Walking into a kitchen to meet a head chef is not really like any job interview you’ll have anywhere else. The moment you walk in wearing anything remotely smart you look out of place. Chefs are running around in peculiar pyjama-type checked trousers and odd white jackets yelling terminology only working chefs know. Examples include ‘backs’ (as in ‘mind your back I’m carrying something hot behind you’) and ‘up to the pass’ (as in ‘my dish is ready to be examined by the head chef and then taken’).
They’ll be eating the best-looking scrambled eggs out of saucepans, whipped up by one of their colleagues on a whim for breakfast, or drinking coffee out of plastic beakers or jugs because the fancy cups are reserved for the clientele. It will somehow simultaneously appear the friendliest yet most intimidating place you could ever work in.
You can’t help but watch, fascinated, knowing you could watch this for hours on end. The head chef will wash his hands from whatever job he was doing (I am sad to say I’ve not met a female head chef yet) as he will be mucking in with all the other chefs – even though his word is law in the kitchen – and come over to say ‘hi’.
The interview will last all of 10 minutes as lunch service will be starting soon, and that’s far more important to the chef than talking to you. Usually in a job interview you can bet that they’ll ask you soul-destroying questions, such as: ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ask you to describe a situation where you proved your leadership skills in the workplace. In a restaurant, they don’t care. You can prove your ability when you start work for them, if you’re hopeless they’ll ruthlessly fire you anyway. Top kitchens are well- oiled machines; there is no place for a rusty cog, every diner’s meal matters.
What chefs will ask you is why you are interested in food, what your favourite food is, how you like your coffee or your steak cooked. Showing a passion for food is much more important than anything else. In my last interview the chef insisted that he would only give me a stagier (a work placement) if I came and ate at the restaurant first, as I could only work there if I’d ‘tasted the food and liked it’.
Above all, tenacity is prized among chefs. The easiest job I ever got? Meeting Heston Blumenthal and asking him whether I could have work experience in his restaurant. Weirdly it worked, no CV required.