Hiring Practices: What All-Star Chefs Look For

Chef Boston

Jamie Bissonnette featured a Tamworth and Berkshire cross for his pork dish at Cochon All-Star.

On July 24, Brady Lowe culminated three years of pork-fueled Cochon 555 events with All-Star Cochon, which featured 11 past winners/fan favorites and four renowned butchers in The Cosmopolitan’s Chelsea Ballroom. I asked all 11 chefs at the Super Bowl of Pork a series of questions, including “What do you look for when hiring somebody to work in your kitchen?” Aspiring chefs and seasoned pros looking to make a switch should pay especially close attention.

Jamie Bissonnette (Coppa) / (Toro) (pictured)

If you’re going to work in my kitchen, you need to hustle, not be a prima donna, be willing to work long hours. I work the line right next to you, so you’ve got to learn how to hustle because I’m going to ride you all day long. Somebody who’s going to have a thick skin, but mostly, passion. You can teach anybody how to flip a burger or make a pizza, make paella, at the end of the day, but it’s such a small restaurant, I want everyone to want to be there for the same reasons I want to be there.

Mary Dumont (Harvest)

Really, one of the biggest qualities that I look for is that they’re polite, and they take direction well. And that it’s really coming from their heart, because if somebody’s just punch in, punch out, that’s not the place for them. I don’t really want them working for me. I want to cultivate that experience for the chefs who do work for me. I think that’s important. Being earnest and being polite gets people a long way, and if they’re hard workers, they can give each other shit all day long – I don’t care – but it starts with that. They’re conscientious with how they treat their food, how they treat their station, how they’re managing their career.

Jeremy Fox (Vegetable Prospector)

That’s a pretty involved question. There are a lot of things across the board, but the main things are being humble, being observant, team player, ambitious, and positive attitude.

Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat)

Someone who’s excited, eager, loves food as much as I do. I also want someone who’s fun, because our kitchen is fun, and someone I want to spend 13 hours a day with, and a very talented cook.

Devin Knell (The French Laundry)

The number one thing is attitude. I know that sounds cliché, but somebody who can stick it out, somebody who can accept criticism and somebody that can learn. You can create experience out of that. Some people with more experience have a bad attitude, or they’re know-it-alls and make it much more difficult. Somebody who’s enthusiastic, has a great attitude, a desire to learn and has the ability to work hard. And obviously talent, and has the ability to execute. Even if they’re not good, but you can see they have the ability to progress. They’re going to take the information that you give them, and they’re going to progress with it. And hopefully it’s nice to look for somebody, that maybe in the future, you’re going to learn back from. They have the ability to figure things out and have the ability to translate some of the things they figure out. You watch them, and think, that’s a great idea. The ability to collaborate is incredibly important.

Mark Ladner (Del Posto)

Enthusiasm, and a love for hospitality and just like a general spirit. You have to love it for all the right reasons. It’s not about technique. It’s not about science. It’s about providing guests with a warm experience.

Andy Ricker (Pok Pok)

I look for someone who kind of puts their head down and kicks ass. That’s it.

Alex Seidel Fruition Restaurant

You know, experience doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. Resumes and previous work experience don’t mean a whole lot to me. It’s more about attitude and work ethic. Everybody who comes to work for me, comes and works in the kitchen for a couple days staging in the kitchen, so we can get a feel for their personality, how they work with others, what their work ethic is like, if they can foresee the next project or ways to help. That’s kind of an individual that I’m always looking for. I don’t care if you worked at some of the better restaurants in the country, if you’re bringing an attitude to the kitchen, it can be very detrimental.

Chefs Sonoma County

Duskie Estes and John Stewart made a bacon waffle with their walnut-finished Red Wattle pig.

John Stewart (Zazu)

Duskie and I both hire, and we look for different things. I like sort of that independence. We like people to be very stand alone because if I have to tell you to do it or remind you to do it, then it’s still my job. We give people a lot of autonomous control…I also kind of like people who are wise-asses, or have a little bit of swagger. Something. I hate boring people, hate ‘em. I’ll take a wise-ass over a boring person any day.

Chef Seattle

John Sundstrom sourced a Hampshire pig for his pork belly tarte tatin.

John Sundstrom (Lark)

I look for somebody who is a hard worker and has passion. Skills can come later. I’m really happy to take someone young or new and build them up. If someone spends two or three years in my kitchen, I feel like they can go and cook anywhere in the country or the world and do a good job. It’s definitely about the passion and the drive.

David Varley (Michael Mina Group)

I’m looking for intensity. I’m looking for people to be self-motivated. I don’t have the time to chase people around, so my expectation is they’re going to come in motivated to learn. They’re going to do whatever they need to do. They have that internal fire, so that I can fuel it.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] Food GPS asked eleven high-level chefs about the inside scoop on their hiring practices. And guess what? Not a single one of them mentioned experience or raw talent as their determining factors for hiring. […]

Leave a Comment