One complaint we keep hearing over and over at Culintro revolves around the lack of good line cooks. Intrigued, we asked a few industry leaders—chefs, restaurateurs and kitchen managers—where and what they look for when hiring a line cook, and whether the profile of the line cook has changed in recent years. Their answers and insight are being published here as part of a four-week series we’re calling “Behind the Line.” First up: Anup Joshi, chef de cuisine at Tertulia.
“We definitely have problems finding good line cooks. I think there are a few reasons, the main one being the growth of the profession as a whole. More people are interested in cooking—the celebrity chef craze has made it seem glamorous and much easier to achieve than it actually is, and there are more culinary schools and restaurants than ever before. The market is flooded with inexperienced cooks and a larger, more casual dining scene that can accommodate them to a certain extent.
When we look for line cooks we mostly use Craigslist. We put up an ad, I get a ton of resumes that I’ll sort through, then email or call the people with appropriate experience (anything at this point), and schedule a trail. I’d say these days about one in ten trails actually show up. There are a few occasions where a friend in another restaurant will send someone over who’s leaving and looking for something else, or who trailed but they don’t have a spot for them.
When we hire people, what we’re looking for is a good attitude, strong work ethic and an ability to follow direction. We’ve taken a few kids at Tertulia that started out as interns or dishwashers, and turned them into pretty badass cooks, so previous experience doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to. I don’t want drug addicts, I don’t want smartasses, and I don’t want cocky kids who think they know everything already.
I don’t know if I can speak to the profile of the line cook in general, but definitely in New York in the ten years I’ve been here, there are more girls and more color in serious kitchens than when I first arrived. I think the new technology and social media has made cooking on the line less of a mystery to people outside the business. My cooks are constantly taking pictures and posting to Instagram and Facebook, and not just food, but moments in the kitchen that previously stayed in the kitchen. I think the turn that fine dining has taken is forcing kids to find their training in less refined environments, and we as chefs as well have had to adapt to that. Even though the food may be more rustic, it’s still up to us to instill discipline and good habits on them. Some kids get that, some don’t, and that’s a big change from the last generation of cooks.”