The differences between the restaurant industry and most 9 to 5 jobs people hold are obvious. Begin with the simple fact that we work when most people play, nights, weekends, and holidays. Add to that the type of person attracted to working opposite the rest of society, in harsh physical conditions where the stress and urgency of a deadline hangs over your head every 5 minutes. To describe the restaurant industry with the phrase “counter culture” would not be a stretch.
Working in restaurants all my adult life, I am accustomed to industry standards I know go against everything you are taught about jobs. For example, padding your resume with wordy descriptions of previous positions may push your resume to the top of the pile from 9 to 5, but it is a sure way to loose your chance at a restaurant interview. There is no way to make a “pantry” position (the entry level position into a kitchen where one plates cold food like salads, and often desserts) more than it is. Fluffing that up to sound like more than the entry level position it is, and the chef will see through it, knowing exactly what your position truly was, and reject you for not being strait-forward. Worse, say your deceptive words do land you a job you are not quite qualified for. Just one day in the new position will show exactly where your skills stop, and you will look like a fool.
I have let friends who hold office jobs look over my resume, and they always make the same comments and changes, using words to glamorize what it was that I did. One friend, upon knowing I produced and plated the desserts at Lampreia, insisted I use the title “pastry manager.” I can only imagine laughter when the chef I (hypothetically) handed that resume to a chef I was hoping to work for.
In our industry, you call it like it is, because the true interview is physical and you are given the job providing you can back everything you claimed to be with performance. Overstating your experience will leave you hanging in the kitchen, and most likely without a job. Admitting less experience but performing to everything you promise shows honesty, integrity, and the ability to grow in a kitchen.
Say you are interviewing for the meat/grill station at a new restaurant, and while you have cooked on the saute line for 2 years, you have only had a few days experience on the meat/grill station. If you claim to have worked the line on the meat station, you will be placed on the meat station with every cook watching you, gauging your performance, measuring you by every mistake. These mistakes will quickly add up and your lack of experience will be taken for lack of skill and talent. If you claim to have had a few days working on the meat station, but are looking to learn that station next, then your first day will most likely be viewed differently, often with a few tips shared from other cooks who have held the position before, and a more forgiving judgement will be placed on you.
A local Seattle Pastry Chef’s bio often includes a story about lying her way into a kitchen job at a French ski resort to extend her vacation. It makes good press, and sounds romantic, but the second part of the story the press often excludes is the first day, when it was clear she didn’t possess the skills she had claimed, the chef confronted her quickly about it. Luckily, rather than loosing a job altogether, she was demoted to the dish pit. I emphasize luckily, because most chef’s wouldn’t offer second chances like that.
No matter how much experience you have, if you are working for another chef you need to posses the capability to learn their cuisine and grow in their kitchen. If you can’t own up to the amount of growth you need in your resume, then how can they trust you to grow and assume their style of cuisine? It sounds selfish and egotistical, but in the end you are in the kitchen for one main reason, to help said chef make their statement, their way. In trade you earn a paycheck, expose yourself to a different style of cooking, and earn skills that you want and need to continue your career. Eventually it will be your turn to set the kitchens terms, decide the details, and call in the karma of your own years submitting to another chef’s will.
One of the first lessons on kitchen ethics I learned was never be afraid of what you don’t know, and never hide it. Chef Carsberg told me that if you hide from what you don’t know, then you will never get the opportunity to truly learn it.
Being in the restaurant industry, you will have the chance to repeat the interview process many times. Unlike other industries, high turnover is the norm. Two years in one place is a long term commitment by a cook. It is in every cooks best interest to bounce around while they are young, flexible, healthy, and poor, and expose themselves to as many different styles of cooking as possible. When it comes time for you to be the manager and creator, the broader a base of experience you have to draw from the stronger you will be.
Once you begin to seek management positions, you are looking at long term commitments. Until then cooks, go sow your wild oats, bounce around, take unpaid internships in far off places sleeping on couches and living off staff dinners, and be honest with yourself about how much more you need (and get) to grow.