The Never-Ending Search For Cooks Who Have and Get It!
It’s been a long week; I lost a Sous chef to an injury that will take him off the roster for an undetermined amount of time. One of our more experienced cooks is leaving to join the armed forces and business is booming. It was like a 1-2-3 punch; there are days that I am amazed that we get through it. One of my biggest sources of anxiety is to continuously build our bench. Identifying and recruiting cooks who have it and get it is a never ending process.
Through this process one of the things that I have come to realize is that the largest applicant pool consists of “career changers.” Most applicants are recent graduates from one of the many post-secondary culinary schools in existence today. So many, in fact, that I think the pool of prospective students necessary to keep the schools full and profitable has altered their product. I am not implying that these are not reputable schools; they are staffed by many fine chefs with good intentions and have acceptable facilities. I have just have a hard time understanding why you can’t make a hollandaise or that you have not been required to take a sanitation class.
Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a huge fan of a quality culinary education. It’s not really the school’s fault, students either have the aptitude and skill needed for this kind of work or they don't. You cannot teach passion, commitment and physical dexterity, which are all needed to become a proficient cook/chef. Many degreed applicants have never actually worked in a full service restaurant or have come up through fast food and mid level chain operations. Many have no relevant experience. Most have missed out on the early development stages that all competent cooks and chefs have in common, a strong foundation. I will admit that I have hired the wrong person more then once in my career and I have experienced the pain involved in correcting my poor decision. Your chances of identifying the best candidate are greatly increased with each additional interview, test, or audition that you conduct.
In addition to the standard interview questions, we administer a written test to measure basic culinary knowledge, kitchen math, and sanitation. This gives us a baseline and helps us to delve deeper into each area. If an applicant cannot write a basic recipe from memory, or give an opinion on food in America, we have to assume that he/she is not a serious cook or culinarian. In the second interview, the applicant will meet with Sous Chefs and FOH management for their analysis. If the consensus is favorable then he/she is asked to cook for us. The applicant is expected to prepare a soup and entrée in about an hour and half. We are looking for an organized, focused individual who can execute quality food under some level of pressure.
I would suggest to all who recruit, manage, and train cooks (if you are not doing so already) to incorporate a written and practical cooking test into the interview process. Invest the appropriate amount of time and take all the necessary steps to identify a qualified candidate and perhaps then you may have a 50/50 chance of success.