Show Business, Part 2: How to Make the Most of a Tasting
“Hey, the chef candidate is coming in today to do a mystery basket. Can you sit in for lunch around 1:00 p.m.?”
This call is sent via e-mail, phone call, and/or a quick pop of your head into an office to generally five or six managers throughout your hotel. It’s an invitation that is generally sent out by the F&B director, or at least the human resources director, and on the surface it seems to be the simplest thing in the world to do: Go to the restaurant and have a nice lunch with your fellow managers, thereby avoiding the science experiment in the cafeteria. But is it that simple? The answer is a resounding "no."
Sure, you’re there to see if the food tastes good and is attractively presented. Most anyone who eats or has eaten is qualified to do that. I could take you to my mom’s house, and you could have that experience. However, you’re not hiring my mom; you’re hiring a chef. This may be a one-time good deal for you to get this right, so there are rules to be followed and considerations to be, well, considered. You ultimately want this to be a worthwhile endeavor for both you and the candidate, so how do you go about doing that?
Well, I’m glad you asked:1. Acknowledge the difficulty of this little shindig. Even as a seasoned chef and a veteran of many auditions, this is an incredibly tense few hours for the candidate. They are bringing their knowledge and skills to the table in a completely unfamiliar environment. Each kitchen is arranged differently so there is a whole lot of hunting and pecking for ingredients. Pots, pans, plates, and bowls must be tracked down, and herbs and spices must be sought out. Simple things all for sure, but they take time, and your candidate is on the clock. This doesn’t even take into account that this brief sojourn could decide the candidate’s employment future. 2. Mystery Basket vs. Find It and Cook It. Find out from the organizer what the parameters of this audition are, because it will make a difference in the end product.
- Mystery Baskets - The F&B or assisting F&B person will place items for use in a basket. Normally this includes a few proteins, some starches, some vegetables, etc. I personally prefer these because your time can now be spent formulating how to put all this together. Some think it’s amusing to try to create baskets where nothing goes together to “see what the chef can do” but all this is going to do is give you a disjointed meal and a frustrated candidate. Challenge them, but don’t set them up to fail.
- Find It and Cook It - A system where the F&B takes you in cold and tells you to put together X number of courses from whatever you can find. This turns your chef into a modern day hunter-gatherer. It allows for a little more freedom to do different and exciting things, but since time can be eaten up with procurement, you may get less variety or less dishes to taste.
These eight simple steps to follow to make this whole experience effective. Don’t go in as a doubting Thomas or Devil’s advocate when tasked to participate. Someone in the company likes this candidate to the point where the audition is warranted, so you should be rooting for the candidate. It can be the beginning of a whole new chapter for your hotel.