culinary students learning from their instructor

Ready for the Real World

Life as a Culinary Student

Before coming to culinary school, I was convinced that I wanted to work in a kitchen every day. I had some concerns about where my ICE education would take me, but as school went on, I discovered more about myself. I realized that while I loved being in the kitchen, I was really enjoying my Culinary Management classes. So for a time I began to see myself working in restaurant operations, but then I started leaning back toward the idea of kitchen work.

Culinary Student Lizzie Powell While this may seem indecisive to many, I think it's a natural process that many people entering the food industry go through. The beauty of the culinary world is that you can try many different roles throughout the course of your career. After much internal debate and speaking with my instructors at ICE, I decided that the best place to start my culinary career was in a kitchen.

My reasoning is that no matter your long-term career goals in the culinary world, working in a kitchen will give you incredible insight into the industry as a whole. I know that even if I end up in a front-of-house management position, my hands-on kitchen experience will make me a better and more valuable employee, as I will fully understand both sides of restaurant operations.

With this in mind, I set out to select an externship site for the final part of my program at ICE. In the restaurant industry, to get a job, you don’t go through the traditional desk-job interview where you come in a suit with a resume in hand.

To get a job in a kitchen, you set up "trails," which are essentially tryouts for the job. Fortunately, ICE has a great Career Services department that offers students guidance on coordinating these trails. After compiling a list of restaurants I admired in New York City, I reached out to schedule some trails. 

On the morning of my very first trail, I woke up early to sharpen my knives, make sure my whites were pristine (even though the restaurant said they provided them, I like to play it safe and be prepared) and reread my resume to make sure there were no typos. On my walk there, I went through various types of knife cuts—julienne, brunois, etc.—in my head, as previous students told me that you typically help with mise en place.

Graduation Culinary School
Celebrating graduation with my Culinary Arts classmates

I was nervous about sounding inexperienced and not landing a job, but once I stepped into the kitchen, I realized the environment was already somewhat familiar, based on my experience in ICE’s kitchens. During each trail, I helped with prep before service, which included lots of knife work. In the end, I realized that I felt excited to be a part of the "real world," even if just for a few days.

Most importantly, each of my trails confirmed my decision to be in the kitchen after graduation. After trailing at several acclaimed restaurants, I decided to accept an offer from Gramercy Tavern, a Michelin-starred restaurant that is part of one of the nation’s top restaurant groups: Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). USHG is celebrated for their food, operations and exceptional hospitality, and I'm honored to work for one of the most respected organizations in the industry.

For now, I plan on investing a few years in the kitchen, and then I hope to move to a front-of-the house position. I start my externship in just a few days, and I’m eager for my real world education to begin!


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