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What happens to the cooks at very high-end restaurants?

lamb_da_calculus Mar 11, 2013 08:09 PM

I've seen several (supposedly) behind-the-scenes videos for the kitchens at places like el Bulli, Alinea, and noma. What surprises me is 1. the number of people working there (el Bulli and Alinea especially have veritable armies) and 2. how young everyone looks.

So my question is: who are these cooks, and what do they end up doing? Are they unpaid and working for the name on the resume? Are they getting in a year or two before striking out on their own? The fact that nobody looks very old seems to indicate that "high-end line cook" isn't much of a viable career. Or is it? The economics here intrigue me.

(An interesting special case is kaiseki restaurants, at least one of which is apparently located on a campus where all of the cooks live, too.)

  1. johnb Mar 12, 2013 09:24 AM

    I doubt they are unpaid -- that wouldn't be legal??

    I do know that many chefs in places I've been or have read about have mentioned their time at French Laundry and/or similar places in their on-line bios. I'm sure that working in one of those places is both a sought-after learning experience plus something that is a great resume addition.

    3 Replies
    1. re: johnb
      donovt Mar 12, 2013 09:28 AM

      Plenty of cooks "intern" at high end restaurants.

      1. re: johnb
        babette feasts Mar 12, 2013 10:01 AM

        Precisely because it is both a sought-after learning experience and a great resume addition, many cooks and chefs are willing to work for free for a while.

        1. re: johnb
          ipsedixit Mar 12, 2013 07:18 PM

          I doubt they are unpaid -- that wouldn't be legal??

          Is that true in Spain?

          At least in the U.S., it is not illegal to volunteer. I do it every weekend.

        2. w
          WNYamateur Mar 12, 2013 09:49 AM

          Check out the book:


          i'm convinced that there never would have been a phenomenon like El Bulli without all the free labor.

          1 Reply
          1. re: WNYamateur
            lamb_da_calculus Mar 14, 2013 04:26 PM

            I'm currently reading this book. Great stuff, super readable, and pretty well answers all of the questions I posted. Thanks for the tip.

          2. j
            janniecooks Mar 12, 2013 10:10 AM

            The job is a stepping-stone, like most other entry-level jobs, whether paid or unpaid. Get some experience, learn from pros, add to resume.

            1. raytamsgv Mar 12, 2013 10:31 AM

              A lot of them quit. It's a high-pressure, low paying job with long hours.

              1. h
                Harters Mar 12, 2013 10:40 AM

                Many will be working for no salary. In the industry, these placements are called a "stage".

                These very high end places simply could not afford to emply that many staff. So everyone benefits. Restaurant gets labour, and chefs get experience with a Big Name.

                Here's a link to the Fat Duck's relevent page (see bottom of page for stage applications)

                1 Reply
                1. re: Harters
                  khuzdul Mar 12, 2013 10:16 PM

                  Faire un stage chez xyz in France means to do a work experience placement at xyz / was a trainee at xyz
                  un(e) stagiaire could mean temporary worker, intern / trainee.

                  Un apprentissage / un stage, un(e) apprenti(e) / un(e) stagiaire are different in that an apprentice has a work contract with accordant rights to work, but they split their time between an employer and a training center with a goal of getting a diploma of some sort. A stagiaire has no formal work contract and is not formally considered an employee of wherever they are working, and has no rights to work.

                  Going onto other discussions in the thread:

                  Moving up in the industry has a lot to do with connections in addition to resume building or work experience. Working at higher-end places (even for free) can provide valuable contacts for good jobs in the future if the stagiaire proves themselves during their stage (or is memorable enough in their performance while doing a stage and keeps in contact with people after they have moved on to a paying position somewhere else). Obviously the whole work for free thing can also simply be exploitation at times. There is a whole debate about internships for college students, or the whole "Intern Nation" discussion. However good / bad / potential improvements / changes, the practice is here right now and sometimes one may feel that they just have to pay to play (either as the employee or employer).

                2. f
                  ferret Mar 12, 2013 07:05 PM

                  What happens is that many (not most, not all, but many) open their own restaurants. Gran Achatz of Aline, Rene Redzepi of Noma, Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz, Jose Andres and others apprenticed at El Bulli. Similar lists can be made from alumni of French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, etc.

                  1. r
                    RedTop Mar 14, 2013 04:27 PM

                    At the end of the "internship" they're killed and eaten.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: RedTop
                      PotatoHouse Mar 15, 2013 04:09 AM

                      But they are served with caper berries and a saffron sauce.

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