What can you expect at a Chef’s interview?

So….. you are a Chef and have landed yourself an interview at a fancy lodge…. Now what?

Obviously, every lodge/hotel/restaurant will do things slightly differently but it’s good to be as prepared as possible for any interview you attend. A Chef interview can be quite tough as you are not only trying to impress the employer with your personality and work history but also your cooking skills.

Chef interviews will normally involve a formal sit-down talk as well as cooking for the Manager or Supervisor.You will also often be asked to work a shift or two,so they can see how you work.

This is a chance for them to assess your cooking and plating skills and see how you work with other staff members. They will be checking to see if you work quickly, cleanly and interact well with others around you.

What do I bring with me?

Make sure you have your phone with airtime topped up and the establishments number saved to your phone (and recruiters number if working with a recruiter).In case of delays on route to the interview or getting lost etc, you will need a form of communication.
Bring some money with you in case you want to buy something from the lodge, like a cool drink.You may not know in advance what you will be charged for, so it’s good to have a little money in case.

It’s important to bring your Chef whites/clothes you can cook in plus an apron and hat. These should be clean, ironed and presentable and it’s a good idea to have them in a bag on arrival. Not to wear them on the day of travelling to the interview as they then get dirty during travel and you can’t cook in dirty clothes.

Bring your favourite set of knives, this will not only make you more comfortable as you are familiar to the equipment, but it also looks professional.
If you are staying over at the lodge for a night or two, then bring a change of clothes, toiletries and anything else you may need.

The clothes you arrive in, and the clothes you will change into the following day, should both be smart and presentable, as you may not be sure on which day you are having the formal sit-down talk. It’s better to not wear the same clothes on both days.
It’s a good idea to have a copy of your CV, even though they should already have one. If you have a food portfolio bring this with youand any related certificates, letters of reference and ID.
It’s a nice idea to bring a copy of an ‘example’ menu that you have created, in case they ask for something like this.

Bring a small recipe and note book with your meal ideas in, this will help you when you are cooking for them. Under pressure you may forget even the simplest of recipes.
If you have arecipe that requires specific spices, then it’s a good idea to bring a few dried spices in case the kitchen doesn’t have them. It may make a big difference to the dish you make, bring these in your ‘chef bag.’

If working through a recruiter always ask them if there is anything specific, you should bring with you.

What sort of questions can I expect?

You will probably be asked about your work history, what your roles were at the establishments you worked in and what your duties were?
They may ask why you left places of employment. Make sure when answering this you never ‘bad mouth’ a previous place of employment or employer.
You may be asked what your strengths and weaknesses are, it’s best to be honest about this.When stating a weakness,it’s a good idea to mention you are working on this, so for example, maybe a weakness is baking but you can then add that you have bought a book on baking and are practicing recipes at home. (Only say this if this is what you are doing!)

They could ask what your greatest achievement has been, make sure you have something in mind.
If they ask you why you enjoy cooking this is a chance for you to explain your passion, be excited about the work you do and why you love it, go into the history of why you wanted to become a chef.
They may ask what your favourite food is? And why?

In general, you may be asked questions about your personal life, your family, what you do in your spare time, if you drink, smoke, how your health is. Always answer the questions honestly but try to keep the information relevant and don’t go into your life story unless this is really what is being asked.

Think of a couple of questions yourself that you may want to ask as this shows interest in the company, for example ask them how many chefs they have in the kitchen? Its best to have at least 2 questions prepared in your head.
They might ask you what you know about the company, thereforeit is vital to research the establishment before you arrive, check out the website, look at reviews on trip advisor and social media.

If they ask you why they should give you the job, be confident in your answer and give a precise and short reason.

What can I expect when cooking for the Managers?

As every establishment does things differently its best to be as prepared as possible, so before arriving at the interview, write out a menu, a starter, main and dessert. It’s a good idea to jot down a few ideas in case of diet requirements and this is where your note book with those ideas will come in handy.
You may get to choose what you cook and pre-arrange ingredients with the employer, this is ideal as you will already know what you will be cooking and will have been able to practice it at home. Sometimes however, you will be given a ‘mixed bag’ of food items prepared by the lodge.You will need to work with these to come up with something creative, to help in this situation, before attending the interview go through a couple of recipe books to inspire and give you a few ideas.
You may also be expected to cook for certain dietary requirements, so have ideas in your mind for things like Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian etc.
The idea is to be creative and show your personality in the dishes but try where possible to cook dishes that you are familiar with.If it’s something you have never cooked before there is more chance it may not turn out quite as you expect.
Before attending the interview make sure you know the style of cooking at the lodge and ideally what sort of food they serve.Maybe they are ‘fine dining’ so your dishes should reflect this, maybe it’s more ‘South African’ home cooking, so try and get the feel for the establishment and create something they could see putting on the menu. When checking out the website search for an example menu or look through the gallery pics, as they will often have food images here. You can also check their social media accounts as food related dishes will often be shared here. Also, seeing the rate they charge on their website will give you a good indication of what level of food and service they provide.
Remember to ask the people who you are cooking for how they like things to be cooked if this is required. For example, if your main course is a beef fillet check first how they would like it cooked and don’t just assume.
When dishing up your dishes make sure you use crockery that makes your plating look nice but is also practical to eat off.

Always garnish your plate but try and find a balance and not ‘over garnish’ and take away from what you have made.
Always get atime that the people you are cooking for will be seated, this allows you to know what needs to be ready when, you can even ask how long they would like between meals in advance.This will help, as although you don’t want them to feel rushed, the situation is very different to cooking for guests, as they may want to try things quickly due to other work commitments so best to always ask.
Don’t forget to try your dishes! Make extra for yourself and try as you go to make sure it tastes how you would like it to.
Be prepared to explain your dishes at the end and take any criticism constructively.

Any tips for a working interview?

Always be respectful to all current employees regardless of if they are the Manager, Head Chef or Sculler.
Introduce yourself to the team, shake hands, smile and use eye contact.
Ask for help if you need it, if you are looking everywhere for a chopping board in the kitchen, ask where it is! They won’t expect you to know your way around and its quickerto ask.
Take initiative and show leadership skills, specially when applying for a Senior role where you will be managing staff.
Always work cleanly and hygienically.
You can talk to others while working but try not to get distracted, focus on what you are doing.
Try and get into the ‘flow’ of working with others for working interviews, for example if you see it’s not easy for one chef to finish off and garnish a dish, as they need to move onto the next dish, then ask if you can do this for them.
Make sure you work ‘safely,’ for example, if you have taken a tray out of the oven and given it to scullery to wash, make sure they know this is hot or first find out the protocol for hot dishes etc, last thing you want is to burn a potential new colleague.
Once the shift is over, ask if there is anything else you can help with, cleaning? Stock check? Going to talk to the guests/customers to see how their food was etc.
Most importantly enjoy the work and come across as a positive, easy to work with person who can make a difference to the existing team!
Words: Hayley Cooper
Images: Kings Camp