April 5th 2019
Top chef secrets revealed: tricks of the trade to help you stand out in the kitchen
by Joel Davidge Career Advice, Staffing and Recruitment Advice
Working as an agency kitchen assistant or chef means you get to work in lots of different and exciting venues. But how do you ensure you are remembered and hopefully requested back by the client? We spoke with our Back of House team for their top tips on how to stand out.
This almost goes without saying, but a clean uniform and good personal hygiene is an absolute must! Whatever your role is make it your priority to wash your hands as soon as you enter the kitchen. Trust us – if you don’t then someone will notice, and they won’t request you again.
Plan your journey and allow lots of time – especially if it is a new venue. This means you’ll avoid having to run for the last five minutes to get there on time!
You can tell an experienced chef by the way they hold their knife. When walking in the kitchen keep it by your side, pointed down towards the ground.
When cutting items keep your fingers curled inwards towards your palm. Use the “heel to toe” cutting technique (see video below) - this will mean there’s less risk that your finger gets cut, or even worse that “finger salad” accidentally goes on the menu.
Oh, and it goes without saying that you should put your knife down before you go and bear hug that friend you made at an event last year.
It's a cliche for a reason. Let's say you're cooking chips. It's better to be cautious and take them out of the fryer slightly too soon rather than overcook them. You can always cook them for longer but if overcooked the food will be ruined and you'll have to start over.
Similarly, when it comes to seasoning: don't overdo it. Salt is your best friend when it comes to adding flavour to basic food items. Don't overpower it at the beginning but instead add small amounts at each stage of the cooking process.
Whilst we’re talking about ways to avoid cuts and injuries, here’s a classic chef hack for you.
Always make sure you put something under your chopping board before you start using it. This will mean the board won’t slip when you are cutting. If you are a less experienced team member, or you’re learning the basics of food prep, this will make you seem a lot more experienced.
John Burton, our Regional Head of Back of House Operations, says “this is one of the first techniques I teach at our upskilling sessions. If I see someone doing this in the kitchen, I know they have a good understanding of kitchen safety”.
Don’t let Gordon Ramsay fool you. Swearing in the kitchen doesn't help anyone and isn’t cool. Catering companies will see LOTS of agency chefs and kitchen assistants, and you don’t want to be remember as the one who lost it during an easy, simply service – especially if the task assigned to you is an easy one.
Keep your language clean, stay cool, and remember – it's only food.
Sorry, but it’s not about you. Networking is fine but pick an appropriate time to do it. Even if you’re working with a client or chef you admire, showing off that fancy technique you learnt in culinary school last week won’t count for anything if it doesn’t serve the job at hand.
One of the hardest things to learn about being an agency worker is that often less is more. The client wants to get service completed quickly and to the highest possible standard. So, for the best chance of being booked again, stay on task and know your place within the team. Then, only after service is complete, you can mention to the head chef that you enjoyed working there and that you hope to come back again soon.
Here’s our top secret – standing out in the kitchen starts before you enter the kitchen. Confused? Stay with us and we’ll explain all...
These days everything is dominated by social media – even catering. So, ensure your social profiles are up to date and that they represent you to your fullest.
Follow catering companies you’ve worked with, like their posts and add comments.
Though their social media will likely be run by their marketing team, your name may be seen by the head chef or catering manager meaning the next time they are booking staff your name will pop into their head.
Doing a quick five-minute search can tell you loads about the company you’ll be working for. Upcoming events, types of cuisine they specialise in, it’s all gold which you can casually drop into conversation whilst you work. You’ll be noted as someone who is switched on, and cares enough about their work to be proactive.
Finding out more about the history of your industry also helps. Overhear some chefs talking about a style of cooking? Look it up when you get home. Booked for a shift in a restaurant? Find out about current trends in the culinary world so that when you’re next in that situation, you can join the conversation with your peers.
The only way to hone those skills is to repeat, repeat, repeat.
Luckily, we all need to eat, so you can practice your chef skills at home.
The best thing about catering? There are so many ways to get into it. Some study cooking at college; others start in an entry-level role like a kitchen porter and work their way up.
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