No matter how gifted you are in the kitchen, your career may never get off the ground if you’re unable to sell your skills to others. Networking as a chef can be overwhelming, especially if you’re fresh out of school. These 10 tips can help you structure your strategy to make worthwhile connections immediately.
1. Keep in Touch With Classmates
If you participated in a culinary program, you already have an untapped network of valuable contacts. Reach out to former classmates and see what they’re up to. Some may be working in successful restaurants, while others might be training under distinguished chefs. Those connections can be key to getting your foot in the door.
Let your fellow students know what prospects interest you. The more peers you keep in touch with, the more opportunities you’ll learn about.
2. Do Research
Many styles of cooking are defined by regional flavors and techniques. Having an open mind to new tastes can help you discover the most influential chefs in your area. Visit revered restaurants, eat the food and learn to prepare it. When it comes time to interview for positions, you can sell your knowledge of local cuisine and demonstrate your proficiency in cooking it.
3. Attend Culinary Conventions
Culinary conventions are a great way to learn what’s new and current in the culinary industry. You can meet other professionals like yourself, as well as potential mentors or future employers. After you register, you’ll want to do several things to prepare:
- Know the layout of the venue
- Research key attendees
- Make a list of booths you wish to visit
- Dress to impress
This is your chance to be up close and personal with real-world contacts. Set yourself up for success with a thorough strategy.
4. Set Measurable Goals
Goals are easier to track when you have ways of quantifying them. This can be especially helpful if you find speaking with strangers an intimidating experience. Set yourself a goal to touch base with a certain number of contacts when you attend networking events. Tell yourself to follow-up with so-and-so by a specific date. It becomes easier to see your progress.
5. Invest in Business Cards
Connecting with restaurant professionals is much easier with business cards. You don’t want to lose a potential associate because you don’t have your contact info at the ready. Keep a small number of business cards in your wallet every day, just in case you meet someone unexpectedly. When you attend culinary conventions, bring a thick stack and give out as many as you can.
6. Prepare Thoughtful Questions
Professionals in any industry are impressed when you can demonstrate curiosity about the right things. Imagine what you would ask any culinary expert if he or she were standing in front of you. If you know of meetings in advance, do ample research and prepare questions that are specific to that person’s background and culinary history.
7. Know Your Culinary Perspective
A chef’s identity is often represented in the food that they cook. Your recipes should demonstrate your way of life, your preferred techniques or any regional specialties. Some examples of culinary perspectives include the following:
- Sustainable practices
- Vegan or vegetarian
- Molecular gastronomy
- Fusion cuisine
- Barbecue pit techniques
Whatever your style is, focus on establishing a network that contributes to it. You can have more than one perspective as a chef, but you should follow a course you’re passionate about.
8. Reach Out With Professionalism
When it comes time to contact industry acquaintances, make sure you’re professional about it. Emails are fine but draft it as you would any formal letter. Include a greeting and a salutation. Start by reminding the person who you are and include a brief description of where and when you met. Be succinct; don’t ramble on needlessly. A short email is much easier to respond to.
9. Be Active on Social Media
The popularity of social media makes it a necessity for any budding chef. When you follow the right accounts, you can learn more about hot restaurants in your area, culinary events, and even new recipes. You also have an opportunity to showcase your skills and knowledge through your own posts.
Joining Facebook groups can also be a good start towards finding and establishing yourself within your particular culinary area. Some culinary schools may also have alumni facebook groups which you can join upon graduation.
Be sure to clean up your accounts before you start meeting culinary contacts. Remove anything unprofessional or potentially embarrassing.
10. Join a Culinary Organization
Once you know your culinary focus, consider joining an organization that specializes in it. These groups bring together chefs with similar interests and provide opportunities for employment, additional training, and networking. Alumni chefs from your culinary school are also a great resource, and worth reaching out to.
Marketing yourself can be challenging no matter the industry. For chefs, it’s important to be confident in your abilities and your training. If you’re looking to start your culinary career, and learn the skills necessary to break into the restaurant industry, reach out to the Oregon Culinary Institute about starting a program. Our courses cover a wide range of topics with a focus in both cooking and baking. Contact us today to ask questions or request information.