What Exactly Is The Problem

Joined Sep 5, 2007
Hi all......haven't posted in a long time. Let me get right to the point. I looked on the site for similar topics, but couldn't seem to find one. I am a pastry cook with experience in working in one of the largest and most prestigious hotels on the East Coast for over two years as well as working in a few of the area's top bakeries as an intern. I graduated cullinary school three years ago among the top of my class and can get an excellent recommendation from just about anyone that I have worked with. Over the summer, I decided to leave my job in order to take more classes and travel a little. The chef at my job couldn't hold the position open for me but I thought "That's okay. It shouldn't be too hard to find another gig." It's been almost six months and I can't seem to BUY a job anywhere. I go on interview after interview nad stage after stage with little to no results. I am extremely confident that I interview well and provide clear, concise answers to the questions I am asked. Every stage I have done has been, in my eyes, a success, with the exception of one, which I admit, I really blew the hell out of it, yet I get the feeling that race plays a huge role in my inability to get a job. I am an Black Male in an industry largely populated by not only European Men, but White and Asian women. I get the feeling time and time again that as soon as I hit the door, they take one look at me and say to themselves "This big Black guy can't possibly be any good. No way." I can interview well over the phone, as I am well spoken, so there may not be any indication of my ethnicity over the phone. I have litterally been on interviews at hotels, restaurants, etc. where the chef will come and meet me at the front, see a big black man sitting there and have a weird expression on their face as if they can't beleive I'm the guy they talked to over the phone. It's not like I don't take care of my appearance. I have a closet of very nice suits at my disposal, shower every day, and keep my hair groomed neattly all the time. the only thing I can think of is that since I started working at my last job, I started to grow dreadlocks, which I pay good money to keep clean, healthy and maintained, but why oh whay would that stop me from getting a job? For a beginner in my craft, which I still consider myself to be, I have a pretty strong resume, but no matter what position I go for, I get no love. There can't be THAT many people out there in my city looking for the same job, can there? I have gone to interviews sparked from answering a Craigslist ad that will say something like "Need Pastry Cooks ASAP!!!", go to the interview, do well, and hear "ok. We''l call you next week" and that would be it. I don't have a bad attitude, I'm friendly, and I'm not above doing anything asked of me, but reguardless of how I show that or even say that in interviews, I get passed over time after time only to find out in some instances that a young white woman out frsh out of school has gotten the job, and the fact that she is a bit attractive never seems to hurt. I'm beyond frustrated and have now begun to look for jobs in other industries and it's sad to think that I took money left to me by my mom when she passed away to go to school and get a degree that does me no good now reguardless of how many interviews I get. Why is it so hard for a Black male to get a job in pastry?
Joined Jan 5, 2007
Get over yourself, as some of my American friends would say...

Have a look at at this link.  Mr Caines is BLACK, one-armed - AND a Michelin-starred chef.  I've eaten at his restaurant - and he is just one of the most amazing chefs you could imagine.

Joined Sep 18, 2008
If you posted your location, I missed it, and it certainly may have a bearing on your situation, i.e. looking for employment.

Where I'm located, European males have a tough time finding culinary employment while Latins, Blacks, and Orientals seem to get hired readily.

Is it an "ethnicity issue"? I don't think so.

BTW, you posted your question around 12:30 today, that's about two (2) hours ago and right in the middle of the lunch service here on the west coast. The chance that someone with a real good answer logged on within the two hours is REMOTE! Give it a day or so, and I think you will find more responses. This isn't TWITTER or FACEBOOK, you know /img/vbsmilies/smilies/talker.gif
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Joined Nov 23, 2010
This forum moves slow, really slow actually.  Give it a couple days and you should (hopefully) rack up some good responses and maybe get some help.  It would also help everyone if you used some paragraph breaks in your post; I know a lot of people look at a mass of words like that and think "I ain't reading all that crap!" because it looks too daunting... 

As for your issue, I don't really know anything about the pastry side of the business, but could it be that a big dreadlocked black guy just doesn't "look the part" enough (especially to say, an older pastry chef) and it kinda throws them?  Of course that's wrong, and we should all be judged on our work and personal constitution...but maybe there's something "perception-wise" to it all?  I have no idea, just thinking out loud.  Do you think you'd be having better luck if you were applying for a cooking/line position?
Joined Aug 6, 2010
From my perspective, one of two things is happening.

1) You don't interview as well as you think you do.

2) You're being discriminated against.

Unfortunate situation, either way. However, I've seen plenty of minorities in the kitchen. In fact, the kitchens of most restaurants in big cities are dominated by minorities. My suggestion is don't give up. An opportunity will eventually present itself.

Good luck.
Joined Aug 26, 2010
You're definitely being discriminated against.  The question is WHY?  I strongly doubt it is the color of your skin.  However, it may be your size, your demeanor, the dreadlocks, or any number of reasons. 

Let's suppose that two identical resumes appear.  On paper, they're completely even.  Both are brought in for interviews, but only one will get the job.  What is it about YOU that keeps you from winning that battle?  If given the choice of a bald person or a person with dreadlocks cooking for me, I'll take baldie any day (it doesn't hurt that I'm bald), just because the chances of hair in food are lessened considerably.  I don't want Ziggy Marley cooking food for me -- which is great, because he doesn't want to either. 

I'd hire a person without tattoos over a person with tattoos.  I'd hire a person without an eyebrow ring over someone with one.  I'd hire a clear communicator over someone who spoke poorly.  I think everyone on here would admit to favoring one type over another.  This isn't to say you're being unfairly treated, just that there are candidates which have an appearance/demeanor more in line with the image of the restaurant.  So, assuming your resume and your skills are not the issue, I'd suspect it's appearance or demeanor. 

While the reason may have some basis on your cultural background, skin color, in and of itself, is rarely the issue.  I would suspect that a version of you that was white would have the exact same difficulties.  Heck, I'd take a black guy with dreadlocks over a white guy with dreadlocks -- all things being equal.  I would make the ASSUMPTION that the black guy had some Caribbean roots whereas the white guy was a pot-smoking hippie.  Again, simple judgement made based solely on appearance.  It happens every day, but it's not illegal (as denying you employment based solely on your skin color would be). 

And, in case there were any question in anyone's mind, I'm not what one would classify as "liberal". :)
Joined Sep 5, 2007
"Get over myself"? Puh-lease...I'm not some self-righteous douche that thinks that they are owed an opprtunity simply because they went to school or whatever, I simply want to understand why I am having no luck inthis particular field....that's great that Mr. Caines is having such success, but I live in the US where people's perception of you on the outside tends to be more shallow.I personally know a few Black chefs that are largely sucessful but ONLY because they have gone into business for themselves, which I am light years away from doing.My old mentor is a Black Muslim who has told me repeated horror stories of being discriminated on simply because of who he is and he is without a doubt one of the best pastry chef I have ever had the priveledgr to work with. I never wanted to beleive a lot of stuff that h told me, I figured it was just him being a bit bitter with some of the experiences that he had in his life, yet while I have been going throug this process, I find a lot of what he has said to be true. It's as if theytake a one look at you and already have their mind made up about you before even seeing what you are all about. I went to a French Bistro to inquire about a job (HUGE mistake) and could literally tell that the French Chef didn't take me seriously at all. He said he would definitely call one of my professional reference (Francios Dionot was another mentor and the ONLY French Chef  have ever met to look/talk to me like I wasn't worthy of trying to make something of myself in the culinary field) who was a personal friend of his only to find out that he NEVER called after I saw the same help wanted ad numerous times weeks and weeks later. I honestly felt like he didn't want me there because of the color of my skin, not beause of anything else. If he would have asked me to show him anything, I am confident that I could have given it my best.I have been on a few stages and can saythat I was honestly beaten by someone who was better and more capble than me, but by and large many instances I walked away feeling like there was no way I shouldn't be in serious consideration for the job. The hotel I worked at is one of te most prestigious hotels in the Tri-state area. People have been waiting for years to get in there and have worked at some of the places that I am now trying my hand at. I understand times are tough and it's hard out here right now, but I KNOW that I interview well and I know that I am a hard worker who's totally open to learning new things and learning new ways to do old things.I had an interview at a Ritz-Carlton theother day and, because I have a unisex name, I could tell that the Chef wasn't expecting a Black guy to walk in her kitchen and probably thought I was going to be a woman because of my name, the pictures I provided of my work, etc. And BTW, my dreads are pretty short (about the average length of a white man's hair) and I have no desire to grow them any longer than they would be able to fit under my chef hat and they are always neatly tucked away from food. It's just not happening for some reason. Very,very frustrating. Thanks for all the replis, though.

Get over yourself, as some of my American friends would say...

Have a look at at this link.  Mr Caines is BLACK, one-armed - AND a Michelin-starred chef.  I've eaten at his restaurant - and he is just one of the most amazing chefs you could imagine.

Joined Sep 5, 2007
I'm definitley taking a hard look at myself and seeing what it is that I can do better at interviews. And I'm definitely not saying that all kitchens everywhere are racist, as hites were infact the minority at the hotel kitchen where I worked, but looking back o i, it seems like perhaps we were hired there simply because it was his giant sized hotel opening up and they literaly couldn't hire peoplefast enough. When the work got frustrating and slow and there wer somethat said that they wished they could leave and go work elsewhere, but when asked why they don't try, I would always get an answer similar to "it's impossible to find anything out there because there aren't many people who think that we (Blacks) can master making French pasteries and/or desserts" and I always thought that that was crazy and didn't understand it. I figured as long as you present yourself properly and have the right attitude along with a great resume, you could find something. The joke's definitely on me now.
Joined Sep 5, 2007
I applaud Mr Caines' accomplishments, but I don't see how directing me to his website, telling me of his credentials,or you telling me to "get over" myself has merit in this conversation. I never said that Black Chefs could not be successful. My mentor is a Black Muslim and has run a sucessful bakery for over 20 years, I'm wondering why it is that finding a job in a mainstream kitchen as a Black male pastry chef is so difficult and seems to have been that way long before I committed myself to the field.I'm smart enough to know when I go into an interview and bomb and when I go in and leave feeling good about the way I interviewed.

So thanks, but as my American friends from the neighborhood would say "You're all up in my Kool-Aid and don't know the flavor."

Get over yourself, as some of my American friends would say...

Have a look at at this link.  Mr Caines is BLACK, one-armed - AND a Michelin-starred chef.  I've eaten at his restaurant - and he is just one of the most amazing chefs you could imagine.

Joined Apr 3, 2008
I was just going to say maybe wearing a hat would help. Dreads are a bit of a turn off for some people. As a long hair myself, I tuck it up under my hat when I Interview for jobs. Also I am 6 foot 6 inches tall, 260 lbs and wear a size 14 double wide shoe, I have learned (sadly) that I DO need to mention that I DO NOT have a criminal record and tell prospective employers to look for themselves.  I have been accused of every infraction that a big male can be accused of from just taking up too much space to having purposely knocked someone to the ground. On that last one, the guy didn't say "behind you" and I was honestly so busy that when I stepped into him I didn't know he was there.

Regardless, sizeism (sizism, biggism?)  isn't covered as a source of predjudice. I almost wish it was, as I feel it IS a source of discrimination. People have told me that they really were scared of me due to my size, two chefs included, although they did take the chance to hire me. Still, I get what you are saying, my size challenged compadre.  Some people couldn't be more surprised if you were folding origami or arranged flowers, they expect you to haul big ass rocks by yourself or drop cows with a single punch or something. Yes, I am really bugged by being a big man called out for it by little people with mean attitudes.  Gah!  the stories of assumptions I could tell, you'd think I walked around with a bloody axe in my back pocket.

Anyway, move on....it sucks, it is not fair and I do not blame you for being upset by it, but do not let it rule you. You will get another job in the field you want with persistence and patience. I have and so can you. Best of Luck.

p.s.- you really need to give it some time on the boards before you get all upset.  If you get that upset that quickly on the internet, what are you doing at interviews?
Joined Aug 21, 2004
I am currently unemployed and having the same experience as you except that I am a white male with a short generic haircut. Go figure. A lot of it is the economy.
Joined Oct 11, 2010
Hi Darkwon,

Have you thought about popping by or calling those places where you've interviewed to ask politely why you didn't get the job?  I have done this numerous times over the years and have learned invaluable information about myself and how I'm perceived by others by doing that very thing. 

If you haven't asked, think about calling or stopping by during their slow time and asking something like, "Thank you for the opportunity to interview.  Would you mind providing some honest feedback on the reasons I wasn't a good match for your needs?  The constructive criticism would really help me in my continued search." 

I've heard a host of responses and I've found that when I ask appropriately, most people are willing to be honest about the reasons I wasn't a good match for them. 

If you think your ethnicity or size might be a factor, call them and ask them the questions you want to know.  Maybe they'll feel more comfortable being honest if you aren't in front of them.

It's a shame that folks let size, ethnicity and appearance have such an influence over their decisions, whether or not that's the case here.  But until you know it's the case I wouldn't let all that negativity into your brain space.  It tends to balloon out and color the way you see things.  You seem to have a decent attitude about it in general which will bode well for you.  Keep that good attitude and believe that your abilities will be recognized by someone able to see the big picture (no pun intended).  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
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Joined Jul 30, 2007
need to think on this more, but maybe you need to lower your expectations for the time being....i am a bit confused though....geez, you are a black pastry chef in the nations capital...if you can't get a job there, who can?


maybe its cuz your'e a democrat!
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Joined Aug 9, 2010
In the service industry, perception is everything. I don't pretend to know much about the food industry but I can commiserate with you on preconceived notions. I am 32 but look 19. People are always shocked by my age. I started working as a nurse at the ripe old age of 18. I was a full time charge nurse at 23. At that time I looked 16. Try to convince a 68 year old woman that the 16 yr old boy is the best option to insert her catheter. The perception is "this young kid can't help me, he's still wet behind the ears." I don't think there is a way to change the initial response (first impressions and all) but you can adjust that impression going forward.

The first step is to pinpoint the exact initial perception. ChefBazookas suggestion is dead on, and a great way to see how people perceive you. Then be honest with yourself, are the perceptions inaccurate? If so how do you change them

You must draw the interviewers attention to the already formed inaccurate perception (they often don't even know they have already formed an opinion) and adjust it, without accusing, seeming cocky, arrogant, irritable, defensive or oversensitive. This is of course all complicated by their preconceived notion that you are all of the above. I find the greatest tool to disarm this situation is self effacing humor. It comes across confident but not arrogant. Let them know you know what they're thinking- what's this six foot tall black guy doing in pastry, and that you understand that it is atypical. Then let them know that despite your incongruous appearance you are in fact experienced, competent and (here's the big one) eager to learn and grow. In my experience that is what employers are looking for.

   From an experience standpoint you're likely in or you wouldn't be interviewing.    What employers want to see is a person that takes their craft seriously not themselves.

-Good luck


P.S. Anyone else notice ChefBazookas makes a lot of "unintended" puns?
Joined Sep 5, 2007
Thanks again for all the positive feedback. I do think that calling some of these places and asking them those kinds of questions may indeed help........never thought of doing that.I do indeed try to use humor a lot in my interviews to put the interviewers at ease (especially if I feel a bit of tension in the room) and let them know that I am an easy going, fun-loving guy who just happens to be damn serious about his work. I do agree that the economy is bad and times are tough, but I am coming across job vacancies right and left. I just can't seem to shake the feeling that the preconceived notions people have are playing a major role in things.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
P.S. Anyone else notice ChefBazookas makes a lot of "unintended" puns?

Hey, TBN, what makes you think they're uninteded?
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Out with the Dreads, in with the skin. Shave your head, I don't think that is a real professional look. If I walked into an interview with you looking like that, I wouldn't take anything you said serious, that wouldn't be the look I want to project in my Restaurant........Look the part, part with the look.............ChefBillyB
Joined Apr 3, 2010
People tend to stereotype. Here in Florida dreads are usually associated with a make sheet. In the newspapers here whenever a crime occurs unfortunately the picture of the perp. usually has dreads. Be honest with you if a white guy came to me for interview with earrings in nose and tattoos, I would have second thoughts about hiring .Not so much for my sake but for the customer who may react.  I am 6 4 and weigh 255 lbs and have a 14 shoe , a lot of people were afraid of me to .Last full time job I had before I retired I was 63 years old they were afraid I could not keep up with the young guys. I stayed 3 years outlasting all. I proved them wrong very fast by using my head and finishing all my task before anyone, working cleaner and neater, and smarter, never late or absent.

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