You’re thinking about making that leap to a more professional kitchen – but doubt keeps holding you back. The best way to prepare yourself for a big step up is to get some first-hand experience and request a Stage.
Staging is a great tradition in the restaurant world. It allows cooks of varying experience to see new methods up close and personal. It can also be a stepping stone for those young cooks looking to break into award-winning kitchens that are known to launch careers.
Here are some pointers on getting the Stage that’s right for you.
Pick the right restaurant
First of all, make sure it’s a restaurant that is open to stagiaires. Skip corporate chains and look for chef-driven restaurants. Also, think about the logistics of a kitchen hosting a Stage. There are a number of tiny galley kitchens running a two cook line that produce amazing food, but they might not have the physical space to afford a third cook whose abilities are limited. Ideally, a Stage-worthy restaurant has a large kitchen and uses something like the brigade system.
It’s all about the food
It’s not enough to Stage in any old James Beard awarded kitchen, you’ll want to follow a kitchen that’s making the food you’re interested in learning more about. Do you keep hearing about molecular gastronomy, but don’t know the first thing about fluid gels? Find a kitchen that does. Interested in wood fired ovens and traditional cooking? There are amazing places that don’t even have a stovetop. Ultimately, if you have to choose between a kitchen that has won awards and a kitchen that is making the food that interests you, go with the food.
Enjoy Life, eat out more often… and make it count
Once you’ve decided on where you’d like to Stage, make a reservation for 1 and go have dinner. Skip the date, since this meal is all about the food (and the networking.) Be the best guest you can imagine yourself being. Ask good questions and listen to all advice as the staff recommends dishes to you. Take notes – treat the meal as the first day of your Stage. When you’re done, ask if you can meet the chef – but take no for an answer. If you do get to meet the chef, keep it quick. Compliment their food and ask if you could follow up with them about a Stage.
This last point is an important one, so it bears repeating. Ask to follow up about a Stage instead of asking for a Stage. This is a subtle difference but it lets the chef consider your request without being put on the spot. If they tell you to call back in the morning, you’re likely to be talking with a Sous Chef anyway.
If you get rejected, start your search over from the beginning. The point is to push beyond your boundaries and to learn new skills. That requires a thick skin and a tolerance for rejection. But if you persist, you will find your way into a kitchen – and that kitchen will be a good one.