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How Culinary Internships Can Get You a Job

Andrew Garrison | Chef's Blade

Have you considered the importance of a culinary internship?

Partway through my time at St. Olaf College, I realized I was spending more time working at restaurants as a cook than studying for class and I knew that the culinary world is where I wanted to be. I did want formal culinary training, though, so a week after dropping out after spending three years procrastinating and changing majors, I was living in Minneapolis and starting classes at Le Cordon Bleu.

The reason I chose to attend Le Cordon Bleu – Minneapolis/St. Paul over any of the other culinary schools in the area, despite the astronomical tuition cost, came down to the 3-month internship at the end of the program. I had worked at five very different restaurants over the the course of the four years between graduating high school and attending culinary school, each giving me different valuable skills and experiences, but none serving the style of food that I was drawn to.

When I set out find a restaurant to intern at, I initially looked into all the big names all over the country – Spago, Aquavit, Topolobampo, French Laundry, Jean-Georges, Chez Panisse, etc. After contacting a few and getting similar offers – day prep position, no pay, one free dinner in the dining room – I decided to refocus my search and figure out what I really wanted to get out of my intern experience. I came up with a loose criteria:

1. Stay local
2. Focus on smaller, successful chef-driven restaurants
3. Decide on a style of cooking that appeals to me (Contemporary regional/seasonal American in my case)

My decision to stay local stemmed from the fact that the Twin Cities restaurant scene has been growing enormously over the past 5 years, with a number of chefs and restaurants garnering national attention (including a number of perennial Beard award noms, most notably Tim McKee, this year’s Best Chef – Midwest winner). It also would allow me to build a strong network of friends and peers — many of whom are working in the best restaurants in the area—that I could turn to for job leads and any other advice I may need.

There were a number of different restaurants that I had considered, but one really stuck out in my mind: Fugaise. Chef Don Saunders had opened it, three years prior to my arrival, to great reviews and a number of awards. I gravitated towards him and his restaurant partly because he was one of the first local chefs that I could recall reading about when I began reading the Taste section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune religiously. Everything I had read about his food appealed to me, so that became my number one choice. He gave me an unpaid intern position—I was still able to work full-time at my job while also completing my internship—and I learned more from him and his sous chef in those three months than the whole previous year of classes. Fugaise closed shortly after I finished there, his sous chef decided to move on, and I must have made one heck of a good impression because that position was then offered to me. I now have the honor of working with, learning from, and collaborating with one of the best chefs in the Midwest, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity that he’s given me.

When considering an internship, you should consider these 6 things:
1. Where do you want to start your career?
2. What type of restaurant do you want to work in?
3. Can you afford an unpaid internship?
4. Meet the line cooks, servers, etc.
5. Read as many reviews, profiles, and articles about the restaurant and chef as you can.
6. Don’t take an internship at a famous restaurant just to have it on your resumé.

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