The Chef's Training Experience: Why a Culinary Externship Should Matter to You

You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job,” is a statement we’ve all heard before, and the reason why the externship program is in place.

As a Health-Supportive Culinary Arts student, you get to dip your hands into many techniques of cooking and baking, health-supportive food theories, as well as quantity cooking. But nothing compares to putting it all put together in a living, breathing, professional environment. The externship program is designed to put you in a professional setting, whether in restaurants, catering, education, baking or media. The luxury of having time to experience how a professional kitchen works is invaluable, no matter what direction your culinary career may take you.

Even if you know the restaurant industry is not for you, the externship setting will get you out of your comfort zone and teach you the skills needed to be successful. You’ll be able to focus on knife skills, speed, organization, time management, working on the line during service, and many other useful skills and tasks you’ll need in your future endeavors. For instance, a personal chef needs to understand how a kitchen is set up and what equipment is going to be a part of his/her repertoire. A private chef needs to be fast and organized so that prepping and cooking are done with minimal effort and time. A test kitchen chef needs to be able to think on his/her feet about how a dish should come together so that it can become a professionally written recipe. A professional kitchen can secure you with all that knowledge. Our program requires 200 hours at an externship, and many students stay on for longer so they can be a part of the kitchen team.

NGI made contacts and developed relationships with many businesses in the culinary industry. The school had students work with chefs as varied and talented as you can imagine. NGI students worked with Chef Jonah Chasin at East Harlem School to create vegetarian meals for the kids; The Ravens at Stanford Inn located in Mendocino, California is a resort dedicated to the vegan lifestyle and has hosted many NGI students over the years; The Mercer Kitchen in SoHo gave NGI students real-time line cooking experience, and many became valued employees thereafter. Today, the Natural Gourmet Center at ICE leverages an even broader network of connections in the industry.

How to approach your externship? Think about the parameters that are important to you and what kind of experience you would like to have. For instance, does the restaurant need to be vegan or vegetarian? Did you fall in love with baking at school and now want to learn more? Is how a restaurant sources ingredients important to you?

We encourage all students to get out there and try for the restaurants they’re truly interested in. Even if you came to the Natural Gourmet Center positive that the “restaurant world” is not for you, you may just surprise yourself and see your future career through a new lens.

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now closed. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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