Recently, ICE hosted another successful Career & Externship Fair, where current students and alumni had the chance to meet one-on-one with top employers in the food and hospitality industry — Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, MeyersUSA, Blue Hill, Craft Hospitality Group, Union Square Hospitality Group, Momofuku and more. To build on the momentum, we tapped one of our experienced career services advisors, Tessa Thompson, to offer some pointers for launching a culinary career.
By Tessa Thompson — Career Services Advisor
Starting your culinary career is a thrilling time. You’ve made the big decision to begin culinary school and become a culinary professional. Chances are, you’re filled with a combination of excitement, anticipation, hopefulness and a touch of uncertainty. You’re finally here — so now what? How do you make the most of your time as a student to start your career in the right direction? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you kick off your successful culinary career.
- Educate Yourself. You may have decided to come to culinary school for various reasons, but one thing that everyone has in common at ICE is a passion for food — eating it, cooking it, talking/writing about it, even dreaming about it! Equally important is knowledge of what’s going on in the industry and who the key players are. Today, researching is easier than ever and the Internet has a wealth of information at your disposal. Take advantage of it. And don’t forget to hit the pavement — there are at least 10 great restaurants within walking distance of ICE and at least five sweet spots for delicious hot chocolate in Brookfield Place alone…can you name them? Get to know your surrounding culinary businesses and hit them up for information (and hot cocoa!).
- Use Your Resources. ICE has a near limitless supply of resources — from our instructors and alumni, to guest speakers and professional development classes and more. Honing your knife skills and perfecting your pan sauce are necessary parts of your culinary education, but learning how to use your resources will open up endless opportunities for your future. Develop relationships with your instructors, your advisors and your peers. Take advantage of your class credits, attend the Wine Essentials course or be a part of First Fridays here at ICE. Ask questions, volunteer your time, cultivate your curiosity and use all the resources at your disposal to get the most out of your ICE education.
- Find Mentors. Support and encouragement from family and friends is an important factor in your success. But finding industry mentors is equally as crucial. Non-industry folks are well-intentioned but may not fully understand the demands of life in the kitchen. “So you’re telling me you want to stand on your feet for 12 hours a day peeling potatoes for minimum wage with a chef screaming down your neck — WHAT?!?! Are you crazy?!” This is the all-too-familiar response from non-industry friends and family. Industry people can assure you what is or is not normal and offer solutions for the many challenges that you will face in your career. Often, just talking to someone who’s been there and understands you will make a huge difference. So, find a chef you connect with or a trusted career services advisor to help support you in your culinary journey.
- Enthusiasm: Act Like You Want it. Ours is an industry of hospitality. Chefs, servers and restaurateurs — we all have a desire to be generous and make others happy. But in order to receive the benefit of a helping hand, you must act like you want it! Enthusiasm comes in many forms and no better time to act like the professional you want to be than right now. Take advantage of opportunities to learn. Volunteer and network as much as possible. Show up to class and your trails with a can-do attitude. Make sure your resume is in order, your emails are free of typos and your whites are clean. Communicate and follow up with those who offer help. Act like you want it and you’ll find that the hospitality flows.
- Try, Try, and Try Again. If at first you don’t succeed (or even if you do!), starting your career is about trying different things to discover what’s out there and finding the best fit. Trailing is a big part of this process. As part of finding an externship at ICE, you’ll work with your advisor to research and come up with a list of potential sites. Variety is key here, as is a willingness to move beyond your comfort zone. Ask for recommendations, sign up for industry newsletters and discover what’s out there. Trailing, whether for an externship or a job, is a fun process, so take full advantage of it and try out at as many places as possible.
- Reach for the Stars! You’ve chosen to attend one of the premier culinary schools in the world, so why limit yourself when it comes to your externship (or first job)? Whether fine dining is your thing or really tasty Mexican cuisine, build a strong foundation by setting your sights on the best in the field. Don’t know the top sites? Educate yourself, use your resources and ask for help! Work hard and aim high — you’ll find the stars are within your reach!
Ready to launch a rewarding culinary career? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.