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How to Survive Culinary School

Andrew Garrison | Chef's Blade

Work for Free…Seriously!

Some of the best experience outside of school that you can get is by “staging.” (Soft g, it’s French, so it sounds like “stazshing”) A “stage” is basically an unpaid apprenticeship. It’s most common in higher-end cooking, so if that’s your thing, come up with a list of restaurants in your area and get in contact with the chef or sous chef. Your instructors should be able to help you out with this. A lot of restaurants are perfectly willing to let a student come in and work a shift, especially the independent ones. It’s free labor for them and valuable experience for you. They’re not going to throw you on the line and let you burn, so don’t worry about that (unless the staff turns out to be a little sadistic — there’s always a slight possibility of that!). You’ll likely do some prep and maybe help out at a station during service – or just watch at that point. If you visit a few restaurants, you’ll start to figure out what kind of kitchen you want to work in and what kind you don’t. There’s a lot of great contacts to be made too. This industry is very much about who you know. You still have to have the skills to back it up, but having a strong network of peers is a huge help. No matter how big the city you live in is, the restaurant scene is a lot smaller than you’d think. If you find a restaurant you like, see if they’ll let you come back once or twice a week. A friend of mine did that, and after a couple months, a spot in the kitchen opened up, and they hired him.

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