If you are a seasoned professional you would have done these many times before, but for a Junior Chef, these details may help you prepare, crystalize and focus your mind on the challenge ahead.
The following information is an informative guide that should help. Don’t be daunted by this – it’s here to help.
When you arrive at the property, remember that your interview begins from the moment you're picked up from the airport or arrive at the property. You are under the spotlight until the moment you leave the building. Bearing this in mind, enjoy, be yourself, be humble, courteous and polite.
These are just a few tips that may help you prepare for a tasting to put your best foot forward.
- Find out in advance what is expected of you. Have you spoken to the person that arranged the tasting to ask if they want you to create a menu, starter, salad, main course and dessert?
- Know what is expected of you as far as food. Make sure you know what kind of food the employer wants you to prepare.
- Ask the client what is wrong with the current menu or what they would like changed going forward. Listen carefully to what they tell you.
- More trials go downhill when the applicant arrogantly or eagerly or naively overshoots the employer’s desires (once he sees my torchon de foie de aigle, he’ll have to hire me – in your dreams) than for any other reason. Your inquiry should cover any special desires in the way of presentation.
- If you are to write and prepare a menu of your choosing, be sure that you have your ingredients sourced and secured ahead of time. Don’t choose hard to get products; If your menu is based on one rare item and you can’t find it, you will fail.
- Prepare a menu that is in line with what the client wants to see, unless he has given you carte blanche to produce what you like. Be realistic on what can be created in the environment going forward. Produce food that you can execute well, be visually pleasing and taste mind-blowingly exquisite. Flavour is the best sales point. The presentation is not quite half the battle, but it is a good 40% of perception
- Following on from this, have you created a menu and sent an ingredient list?
- Be prepared and organized. It is as important that you get your shopping list to the client and / or purchasing agent in time. The tasting is also a trial of your organizational skills. Confirm that everything is there the day before.
- Have you advised of any specific items, equipment or ingredients you need?
- We always suggest you take your own knives - you know what it can be like using other peoples knives, which can lead to cuts etc. Remember, if you are flying to a tasting you will have to declare and check your knives in. You cannot take them on as hand luggage
- Take your own chef jacket and trousers. Anything to increase your comfort zone. There is nothing worse than having to wear a uniform for a tasting that is either too big or too small.
- If you are unsure about anything during the tasting, ask questions before it becomes a problem.
- If you can, do a dry run on the dishes you plan to cook before the tasting. If not, run through the menu and be realistic on how long the preparation is going to take and how long it will take to serve. Have you been given details of the time you will have in the kitchen etc?
- Get enough sleep the night before. This makes more difference than you can imagine.
- Make sure that your timing is realistic. Timing in a strange kitchen is more difficult than in familiar surroundings. It's always a good idea to speak to one “go to” person in the kitchen that can tell you where things are.
- Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes. Really, really, really. At least half of all tastings start late, so be prepared. Avoid items that need a long time but must be served promptly. It is better they wait with an explanation, than that they eat grey meat, clumpy pasty etc.
- If you can, speak with the runner handling your dishes. Make friends with this person because he is the face of your food during this process. Tell them what you are doing and what you will need. Say please and thank you.
- Keep well within your skill comfort zone. A kitchen tasting is no time to push your limits! What you have done a thousand times will taste better and come out more perfectly than the new dish you develop under an unusually stressful situation.
- Don’t try to do more than your best.
- Do something you know you do well. They will be watching you and your expressions some of the time, and looking in full control of the situation is to your advantage.
- Don’t forget the financial aspect. You may not be asked, but know how you would cost your dishes. If this is a location with a 27% food cost and an average cover of $35, choose your items accordingly.
- Be tidy. Be nice. Not only your food is on trial. During the time there your manners and your general behaviour are under scrutiny. If you don’t shake hands with the dishwasher, why not?
- The rest of the staff may well be asked what they think of you. They are not going to cut you slack because you are nervous.
- Don’t take it too seriously. You are not on trial for your life. It’s just cooking. It should be enjoyable - you do it for a living.
- If you make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t make excuses or, even worse, blame someone else. Don’t hope they won’t notice it. Listen to their comments and participate in a discussion if they mention the change.
- Don’t leave the tasting panel before asking if they have any questions - listen to what they have to say. When you are finished ask the client if he has any questions rather than how you did. “I hope you enjoyed the whatever,” is a little less self-centered. Thank him for the opportunity and tell him you enjoyed it.
- Cleaning up after yourself as required is always good practice.
- At a tasting / interview which may last 24-48 hours, you may also dine with the MD, GM or Executive chef. This is a good way to see how the kitchen and service team operate so don’t turn it down if you're given the opportunity. However, our advice would be if you are offered alcohol, decline politely - alcohol tends to loosen the tongue and you may say something you will regret later. Ask for a glass of water or a juice instead. You have been under stress, you are tired and possibly a little anxious. This is not a time to touch alcohol, especially with a potential future employer.
- If you find the kitchen in disarray, don’t mention it. If you get the job, you can fix it later. At the end of the day this is why they want to hire you.
With increasing frequency operators are requiring chef candidates to perform “practical application” interviews, more commonly known as “tastings.” Companies large and small conduct them for three main reasons:
Derived from the French word stagiaire, in this most informal practical the candidate is asked to join the culinary staff for one or more service periods. During service, the candidate is rarely asked to take a lead role but is expected to take on prep tasks and line cooking responsibilities. The chef will be judged on everything they do, especially knife skills, cold and hot cooking techniques, fabrication, communication, and demeanor.
The “Chef Tasting”
In this practical, chefs are asked to create their own menu and execute it in the employer’s kitchen and on the employer’s time frame. For this type of tasting it is very important to know whether the employer expects the chef to create items that are exemplary of their “best work” or items that are within the menu concept.
The “Mystery Basket Tasting”
This is the most challenging variation because chefs are challenged to prepare a menu using ingredients unknown until they begin. This practical tests the chef’s general repertoire as well as creativity and skills under pressure.
Whichever variation you are asked to do, adhering to these principles will greatly increase your success.
The tasting is designed to:-
- Reveal a candidate’s actual culinary skills
- Provide insight into a candidate’s character under pressure
- Help evaluate culture fit and bring the candidate’s would-be peers and reports into the decision-making process
My suggested Do’s and Dont’s for Tasting Interviews
- Stick with what you know and do it well. This is an application of your current skills.
- Ask for assistance when using an unfamiliar piece of equipment.
- Be on your best behavior and have excellent manners.
- If asked, keep your critiques of the hotel, staff and current menu to yourself. Be pragmatic. Phrase responses such as “If given the opportunity I might change …”
- Keep the interview professional, and all conversations industry-related.
- Be well-groomed and dress professionally including polished non-skid clogs or appropriate shoes and a crisp plain white chef jacket.
- Be prepared to be interrupted, adding to the pressure. You may be asked to step out of the kitchen for an impromptu meeting. If not at a critical time, you should oblige.
- Make a quick prep list at the onset. Start longer prep time items first.
- Don’t attempt techniques you have not mastered.
- Use dangerous equipment without proper safety training
- Use gruff behavior or cuss – even if your host or their employees do. They’re not on stage … you are.
- Use derogatory language if asked to evaluate the host’s business. You don’t want to be perceived as arrogant or egotistical.
- Discuss your personal life or gossip about other properties or people.
- Neglect your appearance. Remember, you will be there for some time and are being considered for an important role in the hotel so you need to look the part at all times.
- Change your menu in the middle of the tasting
- Expect an undisturbed kitchen utopia. (Be ready to clean the robot coupe yourself, with a smile.)
Remember - they want you to succeed. Do not be complacent. You still need to convince them that you’re the chef for them, whatever the level of the role is.
Good Luck - hope all goes well and this information helps