How And When To Hire Your Chef
QUESTION From Anonymous in Chicago
I'm getting ready to open my first restaurant and am now looking for a quality chef. What's the best way to find someone? Word of mouth? Poaching? I tried a consultant and found out that line cooks and chefs were actually paying him to recommend them. What a BS F-ing Scam! Open to ideas.
First let me say that there are few schools of thought here: The first one (and most common) being the one where you conceptualize your restaurant, find the location and then look for your chef. Another school of thought is that you start with the chef (or you are the chef) who has a concept and looks for the perfect location. My personal preference is to start with the neighborhood or location where you have an unbelievable location with a low barrier to entry (due to a distressed site or landlord, a strategic alliance with the landlord or incredible exposure, egress & ingress and/or foot traffic.
Once the site is identified, you conduct a through demographic and psychographic survey of the locale and determine what concept is best suited for (or underserved in) that location. Next - before anything - you identify a chef (if it isn't already you). The benefit of opening this way is that it removes confirmation bias and emotion tied to wanted to open a concept to which you are married.
Some of the most successful operators "stock-up" on chefs by forming partnerships, alliances and or handshake agreements so that when an ideal location that is most suitable for a specific concept is identified, there is an arsenal of talent from which to pull and make sure you have your aces in their places.
If you don't have a chef - are not a chef - or had one and they bailed on you... the best and easiest way to find one is by eating their food / independently scouting for one (it's not too hard to find a sous chef capable of incredible things if you're scouting on a Sunday or Monday night).
The next best option is word-of-mouth. Simply getting the word out among your industry peers / neighbors (either directly or via social media industry groups) can be a huge help - especially if you have a good reputation. You might be surprised by how many operators that have been approached by chefs they would love to hire but simply don't have a spot for...or by how many chefs have other friends who are chefs and unhappy in their current situation.
Most industry folks stick together and are happy to support one another...especially when it comes to staffing since almost all of us have been there - and those that haven't - know that they most likely will be at some point.
If all else fails - there are always executive hospitality recruiting agencies and boutique firms... reputable ones that will do a thorough and deep dive into what you're looking for as far as skill-set, experience with particular cuisines, aesthetic, press, profile, exposure / travel and even languages spoken. But they aren't cheap - and for those who don't have $15k - $50k for such a service shouldn't waste their time as you get what you pay for with agencies like these...and the cheaper consulting agencies should be carefully vetted to ensure you're not dealing with someone who is being paid for their recommendation by those desperate for new (or different) employment.
Whichever route you decide is best for you, just remember to ALWAYS check references and put even those with the best reputation on a 90 day trial.