Filling out your résumé with experience in entry-level culinary jobs is an important rite of passage in the industry. It's also a key step in mastering culinary skills. There's simply no replacement for real-world kitchen experience.
Because of the nature of culinary jobs, it might be a good idea to get some kitchen experience even before you enroll in culinary school to make sure it's a good fit for you. Working in a restaurant can be intense. So before you spend your tuition dollars, be sure that a culinary career is really what you want. Your food preparation experience will either make you rethink your career aspirations, or it will reinforce your determination to persevere through cooking school and entry-level culinary jobs until you get where you want to go.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
Culinary jobs can be as much of an educational experience as school because you'll be learning the culinary arts in a real-world setting. Here are a couple of things to watch for:
- Make sure you're learning what you want to learn. Don't waste your time in a position if you don't feel it's a good environment for training.
- When you're first starting out, pay attention to restaurants you like and local chefs who inspire you. Find out if there are job openings working for them.
- If there aren't, consider volunteering. Learning from someone you respect and whose style you enjoy is well worth your time.
Many culinary arts programs include externships as part of the curriculum, some of which are paid positions. Not only are culinary externships a great way to get your feet wet in a professional environment, but they can sometimes lead to permanent employment opportunities.
When choosing where to do your culinary externship, you may be hoping to work with a well-known chef. However, keep in mind that there can be advantages to working with relatively unknown chefs as well. Working in an established restaurant with a top chef can be a great opportunity to observe and learn; however, positions at these locations may be competitive, and you may end up on potato-peeling duty. On the other hand, you may get broader hands-on experience working with a less sought-after chef in a lesser known restaurant.
The career services department at most culinary arts schools can help you set up your externship. Research your options before you jump into anything. A culinary externship can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Take advantage of the opportunity, and make the most of it!