Excel’s General Manager Shane Mclave began his career as a chef before making the move into chef and hospitality recruitment. He’s been interviewing chefs for years and has seen it all in terms of the dos and don’ts. Read his top tips for chef job interviews here-
I have now been interviewing chefs for almost as many years as I was a chef myself and I can safely say that when it comes to certain really common questions, 50% of all chefs don’t have the answers. Many chefs, while great at what they do in the kitchen, don’t have the tools they need to prove their ability to manage a kitchen in a job interview. So what are the must-haves when going for an interview, or for that matter, what do you need to know to be able to build yourself a successful career as a chef?
Know your numbers
I understand that costs will vary from restaurant to restaurant depending on what you sell but you don’t need to be an accountant to have a basic understanding of costings. This is crucial in an interview. In broad terms:
If you are selling lobster for €30 euro, which costs you €12 to make, and sell a pizza, that costs you €2.50, for €28euro it goes without saying you will make a lot more money selling pizza then you will selling lobster. This is why pizza restaurants are everywhere and lobster restaurants are not.
When it comes to food and labour cost there is no exact formula but if you follow the rough rule of “a third, a third, and a third” you’ll be headed in the right direction. Slightly better again, would be “30, 30, 40”. This means meaning no more than 30% food cost (25%-27% would be optimal) keeping labour costs 30% and the rest should cover the cost of running the business and if you’re lucky, a profit at the end of the year.
For chefs trying to keep the kitchen running at less than 30% food cost, this works more or less in reverse i.e., if a starter costs you €3.00 to make then you multiply this by 3.5 and sell it for €10.50, if something costs you €10, then you sell it for €35.
With the numbers taken care of now comes the most important thing of all-
It’s amazing how many interviews I have sat through with chefs who don’t mention food at all. While HACCP and how you work in a team are important, when people hire a chef they above all want someone with a genuine love and passion for food and who’ll bring that enthusiasm into their kitchen. If you don’t have a passion for food perhaps you need a change of career or at least a change in kitchens.
I always ask chefs in interview ‘what the last restaurant that you ate in?’ or ‘what do you like to cook at home if you’re entertaining?’ and it’s staggering how many times I am met with a blank stare. I’ve gotten this response when interviewing seriously established head chefs from the likes of 4* hotels. Personally, I’m far more interested and excited to interview a second-year commis chef who goes foraging on their days off or grows herbs and vegetables at home and the same will be true for any potential employer so be sure to make the food central to everything you discuss in an interview.
Dress for success
Just because you wear whites all week doesn’t mean you can’t dress to impress in an interview. All good chefs are neat and clean in the kitchen and if you can’t groom yourself or dress in a professional manner then what are the chances won’t keep the kitchen neat and tidy or at least that is what a potential employer will think of you.