So You Want to Stage (Intern) at a Restaurant

So… you are a middle manager in charge of filing reports in triplicate, but you are a good home cook, watch Top Chef and read Lucky Peach, and secretly fantasize about giving up your day job to work in a kitchen. You probably know enough to know that the restaurant world has a place for people like you, and that is called a stage (in French, so prounced stahzh), but you have no idea how to ask for one, or, if accepted what to expect when you get there.

I’ve staged at a few restaurants and written about it, so people often ask me for advice on the subject. For some reason it never occurred to me until now to write up all of my advice into a post. So here we go.

Oh, and all of this advice is equally applicable if you are a culinary school student about to go on your first externship.

Where to Stage

High end, fine dining restaurants often have stages on a constant basis. They look at them as free, if inefficient labor, and have a system set up for dealing with them, so they may be your best choice. If you ask to stage at Denny’s you might get some funny looks. Mid-level restaurants may be less used to having stages, but they also could provide a more personal experience and might be slightly less intimidating.

How to Arrange A Stage

The very best way to arrange a stage is if you have, or can establish, some sort of personal connection with the chef. You may already have a friend who knows them or knows an employee. If possible, eat at the restaurant you have in mind and maybe you can meet the chef then. Many chefs use twitter, facebook, or maintain a blog, so social media can be a way to make some initial contact. Failing all of that, you can send a cold email or letter. Don’t try to call a chef, at least not of any major restaurant. It might be ok with a hometown bistro, but definitely not during service hours!

Once you’ve made contact, you should just ask them very directly if you can stage. They may want to know what your goals are and a little about your experience level, if any. Be honest. If you claim to have knife skills like Morimoto, you better be able to back that up or you are going to look like an idiot about 6 minutes after you arrive.

You’ll need to establish how long the stage is for. I’ve done them for as little as 3 days and as long as 4 months. There is a special type of stage, called a trail, which is usually for a single day, and is meant as a direct job interview for a specific position, but that probably doesn’t apply to your circumstances. Be sure and find out what time you should arrive on the appointed day, and if you haven’t seen the cooks, ask what the clothing requirements are. Chefs are extremely busy people, you don’t want to have to contact them 5 more times before you start, so be sure to get all of your essential questions out of the way in one shot.

How To Prepare

Congratulations! You’ve convinced chef to give you a chance. You are expected to arrive next Tuesday at 2 PM. What should you do to get ready?

First of all, make sure you have the necessary gear. For clothing, if you haven’t heard otherwise, you should have black chef pants, a t-shirt, and a white chef’s jacket. Definitely get your name embroidered on the jacket, together with a logo and your favorite catchphrase. No.  All of these things can be had at a restaurant supply store or from the web. If you are working multiple days in a row, you’ll need more than one set so you don’t have to go home exhausted and immediately do laundry. An apron and towels will be provided to you when you arrive.

Unless you are bald, you’ll also need a way to cover your hair. And you’ll need comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. I’m partial to black Crocs, the kind with no holes on top. But you might prefer clogs or boots for the additional protection. It is best to have shoes you can wipe off. Tennis shoes will get gross and stay gross.

You’ll also need knives. At a minimum, you’ll want an 8″ chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, a steel, and a vegetable peeler. You’ll feel best if you put them in a knife bag that you can also pick up at the restaurant supply, but if you don’t mind looking like a dork I suppose you can roll them up in a towel, tie a Jethro rope around it and throw ’em in a cloth sack. I’d go with the knife kit myself. Your knives better be sharp as a razor because you will probably cut more vegetables than you have ever seen in your life. And practice your knife skills. Go buy a ten pound sack of onions and another of potatoes and makes sure you can quickly, neatly, and uniformly slice, dice, mince, julienne, etc.

Working in restaurants is hard, physical, exhausting labor. So if you really are a desk jockey, you might want to get some exercise.

Finally, do lots of reading. Don’t waste your time memorizing stuff like all of the variants of the mother sauces. Chef is not going to shout “Hey, stage, quick, whip me up a batch of Aomard à l’Anglaise.” What you should read about is life in the kitchen. For starters, read everything Shuna has written on the subject. Start here and then branch out to the rest of her site. Then, read some of these other great memoirs by the likes of Jaques Pepin, Bill Buford, Ruhlman, Daniel Boulud, Karen and Andrew, Grant Achatz, and, sure, Bourdain.

You aren’t reading these books because your experience in your first week of staging will be anything like what these folks have done, but because they will inspire you, and because they give you some sense of what it will feel like and what is expected of you. But do keep in mind, many of these books are sensationalized and/or are from a different time, when more chefs were screamers and pot throwers, and more cooks shot smack and bumped uglies with the waitstaff  in the storage room.  There are still pirate-ship operations out there, but most kitchens these days are a lot more calm and professional. Still, you can learn plenty by reading them.

What to Expect When You Arrive

The day has arrived. Great. You can show up with your uniform on, about 5-10 minutes early, or in street clothes but with your uniform ready to go, about 15 minutes early. I prefer to be already dressed. Go to the back door. Open it, step confidently in, and say to the first person you see “Hi, I’m Alfonso. I’m scheduled to stage today.” They will know what to do, which, depending on the kitchen, is to deliver you to the chef, sous chef, or lead at some station (probably garde manger – cold appetizers and salads.)

Don’t expect a lot of small talk. The person you are being delivered to may well be slightly annoyed. They know how to work their station like the back of their hand, and they have a prep list that has 20 items on it that need to be ready for service. Here is what is running through their mind when Chef tells them they have a stage at their station for the day: “F**k me. Ok, let me think about what I can have them do that (1) they can’t screw up (2) if they do screw up, I can recover (3) will get them out of my hair for awhile and (4) maybe actually saves me a little time.

Now I know that sounds negative. And maybe they won’t feel that way, particularly if they have their station well in hand, so you might be like an amusing monkey to them instead of an annoyance. But assume the worst case. Your goal is to get past this perception, and we’ll discuss how in the next section. But for now, what they are probably going to do is show you where to get your apron and a side towel, set you up with a cutting board next to them, and give you something very basic to do, like peel and rough-chop vegetables that are going to get pureed, or pick herb leafs off their stems. They might ask “where are you coming to us from?”, i.e. what other restaurants have you worked at? This is an important question, because if you’ve worked at Le Bernadin or noma, you get 1736 respect points, and expectations will be totally different. But if you are reading this post, the answer is probably “nowhere, this is my first stage.” Just be honest!

How to Have A Great Stage

Enough with the warmup. You are in the door, you are at your cutting board with your sharp-ass knives. You are coring and gutting 3 cases of tomatoes. Now what?

Now your goal is to demonstrate that you can be a net plus in the kitchen, so that by later in your stage you’ll be allowed to do more interesting things and learn as much as possible. How can you earn a modicum of respect?

Be a hard worker. Do the project given to you, working as quickly and cleanly as possible, and do a great job of it. Then label and put away your project (asking if you aren’t sure where it goes), clean up your area, put all your dirty stuff in the dish pit, and ask what you can do next. No leaning. If someone is chatting with you, keep your hands moving. If for some reason you don’t have something to do, maybe because your supervisor is temporarily tied up, ask other folks if there is something you can help with, or find something to clean. This is the number one source of respect available to you. If you are working hard and trying to contribute, people will like you fine.

You are going to have to ask questions just to complete what seem like the simplest tasks. That is ok – it is much better to ask than to waste a lot of time or do a project wrong and have to start over. You should make it your business not to have to ask the same question twice. So really pay attention to the answer, and if you don’t understand it, ask for clarification right away. For any kind of vegetable prep or cutting, if you have any doubt at all, ask for a demonstration. Just say “can you show me how you want that done?” Then leave the example piece in a corner of your cutting board so that you can reference it later.

Understand the different phases of a restaurant day: prep, service, and cleanup. This can vary a little bit depending on whether a place only does dinner or also has breakfast or lunch. But basically, there are several hours where components for dishes are being prepared and put away. During this phase, you can help a lot even on your first day. Then about an hour or more before service, there will usually be a brief family meal. Every restaurant does this a little different so pay attention and follow everyone else’s lead. But generally the ethos is to eat quickly and get back to work.

Next it is time to set up for service. Each station gets all of their mise en place out, hopefully tastes all of it, double checks their backups, and gets ready for the first ticket. Then service starts, and your role changes. In some restaurants, especially in the first day or two, you might not be allowed to do anything but watch. Or maybe you’ll be sent in to the walk-in to find backups or things that have to be re-prepped on the fly. In others, you might be given one simple dish to plate up repeatedly. In any event, stay out of the way of the professionals, do what you are asked, and don’t ask questions when they have a long row of tickets in front of them.

Finally, towards the end of the night, cleanup starts, usually before the last tickets are done. Every restaurant and every station has a whole list of things to do. Mise en place has to be broken down, wrapped up, labeled and stored. Hotel pans and tools have to go to the dish pit. All surfaces have to be wiped down with hot soapy water and dried. Mats get washed. Cleaned utensils get put away. You aren’t going to know what to do. Don’t even think about leaving. You stay, without asking when you’ll be done, until your station lead sends you home. Just like prep time, you ask “what can I do next?”, and then you do the heck out of it. After a night or two, if you are paying attention you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to contribute during this time without having to ask.

Whatever you do, your attitude should be one of humility. Even if you think you know a better way to do something, I’d advise against suggesting it in the first day or two. Just do what you are asked, and maybe after  you’ve established some rapport with your coworkers you’ll sense whether it would be ok to put forth your idea. Also, keep in mind that cooks make very little money and therefore usually haven’t eaten at many great restaurants or traveled far and wide. If you happen to be well heeled and have had some of these experiences, it is fine to mention it if they come up, but don’t flaunt it.

Some Specific Smaller Tips

Needless to say, I hope, your cell phone should be off. If you absolutely must have it on because you have young kids or a grandparent in the hospital or something, put it in vibrate mode and tell anyone who might call or text you to leave you alone unless it is an emergency.

Learn to say “behind you”, “hot behind”, “sharp behind”, “corner”, “oven open”, etc – and do it every time. Restaurant kitchens are crowded places where people are moving fast with smoking hot sheet pans and razor-sharp knives. It is a matter of both safety and respect to let each other know where the hazards are.

Be nice to the folks in the dish pit. They are the backbone of a kitchen and often some of the most valuable employees. Learn where they want stuff stacked, and which things (typically anything sharp) you wash yourself.

Pay attention to how each person in the kitchen is addressed, and learn everyone’s name. When in doubt, start with “yes chef” to anything the chef says to you.

If for some reason you get chewed out, so be it. Accept the criticism, say “yes chef”, correct the mistake, and move on. Don’t justify, argue or even explain unless specifically asked. No crying or pouting.

Although kitchens are more professional than in the past, there is usually still a certain amount of, um, colorful teasing, practical jokes, etc. If you are easily offended, this probably isn’t the right line of work for you. It probably won’t be directed at you unless you are being a jackass, but you’ll hear plenty, and if you are there long enough, you can join in.

If you get cut or burned, there is a medical kit. Ask where it is, use it, cover the damage with a bandaid and glove and get back to work.

Hygiene is essential. Wash your hands well and frequently, at least a few times during a shift and anytime you handle anything messy. When you go to the restroom, leave your apron and towel outside. Wear gloves whenever you are handling any product that won’t be cooked before service.

The Bottom Line

I’m not saying any of this to scare you off staging. I’ve had some of the best, most satisfying days of my life in restaurant kitchens.

Like everything in life, you’ll get out of a stage what you put into it. Put your head down, work hard, don’t whine or second-guess, be a team player, help out where you can, and you’ll earn respect. You’ll also learn a lot. Most importantly, you will learn whether you have the stamina and can develop the skills to work in a professional kitchen, and whether you enjoy it. If you follow these guidelines, before long you’ll be given more responsibility and have a real sense of contributing in the kitchen.

Don’t be afraid to stage in more than one place. Every kitchen you spend time in will teach you something different. In one, you’ll learn speed. In another, precision. In a third, you might see techniques you didn’t even know were possible. A fourth chef might have a phenomenal palate, and a fifth might be a screamer that teaches you what kind of kitchen to get the hell out of.

I hope this is helpful. If you’ve read this and still have questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer. If you have staged in kitchens or work in them full time, and think I’ve got something wrong or left something out, same goes – please leave a comment!

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 in Cooking Internship, Theory and Rants.

86 Responses to “So You Want to Stage (Intern) at a Restaurant”

  1. Reply
    March 22, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing all of your fascinating insights on staging. It’s a pipe dream of mine to give this a try one day – wonder if I have it in me. 🙂

  2. Reply
    March 22, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    This makes filing reports in triplicate seem so much more appealing. 🙂

  3. Reply
    March 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    In college for my undergrad in nutrition, we had to take a commercial food production class, where we rotated among every aspect of commercial food prep. Our prereq was 2 food science courses with their labs. At the time, I thought it was a total waste of time and labor (we ran a once per week nutrition “restaurant”), Little did I know how useful and amazing this chance was and how much I learned from it.

    What a great and useful post!

  4. Reply
    March 23, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks, Michael. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my 3 kids and their eventual transition into the workforce, and it struck me as I was reading this that your excellent advice transcends the specifics of being a stage in a professional kitchen, and is kind of a template for embarking on any kind of new work.

    • Reply
      March 23, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      It is so true. I always think the same thing when I read Shuna’s stuff (that I linked to above). The specifics may be different, and the kitchen may be more hierarchical than most workplaces, and more demanding in some ways, but the keys to being successful and getting the most out of any situation are really the same everywhere.

  5. Reply
    March 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    So…wicked…true. All of it. Thank you. This should me required reading in culinary schools.

  6. Reply
    Bruce Bowman
    March 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks for this Michael, very interesting, and the timing is perfect, as a friend of mine just finished at the French Culinary Academy and is considering this very thing. -Bruce

    • Reply
      March 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      Good timing! If you show it to them, I’d be interested to hear what they they think.

  7. Reply
    March 27, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    Michael, what an inspiring, generous guide to staging — so helpful, thorough, and eminently practical. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post! I have no current plans to stage but I really agree with the comments above: that this is more than a post about staging per se– you’ve offered genuine insight into how to make the most of an early apprentice experience in any highly desirable, highly competitive field. Thanks again!

  8. Reply
    March 30, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    Hey Michael, came here from Veggie Belly, and so glad that I found this post. I always wanted to work in a restaurant but was not sure whether they would take me or not considering that I do not have any qualification in that respect. But this post has left me with some more hopes in that direction. Thanks a lot for those. 🙂

    Pls do visit my blog (whenever possible) and let me know what you feel. Your comments would mean a lot.

    • Reply
      March 30, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Thanks, Charul! That is the great thing about restaurants – hard work and a good attitude can allow just about anyone in the door to get a tryout, as long as you are willing to work your way up. I checked out tadkamasala, it is very cool. I like the way you did the homepage especially, I’ve never seen anything quite like that. I’m very visual so it appeals to me. Your dum ghobi looks great!

  9. Reply
    Diego Cervantes
    April 7, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    I had a stage trial today, the problem is that i had just moved from another city and hadn’t brought my knifes or chef clothing with me, the stage was going to be from 8-4pm and I called the chef at 7am to let him know my situation and told me that we can try this next week. I feel dissapointed that I couldnt start today. Could this ruin my opportunity?

    • Reply
      April 7, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Hopefully not… obviously it isn’t ideal to not be able to follow through on your commitment on the first day. Some chefs would probably have just said “forget it then”, so the fact that this one is willing to wait a couple days seems to indicate that they are still going to give you a chance. So show up early and fully prepared on the day you re-agreed to and kick ass and it may still work out. And if not, find another restaurant and try again!

  10. Reply
    Diego Cervantes
    April 7, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Another question.. Im a Culinary Arts/Baking and Pastry Arts student , but no experience in any restaurant.. since I was not succesful at landing a job as a prep cook or Line cook I was willing to take any position even as a dishwasher in a newly open French restaurant and I did.. In My mind I was looking forward of moving my way up like other chefs have done.. I don’t like to mention racism because I dont even want to believe it exist..but at the moment I arrived my first day there were a pile of dishes from the previous dishwashers that had quit the first day 2 of them and that restaurant had been opened 2 days.. I took my my job seriously and immediately started doing my job… there wasn’t a system set up yet and I noticed I needed extra help at least for the 2-3 busy hours.. but I didn’t complain.. what I did suggested were more racks for extra storage because I wasnt able to continue my flow and I couldnt’ finish alll the dishes by the end of the day.. for 8.5 hours I have not even taken a restoom break or any break at all .. I asked the manager if I could come in earlier the next day to organize and finish since the restaurant is open from 5-10pm.. he said “no just come in at 4pm” the next day I planned on organizing and setting up a system where I can communicate with the bussers, waiters and bartenders so that we can work together on where the y needed me or I needed them to place dishes and pans ..etc ..started working more efficiently but again when it got busy nobody cared and everything got piled up again.. still no extra storage… and again i couldn’t finish so the schef at the end came up to me and asked “why so many dishes” so I explained.. he didn’t say anything and told me it was closing time and said “Señor! you need to finish tommorow before closing!” and spoke to me in Spanish as if not he will hire someone else.. I will continue my job today but what can I do?..Just keep my head down? I know I could get faster by time but they haven’t done their part by adding another dishwasher or extra racks.

    • Reply
      April 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Hey Diego –

      I have a few thoughts here, and I’ll also see if I can get some folks with more industry experience than me to weigh in.

      (1) To me, it sure sounds like the chef made an assumption based on the color of your skin that you didn’t speak English. That’s obnoxious. It is true that there are certainly a lot of non-English speaking dishwashers in the industry, but that had to feel crappy when you’ve made a conscious choice to try and work your way up from the dishroom and the first thing you face is that kind of assumption.

      (2) It is entirely common in the industry for facilities not to be optimized to make jobs as efficient as they could be. I think it is fine to make a suggestion, but on the other hand if it is your first day or two in a professional kitchen, it might be the case that you need to just work with what is available for now. And especially, this is a restaurant that is literally brand new, they probably aren’t thinking the dish system is their biggest problem right now.

      (3) Even though it might seem like the dishpit isn’t a real high skill position, there is still a lot of knowledge and speed that comes with time on the job, so it is kind of a crappy situation for you to be in there on your own, with no-one experienced to show you the ropes.

      (4) To me it is shortsighted of that manager, if you are offering to come in an hour early and get things organized, to say no to that kind of initiative.

      Bottom line – my guess is that if you’ve decided to try and work your way up from dishwasher, you’ll have to make a call as to whether that can happen in this kitchen or not. But actually I think you’d be better off asking to stage somewhere better, working as an extra hand for free on prep and garde mange and get in the door that way.

  11. Reply
    April 7, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Diego- I am a professional pastry chef, working 14 hours a day, which is probably about 6 less than anyone in a managerial position who is opening a restaurant. I barely had the time/patience to read your lenghtey comment. Don’t take this as an insult. But this industry moves FAST, and the higher up you get, the less time you have for details like the racks in a dish pit. The best dishwashers out there come in, blow through your dishes without speaking, finish, and go home. Strike that. They go to a second job somewhere. You’re jumping in with grand intentions, but into a position where the standard has been set by people who work like maniacs, don’t ask questions, and always get their job done.

    If you are feeling injured on your second day by your bosses attitude, maybe this isn’t the right way for you to enter the industry. Take it as a lesson, the dishwasher is the most overworked, thankless job in an industry filled with overworked thankless jobs.

    I’ve been through restauarant openings. It’s not just that there’s no system for the dishes yet, there’s not a system for anything, and the dish pit is low on the priority list, behind how to get the food cooked, and how to get it to the customer.

    If the interaction you described made you feel injured, you either need a big lesson in sucking it up, (this is not being mean, this is absolutely necessary for a career in restaurants) or you need a more gentle introduction to the industry. You’re going to be that chef someday, who only needs to know one thing. You have dishes, they need to get done between the hours of 4 and 12, and you need someone to do it. It won’t be personal, it’s a yes or no question. Will they do it for you or won’t they.

    Either put your head down, learn to work with what you have, and stick it out, using it as practice for the years of grueling thankless overworked underaccommodated hours you are about to endure as a line cook, OR go get a slower more delicate start by offering your unskilled hands for free as a stage. You will likely find that about 1000 times more satisfying. But the same lesson applies, keep your head down, push through, and work with what they give you.

    You are a culinary student. you don’t have to scrub yourself out of the dish pit into a prep cook job if you don’t want to. You have educated yourself and have other ways into kitchens.

    • Reply
      April 8, 2012 at 6:33 am #

      Fantastic, realistic answer.. thanks, Dana!

  12. Reply
    April 8, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    I’ve often thought about a career as a chef but then I seen how demanding and high stress that job is. I’ll stick to filing reports and just enjoy eating the food.

  13. Reply
    February 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    hey everyone wondering if you can help me with the mails of some emails of places you all have stage before thanks to all.

  14. Reply
    April 16, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    This is very helpful. I start tonight. I kind of know the deal, but am more of a food writer than a food cooker. 🙂 Nice article!!

  15. Reply
    T Davis
    May 30, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    As a current culinary student (and career changer) with no experience in professional kitchens, I have decided to seek out opportunities to stage before externship. Reading this, I realize how much I have learned, how much common sense I will take into the experience, and what joy I have in the work ahead of me.

    • Reply
      May 30, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Great decision! If you are inspired to come back and comment to tell us about your experiences, I’m sure many people would benefit.

  16. Reply
    June 6, 2013 at 4:13 am #

    Thank you for this info. I’m actually a line cook and am staging this weekend at my first Michelin star restaurant. I’m a bit nervous and excited. I’ve always assumed only us cooks staged at other places for extra experience. It’s nice to know that anyone can. I’m wondering if this also applies to California residents, since we have strict food handlers laws. As of I believe 2011 you have to have your Serve Safe certification.

    Oh, and LOL about the name & phrase on coats… I’ve seen “John Doe, CHEF”

    We aren’t chefs until we’re successfully running a kitchen with the earned respect of our brigade. My opinion at least. :0)

    • Reply
      June 6, 2013 at 5:42 am #

      Yes, in Washington there is a food handler’s permit that you need to have before working in a restaurant, though you can get it online after about a 1 hour training.

      > We aren’t chefs until we’re successfully running a kitchen with the earned respect of our brigade. My opinion at least. :0)

      Amen to that.

  17. Reply
    June 28, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    This is great info. I recently left my career for a life in the kitchen. This is something I always wanted to do and basically followed the “no better time than the present” idea. Given that I went through university and blindly ended up in jobs I didn’t like before I decided to go the other way around this time and look for a stage. Since I live in London I made a list of the best restaurants at the moment and then went through the list for restaurants I really liked (because of their style, product, menus, etc.). I obviously ended up with an extremely long list but nevertheless started writing them all telling them about my enthusiasm, motivation, why I like them, etc. This week I got my first reply back and HOERAAH for me cause I can start with a week in September. I’m over the moon to be able to get this experience and will definitely use the tips you gave me here. Can’t wait to absorb knowledge in there!

    • Reply
      June 28, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Congratulations and best of luck! If you aren’t too exhausted, stop back by and let us know about your experiences.

  18. Reply
    Megan McMinn
    July 4, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Thanks for the article, very helpful. I just have one question:
    What is your suggestion on the best way to arrange a stage, if you don’t have a referral, would email or an old school letter be better? Also, what is the best information to include in a cover letter or email asking to stage. I am a culinary arts student and my chef told me to email a few places to stage. He didn’t say what should be included, have any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Reply
      July 5, 2013 at 8:13 am #

      I think in this modern era that an email would be ok. I’ve never asked for a stage as a complete cold call, I’ve always either gotten an introduction or met the chef through the web first, but especially for a culinary school student I don’t think it is a huge problem. I’d keep it really brief – just tell them who you are, what your experience (both school and work) is, and when and how long you’d like to stage for if it is possible (including whatever flexibility you have on dates). Maybe a sentence or two of why you specifically chose their restaurant.

  19. Reply
    October 6, 2013 at 9:09 am #


    may i know if we should ask the chef on how long the stage gonna be? becos i dont wanna ask to many question as i just to work/be in that kitchen.

  20. Reply
    October 6, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    i mean do i have to give the periods of stage that i want like 2 weeks, 1 months or just let him decide?

    • Reply
      October 6, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      You would typically include that as part of your request, like “Would it be possible to stage with you for 2 weeks?”

  21. Reply
    November 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Hi Michael, I have to thank you for this post.

    Your tips had contribute to start my 4 week stage in a restaurant. Even if I am 31 IT guy without any previous experience in a professional kitchen. 🙂
    I have just completed the first week yesterday and it was pretty good!
    I also started a blog where I keep track of my adventures. Maybe it will last only 4 weeks. Or maybe more. 😉

    Thanks again!


    • Reply
      November 2, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      Nice, Nico! I enjoyed reading through your recent entries.

  22. Reply
    March 11, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    I love stages 🙂 in my station I have no use for them as I have neither the time nor patience to try to teach someone how to make fresh pastas. But they do great prep work for our saute 🙂 and when I have to jump on the line to bang out plates it’s nice to have an extra person to hand me plates or run to the walk ins!

  23. Reply
    March 17, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Thank you-very informative! I have stages coming up to find an intern site (I’m in culinary school) and it is freaking me out a bit! I have waited table for the last decade, but am now venturing to the BOH. Scary and exciting-this definitely helps.

  24. Reply
    April 26, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I’m a career changer and I just googled staging and I can say that I’m completely impressed by your description of the entire process. As I was reading I felt like I was actually in the kitchen going through the staging process myself. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  25. Reply
    June 1, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi Mr. Michael Natkin,

    These are very good valuable information, well let me come to the point, iam a chef with an experience of 13 years especially in the middle east & would like to do a stage program,unfortunately i dont have any contacts with any of the chefs, how do i sneak in for one of those programs, can you please suggest… preferably Fine dining.


    • Reply
      June 1, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Hi Sathyan – if you’ve been working for 13 years, someone you’ve worked with or for must know someone at least a level up in the ranks of restaurants beyond where you are now. I’d work that network of connections, no matter how thin, and get someone to make a call for you to arrange a stage.

  26. Reply
    June 1, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Thank you very much, iam right now working in United arab emirates, Abu dhabi .

    with Abu dhabi national hotels. well i do know some chefs and they are also trying ..

  27. Reply
    June 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for this great post. It’s very informative. I have a question though. Is there such a thing as a part-time staging? I was thinking of looking for some weeknights and maybe weekends staging without quitting my day job.

    • Reply
      July 1, 2014 at 6:58 am #

      It’s possible, you’d just have to find a chef willing to say yes!

  28. Reply
    July 10, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Michael. .Thank you so much!..This is extremely helpful since I have a trail run next week in NYC at a 4 1/2 star restaurant and I only recently graduated from Culinary for baking/..pastry..I read their dessert Menu and have honestly never learned or made most.The position is for Pastry cook and I am so nervous!

    • Reply
      July 10, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      Best of luck!

  29. Reply
    July 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    These are all great tips and I very much want to stage at some place but I’m not sure how to start. I have zero experience in a any kind of kitchen besides the one in my family home and I’m unsure if any place would take me. I want to join a culinary program but many people suggest that I work in a real kitchen first before entering any programs to see if i could handle the atmosphere. Do you have any advice on how to find a stage program and apply for it?

    • Reply
      July 15, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

      I think if you read carefully up above, you’ll find some good tips for finding a first stage – basically it comes down to finding a connection or screwing up the courage to ask cold.

  30. Reply
    September 2, 2014 at 4:33 am #

    Thank you so much for this article. it confirmed a lot of the assumptions i had about work in a professional kitchen and let me know what to expect – which is exactly what i needed.

    i’m going to be staging for a michelin star restaurant on wednesday starting at noon. i’ve been working on my own techniques nightly working as a grocery clerk in order to hopefully get my foot in the door. i ended up inside this restaurant (on my 30 min lunch break, on advice from a coworker) i knew nothing about, inquiring about a dishwashing position i learned they had already filled.

    i knew i just wanted to get into the kitchen somehow. within 30 seconds i had both head chefs in front of me asking me questions, such as if i had chefs shoes and pants and good knives. they said they needed someone to work garde (i had to ask them what that meant).

    my previous identity was a d1 athlete, but i always knew i wanted to cook. however, i have absolutely no formal training. the past 4 days have been a blur. i bought the founding chef’s book, replaced my inherited 30-yr-old 8″ wusthof with a new one, and even treated my roommate to a $120 dinner just to get an idea of the place.

    i am really excited about the team aspect of being in kitchen. i am trying to prepare myself the best i can so i do not miss this opportunity. however, while i have total confidence in my work ethic, ability to learn, and social skills, i am beside myself with some weird sort of calm anxiety.

    obviously, this can lead to a career as a professional chef. ive always thought about culinary school, but what most excites me about this opportunity is the idea that i can skip all of that formal training, as long as i can make the cut. is this an accurate expectation? i have no illusions about the life of a cook. i want to feel like i am contributing to something greater than myself, even at the grocery store. that drives me to always find ways to improve the store. i hope these skills translate.

    anyways, this opportunity is way above my league. and you have helped me tremendously in preparation. how nervous should i be, given my confidence in work ethic and learning ability? and even without formal training, can I take this further? how long would i have to work to be qualified for another position in a professional kitchen?

    • Reply
      September 2, 2014 at 5:57 am #

      Chris: you’ve got the right attitude. You are going to be fine. The fact that they “drafted” you is a good sign, they know they are going to have to teach you everything. Yes, absolutely, if this goes well and you like it, you’ll be able to move up through other stations over time and no you don’t have to go to culinary school. Especially b/c you are getting the break of starting at a very good restaurant. Put in your time there (at least a year, maybe more, assuming you like it) and you’ll be able to springboard from that to other restaurants. But all of that is cart before the horse. Start by just working your ass off and learning everything you can.

  31. Reply
    September 2, 2014 at 4:36 am #

    i talked about myself wayyy too much in that post. but it kind of helps me to overcome these feelings i have never felt before. the potential of a career ive always dreamed of. and i literally dont know anybody who works in a kitchen professionally, so I dont have anyone else to talk to.

    Thank you for your time. and thank you for this article.

  32. Reply
    October 21, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I made a comment here before on 6/30/14. I just wanted to let you know that I started a PT internship last weekend! My schedule is weekends and one weeknight. I am very excited about this because I never worked in a professional kitchen before plus I don’t have to quit my job. I am an avid cook at home though and really work on perfecting every dish I make. I seem to be convinced that cooking is something that I can do for the rest of my life. But I am sort of testing the waters via this gig just in case I may be wrong :-).
    Anyway, I really think the first day was the hardest part because I had no clue what I was getting myself into. My biggest worry was whether I would be able to stay standing for several hours and not my basic kitchen skills and knowledge or lack thereof.
    So what have I learned? (0) First, let me describe how I got the internship. I went to one of the restaurants on my favorite restaurant list (between 3-4 pm) and filled out an application. I asked to talk to the chef but he was in a meeting for a while so I just said that I was going to come back. I didn’t go back 🙂 but instead wrote a very carefully written honest email to the restaurant. I got an interview, followed up after over a week, and was told to come in to start the internship 🙂 (1) Things happen really fast so listen carefully and ask for clarification if it’s not clear to you when you are given instructions. (2) It’s true what they say that there are many Spanish speaking people who work BOH 🙂 They work really quickly! But they were also very nice and helpful. One of them helped me a lot when the Chef was busy. (3) Being nice and helpful to everyone around you can do wonders! (4) Working hard can do wonders! (4) The first day is the most difficult for the body. If you are like me who has a regular job sitting down working in front of a computer, then working in a professional kitchen will shock your body! And this is even though I work out at the gym and play sports regularly! I had to take a painkiller pill before going to bed 🙁 The second day, my body was fine 🙂 (5) Now I know what the sharpie is for – labeling prepped food that is put in storage or later use! (6) Crocs Bistro Clogs are great! (7) Work fast but carefully.
    These are just some of my initial thoughts after only 2 days of working so some of them may change in time 🙂 I’m already looking forward to the next time I’ll be at the restaurant!
    Btw, thanks again for all your very helpful thoughts and insights on staging. I’m also thankful to everyone who made comments especially Nico from The Fit Duck. I read all (!) his blog entries and it helped me gain some rather interesting insights about working in BOH. I also appreciate his effective use of emoticons :-).
    Again, thanks! I’ll be stopping by here again sometime to report about my future experiences :-).

    • Reply
      October 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

      I loved reading this! Thanks for sharing and please do come back and update us on what you are learning.

  33. Reply
    November 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    After CIA culinary training, Stella in Truckee,Ca, professional chef training in Italy, and many,many years of cooking at home and on hot lines: At age 77: if you are not in shape do not attempt a stage. Physically it is very demanding. Hours, demands, standing, pressure. Been there ,done that. Have you ever noticed? There are no grey haired chefs? if you are over 65 do not attempt this. Go there for dinner. You have earned it.

  34. Reply
    November 19, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    I thought this was a wonderful article! Just a few questions though- what is the follow up procedure for a stage? Let’s say your ultimate goal is employment, and you get the opportunity to stage for a week. Should you expect them to offer you a job on your last day? Or do you need to ask for a job directly?



    • Reply
      November 19, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      A stage isn’t normally considered a job interview, though it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to offer you a job. If they don’t, and you want to keep working there you should just ask the chef directly; you certainly won’t hurt their feelings!

  35. Reply
    January 24, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    hi Michael, thank u so much for this article 🙂 im studying culinary arts nd we have to go for our work placement for 3 months this summer… I would love to go to France beacause i love French cuisine, especially pastry (i love baking!!) so maybe do u know where should i start looking for job? any names of restaurants or chefs who can help me with this? i would be really appreacieated for any help 🙂

    • Reply
      January 24, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

      Hi Ola – no specific recommendations, you’ll have to do some delicious research!

  36. Reply
    January 27, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    Ola, see this website:

    link to

  37. Reply
    March 28, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

    Great article!

    Much like many people in the industry, I got my start through the “School of hard knocks.” If your goal is to find yourself your first kitchen job, I would also add that you should never underestimate the power of a good, honest, “Sir, I don’t know much, but I’ve got decent knife skills, and I’m happy to learn anything you’ll teach me.”

    This is how I landed my first prep job in a long-standing fine dining restaurant, and spent a few years, leaving as a sous chef, to learn more about pastry. That job, too, was a “Sir, I don’t know anything about pastry, but I’ll gladly chop vegetables and prep for you, if you’ll only let me hang out in the pastry department in my off time to learn more.”

    I suppose I got lucky with a couple of chefs who were willing to take a chance on an eager 24 year old who was willing to put himself out there.

    What I like best about your article is that it’s more than just a description on how to get a good stage, it’s also a great list of hints on how to start your first kitchen experience, paid or not. Some chefs use the stage as an interview tool, and others are happy to just let someone come in and hang out (read: work hard) for awhile to learn. Whatever your goal, these are excellent pointers to aspiring young chefs!

    • Reply
      March 29, 2015 at 7:22 am #

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Stephen. A willingness to be humble, work hard, and learn is what it takes. Your story is exactly what people need to hear.

    • Reply
      October 6, 2015 at 7:38 am #

      I totally agree with you! I’m a 21 year-old culinary arts students but I never had much interest in working in a restaurant, I’m just wanted to work at a little bakery. Until this summer, when I had no job during college vaccation and I replied to a job offering (for 3 months) that a guy from my school posted on facebook.. In a restaurant, as a cook. I went there and just told them: “I’ve never worked in a kitchen before, and since I’m only used to baking cakes and making sweets my cooking skills are seriously lacking. BUT I’m really eager to learn and work hard” I got hired 🙂 After the 3 months my classes started and they asked me to stay ( but working less hours because of school). Be humble and hard working and they’ll respect you!

  38. Reply
    guy french
    August 18, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    Actually a stage position is for cooks looking to learn or move up in the industry… not for people who daydream about it because they’ve seen foodtv… This is nonsense. I’ll eat my skullcap the day I hear a story about some middle manager doing a stage at any Michelin rated restaurant and being offered a job at the end of the term. You’re not Ruhlman, and things have changed a lot since the 90’s with respect to whats going on in fine dining. Where does your knowledge of classical mother sauces get you when you’re asked to make a fluid gel??

    • Reply
      August 19, 2015 at 11:25 am #

      Haha well, I should ignore trolls, but I’ll bet you a dollar I know a lot more about fluid gels that you do :).

  39. Reply
    August 19, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    I will be doing an internship, but they have asked me to come in for a stage from 2-10 months before the internship on a day when the chef will have more time to spend with me. Do you think that means I will still have to cut/cook etc? or do you think I will just be shadowing? I am waiting for them to email me more information, but the more I read it seems like everyone stages for longer than one day?


    • Reply
      August 19, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      Your Stage is always a try-out, so you should go in expecting to work. Knife Skills, prep skills, cleanliness and organization are all things that they’ll be looking at. The Length of the stage depends, though, probably mostly on you.

      I’ve seen people stage for 5 days and NOT get the job or internship, and seen folks who only have to do it a few hours before the chef offers up some money. Just be ready to come in open-minded, ready to show them everything you’ve got, and you’ll do fine!

  40. Reply
    August 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m staging today and this was a great read before heading in.

  41. Reply
    March 29, 2016 at 6:47 am #

    Always looking for folks interested in staging. We are a catering company out of Chicago. Visit our website and shoot us an email.


  42. Reply
    April 16, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    Did one 2 months ago, experience was exactly like you wrote about. Great advice, excellent writing, wish I read this before I went! But I got the job, yay, so happy & loving it every day! Extremely hard work, physically demanding, but truly awesome experience to work in a kitchen full time & learn from an awesome chef & sous chef! Actually, I learn from everyone in the kitchen…about 20-30 new things a day…little & big pieces of advice that I didn’t necessarily learn at culinary school (once you’re in their kitchen, new rules & interesting ways of doing things “their way” seem to come up daily)! But no matter how tired I am or how hard the day is, I find myself smiling from ear to ear as I get in my car to go home. I never thought I could be so happy at a job & it’s so satisfying on so many levels. Anyway, this really is great advice. I’m going to keep reading what you recommended b/c, like you said, it’s inspiring & always interesting to hear what the more experienced have to offer. Thank you for such a thoughtful, well-written & helpful post!!

  43. Reply
    May 22, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    Actualy in France in the dordogne near Bergerac.
    I am looking for a kitchen porter or a cook willing to learn,(internship)
    very serious person only need to apply.
    Please send me your cv.
    Best regards

    • Reply
      June 19, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      Hello Sir William, I’m a 19 yr old Filipino chef currently living in Istanbul. To live and become a chef in France means everything to me. Im willing to work and learn under your guidance. I dont care about money, I want to gain more experience and knowledge. I speak fluent English and basic French. Thank you

  44. Reply
    July 15, 2016 at 9:11 am #


    We will be interested in you depending on your previous experience could you send me your CV direct email
    Best regards

  45. Reply
    July 15, 2016 at 9:26 am #








  46. Reply
    August 7, 2016 at 7:18 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience! Tomorrow I’ll have stage at French restaurant in Melbourne. I’m nervous so I can’t sleep now. This report makes me feel better. I’ll do my best! 🙂

    • Reply
      August 7, 2016 at 7:26 am #

      Good luck! If you can keep your eyes open afterwards, tell us how it goes!

  47. Reply
    August 24, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    thank you so much for taking the time to write such an informative article. I am a fairly accomplished home chef and as a hobby I arrange food and wine pairing parties for 30 to 50 people where i do most of the recipe development and the cooking. At my last party the executive chef of a well regarded local restaurant attended one of my dinners as the guest of one of my regulars. I was very nervous having a real chef at my table, and to my surprise he asked me to do a pop up with him. When I told him I had no restaurant experience, he asked me to stage at his place. Subsequently another guest who is a food photographer introduced me to two of his clients, one of whom is well connected to Thomas Keller. Both of these clients suggested we do a pop up together in the near future. It’s like a dream come true but I am also terrified at the prospect because I have no professional experience. What in your opinion are the top things you would recommend I learn to successfully maneuver the pop up experience? I know how to cook but have no experience dealing with the fast pace of a typical service and maneuvering through the various roles in a commercial kitchen. How many weeks (months?) do you think an appropriate stage would take for me to learn these things?

    • Reply
      August 24, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

      That’s great, they must think highly of your food to be interested in doing a popup with you. I would say that if you are already preparing and cooking for 30-50 people, that basically is a popup! So you are well on your way. I’d take that opportunity to stage, preferably for a week more. Other than that, the key to a popup is really the same as any other restaurant situation: preparation. Make those lists, check them and check them again, do everything you possibly can in advance, work clean, pack up all the prep really neatly, make sure you have everything you need for chilling, heating, finishing, serving. Make sure you have all the help you need for final cooking, service and cleanup. Just be incredibly organized so that you aren’t improvising when it is time to serve, and it should all go great.

  48. Reply
    December 17, 2016 at 12:58 am #

    Hi everyone. I’m really hopping someone could give me some adivce.. I’m 21 years old and I work at my Gradmothers restaurant. It’s in a small town with quality food. We never really referred to bringing some in to possible be employees for 2 hours (unpaid) has a stage. We called it a working interview. But now we are being sued, and it dose not look good for us. Can anyone give me any advice?

    Thanks, Jacob

    • Reply
      July 5, 2017 at 4:13 am #

      Hey there Jacob, this is kind of a tough one. You’re going to need to do a little research on your local laws. Also, you’ll need to go through the lawsuit, reasons for the suit etc.
      There’s not a ton of help that can be offered without more context. As someone who was supposed to go into law, but ended up as a Chef/Somm, I would highly suggest finding similar cases where the restaurant won their case. You will need these to prove in Civil Court why no value should be awarded to the disgruntled individual. Using these past cases as an example helps solidify your arguments in front of the judge. Good luck!

  49. Reply
    March 25, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    My daughter is in her first semester at CIA (baking & pastry) and landed a stage at a 1 Michelin star restaurant. Today’s the day! She is exceedingly nervous and didn’t want to read up on staging beforehand. Glad to read this piece on her behalf! When I get the scoop from her I’ll leave another comment with her experiences. Thank you for this excellent post!

  50. Reply
    Furqan Meerza
    May 6, 2017 at 5:14 am #

    Hey Michael,

    I am in culinary school right now and will graduate this month. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best chefs’ in this country by doing apprenticeships during summer breaks. I’ve been offered a stage at Noor Restaurant in Cordoba,Spain which is a one Michelin currently. The chef is Paco Morales who has worked at El Bulli and Mugaritz amongst others and is bringing back the cuisine of the Arab Moors who ruled Spain during 12th century.
    Do you think it is a good decision to start my career with a stage. From among the chefs I’ve spoken to hear about the same, some said it is better I work a year or two somewhere here and then move on to a stage while some said this is the best time because you’re young and you have age on your side and later you might have other commitments. I personally want to do this stage because I never apply for it and it just came my way while having a chat with Chef Paco so I am very sure I’d regret not doing it. Please do get back thank you.

    P.S The article you’ve written is amazing. Truly catches the essence of working at a restaurant from what I’ve experienced. Cheers!

    • Reply
      May 6, 2017 at 9:00 am #

      There is no single right answer, but if it were me I would absolutely take that stage! You never know what doors it might open for you, and you might not get that opportunity again. Plus the chance to work in another country is always great. Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

  51. Reply
    Christopher Keimer
    June 22, 2017 at 12:57 pm #

    I am a 14+ year line cook in Seattle. I am currently looking for a 3 month stage in Italy. Any tips or advice on how to achieve such a goal? I am currently trying to write cold letters to the various restaurants i would like to work at, would you know where i could find templates for such a letter? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Reply
      June 25, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

      I don’t have any personal experience with that, but my best suggestion would be to try and work your network. If you can find anyone you have worked for or with that might know someone there who can make an introduction I’m sure it will go a long way.

  52. Reply
    Michael Mcmillian
    February 6, 2018 at 4:35 pm #

    Hello this is just an awesome insight to my next career choice , I’ve dreamed of working in and learning to do different things with food and it’s production .
    I’m 50 now and I’ve always had a high motor , I look forward to more insights .
    I’m actually headed towards fully realizing my dream very soon .

  53. Reply
    May 18, 2018 at 5:37 pm #

    That was a great article. I have a cousin in Chicago who owns a restaurant, Bar Roma. My son, who is 16, cooks and bakes at home ak the time. He is getting a chance to stage, this article was so helpful and interesting! Thank you!

  54. Reply
    May 19, 2018 at 10:30 am #

    Sorry for typo in the last comment. Question my older son not in the food business says he doesn’t think Scott will need to spend money on cooking knives and chefs clothes since he’s still in high school but he is doing the stage at the restaurant in Chicago. What is your thoughts on that. Thank you.

  55. Reply
    May 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

    Hmm, I don’t know for sure. I’ve always arrived at a stage with pants, jacket, crocs & knives. It is possible the restaurant might be willing to loan them to him, but I wouldn’t assume it if no-one told him so. He might just want to call and ask if that’s possible.

  56. Reply
    Alan Nippert
    April 23, 2019 at 6:43 pm #

    I’ve been a Chef for 12 years. It’s straight crazy. Not sure that I could recommend it to anyone. It’s funny though, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Even though it’s hard and leaves you with little time outside of the business of operations, purchasing, inventory, schedules, menu costing, hiring, firing……….the list goes on………it’s rewarding and can be a lot of fun. It’s funny the reason I am reading this post is because tomorrow I am administering my first stage. Now I get to see what it’s like from the other side. Haha, well toodles.

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