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How can a non-experienced kid (like myself) find a cook position that doesn't entail too much garbage and/or dishwashing work?

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Alright, here's my story:

24 year old dude who moved back to LA about two days ago. I was going to law school (UCLA--go Bruins!), but decided and was able to defer my admission for a year. In the meantime, I'm here readjusting after six years on the east coast, and would love any position that could develop my culinary abilities. Line cook? Prep dude? Anything?

a) I have no restaurant experience whatsoever. I've become a decent (at least in my opinion) home cook, but have no idea what life would be like behind a rest kitchen. Based on some friends who've line cooked at decent places (Citronelle in DC), it sounds like a pain in the ass, very stressful, and something entailing a lot of toil, dedication, and stress. In other words, something I'd be very interested in, or (at the least) could try out for a few months to a year.

b) I'm pretty much broke. One of the reasons I deferred was b/c I have a fair amount of debt to pay off, and wouldn't want to incur any extra given my law school loans and incur any further cost of living expenses, in addition to some bills that I already have to pay.

Indeed, I need a job, and while I'm pretty confident I could find a desk job out here fairly quickly, I'd rather cook, and for many hours. It obv wouldn't pay as well, but it'd be interesting, and since I'd be squatting at relatives', I could still contribute whatever I make (and, given how much I'm willing to toil based on past jobs that entailed 80+ hr workweeks) towards bills and a piggy-bank for when I actually do attend school.

Such also excludes the option of my attending culinary school. Perhaps once I'm able to afford something? Who knows.

Regardless, here's my question (and gratitude for whoever's made it this far in reading my long-winded post) to anybody who could provide any advice, as it'd be very very very much appreciated:

Is there any way for me to do a walk-in at particular restaurants? It obviously doesn't have to be a "caliber" type of restaurant, but rather something where I'm not doing dishes and tossing out the garbage all the time, and where I could gain some basic experience. I'm pretty quick, and learn easily, and (as mentioned) think I have some basics down in terms of culinary abilities; my palate is certainly there (I've eaten at some pretty decent places --- Bernardin, Gavroche, Morimoto, WD50 --- but concede that dining is a wholly different world than cooking!). Who knows. Should I go through my LA Zagat guide and just wander the streets of SoCal to see if any chef is willing to take me in? Should I look for particular hole-in-the-walls, or cafeterias, or anything to offer my services? I am clueless as how to approach this...

Phew...finished my schpiel. As mentioned above, if any of you could provide me any advice, it'd be very much appreciated. I love Chow, and while I'm not familiar with the LA posters, I've been an avid follower of the board postings for some time. Either way, my faith is in your hands. Help!!!

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  1. you really don't need to go to culinary school to get a starting job. But don't expect to make any serious money. Beginning positions pay just about enough to pay the bills and not much more. It sucks but that's the business as restaurants are a hard business to own and they have to save money however they can. If you don't want to be a dishwasher your best bet is to stick to family owned types of business that are looking for friendly and hardworking staff who won't be needing to know how to do fancier upscale meals. I've worked as a pastry chef for a number of years and I got my first job by sheer luck and timing. they were desperate so I got a decent start. Good luck and apply to loads of places and hopefully you too will get lucky

    1. Try the Food and Bev job listings on Cragslist. Some of the restaurants that advertise for 'experienced line cook' might be open to someone who's eager and learns fast: http://losangeles.craigslist.org/fbh/

      1 Reply
      1. re: mojoeater

        The best spot, period, is Craig's list.
        brand new restaurant in Hollywood looking for a complete staff, corner Hollywood & Hudson, called Lift 86, with Steve Adelman and Shane Brophy as owners.
        It is listed on the Saturday, August 11 roster of jobs, under bistro, gourmet, etc.

      2. I am not exactly the person to ask, but here is my gut feeling on how people gets breaks like what you are looking for.

        Start frequenting restaurants that you like. To save money, sit at the bar and perhaps just order an appetizer or beer, etc. but talk to the staff, get a feel for the place, etc. I would say the more passionate you are about the place, the better. Go on a slow night and see if you can talk to the chef. Tell him/her your story. Emphasize reliability, freedom from substance abuse, minimal/no ego, desire to learn and again, reliability.

        If they can't help you, they probably know someone desparate enough to take you.

        Also - call a few culinary arts faculty members at the local community college. They constantly get calls for entry level cooks.

        Another option is a catering company. Hell, when I was serving and bartending for caterers they sometimes got so desparate I was making the appetizers and salads and more. Caterers also seem to be more open to home cook, self-taught type cooks.

        Worst-case scenario, get a job in the front-of-house and network like hell, prove yourself and something might open up. In the meantime you'll be making money (more than back of house likely).

        Good luck!

        1. PAX,
          First, good luck.
          2nd...at some point, no matter where you are on the toem pole, you'll have to throw out some trash or do some dishes...it just happens...a dishwasher get sick, the trash dude doesn't show up...the show must go on and everyone should be willing to pitch in no matter what to keep the ship afloat...so, if you're not too worried about getting your pretty little hands dirty...be willing to doi it all...if you show up and say that you don't want to do dishes, they'll think that you feel above it and wont fit in w/the team...just tell em how badly you want to be apart of the food...prep, wash, whateve.
          The space where Bistro Verdu use to be is getting ready to open and there was a sign needing everything from cook, pastry chef, servers, and dishwahers..it's a small space so everyone will probably be helping with anything...the young men who are opening it may just be inpressed w/your enthusiasm so good luck and give it a try...drive by and find out the info.
          You can look up BistroVerdo.com for the address and go from there...Bistro verdu has nothing to do with the old spot so don't bother them.
          Good luck.

          1 Reply
          1. re: tatertotsrock

            Here is the alcohol beverage control's(abc's) website for the liquor license for the new owners of the former space of Bistro Verdu in the Montrose area or North Glendale if you will. This way you know ahead of time the names of those who you might be interviewing with. Thanks tatertotsrock for your input on the timing of the new place. Yet another place to visit!!!

          2. Bluff your way in. Many a Chef (that I know and have worked with) did just that. If you think you have some knife skills, make up a fake history. Just don't go to a big name joint. Stay small and local and the mook running the kitchen won't know the difference. Once your in, he'll show you the ropes. Just don't be afraid to say you don't understand if he gives you a verbal order to do something you don't know how to do. (Like make scallop quenelles etc.) Then, if you still like doing kitchen jobs and law is in rear view mirror, get your ass to a kitchen run by a top Chef. That's where the real learnin' will start.

            Good Luck

            p.s. Don't use me as a reference :)

            1. Kirsten has some good recs.

              Since you have no experience, anywhere you get hired is going to have to do some work to train you. Given that you are only interested in the job for a "few months to a year", it seems a bit unfair to expect a restaurant or catering operation to hire you and get you trained to their spec only to have you quit.

              I'm going to make a totally off-the-wall recommendation. Go work for some place like Whole Foods or another gourmet grocery operation. Whole Foods takes good care of their employees, you'll probably make just as much or more than you would in a restaurant, and you can probably find a way to get into the kitchen once you are hired. I've known people who have gotten jobs at gourmet grocery cooking schools by getting themselves in the door. If not, you'll be around food and get to learn quite a bit that way.

              Good luck.

              1. Many thanks everyone---this is why I love these boards; any insights are very much appreciated. But yeah, we'll see where I go with this. I am pretty enthusiastic, but hopefully my talent (if any) can back it up...if Chow keeps this forum up beyond tonight, I'll keep y'all posted about my endeavors throughout the week. Hopefully I can find something soon...

                1. any chef worth her/his sea salt will realize you're dabbling within the first few days, i suspect, then they'll figure you're trying to get ahold of their house recipes or otherwise sell them out to the competition. "i just want to try it out for a few months or a year" should set off alarm bells to the chef of any independent smaller place. they'll certainly use you for washing dishes or chopping vegetables, but they're not going to have you doing pastries or salads or line work with no experience-- there are others with real experience in line for these positions. working for whole foods or a caterer is a better idea, you'll get a chance to improve your skills, general working vocab and knowhow, and then if you do like it you'll have the one reference to get you in the door at a place more your style.

                  thinking that you won't ever have to wash your own dishes, mop a floor, lift a wet-boxed case of celery to shoulder height and carry it fifty yards and up a flight of stairs, take out the trash, get yelled at in front of everyone in french by the chef d' cuisine (inches from your face, and yes, in fact, spitting on you), or otherwise deal with unpleasantries and messes and hard physical labor is completely unrealistic if you are really serious about a boh career. frankly, reading your post, i'd think not twice but several times about what you're really in for. a sixty hour kitchen week does not equal an eighty hour intern week. the kitchen job is much much harder. we're talking physically. some would-be career switchers simply can't handle the job physically, others are unprepared for the sheer monotony of being tasked with chopping up case after case of vegetables, or spending an entire shift butchering whole chickens or making egg rolls. an awful lot of serious kitchen work is the type of menial labor it sounds like you're trying to avoid. on the other hand, you're young. if you have good motor and manual skills, decent knives, a strong back and a willing attitude you might be fine.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I owned a restaurant and my chef would do anything for the place he loved it so much, came in on days off or when we were closed to receive orders, washed dishes, took out trash, brought in produce, fixed things like plugs, fuses, broken machines, anything except go out and serve the food and take the orders.

                    I think you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and pitch in.

                    being a line cook or salad chef might be a good way in.

                  2. ….. Reality Check here…..

                    You stated “I've become a decent (at least in my opinion) home cook, but have no idea what life would be like behind a rest kitchen.”

                    Well, find out. But on your dime/time. Not the restaurant.

                    Cooking (solo) and restaurant work (teamwork) are completely different.
                    Got to hustle and make the restaurant a profit. Fast, efficient, effective, teamwork.

                    Suggestions - Make an investment of time, before going to a potential employer: Here’s some LOW cost ways to do so:
                    1) Sign up for a hands-on Catering class at a junior college.
                    2) Get a job with a caterer.
                    3) Assist in some culinary classes with Programs such as www.SurLaTable.com or www.draegers.com

                    Get some experience. Learn the lingo / logistics / equipment.
                    See if you even REMOTELY LIKE any of this stressful, mundane, hard physical labor. Then see if an employer is willing to invest time and a lot of money in you.

                    **** IF you feel the previously mentioned suggestions are below you, you have absolutely NO business being hired by a restaurant. ****

                    Typically, a restaurant owner is interested in investing in an employee that has already invested in himself.
                    Why should an employer allow a VIRGIN newbie to ‘try them out for a few months”. That costs them BIG bucks – ie pulling other employees AWAY from their duties so they can continually train you. The employer is basically paying 2 people to do the work of 1 person. Ouch $$$$
                    Employer taxes, work comp insurance, all with the possibility that the “newbie” just decides the job isn’t all what he thought it would be.
                    And the restaurant starts back at square-one looking for someone else.
                    The goal of the restaurant (and any other employer) is to MAKE A PROFIT.
                    **** NOTE : The SOUL purpose of hiring you is to make more profit for the restaurant than the person that you just replaced.
                    The restaurant does not get paid for being your experiment (Unlike college getting paid for being your experiment). ****

                    So is it correct to say you’ve …..
                    never done work in the back of the house
                    never done work in the front of the house
                    never worked for a caterer
                    never taken any culinary classes
                    never assisted a chef in a culinary program
                    probably not familiar with the lingo, the logistics of a commercial kitchen, the equipment, the Health and Sanitation regulations.
                    don’t want to do much grunt work, ie dishes and trash (Hey, think teamwork, or the other employees can make life a living hell for you! Why should the newbie be excluded from pulling his weight when the seasoned employees are expected to ?


                    Time to make an invest in yourself ! See it as an adventure and a learning experience.

                    Btw - Read Kitchen Confidential from Anthony Bourdain
                    ‘Cause even at the TOP of the food chain, it’s not glamorous. You’ll be swimming with the sharks.

                    This might all sound a bit harsh. But look at it from an employer’s point of view (as a law student you should have plenty of practice looking at it from the other person’s point of view).

                    Good luck !!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LauraB706

                      A good reality check post. The book that's been recommended here is Heat, where a restaurant owner did take on a total greenhorn. But of course he didn't get paid.

                      1. re: PeterL

                        He was also a FAMOUS greenhorn who was going to write about the experience.

                    2. Pax, the first chef job I got was when I was 19, and I had no back of the house experience. I've been really food savvy since I was about 15, had great knife skills and frankly could cook my ass off. I had some front experience serving, but other than that, I had no culinary school, classes, degree, etc, under my belt. The way I got my job was who I knew. I got a rec from someone who formerly worked at the restaurant who could vouch for me and my passion, love of hard work (really REALLY hard work) and desire to just cook. I wrote a letter to the exec chef explaining how I wanted to work in a kitchen, but having no experience, couldn't get started. I explicitly said I wanted to be their apprentice and would do anything - prep, pastry, work the line, barista, whatever- I just wanted to work in the back. I stopped by one day in between lunch and dinner service and talked to the exec chef, and after a week or so called, and he hired me.

                      Ok, life story done, I have to tell you, I got in because food is my life, my passion, and it showed. I want to stay in food, and that's why I got hired as an apprentice. They were eager to teach me and let me get my feet wet.

                      You don't want to stay in the industry, you just want to bide your time for a year before you go back to law school. There's a big difference between loving cooking at home and cooking for a living. It makes some people hate cooking because all of your stress, pain, life problems, are all coming from the kitchen now (I've seen this happen maaaaany a time). So really REALLY think about it before you jump in.

                      But if you do, I hope you absolutely fall in love with it, drop out of law school, and stick with it. Good luck!

                      1. look at this weeks Time Out NY mag. while on the wrong cost it had lots of info on breaking into the rest. scene

                        1. my executive chef, who makes $150,000, worked the dish station last night because we were short 2 line cooks and both dishwashers called out.

                          i'm a sommelier. i have mopped floors and plunged toilets and broken up fights.

                          you've eaten in a few nice places. you like to cook at home. you want to cool your heels in between semesters and not do tasks you think are beneath you. i'm sorry, but i would not hire you for money. if someone does hire you? you will not make enough to catch up on debts because you will be at the bottom of the ladder.

                          a busy professional kitchen can be a thing of beauty or can be a titanic--sometimes one person alone makes it go down. that person is the one who was not sufficiently prepared for that night's service. cooking steaks for 2 is nothing like putting out 75 dinners. or 275.

                          look into whole foods, as mentioned above, it's much less pressure, and they have a more nurturing environment. call caterers, they might take you on.

                          honestly, with your story, good luck.

                          1. A few pieces of frank advice:

                            a) Show that you are capable of getting your hands (and the rest of your person) dirty and maybe a chef will teach you a thing or two.

                            b) Don't enter the restaurant saying you'll like to try out the profession... don't act like Marie Antoinette and her play-shepherding and instead go in with a firm commitment and resolve.

                            c) You appear to be adverse to excessive dishwashing and garbage-removal. Are you similarly adverse to fryer-cleaning, fridge/walkin-cleaning, mopping, sweeping, scraping the built up grease in an oven, a stovetop, the hoods, and behind all the nooks and crannies? If so, perhaps you'd like to reconsider.

                            d) Spend some time in the bottom rung as the donkey. It's a good learning experience.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Blueicus

                              I think the common denominator of those of us who know, is that is to work in a kitchen you need to be prepared to do anything and everything. To be a beggar and a chooser isn't attractive to any prospective employer, regardless of occupation. Although reliability and eagerness WILL take you a long way. Present your case, someone will bite. Good Luck!

                              1. re: nypeaches

                                That's certainly true... unlike most office jobs going above and beyond in the restaurant simply means you do a lot more manual labour and ending up more beat/dirty/alcoholic at the end of the night... it can rub some people in the wrong way sometimes

                            2. You've gotta drop your preconceived notions.

                              It's a tough business and has a high percentage of failure. You've got to want to learn every aspect of it if you really want to eventually own.run a place. Washing dishes seems the bottom rung but it's critical. Bad dish service can screw up a dinner as much as a fry cook having a meltdown. It's part of the kitchen and as such, everyone jumps in and helps out if things get behind. Leave the ego at the door. It's really no different than an entry level cook position wher you might spend hour after hour peeling potatos or cutting lettuce. It might seem dorky, but it was something drilled into me and I'm rabid when it comes to clean plates, pans, etc. - even though I'm a slacker when it comes to clean anything in the rest of my life.

                              I think in Bourdain's latest book he spends a good deal praising the guys who bust their butts cleaning dishes as they'll eventually be the chefs you can count on versus the culinary school grads. Similarly, everyone in the kitchen cleans all the time. If not dishes, you're cleaning everything else, all the time, during service. And in most places I've worked, you are helping to scrub the place down each night. Lots of water. Lots of soap. Lots of bleach. You will come home soaked and your shoes, duds, etc. will rot. That's life in the kitchen.

                              1. My son is perfect example of someone like you who had no experience but got it within the restaurants he worked BUT he needed money which is usually the front of the house (waiter/bartending) so that's what he did but always hung with the chefs, helped out the chefs and when there was an opportunity to assist one night - he did. He made suggestions, got in once with a restaurant that did allow him to cook one night as main chef "his specials". He is a self taught (meaning no formal schooling) fabulous chef (I might be a bit biased) but he's just launched a very sucessful venture in Paris which allows him to perform his passion - "present fabulous meals" so that he can pay his bills and pay for his fun time. He even presented a dish to be put in a well known Seattle Chef's cookbook and it was accepted - It was my last mother's day gift.

                                So my advice to you is definately go with a family owned who make their own policy and procedures, and work the front of the house if you need the money first because you can still get in with the back of the house for your learning and passions (and maybe once a week work the back when you've proven yourself to be dependable and a value).

                                1. You're going to have to be willing to do some scut work if you want to break into the pro ranks...being a "decent home cook" is not enough. That's like saying, "Hey, I'm pretty good at shooting free throws...I wanna play in the NBA." Working in the kitchen means being part of a team whose players all know their parts. Few team managers would be willing to let a neophyte with unknown skills on their team without making them sit the bench for a bit. That dishwashing station is your bench...you do your part (wash dishes), and more importantly, you watch and learn. When one of the cooks calls in, if you're ready and have made a good impression, the team manager will ask you to step up. And no team manager will commit to you if they think you won't commit more than a year to them...in other words, don't tell them, "I'm only here for a year."

                                  You could get lucky...you could walk into a place and ask for a job, only to find that their entire cooking staff hit the Lotto and blew town. Then again, that'd be a lot like hitting the Lotto yourself.

                                  I really like other advice given here, about jumping into the culinary arts program at a local junior college. You'll do your share of scut work there, too, but you'll also be learning how a kitchen works. Of course, you won't get paid for it...but you could always to temp work to pay the bills while you're in school.

                                  Good luck!

                                  1. I just went to a new restaurant in Alameda, Dragon Rouge. Our waiter told us he wanted to check out the restaurant business and see how it works. He's volunteered to work there (mostly as a waiter but I'm sure he rolled up his sleeves and did whatever was needed), and during off hours, the owner showed him how she does things, shops, etc. He was a great waiter so I'm guessing he made decent money but he was basically free help to the restaurant so he could learn the ropes. That might be a good way to start--approach a small restaurant that needs help.

                                    1. A friend who opened a B & B got his training in community college culinary classes, he was a great home cook but wanted to improve his skills in order to cook at a B & B. He learned a lot of skills, volunteered for their catering crew so was put into a lot of real life cooking situations and had access to their placement services. At the time, he had a management job at an office during the day but managed to swing the classes a few nights a week.

                                      1. Last night I was at my favorite watering hole looking over the snacks and thought of your post. Being the cook at a "neighborhood bar" might fit your needs. It's not going to be gourmet (grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, edamame, chicken, etc) and there are times you will probably have to help in the front. At the same time, depending on the location and menu..... just a thought.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          As others have pointed out, you're going to need to be willing to do dishes and take out trash. I've only worked front of the house before except for one night behind the line on a slow night to see how things worked, and I've even run some loads of dishes.

                                        2. Try working prep kitchen for a while. It's an entry level/no experinece job that pays somewhat above minimum, and you'll be working with food. Then you'll see if you've romanticized the job or not. I wouldn't advise b-s-ng about previous work experience. You'll be found out for a liar within minutes, not days. Be honest and promise you'll be willing to do what it takes without whining.

                                          It's about pitching in and doing what needs to be done.You will take out garbage, but geez, everybody in a resto does that. Even the manager if necessary.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: toodie jane

                                            When I first read this post, I was tempted to brush Pax off as another college kid looking for an easy job (no committment) and a bunch of free meals. I hope that's not the case. No matter WHAT career you choose, you will have to do some scut work -- its called "paying your dues". If you make it all the way to "lawyerhood" you'll find yourself working long hours on your tush instead of your feet, doing the peripheral work that your superiors need to have done but dont want to do themselves -- sound familiar?

                                            I worked for Martha Stewart in the 70s when she was getting started with the catering business -- even the mighty Ms. Stewart was not above rolling up her sleeves and helping us peons with the dishes, if needed. Those who posted above whose experience has taught them are correct -- if you're not committed to the food, it will be obvious very early in the game.

                                            1. re: Cheflambo

                                              Ans the enthusiasm you do the "scut" work will determine ultimately how far you get within the profession.

                                              1. re: jlawrence01

                                                My brother's SO is a line cook and is always working weekends, holidays, and every other time that he would like her to be home or doing something other than cooking. Her behind is pretty much owned by her employer and their social life, as it is, is pretty much worked around HER shifts.

                                                Brother, btw, is a highly paid rocket scientist, so it irks him to no end....LOL

                                                1. re: MysticYoYo

                                                  Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it.

                                                  When I left the kitchen and got a great 9-5 office job, I was at a loss as what to do with all my evenings off (at least for a month or so).

                                          2. I once read an article by a young man in your position; he had six months to go before starting something and decided to use the time making as much money as he could. He took a job as a bellhop in a very luxurious hotel and totally devoted himself to kissing ***, really playing nanny to the guests, so he would get huge tips. Raised this to an art form. One old guy was always complaining that his room service oatmeal wasn't hot so our hero set up a Sterno in the broom closet and cooked the oatmeal himself. That kind of thing. He made big $$$.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Querencia

                                              yes, I was going to add: get a job that earns tips. Bussing, serving, valet parking, these jobs are going to earn you much more than an hourly job.