Have you been lurking on Instagram drooling over perfectly crafted pastries and gorgeous aprons? Swooning over fresh produce in handmade ceramic bowls and envying the women who have devoted their lives to a craft that seems so elegant, artisanal, and skilled?
I too used to flip through gorgeous photos during my lunch break thinking “What am I doing? I could do that…” — and now, of course, I do—- sort of.
What those women won’t tell you is that there are two types of cooks out there: those who really cook and those who really look like they cook. Of course there is overlap, but true cooks don’t have time for the bullshit.
This industry will break you in just about every way possible. You will stand for 12+ hours. You will eat in rushed bites standing at your station. You will be yelled at, demoralized. You will be burned, emotionally and physically. You will be talked to you as if you know nothing, and if you started as I did (a green career-changer) then you might as well accept it now: you really do know nothing.
If you are new to the industry then you should prepare yourself to be humbled. You don’t need specialty training, you do need an open mind and the ability to concede to someone who knows far more than you do. Your first stage will be nerve-racking, because it is indeed a test. However, in many ways it is also an opportunity to learn, to talk, to expose, and to explore. [Read about my first stage ever here]
The Stage: A Field Guide For the Mad and Delusional:
What is a “stage”?
The “stage” (pronounced staahj, rhymes with dodge) in practical terms is a working interview. A stage can also be recurring, in the form of an internship. However, for all practical purposes if you are inquiring about a job, and a kitchen asks you to come in for a stage, you can expect to show up in work attire and work an entire shift from start to finish. You will be treated as a new employee, not as a guest, and in most kitchens this interview will be unpaid.
What do I wear?
This will vary from restaurant to restaurant, and many will have a uniform shirt and/or aprons for you to wear for the day. It is a good idea to ask about this prior to arriving. You will be expected to wear shoes appropriate for the kitchen (danskos, sanitas, and birkenstock clogs are chef favorites), socks, pants, and a hair restraint (a bandana or scarf of some sort around tied back hair is some sort of pastry uniform, don’t ask me why). Make sure to take off all jewelry and nail polish prior to arriving
What equipment do I need?
If you are just dipping your toe in the culinary waters I would recommend getting the bare minimum to get you started. This usually includes a chef’s knife and a paring knife. A small offset spatula is also incredibly useful, particularly if you are in pastry. I would recommend getting an economy knife to get you started. My first knife was a 10 inch Mercer. It was way too large and couldn’t hold an edge, but it was around $30.00 and gave me something to use during my stage ( I later replaced this with my economy 8 inch Shun Chef’s Knife). Max Falkowitz has a great article on cheap knives here and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has a great article on chef’s knives here. Spend a little more if you want your knife to serve you for a while, but there is nothing wrong with a simple and affordable knife to get you started.
In addition to a chef’s knife and paring knife, make sure you bring a small notebook, a ball-point pen, and a permanent marker
Arrive to your stage ready to work. The chef will be looking at your ability to follow direction, complete tasks, and keep a station clean and orderly—- honestly, this last one may be the most important.
Come prepared, take initiative, and keep it clean!