stage?

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Joined Nov 30, 2017
Hi everyone, I've lurked for a while on ChefTalk and finally decided to make an account to post. I've just recently got an opportunity to stage at one of the best restaurants in my city (Providence, RI) and I am super eager to learn but I feel like I'm unprepared for this. My only experience is really dish-washing and very little prep work at a catering business. I am currently not enrolled in culinary school, but I decided to stage to see if working in kitchens is right for me. Has anyone else been in this situation? Any advice/tips?
 
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Kid ... as a stage you're not really expected to be all that prepared for much. The more of course the better though. If you worry about things you will have lots more problems than if you don't. Go in and do the best that you can do. Nobody will ask for or expect more than that. Pay attention and be ambitious, look for stuff to do before being told. You'll be fine.
 
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Bring a pocket notebook with a waterproof cover (like a moleskin) and something to write with. Trim your nails. Be polite to everyone. When you finish a task, don't wait for someone to ask you to do the next thing - ask them, "What's next?" Clean up as you go. Do the things they tell you to do with your absolute best attitude and you'll be fine - everyone starts at the beginning.
 
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As long as you listen completely and do what you are asked you will be fine. Yes, definitely clean as you go. They are looking for someone who is trainable and happy to be there. Skills come with time.
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
Don't do it! if you have nothing to show then you can't do anything. Call them up and tell them your a hard worker and welling to learn. This would be like getting your drivers license and applying to be a Nascar driver.
 

nicko

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Make sure you are completely up front about your skills and you will be fine. My one bit of advice is the less you know when you go into a restaurant the less you get out of it. What do I mean by that? Well when I was starting out I wanted to work at all of these great restaurants and a chef told me to build my skills first. He said that when you go to the higher end restaurants you should not be there to learn how to cut vegetables and how to saute properly. You go to these restaurants when you trying to absorb new techniques.

A long time ago I had a young cook that would work for me during the day and then after that he would go to work at Charlie Trotters a few days a week. Charlie Trotters was at one time the top restaurant in the country and it churned out many great chefs. When this cook came back the next day eyes bloodshot and completely exhausted from working for 18 hours between his two gigs I asked him "so what did you learn last night?". His response was "I cleaned 7 cases of snow peas for a party". I told him that you don't need to go work at Charlie Trotters to learn how to clean snow peas and I felt it was a waste of time.

Same thing happened when I was in culinary school. When it came time for our externships some kids choose very high end restaurants other choose country clubs and hotels. My take away was the kids who went and worked at some of the top places in the country spent most of their time cleaning lettuce and chopping herbs. The others like me who worked at a hotel ended up cooking the line, working the butcher station, garde mange, pastry and came back with a boat load of marketable experience.
 
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Joined May 5, 2010
Make sure you are completely up front about your skills and you will be fine. My one bit of advice is the less you know when you go into a restaurant the less you get out of it. What do I mean by that? Well when I was starting out I wanted to work at all of these great restaurants and a chef told me to build my skills first. He said that when you go to the higher end restaurants you should not be there to learn how to cut vegetables and how to saute properly. You go to these restaurants when you trying to absorb new techniques.

A long time ago I had a young cook that would work for me during the day and then after that he would go to work at Charlie Trotters a few days a week. Charlie Trotters was at one time the top restaurant in the country and it churned out many great chefs. When this cook came back the next day eyes bloodshot and completely exhausted from working for 18 hours between his two gigs I asked him "so what did you learn last night?". His response was "I cleaned 7 cases of snow peas for a party". I told him that you don't need to go work at Charlie Trotters to learn how to clean snow peas and I felt it was a waste of time.

Same thing happened when I was in culinary school. When it came time for our externships some kids choose very high end restaurants other choose country clubs and hotels. My take away was the kids who went and worked at some of the top places in the country spent most of their time cleaning lettuce and chopping herbs. The others like me who worked at a hotel ended up cooking the line, working the butcher station, garde mange, pastry and came back with a boat load of marketable experience.


It is the lure of working for a great Chef that keeps those kids choosing the higher end restaurants.

"If I clean those heads of lettuce or peel those onions, maybe Chef will notice me......"
 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
When this cook came back the next day eyes bloodshot and completely exhausted from working for 18 hours between his two gigs I asked him "so what did you learn last night?". His response was "I cleaned 7 cases of snow peas for a party".
The lesson is much deeper than just the surface skill of cleaning snow peas.
 

nicko

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@cheflayne could you clarify your meaning I am not sure I am following your intent? Are you saying there is value in cleaning snow peas at a high end restaurant?
 
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Mindfulness and focus. There is value in any task. A career in this business, is built with time, dedication, and focus. How we perform simple, repetitive, banal tasks can provide much feedback for growth and insight into our mindset.

How can I better organize my efforts and work area? Were my middle results at the same level as my first and last or did my focus lag? How can I be more efficient and minimize wasted motions? Am I willing to participate and excel in the mundane (which the industry is built upon), as well as the instant gratification aspects?

Wax on. Wax off. A large part of a career is snow peas, only a small part is uni.
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
You'll only be in a position to be important in any kitchen after you show your important. I worked in a multi complex in Hawaii. I remember telling the person training me that I didn't have to wash 1000 potatoes in order to know what a washed potato looks like. The ladder to meaningful learning in a high end restaurant could take a long time. If someone wants to have a fast track of missing all the bullshit (7 Cases of snow peas) it's not going to happen in a high end atmosphere. I wouldn't pick a high end restaurant to learn either. I would get my skills in a kitchen that I could learn and practice technique. Be trained and Work on my skills, speed and confidence of working each station. The only thing someone gets in a high end kitchen is the pleasure of ridding on the back of someone else's coattails.
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
4,313
348
Joined Oct 5, 2001
Mindfulness and focus. There is value in any task. A career in this business, is built with time, dedication, and focus. How we perform simple, repetitive, banal tasks can provide much feedback for growth and insight into our mindset.

How can I better organize my efforts and work area? Were my middle results at the same level as my first and last or did my focus lag? How can I be more efficient and minimize wasted motions? Am I willing to participate and excel in the mundane (which the industry is built upon), as well as the instant gratification aspects?

Wax on. Wax off. A large part of a career is snow peas, only a small part is uni.

Chef while I understand your perspective and agree in the particular experience I was sharing I would say this endeavor was of no benefit. Why? Because he already was working diligently at his day job and one thing I have really come to value is my time. Particularly my time with my family and people that may no longer be a part of my life in a month a day etc. My point is he did not need to give away his evenings to go to Charlie Trotters he could of cleaned all the snow peas he wanted at our place which was 5 million a year catering operation. To me if you are going to spend time in a kitchen of that caliber it needs to be with a defined purpose.

One thing that became very clear to me while I was in the industry is that there is so little value put on a our time. It has been my experience that if you are going to ask me to spend time away from my family you must compensate me exceedingly well otherwise it is not worth it at all. Cleaning snow peas in my opinion is not high enough compensation for the exchange. Let me be clear I am not speaking only of a monetary compensation I am also talking about the experience you walk away with.
 
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I totally understand your point of view as well, and can't say that I disagree with it either.

However, that being said, I look at life as a school with lots of classes. Some required, some electives. One particular class that I had to take repeatedly until I finally got a passing grade, was the one that taught me, if after taking a class, in hindsight the curriculum and lesson plan did not meet my standards, it was my fault for not doing my research and due diligence prior to joining the class.
 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
Cleaning snow peas in my opinion is not high enough compensation for the exchange. Let me be clear I am not speaking only of a monetary compensation I am also talking about the experience you walk away with.
I would imagine the experience gained encompassed much more than the skill of cleaning snow peas.

I have learned from similar experiences how not to treat people. I remember the first time in a restaurant that I found out that I had to work on Xmas day. From that experience, what I took away was that when I opened my own restaurant, we would be closed on Xmas day because that is the way I want to be treated. One of my first chefs was a total bully, I learned much from his treatment of people.

Not all lessons are warm and fuzzy, but they still can be valuable if you make lemonade (tongue in cheek twist on an a old cliche).
 
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I definitely do not wish to compare myself to the venerable chefs in this post, but I'm the only one in my family who is not and has never been in the restaurant business, yet I can cook better than any of them. That's not saying much because these are not high-end restaurants (by any stretch), and anyways they hire professional help to cook (and from all appearances, I still do better in good part, and I'm good with a knife, and can move pretty well in general). But could I bring in 4 million/year in sales? NO! Do I care for the business end? NO!

My point? You can do whatever you want to do kid, so long as it is what you can clearly SEE yourself doing. As Joe Namath said, "I can't wait till tomorrow, because I LOOK better every day." What do you think he actually meant by that?

You got a lot of positive advice here from some "real" professionals, take it, for all that it is worth to you at this moment.

In addition, here's some visuals of a guy who really sees well what it is he wants to do, and he applies it to every aspect of being a chef:
 
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