Are restaurants accidentally rejecting talented cooks?

The professional kitchen has become glorified beyond belief. Yes chef’s can be perceived as rock stars for a portion of this generation, but that is not the point of this piece. What is important, is that being a chef is now a respected and admired position in society, and more young people want to be chefs than ever before. But one thing that hasn’t changed in the top kitchens across the globe is how a young cook actualizes their ambitions.

After watching countless Youtube videos or trying to dehydrate whatever they can find in their fridge, they find the best restaurant in their city and find out that their desire for instant gratification and responsibility ends at the back entrance to the restaurant (if they made it that far). They are transported back in time and if they are lucky assume the role as a “stage”. But how are restaurants dealing with this influx of stages and is there a way to screen them even before they waste your mise en place?

Stage, pronounced so that it would rhyme with Taj, is the invitation to devote ones “talent” for a day invitation into the organized chaos of any great kitchen. If someone expects to get paid for a stage, they should stick to Diners Drive-Ins and Dives for the remainder of their professional culinary “career”.

As a stage you will not cook anything for a guest, not butcher anything, probably not touch a knife, and probably never touch something hotter than the sous chef’s temper when ignorance in his/her kitchen. While this may be revealing for some, the devoted cooks would not expect anything more from an experience.

But how can a restaurant determine if your ambitions descend from Escoffier himself, or the latest episode of Chopped? Their time is precious and the talent pool of stages is severely diluted. Michelin restaurants can’t accept every stage like they may have, but maybe there is a solution. After a discussion with a friend of mine who is an actual chef here in NYC, perhaps the following questions could filter out the noise:

1 Ask the candidate what they expect to accomplish or do during their time in the kitchen.

While only a few answers will be true red flags (like hoping to make spheres of anything), look for indicators of following directions and humbleness.

2. Ask the candidate how much they think is fair to earn for their time.

Any stage expecting to earn money from their time does not yet understand the back of the house. Pass. If something did lead to a formal invite, the last task should be sufficient and save everyone time.

3. Have them set up a station to cut and blanche a single carrot, then watch.

Yes this is an odd request. But it will reveal how a person thinks through an entire process in a kitchen. Did they make multiple trips to the same area? Did they wipe down the station? How did they move in a kitchen? Did they know what lance meant? Is there a container for trim? How long did it take them? Did they ask for assistance?

In just roughly 5–10 minutes a decision could be made rather than having a potential nuisance for a service. If a dismissal is warranted, just explain why. The kitchen saves time, and the stage learns.

However, I am curious to how other restaurants are experiencing the influx of stages. Is this a problem, and how are they dealing with it? Looking at you industry leaders…

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