This past week my boyfriend and I traveled to New Orleans to explore the opportunities in our field. We have come to a point in our careers where we are looking to expand and explore and we are ready to make a move. We were interested in NOLA because it is on the rise and because the number of restaurants is greatly increasing there causing a demand for more restaurant workers.
So we booked the trip and set up stagiaires at restaurants we were interested in. A stagiaire is an interview in the restaurant world. But instead of dressing in heels and making sure your paperwork is in order you sharpen your knives and polish your clog. A stagiaire (stage) lasts the hours a regular shift would and so instead of cheering because your interview went close to an hour, you cheer when at 11pm you finally head home and take your socks off after nine hours of standing, and helping, and being judged, and running around for anyone and everyone. I think it's a pretty effective interview. Instead of dawning sweaty palms and trying to say you are good at certain things, you get to show those skills off. And you are not the only one being judged, you are judging the restaurant as well; the interview goes both ways. The restaurant gets to see if you will fit in with their team and you can also tell whether or not you like the style of the restaurant.
I set up three stages for the same restaurant group because I was very interested in the style of the food they created. We were both very interested in learning more about regional cuisine because we didn't know much about it. I especially thrive when I am learning something new. To expand your repertoire by using a new technique each and every day, you can really see your own improvement.
The three separate restaurants were all very different, although they were very close together and operated under the same owner. The executive chefs of the restaurants each had a different style that made their spot unique. The only similarity between the restaurants were their favorite ingredients which included: chili infused vinegar, ahi limo peppers, and "wang" which is Korean red pepper powder.
The first place had such a tiny space and so many workers. Everything was crammed into any available space and it was very hectic. I was put on the oven station which was a high volume station but not very complex. We just had to throw pre made items in the oven and garnish on the way out to the dining room. We did upwards of three hundred covers but it just wasn't my thing. It was too unorganized, not clean enough, and not efficient enough. I was the only girl on the line. They definitely needed a woman's touch in that kitchen.
The next stop was a seafood restaurant. The team was so friendly and they reminded me of a crew of jolly pirates. Everyone was having so much fun at their job, it made me feel so warmly welcomed. I had to do a few knife work skills and then I was invited to the line to help out. I was happier with this stage because I was able to move amongst the stations and was not limited to one thing. I was just able to float around and check out everyone's daily duties. The other thing that I really enjoyed was the food. The Louisiana cultural food was prominent but it had a hint of mediterranean flavors. They completed about four hundred covers without skipping a beat. That crew worked so well together and it made me want to be apart of it.
The third interview I had was at the first established restaurant of the three. It was small but not as populated as the first. When I started on my first tasks, the whole kitchen was silent. The tone was so focused and almost scary silent. I was intimidated by this but as the preparation went on people became more friendly and talkative, but always about food. This was a good sign. Everything I tasted was delicious but real down to earth food. The dinner service went very well. This place did less covers but still it was very busy. The head chef had very high standards which was comforting and he tasted everything. It was really the first time since I have been in school that I saw someone taste everything. As the line cooks were making the same dishes over and over they continued to taste and make sure that everything was up to par. I really liked that about this kitchen.
It was quite an experience to view such an array of restaurants. I really enjoyed being a part of each team even if it was just for the night. I'm not sure where I would fit in. Although we had hoped that New Orleans would be the spot for us, it may not make the most sense financially. It's frustrating when people do not realize your worth. Paying for an education, and working your tail off to make money in order to make less money at another place is not how you want to spend your time. How do you advance in this career? It's so difficult. You don't get rewarded for wanting to learn or wanting to challenge yourself. Is it worth taking two steps backward in order to start moving forward? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.