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Interviewing chefs: Cooking demos

chef demo cooking saucing dish

Question:

I am up for an executive chef position at a cafe-style place. For my test, what would be a good entree to make?

– Jose DeLeon, Sous Chef, Eurest Dining Services

Answer:

When I previously wrote about tastings at chef interviews, the question came from the employer side: What sort of challenges should an employer give to a candidate? In this case, the question is reversed—what should you make to get the job?

First, the way you asked the question already tells me that you are on the right track. In your question, you mention the concept. Having your tasting item match the restaurant concept is a key consideration. It is pointless to wow an employer with your culinary skills if it is not something they can picture adding to their offerings. Don’t make homemade pasta at a burger place. So definitely do something that would be a good fit for the cafe menu, but something not currently offered.

For tastings like these, it is a good strategy to think of the “Yes, and…” guideline common in comedy improv. With that approach, in theater, you are building on the last thing said and adding to it in a slightly different direction. Take the same approach here. Start with something expected and familiar but take it in a slightly different direction from what’s anticipated by adding your take. That will strike the right balance of creative, yet accessible.

Since any good employer is going to be thinking not only about the impact of your dish but practical considerations like cost, sourcing, and training, be sure to choose something that you could see menuing that uses affordable product or a byproduct of another item. While it may seem like a great idea to show off how well you can prepare an expensive steak or fish, an employer will just see dollars going out the door. Try to make something delicious using lower-cost ingredients—even something already in-house—that can show off both your skill and the sales potential.

Finally, do something you do every day. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is hard. This is not the time to try something new. A friend of mine botched an interview making an upscale potpie variation. The filling was great, but pastry is not his strong suit, and he was taken to task for under-baked dough that didn’t flake (it didn’t help that the restaurant has an excellent bread and pastry program).

Good luck with the interview—let us know what you made and how it goes! More on tastings for chefs here.
 

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