Previously you wrote about tests for chefs. What about line cooks? I stopped even looking at resumes because they are so full of [creative writing].
– Chef, Philadelphia, PA
Cooking tests for cooks are a bit easier than tests for chefs because the scope of the job is significantly narrower. For a chef, she or he may be a great cook but a poor manager, organizer, cost-controller, team leader, or guest relations person. For a cook, the employment test or interview can be closely tied to the actual job requirements.
Many chefs, famously Bobby Flay, swear by asking cooks to cook a simple thing like an omelet. There they look for proper cooking technique, seasoning, work habits and evidence of proper training.
I like this approach but unless you are hiring a breakfast cook, it doesn’t necessarily reveal all you want it to like working with others on the line, working multiple tickets at the same time, handling stress, or organizing a station. A good test should encompass as many skills as possible to demonstrate the cook’s potential.
My recommendation is to start with a simple exercise like the omelet one or giving the cook a mystery basket of a protein, starch and veg and asking her or him to make you lunch to give you a general idea of cooking aptitude. If she or he can cook, ask for a trail over a service shift by training on a couple of menu items and having her or him run a mini-station. That is where you will see how quickly she or he can learn, monitor interactions with the other cooks, expeditor and servers (and get their feedback as well), see speed and sense of urgency, and see how the cook organizes and maintains her or his station.
One caution—there is a line between a few-hour unpaid interview to assess someone’s skills and an extended unpaid training, which could violate wage and hour law.
Finally, it’s a good strategy to value the cooking test over lines on a resume. Kitchens should be meritocracies and doing a prep internship at a Michelin-starred restaurant may not produce the same talent as working the line at a diner. Or the converse may be true. The proof is on the line.