How Not to Get a Job

by Chef Len Elias

I recently initiated a search to recruit a sous chef and breakfast cook. I thought that it would be pretty easy to find a professional, talented and hard working candidate during this economomic downturn. To my surprise what I found was a large pool of applicants, many had recently graduated or were scheduled to graduate in the coming months from one of the post secondary Culinary Schools in the Atlanta area; others were locals and some from as far away as NY. I am not sure who influences these people, but a dose of reality about the industry is highly recommended.

I will start with the lack of business etiquette. It would be nice to see a complete application package that includes my request for a cover letter, salary history and resume. I am not expecting a perfectly crafted set of documents, but please run spell check, attempt complete sentences and correct gross errors in grammar.

Secondly most applicants have never actually worked in a full service scratch restaurant; many have come up through fast food and mid level chain operations and have no relevant experience. Apply for what you are qualified for. It’s ok to be aggressive and shoot for the stars but be realistic; don’t waste my time. Contrary to what many in HR will say, attitude is not everything.

In addition to the standard interview questions, we administered a written test. The test is designed to test basic culinary knowledge, kitchen math, sanitation and industry knowledge. This gives us a base line and helps us segue deeper into each area. If applicants can’t write a basic recipe from memory, have any opinions of food in America or name some of their favorite foods, we have to assume that they are not serious cooks and Culinarians.

As a second interview applicants were asked to cook a soup and entrée in about an hour and half. We were looking for organized, focused individuals who could execute quality food under some level of pressure. Here is what we found:

•Many applicants came without a proper knife kit and would ask to borrow tools.
•Most had cavalier attitudes before they got started, but were soon making excuses why they couldn’t execute what they had planned.
•Not one plate was complete with all the necessary components of a quality restaurant plate.
•Most were unorganized, sloppy and displayed poor sanitation practices
•All but a few could slice and dice like a kitchen pro and most seemed uncomfortable to actually be in the kitchen.

I would suggest to all who recruit, manage and train cooks: if you are not doing so already, incorporate a written and practical cooking test into the interview process. It is the only possible way to assess their true level of proficiency in the Culinary Arts.