I am a Culinary Grad – Now What? 20 Essential Tips For Young Cooks

I am a Culinary Grad – Now What? 20 Essential Tips For Young Cooks

Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures blog just released an open letter to young chefs who are soon to graduate their culinary programs and venture out into their career. The letter states 20 pieces of advice that you may or may not have heard before, but regardless are worth repeating. We thoroughly enjoyed it and thought they were important enough to repeat here. To read Pauls open letter in full, head on over to his blog.


True, there was a tremendous amount of information thrown your way during the 2-4 years of college. Some of it stuck and more than you can imagine simply bounced off your shoulders and landed elsewhere. Trust me when I say that there is much more to come. Only experience will allow the important things to stick, sink in, and allow you to grow into the chef that you want to become.


No, you are not the best thing that ever happened to the kitchen that hired you. You might become that person, but right now please accept your role as a humble cook and student of the trade. Keep an open mind and realize that the person next to you is probably far more seasoned than you.


You are not the chef – you are a cook. Start with the intent of being the very best cook that you can be. Take on this attitude with every position that is offered to you during those early years: prep cook, garde manger, banquet cook, the omelet station on a Sunday brunch, line cook, roundsman, etc. Being exceptional at each of these positions will be your real resume leading to the position of chef.


Don’t leave things to chance – have a plan. Where do you want to be in five or ten years? If you don’t know, stop and figure it out today! What kind of restaurant or company, what position, what geographic location, what salary range, etc. Have a plan and write your road map to get there.


Once you have built that strategy then try to stick with it. You can certainly adjust along the way, but make sure that you are always working from a plan.


Your job, at least initially, is to make the chef look good. Learn to take directives, follow the methods that he or she has spent a career developing, accept and learn from critique, and learn when and how to offer your opinions and observations in a respectful manner.


Your instructors taught you the “right way” to work, to prepare certain dishes, to hold a knife, to apply the foundational cooking methods, to set-up a station. This was important, but guess what – the chef who just hired you may want things done a different way. Your way is not better – it is just different. There may be a time and a place to offer your way as an alternative, but keep an open mind in the meantime.


A sure way to limit your success is to try and become a square peg in a round hole. Fitting in doesn’t mean that you should accept bad habits or become part of a group of antagonistic employees, it simply means that before you can help an organization improve, you must win the trust and confidence of those around you. Once this becomes your persona, then you can gradually influence positive change. This will serve you well even as a chef.


Yes, there are things that you have gained in culinary school that others in the restaurant may not be aware of. When the time is right, be willing to share this knowledge with others without appearing to be better than them. At the same time, realize that experience has made other employees very good at their craft – you can learn a great deal from them – keep an open mind.


I know you invested a boatload of money in that education. I understand that you will be paying back your student loans for the next decade or so. Certainly, your diploma means something and should be recognized, but you are not a chef yet. It will take time; you will need to pay your dues and work many positions that might even seem like a step back. All of this “real life” training will prepare you to be a chef – it is the experience of working that makes the title of chef attainable. Be patient, if you work your strategy, the position will be realized in the future.


Take the leap – work in restaurants or food operations that challenge you. Seek out those opportunities that make you uncomfortable with your current skills. Always take on the positions that make you look in a mirror and tremble a bit with doubt. Ask for opportunities that are beyond you in an effort to learn through “trial by fire”. It is this battle experience that will make you exceptional at your job.


Be an ambassador for the operation where you work. Show your pride and seek out any possible way that you can help the operation be successful. Become an advocate for cost control, work to make each task you are given – the most important task in your mind. Accomplish each job with passion and dedication to excellence. Become extremely valuable to the restaurant where you work.


Aside from your need to “fit in” make sure that you hold true to your principles. If others in the kitchen are less concerned with how they present themselves in terms of grooming or uniform care- be the exception and present yourself as a professional. If others spend too much time putting down others and finding their cup half empty – be the one that always sees your cup as half full.


At the same time, when the operation does have standards that are core to their brand, do not ignore them or fight to push them aside. Becoming the exception to well-established rules is a surefire way to relinquish your ability to “fit in” and make a difference.


I do not propose that you attempt to show everyone else up, but rather to be that person that everyone admires for your work ethic. It doesn’t get easier as you move up the career ladder. The Executive Chef should also be the person who works harder than everyone else. This is how he or she got to that position. At the same time, make sure that you work smart. Working harder doesn’t always mean that you need to work more hours than everyone else.


Be the one, from the first day on the job that others look to as the standard bearer of excellence. Apply this to everything – how you set your station, your commitment to sanitation, the way you treat others, your respect for ingredients, your understanding of cost control, your dedication to proper cooking technique, and your desire to always improve should become your signature.


No cook is an island. You will learn this on your way to becoming a chef – you must depend on others if you and the restaurant are to succeed. The first step is to always commit to helping others in the same fashion.


There are loads of temptations that cook’s face. The intense hard work and non-traditional hours will often lead to after work indulgence. Keep moderation as a rule of thumb and do your best to avoid the temptations that you know will lead down a rocky road. Connect with others in your field that share this same approach rather than those who seem to always live on the edge.


This should be a great sign to print and hang over your apartment door. This is a simple reminder to work your strategy. Straying too far from the plan will only delay your objectives.


It seems contradictory to point to a life of balance after reading the previous 19 points, but it is possible. Always find time to live a healthy life. Eat well, see a doctor routinely, exercise, and find some time to relax on your own and with friends. Build this into your schedule as tasks that are just as important as preparing your mise en place for tonight’s service.


You might also like…

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding the role of the chef–and all too many of them are negative. Learn to create a kitchen that’s fun to work in while still maintaining the expectations of the restaurant’s customers and avoiding these chef stereotypes!

read more

Experience Sirvo for yourself

Sign up now to find hospitality jobs and hire top industry talent.
Sirvo Stories: Sirvo Spends Some Time with Chris Kobayashi of Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen and Bar

Sirvo Stories: Sirvo Spends Some Time with Chris Kobayashi of Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen and Bar

The highly anticipated arrival of Tupelo Honey Cafe in Spring of 2017 brings the talents of Chef Chris Kobayashi to Denver. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard “Best Chef Pacific” award, Chef Kobayashi fits well with Tupelo Honey’s belief in using local and sustainable food products on their menu.

Chef Kobayashi has been the Chef/Owner of Kitchenette and Artisan in California since 2006. Before that, he worked as Executive Chef and Executive Pastry Chef for Robin’s and Brix, also in California.

We were lucky enough to squeeze in a moment or two with the talented Chef to ask him a few questions as we prepare for the Tupelo Honey Cafe arrival in Denver in 2017.

So Chris, where are you from?

CK: Bishop, CA

What’s your favorite dish on the menu at Tupelo Honey and why?

CK: The fried chicken! Who doesn’t like crispy breading and skin?

What do you look for in a Sous Chef or teammate?

CK: Organization. Being organized is the key to any successful service. Front or back of house.

What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?

CK: Although there are many… my go to ingredients usually contain something cured or fermented. Something like miso or fermented chilies are readily accessible and add complexity and depth without [needing] a lot of ingredients.

Name the person you would most like to cook for and why?

CK: The person who I like cooking for the most is my 10-year-old son. Being in the industry it’s tough to get in some quality time. He’s at the age where he wants to participate in cooking and really gets into helping out. What’s really funny is when he goes to a sleepover and is trying to give his friend’s mom cooking tips on how to execute a better breakfast.

Do you have any kitchen/ restaurant pet peeves?

CK: When part of your team doesn’t work to the best of their ability. Everyone makes mistakes, but when someone doesn’t try, that’s just lazy.

What was your nickname at the restaurant (and how did you get it)?

CK: Koby. Short for Kobayashi. This name has followed me around from kitchen to kitchen. Since there are so many people with the name Chris, it’s always been a good shoe in. As a matter of fact, the Sous Chef’s name is Chris and the Executive Sous name is Crystal.

What’s the best and worst thing that Food Network has done for the industry?  

CK: There is no doubt that the Food Network has put the cooking industry in the spotlight. We were all just a bunch of misfits and a dysfunctional group of people. It was considered a second rate job that was for the lower socio-economic class. The Network broke the stigma and made chefs rock stars. Which was also the worst thing. Kitchens are a tough working environment and that is not what is portrayed on TV. However, the Network has elevated the craft and has made food a priority in many households. This country is based on so many cultures and the best way to portray our ethnicities is through food. Food Network has made this accessible and possible for chefs to make a living.

What did you have for dinner last night?

CK: Pork collar dumplings with first of the season sugar snap peas!!! And rice grits.

Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?

CK: On my last weekend? I would finish out in Hong Kong. Noodles, dumplings, chilies, fermented vegetables and did I mention dumplings? #dimsum #forever

If you got $5,000 how would you spend it?

CK: Let’s pretend I didn’t have a mountain of culinary school loans to pay off! I would definitely go on a trip to Asia and eat my way through. There definitely is a lot to be learned about food through experiencing different cultures. I feel that there is a lot that I could learn from the Asian cultures to incorporate techniques used in my own cooking style.

What are you reading now?

CK: Mostly trade publications in the form of magazines and net. *Lucky Peach! Food smut.

You can catch up with Chris and find out what he’s up to on Tupelo Honey’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Tupelo Honey will be bringing its long-awaited Southern Revival scratch-made menu to the Platform near Denver Union Station in May 2017. Stay tuned to Sirvo for hiring announcements and more on Tupelo’s locally sourced, seasonal menu and cocktails.

Interested in working for Tupelo Honey? Check out their open interviews!

When:     Daily 4/11/17 thru 4/21/17 @ 10:00am – 5:30pm
Where:    Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar (1650 Wewatta St. Denver, CO 80202)

You might also like…

Experience Sirvo for yourself

Sign up now to find hospitality jobs and hire top industry talent.

How to Master Food Plating: Five Videos to Help You

How to Master Food Plating: Five Videos to Help You

When world-famous chefs plate their masterpieces on television they make it look easy, so people don’t realize how difficult it actually is to put food on the plate in an attractive, appealing way. It’s somewhat easy to copy a more experienced chef’s style, but most new chefs really want to have their own unique plating style to represent their food.  Just as an artist signs his work of art, so do chefs add a signature to their stunning plates of food through their plating techniques.

Mastering food plating doesn’t come without knowledge and practice and the Institute of Culinary Education has produced some videos that can help. Let’s take a look at what these five videos have to offer.

1. Essential Elements of Plating

In the first video, Essential Elements of Plating, Michael Laiskonis, who is the creative director of the ICE, talks about presenting food as a creative means of expression. He discusses four important presentation elements: composition, balance, shape and texture and gives tips for each of these elements.

Composition tips:

  • use an asymmetrical food arrangement on the plate
  • arrange items in odd numbers
  • use complementary colors

Balance tips:

  • change the focus of the dish, moving away from the expected
  • leave negative space on the plate
  • choose a plate that will creatively showcase the ingredients

Shape tips:

  • create a theme using similar shapes
  • less is more
  • keep it simple and refined

Texture tips:

  • combine different textures: crunchy, creamy, chewy, etc.
  • include contrasting temperatures
  • use a plate that allows elements to intermingle

2. Plating Reimagined

The second video, Plating Reimagined: One Entrée. Three Ways, presented by James Briscione who shows viewers how to present an entrée of duck accompanied by beets, squash, mushrooms, pearl onions and micro-greens in three different ways.

  • The Classic Approach, in which the chef plates the entrée in the center of the plate in a circular fashion
  • The New Nordic Approach which is asymmetrical. In this style, plate the entrée only on one half of the plate, the other half is clean
  • The Linear Approach, or simply, line it up. The chef plates the food across the center of the plate in a line

3. Five Must-Have Plating Tools

Five Must-Have Plating Tools is the third video, also presented by James Briscione who is the Director of Culinary Development at ICE. In the video he shows viewers what his five essential tools are and how to use them to turn simple dishes into visually inspiring and exciting dishes.

  • A large metal spoon for placing large objects on the plate and for dropping sauces and purees as well as creating a spread of puree
  • A small offset spatula for fine placement of smaller things and for spreading purees with the edge of the spatula to create a wider, more dramatic look
  • A squeeze bottle for a more controlled application of thicker sauces and purees
  • A ring mold for either punching out shapes or for stacking food to create height on the plate
  • Tweezers for fine tuning and delicate placement
  • James’ bonus tool is a kitchen towel which is for cleaning the edges of plates from smudges or fingerprints

4. Plating Reimagined: One Dessert. Three Ways.

In the fourth video, Plating Reimagined: One Dessert. Three Ways, Michael Laiskonis uses passion fruit, almonds, cocoa and sugar as his base flavors to create chocolate cake three ways and shows viewers three different plating techniques.

  • The Classic Approach, chocolate-passion Entremet. He assembles the prepared ingredients in a large ring mold, freezes it, covers it with chocolate and places it in the center of a round plate
  • The Contemporary Approach, chocolate-passion Verrine. The chef pours all the prepared ingredients, which are in semi-liquid form, in layers into a glass
  • The Nouveau Approach, chocolate-passion a la mode. The chef places prepared ingredients in a bowl, off-center, in odd-numbered groups

5. Tips for Buying Restaurant Dinnerware

In the final video, Tips for Buying Restaurant Dinnerware, Kate Edwards from ICE, explains how dinnerware acts as a bridge that connects the food, service and ambiance with the guest. She has excellent tips and tricks to follow in order to make the best choices when it comes to buying restaurant dinnerware.

Mastering food plating may seem daunting, but with practice and knowledge it is very possible to learn how to put your personal signature on your amazing plate of food.

You might also like…

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding the role of the chef–and all too many of them are negative. Learn to create a kitchen that’s fun to work in while still maintaining the expectations of the restaurant’s customers and avoiding these chef stereotypes!

read more

Experience Sirvo for yourself

Sign up now to find hospitality jobs and hire top industry talent.

How To Make Your Menu More Healthful

How To Make Your Menu More Healthful

People want to eat healthfully. That’s not a ‘craze’ or a fad; it’s a part of the human condition. We may change what we call healthful, and we may stop focusing on our health sometimes, but we want to eat healthfully. Any restaurant that accommodates that wish will reap the rewards. The question is how do you make a menu that caters to that desire without putting undue stress on your chef. New menu items can mean extra work for everyone and still not make anything more likely to promote health. There are a couple easy ways to revamp your menu so that it provides consumers with what they want.

1. Identify The Healthful Choices That You Are Already Serving

Ordering healthful meals can sometimes come down to information. If you are already serving some dishes that are pretty good for people’s health, identify them on the menu. You can give them their own section, or you can make a symbol to identify them, and add a key at the bottom of the menu explaining what you mean. This has the benefit of not adding anything to your workload or requiring you to buy anything new. You are only out the expense of reprinting your menu, and you will recoup that easily from all the people who will buy meals they previously wouldn’t have considered.

2. Offer Smaller Servings As An Option

“Everything in moderation” is a great motto when it comes to people’s health, and most folks know it. Again, you don’t have to radically alter anything. Merely state somewhere that if customers would like a smaller portion of something -say, ice cream- you could accommodate that. Think how many more people on a diet would order dessert if they could be certain that the item in question would be reasonably sized. This also stretches the food dollar a little bit further.

3. Offer A More Healthful Version Of A Traditional Dish

Say you have a traditional dish involving fried chicken. Offering a version of this dish with grilled chicken instead lets customers that are watching what they eat enjoy something they know they like without guilt. Most dishes need only a little tweak to make them a better option, and it will help people make that choice if they recognize the dish.

4. Add One Or Two Simple And Explicitly Healthful Options

Having a dish of fresh fruit and a little side salad as options costs you little, and they will meet just about everyone’s dietary needs. They quickly pay for themselves as replacements for less healthful options as you can add a surcharge for making the switch. Using them as side dishes is a good way to get diet-conscious diners to order something extra.

5. Get Creative With Your Ingredients

Sooner or later you have to fiddle with your menu, and you can take that opportunity to make some good-for-you dishes. If you already have some food items on hand that you could make into something healthful, why add to the food inventory? You have fruit and a grill already? Why not make a fruit kabob for dessert? You have tomatoes and cheese already? Why not make some stuffed tomatoes? Your customers will appreciate the variety and the health benefits.

6. Allow At Least One Mix-and-Match Type Item

Meeting everyone’s dietary needs is hard. Everyone has different requirements. Allowing at least one dish to be customized lets people meet those needs without putting a strain on your back-of-house people. Soups, sandwiches and wraps are pretty easy to make custom ordered: have all the pieces pre-made and customers can pick the pieces they want from a list. This way, you have something for customers no matter what diet they follow.

7. Offer At Least One Vegetarian Option

People can decide to try a vegetarian dish for many reasons, but one of these is that they feel it is better for their health. Giving them at least one option that is meat-less lets them at least try it for one meal.

These small changes can make your menu very appealing to anyone who cares about healthful food choices. So go ahead and review your menu: you may find it doesn’t need much work at all.

You might also like…

Lessons from Las Vegas

Lessons from Las Vegas

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, it’s important to refresh yourself and your staff on the best practices that have been in place for many years.

read more
Work Culture: Creating A Place To Love Not Leave

Work Culture: Creating A Place To Love Not Leave

A great work culture not only makes your business more fun and less stressful for you and your employees, it is critical to your competitive success. Find out why it’s good business to be a happy business in our latest post!

read more

Experience Sirvo for yourself

Sign up now to find hospitality jobs and hire top industry talent.
The Life and Times of The Modern Day Chef

The Life and Times of The Modern Day Chef

Becoming a chef was, and can still be, almost as simple as moving from Point A to Point B. Sure, the going was slow and it was a lot of hard work, but it was fairly straightforward nonetheless. So without further ado, we outline the current life-cycle of the chef.

SPOILER: This isn’t the only option – less traditional paths described below!

Step 1: Culinary School

For a lot of us, this is the part where we realize we aren’t even close to the level of equipped that we thought we were. Not even a little bit. Usually, this manifests itself in the way that you stick out like a sore thumb.

You somehow manage to have the biggest chip on your shoulder while simultaneously having the least amount of preparedness. You bring messiness and dull blades to whatever job you can land, and you figure that those who refuse to hire you will regret it when MasterChef finally calls back.

Your life’s purpose now is to do the most menial work in existence.

Step 2: Prep or Pantry Cook

At last, a job in a real-life kitchen! It takes about half a shift for you to realize that you will not be creating documentary-worthy creations here. Instead, your life purpose now is to do the most menial work in existence and to somehow still manage to mess it up in a very public way.

Thus, no one will like you and any opportunities to remedy the situation by showing an ounce of talent will be foiled by your nerves and lack of experience. Don’t worry – it’s not actually that bad!

Step 3: Line Cook

Whether by divine intervention or perhaps just random chance, you finally are able to edge your way into the line cook’s spot.

Cons: Everyone still hates you and blames you for everything.

Pros: You at least now get the family meal.

In many ways, though, it’s the same song, second verse. Your fantasies of the job had you believing that it would be a platform for you to shine; you would spend hours comparing different tools and reading up on the latest trends. Instead, you make more mistakes than actual cuisine.

Step 4: Stage

There is, perhaps, nothing that you have romanticized more than staging. Like all that came before it, there is not a lot that you accurately assumed about it. You may be in a destination location (and rocking it), but you certainly don’t have the time or money to enjoy it.

Instead, you get as close you’ll ever be to slave labor. You move, for months, through a fog of exhaustion as you work, work, work. Despite this, though, you do learn a lot. Not nearly as much as you claim when you return, but you do learn.

Step 5: Sous Chef

After the first week, you have loads more respect for Tony, your predecessor, who you originally thought was a slacker, but now realize actually just had a ton of stuff to do.

You’re the middle-man. Not like everyone else, but also not The Chef. They need you to run the kitchen, but you can’t quite make it happen by yourself yet. Your clipboard is an extension of your hand, but when you do use your hands to actually cook you realize that while you’re berated less often, it’s much more intense when you do slip-up! The money isn’t great, but now you’re salaried and have benefits and actually feel like an adult.

Step 6: Chef de Cuisine

This is it. The culmination of it all. It’s all yours: the kitchen, the menu, the training, and the responsibility. Right about now you realize that cooking isn’t predominately a means of expression,

It’s all yours: the kitchen, the menu, the training, and the responsibility. Right about now you realize that cooking isn’t predominately a means of expression. Instead you get a high from crafting a meal that connects with your guests. Your life is stable in a way that it hasn’t been previously. You have made connections with others in the culinary world, you are drinking less and working out more, and you’re invested in helping others who are less-experienced.

Your life is stable in a way that it hasn’t been previously. You have made connections with others in the culinary world, you are drinking less and working out more, and you’re invested in helping others who are less-experienced.

Step 7: Opening a restaurant

You’re an ambitious one and couldn’t settle for just the kitchen, you had to have it all, the entire restaurant.

You thought you knew what tired was, but this is something else entirely. This makes you think fondly of the early, easy days when you were being yelled at for such inconsequential things as carrots being peeled too slowly, and burning the orzo at the bottom of the pan.

That is until one of the young prep cooks asks you about your stage, and you’re able to pass on some of what you did learn. And the fact that you have gone almost a month without a day off, pays off: you get a spot on the line as a dinner service meat cook. Plus, the endless parade of construction, meetings, and organizing result in a packed dining room opening week. Well, that and the heaven-sent good review that came just in time.

Today’s chefs walk a wide-ranging variety of paths.

Step… none: Choose your own adventure

Let us be so bold as to say that if you’re lucky enough to walk the aforementioned path, you’re lucky enough. However as we said at the beginning, today’s chefs walk a wide-ranging variety of paths.

Take the Food Network’s Guy Fieri for example, he came to the auditions for The Next Food Network Star in support of a friend, was talked into auditioning, and now his frosted tips are known the world over. While an extreme example for sure, it still is one that could only exist in this current climate where home cooks can become instant stars, and you can be known as a celebrity chef without more than a brief dalliance working in an actual restaurant.

Some possible additional possibilities include:

The TV Chef. Your life mainly consists of PR hustle, Food & Wine events, and navigating investments and endorsement deals.

The Burnout. Just as bad as it sounds, at this point the years of work have taken a serious toll. You’re not accomplishing anything beyond that pack of Marlboros in your chest pocket.

The Comeback. Some manage to lift out of the burnout stage, but usually only for brief stints. The fame you once had gifts you with momentary opportunities, but you’re a little out of practice, which makes things even worse for your already lacking PR presence.

The Food Truck. Food trucks are trendier than ever. They’re the alternative for people who know what’s “happening” since they aren’t spending every spare second prepping their station or planning the menu at their semi-stable job.

The Private Chef. The main downside here is the glares you’re going to get from restaurant chefs at the Farmer’s Market, but the upsides include a hefty paycheck, car allowances, and paid travel.

The Child Prodigy. This kid throws everything we’ve written so far out the window, and trades years of work for good genes and wealthy folks. Cue the collective eye roll of the entire culinary community.

The Corporate Hotel Chef. While it took a lot of cooking to land this gig, now that you’re in it, you’re doing very little in the kitchen. Instead, you’re a spreadsheet master. You use your sizable bonus and comfortable salary as a comfort when you’re annoyed its time for yet another banquet.

So, there you have it. There is no one way, or right way, to become a chef. The path is yours to walk!

You might also like…

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding the role of the chef–and all too many of them are negative. Learn to create a kitchen that’s fun to work in while still maintaining the expectations of the restaurant’s customers and avoiding these chef stereotypes!

read more

Experience Sirvo for yourself

Sign up now to find hospitality jobs and hire top industry talent.