A long tradition in restaurant kitchens is the working interview. The purpose is threefold: First, the perspective employer wants to see the level of skill and experience a candidate possesses. Second, it’s a chance to see how the candidate interacts with their potential co-workers. Last, it’s an opportunity for the candidate to evaluate the job and to fully commit to it. While the working interview is less common in other industries, it has served restaurants well.
Be there and ready 10 minutes early.
Promptness is a very attractive trait in a job candidate. If someone asks you to come in at 3pm, 2:50pm is even better. You need a few minutes to get your chef jacket on, your knives organized and your head in the right space. There’s a large direct benefit to you as well: you won’t feel rushed. There’s nothing worse than trying to be on time just to miss a bus or get lost in an unfamiliar part of town. Take extra time and not only will you arrive calm, cool and collected, but your future chef will know you’re a serious cook.
Wear clean clothes.
It’s actually totally fine to show up in casual pants and a t-shirt, as you’re probably going to be wearing a jacket or an apron anyway. Most restaurants expect/accept a certain level of casualness (but do your research; The French Laundry may have different expectations than the local pub.) What’s most important is looking clean, and not smelling of some other restaurant, cigarettes or worse. Chefs consider hygiene to be very important – especially as health inspectors have become stricter through time.
Bring sharp knives.
If you have your own knives they should be well cared for and sharp – really sharp. A savvy chef will likely ask you to chop parsley or some other herbs. They might not even need the parsley, but they’re looking for how well you perform. If your knife is dull and your technique is weak, the parsley is going to oxidize into a muddy shredded mess. If your knife is sharp and you know what you’re doing, the parsley will look fresh and vibrant. Chefs notice these details.
Be friendly to your potential co-workers.
Say hello and be polite. You don’t need to be the life of the party, but present yourself as someone who is good to work with. At the end of your working interview the chef is very likely to ask the other cooks (and servers) what they thought of you. This is a large factor of the working interview. The chef knows your experience from your resume, they know your interests and background from the first interview, but they don’t know how well you play with others.
Ask thoughtful questions.
You might know everything about cooking, but you don’t know anything about cooking for this restaurant. Every line is different; just as every chef has their own take on even the most classic of sauces. Good questions show your knowledge of culinary technique and tradition. You should look over the restaurant’s menu before the interview and pick out a preparation you’re familiar with. If they show you some ingredient from that dish on the line, ask about how they set up their mise or how long the fire-time is. The trick is to show you’re not only knowledgeable, but willing to learn.
Bonus! Tell the chef you want the job.
If you want the job, tell the chef. If the menu excites you and you want to learn the techniques, tell the chef. If you think you can contribute to the team, tell the chef. It’s that simple.