Editor’s note: Chef Tips for Doing a Stage was most recently updated in May 2022.
A stage is an unpaid internship when a chef spends a brief period of time working in another chef’s kitchen to learn new techniques and cuisines. The term originates from the French word Stagiaire meaning trainee, apprentice or intern.
Despite recent reports that staging is losing some of its appeal with chefs looking to work their way up in professional kitchens, we think it remains a great way to boost your skillset and build out your professional network.
Chef tips for doing a stage – where to stage
High end, fine dining restaurants often have stages available pretty much on a constant basis. Very often they will have a formal stage process and be familiar with people approaching them. This makes them a great first port of call for stage enquiries. Mid-level restaurants may be less used to having stages, but can also provide valuable kitchen experience and might be slightly less intimidating! It pays to spend time doing research.
How to arrange a stage
The best way to arrange a stage is through a personal connection with the head chef. They could be various routes that you arrive at having this connection – via industry contacts, friends, eating at the restaurant, approaching them via social media. But do try to avoiding calling them directly. Head chefs are always extremely busy people.
Once you make contact, ask them directly if you can stage. They will want to know what your goals are and a little about your experience level. Be honest. If you claim to have knife skills like Sat Bains, be able to back that up. Or make your peace with looking like an idiot ten minutes after you arrive.
Establish how long the stage is for. This could be as little as 3 days or as long as 4 months. And ask any other pressing questions that spring to mind in the course of your conversation about staging with them. Chefs are extremely busy people. Try to avoid having to contact them fives times before you start by getting all the information you need as early as possible.
Chef tips for doing a stage – Preparing for your stage
Best to aim for ALL the right gear and some idea.
If you haven’t heard otherwise, you will need standard attire – black chef pants, a t-shirt, and a white chef’s jacket x 2 as a minimum. 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. Black Crocs are a favourite in the industry, the kind with no holes on top. But you might prefer clogs or boots for the additional protection. It’s best to have shoes you can wipe clean!
At a minimum, you’ll want an 8″ chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, a steel and a vegetable peeler. Make sure they are sharp. And if you need to, practice your knife skills. If in doubt, buy a sack of onions and another of potatoes and make sure you can quickly, neatly, and uniformly slice, dice and julienne.
Bring a small notebook and pen and take as many notes as possible. It will make it easier to remember what to stock your station with, recipes (that are sometimes only verbalised), dish composition and execution, and whatever else you think may be important.
Stage – first day
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. Go to the back door. Open it, step confidently in and say to the first person you see, “Hi, I’m ‘Bob’ (for example) and I’m scheduled to stage today.” They will know what to do, which, depending on the kitchen, is to deliver you to the head chef, sous chef, or lead at one of the stations.
Don’t expect a lot of small talk.
The person you are being delivered to will without question be thinking about the day’s work. 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’s running through their mind when Chef tells them they have a stage at their station for the day: 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 a while and (4) maybe actually save me a little time.
This sounds negative, and may not be the case but assume the worst case and anything else is a bonus. Your goal is to get past the perception stage (initially!). But for now, it is likely they will show you where to get your apron and towel, set you up with a cutting board next to them and give you something to do.
They might ask, ‘Where are you coming to us from?’ i.e. what other restaurants have you worked at? This is an important question, so be honest. If it’s your first stage, say so, if you’ve been lucky enough to do previous ones at well respected restaurants then let them know.
Chef tips for doing a stage – how to have a great stage
You’re in the door, you’re at your cutting board with your sharp knives – you’re coring and gutting 3 cases of tomatoes…Now what?
Now your goal is to demonstrate that you’re an asset in the kitchen. Be a hard worker. Do the project given to you, working as quickly and cleanly as possible, and do a great job of it.
You’re going to have to ask questions just to complete what seems like the simplest tasks. That’s ok – it’s much better to ask than to waste a lot of time or do a task 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.
Understand the different phases of a restaurant day: prep, service, and clean-up.
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.
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 team, do what you’re 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, clean-up 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, labelled and stored. Pans and tools have to go to the KP. 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 so ask how you can help (but don’t think about leaving) – your station lead will tell you when it’s home time. After a night or two, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to contribute during this time without having to ask.
Pay attention to the way orders are checked and stored, sections are cleaned down and the way service is run.
Every kitchen has its own way of working and it’s all great knowledge to carry with you. Even the smallest way of being more efficient can pay dividends in the future.
Be positive but logical, stay humble always, and be helpful to those around you. Your attitude is your most important tool. It will make you more respected, and more successful than anything else ever could.
Chef tips for doing a stage – our top tips
• Be thirsty for knowledge. Ask questions, don’t be a know it all. Learn and say thank you.
• 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 shouted at, 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.
• 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’s a matter of both safety and respect to let each other know where the hazards are.
• Be nice to the KP(s). 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.
• 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. Adhere to other rules of the kitchen as advised.
• If you get cut or burned, there will be a first aid kit. Ask where it is, use it, cover the damage with a Band-Aid and glove and get back to work.
• Your phone should be off. If you absolutely must have it on because you have young kids or a grandparent in the hospital or something, switch it to vibrate mode and tell anyone who might call or text you to leave you alone unless it’s an emergency.
Chef tips for doing a stage – enjoy it!
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. And while you’re there to learn, don’t forget to enjoy the experience. You never know what it might lead to!
Don’t be afraid to stage in more than one place. Every kitchen you spend time in will teach you something different and this will add to your skillset.