Hiring Practices: What L.A. and Central Coast Chefs Look For

Chefs Santa Barbara

Mitchell Sjerven, Rosie Gerard, Greg Murphy and Brandon Hughes repped Bouchon and The Wine Cask.

On July 31, Wally’s Wine hosted their 8th Annual Central Coast Food & Wine Celebration in Westwood, benefiting the Michael Bonaccorsi Scholarship Fund at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology. A number of top chefs from Los Angeles and Central Coast restaurants staffed booths, and we asked 10 of them two 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.

Chef Los Angeles

L.A. native Josiah Citrin makes frequent appearances at charitable culinary events.

Josiah Citrin (Melisse)

When hiring someone for the kitchen, I look for people that first have incentive. They’re incentivized…A lot of enthusiasm, that really want to work, and they’re excited and smart. I look for them to be smart. The most important thing is if they’re smart. Otherwise, forget it. You can’t train common sense.

Brandon Hughes (Wine Cask)

I would say 98% of it is their attitude. I feel like I can teach most people to do what I need to get done in a kitchen, but if you’re not willing to learn, or if you’re not willing to accept sort of the things people don’t necessarily understand immediately when they start in a new restaurant, it’s pointless to even try to train them.

Chris Kobayashi (Artisan)

I’m just looking for somebody that definitely has a genuine interest in cooking and really wants to be there. No more of “I just need a job.” We really want people that want to be there and show up.

David LeFevre (M.B. Post)

I’m looking for someone that’s realistic about their goals and their abilities. I’m looking for people that have humility, people that understand what respect is about. Also, integrity. Doing what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it. I think a lot of times you get people that aren’t really aware of their skills, whether they’re good or bad. For me it’s more about finding someone who’s very self-aware about what they’re capable of doing, self-aware of what they need to do to improve, and just incredibly, incredibly dedicated. In my opinion, you have to be a really intelligent person to be a cook. I also like to ask questions really to find out what type of people drive them crazy. I like to ask them the last time they ever asked for help. I like to have them describe for me a busy service from the last job them did to see if they can explain – if they can explain the situation, explain the timeline they took, the action that they took to solve a problem, and the result of that problem, really to find analytical cooks. It’s hard. Hopefully if I can get 90% of the cooks to be that, and then have another 10% of cooks that are striving to be that, you usually do pretty well.

Chef Los Angeles

David Lentz celebrates seafood in style at The Hungry Cat.

David Lentz (The Hungry Cat)

To be honest, you can’t really go by resumes these days. Obviously work ethic, but you can’t pick up on that unless somebody actually trails, so we bring everybody in through the kitchen. We want them to work at least one or two shifts, just to see how they react. The question I pose most, I want to know, “Do you like the food?” It’s more like, “Are you into working for us?” Because I find if people are into what we’re doing, it’s a lot easier for us to work together.

Greg Murphy (Bouchon)

I look for what kind of skills they have basically, which is hard to figure out from a resume. So you’ve got to have them in, you’ve got to check ‘em out so you see how they work, see how clean they are, see how well they fill the job, just check ‘em out as much as possible.

Matt Nichols (Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern)

A desire to learn. That’s the main thing. If I just find somebody who’s willing to learn and doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what they think food is.

Clark Staub (Full of Life Flatbread)

I look for somebody who can pay attention to detail and someone that has a passion for not just the food, the end product, but also the ingredients. I think we’ve been very fortunate in finding some staff that helps me carry on that vision in the restaurant.

Suzanne Tracht (Jar)

I look that they have drive and are passionate about what they do. Experience always helps too, but really that they have drive and get into the business for all the right reasons and that they have a passion for the food and commerce and everything else.

Chef Los Angeles

Micah Wexler draws on diverse culinary influences at Mezze in West Hollywood.

Micah Wexler (Mezze)

For me, attitude is the most important thing. There’s a lot of people out there with different skill levels, but what I’m looking for is passion and dedication. As long as they have that, I can teach them anything I think they think they can learn. They just need the right attitude.


Joshua Lurie

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

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