Fine Dining – The Secret to Getting Your Foot in the Door Blog by Frank Davie

The  Staff Canteen

In relation to the recent eruption of articles surrounding the UK chef shortage, I thought it would be a good plan to share my ideas on the best way for young aspiring chefs like myself to break into the fine dining movement of this industry. By 2020, it is said that the UK  will be in demand of 11,000 chefs. With new restaurants popping up all over the place, and 51% of catering colleges having recorded a drop in students, it doesn’t look likely that this target will be met in the next few years


Lemon and lime cured salmon

Fine dining is a realm of cooking in the vast world of food that every chef should aspire to become a part of, if only once, just to experience the transformation of raw, fresh produce into something attractive and bursting with flavour on a plate that isn’t made of IKEA-worthy ceramic. Fine dining throws away the capitalistic side of the culinary sphere, throwing in a powerful emphasis on seasonal produce, state of the art cooking techniques and eye-catching presentation.

It’s a wonder why there isn’t a horde of youngsters throwing away their social lives and sacrificing their soul to this wonderful genre of hospitality. Or perhaps it’s the uprising of social media, dire working hours or a general lazy ethic within the lives of young people that protects them from the stress that comes packaged into the this foodies heaven.

It could be any one of these reasons and more, but breaking into the fine dining scene is a lot easier said than done. Selling yourself angelically to a chef is the best way to get into the kitchen but also the easiest way to get spat back out again as they insidisouly realise that you don’t even know what pak choi is. I’ve made this mistake. You need experience, not because you won’t be able to find a job without it, but because you won’t be able to sustain one.

Eton mess by executive chef Tom Cenci

However, you need to be given the opportunity.  These small learning curves aren’t handed out on mass. I’ve recently been in touch with an extremely talented chef in the north of Scotland who shared with me a powerful notion of advice that changed the way I went about hunting for my place in the world of fine dining. To summarise, all you need is a computer with a functional keyboard, a phone and a modest amount of balls. Your email service and your phone are your best friend in reaching out to those head chefs that before seemed so well guarded by their stars and accolades. But they’re not. They’re simply very talented creatives looking for young enthusiastic chefs to join and grow within their brigade. The conventional apply button should not be used to look for these stages or even in looking for a job.  It seems to me half-hearted, almost rude.
So you need some experience working with fresh food, and the best to do that is to…well…work in a fine dining restaurant. How can this be done? How can this kind of experience be mustered? Stages are your best bet and are the most useful lever for any enterprising chef looking to gain experience in fresh food cooking. Spending a day or even better, a week, working for free in a kitchen is how you will learn the standards of fine dining kitchens and in a nutshell, discover how these elite restaurants operate. I’ve found that even a trip to a local supplier is useful, and equally fascinating. Seeing a piece fish or meet destined for fine dining in it’s most raw form is incredible, and highly educational.

The Torridon, 3 AA Rosettes, Scotland

Dashing straight to the contact section of the restaurant’s webpage, I fire them an email or a phone call explaining precisely who I am, what my goals are and why they should give me a chance over the schmucks that took the long route of applying and diluting themselves within a crowd of other inexperienced, or even worse, experienced chefs. It may sound defeatist, but it works.

The direct method of contacting these restaurants will not only show that you’re passionate about what you want to do, but also that you have the guts to throw your passion onto your sleeve and don’t fear rejection. And the most important thing of all, you will stand out. You’re email or phone call, isolated from the meandering notifications of lackluster applications, will be noticed. In essence, the more direct and upfront you are with the employer, the better. This stands true with every industry out there. A more direct, personable approach is always more effective.

Honesty is key. There’s absolutely no point in trying to sell a false profile of yourself. In the end, the talking you do is useless in comparison to your physical ability. No experience? Fine, tell them. It will be tough in the end to work in a kitchen for free with no experience, but make it clear to the chef that you want to start at the bottom and learn and you won’t become the laughing-stock of the kitchen within the first week.

You only get one chance with the big names in the industry, so it’s important that your passion is genuinely existent. The kitchen is incredibly good at distinguishing between the chefs that want to learn and the ones that don’t. If you just want a job, hit If you want to learn, put your name straight into the restaurant’s inbox.

A blog from an erratically ambitious chef with one foot in the hospitality industry and the other desperately trying to run away. You can read more of Frank's blog posts here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th June 2016

Fine Dining – The Secret to Getting Your Foot in the Door Blog by Frank Davie