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You may not need a formal education to get a job in a commercial kitchen, but if you don’t impress the hiring manager during your interview, the chances of you stepping into that kitchen aren’t likely. Even culinary school graduates with high grades and honors don’t waltz into a kitchen. During an interview, you must prove your value to the kitchen and make a solid impression on the executive chefs.
Research the restaurant you’re applying to, as well as the food service industry. Because you’ve never worked in a commercial kitchen, you need to demonstrate your abilities and prove your interest over applicants who have previous kitchen experience. Eat at the restaurant a few times and take notes. It’s likely the interviewer will ask whether you’ve dined there before and ask for your impressions. Note your favorite meals and, more specifically, why you liked them. Be prepared to answer questions about the cooking techniques and ingredients used to prepare that dish, and speak in technical terms. For example, if you order a chicken alfredo, you should know that the sauce came from a well-prepared béchamel.
A positive attitude goes a long way in the kitchen, so smile and remain enthusiastic throughout the interview. Avoid tentative phrases, such as “I think I can,” and avoid negativity in your answers. Emphasize the positive aspects of your resume and answer each question with confidence. Even if you mess up or don’t know the answer, use it as a learning opportunity. Executive chefs often look for kitchen candidates who are open to learning new things.
You can expect to hear questions during the interview that ask about your goals. The executive chef may ask where you see yourself in a few years; what are your aspirations in the culinary world; and what motivates you. It’s likely you’ll be asked how you work on limited to no supervision and how you operate in high-pressure situations. Be prepared to answer questions and refer to your experience. Think of a time in a previous job or during school when you’ve overcome similar situations.
If you went to culinary school, you already know the terms and techniques associated with the kitchen. If you are not formally trained, familiarize yourself with the terms and techniques used. For example, learn knife skills so you know that a “julienne” is a stick-shaped cut that is 1/16-inch by 1/16-inch by 2-inch and that a “brunoise” is a small dice that is 1/16-inch by 1/16-inch by 1/16-inch. Be familiar with the stations in the kitchen and their general duties. For example, know the duties of a garde manger, pastry cook and potager.
Your resume may not help you in the interview, but it gets you to the interview. Fill your resume with culinary-relevant experience, such as volunteer work you’ve done in commercial kitchens, culinary internships, apprenticeships and personal experiences in kitchens.
Shailynn Krow began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous online and offline publications. Krow holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and an Associate of Science in pastry arts from the International Culinary Institute of America.