Work harder than everyone else around you. Work ethic can trump knowledge at times. Knowledge and technique will come and you’ll learn them but work ethic lives inside you, and make heightened urgency a daily habit.
I look for passion, work ethic and someone who is a self starter. I ask how they teach themselves outside of work, why do they want to cook this kind of food, why do they want to work in this particular kitchen and what is their ideal work environment. If these answers mesh with what we’re trying to accomplish, then it’s a good fit and we move forward with a stage. If they work well with the team and the team signs off on them, then they are hired!
Put your team first. There are times to put yourself first but most of the time, putting the team first and working for and with those around you, will only make you a better cook or chef.
Show up ready to work as soon as you walk in the door; don’t wait to wake up or have your coffee or get oriented. Hit the ground running and you’ll accomplish a lot more over the course of your day.
Working for Lidia was a big stepping stone in my career. I was exposed to food being executed at a very high level with high quality products. The expectation level was also very high and I was pushed to improve at a rapid rate.
I knew this was the right profession for me when I was working my first job as a cook. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was, loved the camaraderie and that you got paid for it; not much, but you got paid!
Knife skills are a must for sure. They make your job easier, faster and more consistent. I also think mental stamina is something that people need to be very good at to stay engaged over the course of a shift, whether you’re a line cook, sous chef, or executive chef.
Read and watch as much as you can get your hands on. I didn’t go to culinary school and this is one way I taught myself a lot. Push yourself to never stop learning and getting better.
One book that I’ve bought a few times and given it away to a lot of young cooks is "Cooking by Hand" by Paul Bertolli. I always recommend this one, especially to someone just getting started in Italian Food. "The Flavor Bible" and "The Flavor Thesaurus" are also great reference books.
I cannot go a day without my Kunz spoons.
The biggest thing that I hear from young cook applicants is that they want to learn. Education is a big motivator in my kitchens. If you consistently show cooks something they don’t know and make them better at their job, they will most likely be loyal. You also have to set an expectation level and never waiver from it. This is a motivating factor because it causes cooks to operate at a high level all the time and they get better from it. Finally, I try to create a workplace that’s organized, professional, creative, and clean. Most, if not all cooks, want to work in this kind of environment. If they see this type of strong leadership, it does inspire them to work harder for our guests and our team.