January 13, 2012
What's it take to land a job at one of the city's top kitchens?

magpie.jpgMagpie Café puts out some of the best food in the city, night after night. If you go there, you can see the kitchen in action.

I recently heard Magpie was hiring. No, you won't be starting at the top if you land one of the jobs. Magpie is looking for cooks, not chefs.

Since the restaurant has been so well regarded for its quality food, I called co-owner and chef Ed Roehr to find out what kind of people he was hiring.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had read a piece about Rene Redzepi, the celebrated chef at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant regarded by many as the greatest in the world. Redzepi was responding to a question about how an aspiring chef could be lucky enough to snag a non-paying job at Noma when he said: "We receive a truly humbling number of job applications [...] We don't necessarily look for the most impressive resume as, most of time, it's better to have someone who has cooked three-four years at a more modest restaurant rather than a chef who has hopped from one great kitchen to the other, only spending a year or less in each."

Not to compare Magpie to Noma, but I am interested in how quality places seek out and hire quality people. At the end of the day, it's the people who make or break a restaurant. Magpie put an ad on Craigslist looking for two or three line cooks.

Here's what Roehr told me: "We've had quite a few people come by. It's not always about what the resume looks like or what experience they will bring to the table. A lot of it has to do with people's ability to understand passion and work ethic."

That passion and work ethic was certainly evident during our latest visit, when Lynn and I had yet another stellar meal -- gnocchi with local duck and arugula (her) and seared ahi with runner bean ragout (me).

Roehr went on to say that a good job candidate should ideally have two sides to his or her makeup - an artistic side and a side that is able to do highly repetitive work.

He also doesn't place much value on resumes. In fact, the Craigslist ad asks those who respond not to include attachments. He would rather people come by and chat.

"It's the process of beginning a relationship. You get to know the person," he said. "I have found that resumes tend to be some of the poorest indications."

Those breaking into the restaurant business probably know this all ready: you don't start at the top and you're not going to get rich anytime soon. In fact, while I didn't want to pin Roehr down on the starting wage at Magpie, I asked him what line cooks generally earn at Sacramento area restaurants. He said anywhere from $9.50 to $14 an hour.

So, you have to REALLY want to work at a restaurant. Roehr says it can be a special way of life for certain people.

"I can't speak for all kitchens or all cooks, but there's a certain kind of person who doesn't really feel right in the 9-to-5 world," he said. "I don't really know why. Once you get into it and it's a part of your life, and you work Saturdays and holidays and funny hours, it's hard to see the rest of the world and relate. It's something that gets under some people's skin."

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