The National Restaurant Association recently hosted the 2018 National ProStart Invitational, an industry event where students who are interested in the restaurant industry get to show off their skills in front of professional chefs and restaurant owners.
Rob Gifford, Executive Vice President of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, said in an email to Small Business Trends, “At this year’s National ProStart Invitational, we saw hundreds of students pursuing their passion. These young people gaining work experience in the industry are smart, creative and passionate about what they do. ProStart students complete 400 hours of work experience so they already know what it takes to succeed in the industry — and when you watch these students present and compete at the Invitational, it proves that. Every dish prepared, new menu created and fresh concept executed reflects the expectations these students have for the future of our industry.”
One of the event’s partners this year was Ted Allen, host of the Food Network’s “Chopped” and author of “In My Kitchen.” He recently shared some of his top tips for young people looking to become the next generation of entrepreneurs and chefs shaping the restaurant industry in an email interview with Small Business Trends. Here are Allen’s top tips for aspiring food entrepreneurs.
Tips for Future Restaurant Owners
Invest in Education
Allen says, “You can’t get too much education — if I were in your shoes and I wanted to be a chef or a restaurant manager, I would try to go to culinary school to study if that’s an option for you. It’s not an option for all of you. Some of us need to get a paycheck. It’s just the way life is and that may be the path you need to take. It may be the perfect path. Your circumstances are not always 100% within your control. If you have the opportunity to go to culinary or management school though, you’re going to build a really great foundation.”
However, the restaurant industry offers plenty of opportunities that don’t require students to accrue tons of debt.
Gifford adds, “This generation is more conscious of taking on student debt, especially knowing that the future of the job market can be hard to predict. However, with unparalleled opportunities for on-the-job training and rapid advancement, employment in the restaurant industry is on track to outpace the nation’s overall job growth for the 17th straight year. Gen Z is going beyond traditional blue-collar and white-collar jobs and defining their own career paths, their way, with “new collar” jobs — positions that require specialized education and skill but not necessarily a four-year college degree.”
Build a Network of Mentors
It’s always helpful to get expert insights from those who have already found success in the industry you want to break into. But it takes some initiative for you to make those connections.
Allen says, “When you meet a chef that you admire, get their contact information. When I talk to students, usually one comes up and asks for my email. Those could be people that could change your careers down the line and if they like you, if you impress them, they could give you a job.”
Woo Industry Leaders
It can also be beneficial for you to show off your actual skills to those you admire. If that opportunity doesn’t come easy, just do whatever you can to show what you can do.
Allen says, “When you meet chefs you admire, try to get them to let you cook something for them. If they say no, send them cookies! Send them the best damn cookies you’ve ever made in your life. That’s how I got my first job.”
See the World
For those interested in the restaurant industry, widening your perspective and getting inspiration for dishes from around the world can be a hugely valuable asset.
Allen says, “If you have the chance to travel, travel. Travel and taste. Taste as much as you can. These are young people who have tasted a lot because they love this craft. The countries that I would start with — Mexico. I’ve probably been to Mexico 15 times. I love Oaxaca. I love Mexico City. Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta — I find Mexico to be one of the most wonderful countries I’ve ever been to in my life. There is an astonishing variety of cuisine that exists just in that one country, granted a vast country but the incredible variety of things in Mexico is amazing. Obviously, Italy, France, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain, that’s a pretty good start. I know this stuff is expensive, but some of those countries — Thailand and Vietnam — can be done without spending too much money.”
Get Some Real World Experience
However, Allen cautions students who are too ambitious and want to meet their end goal right at the beginning of their careers. Getting experience in other restaurant jobs can be invaluable as you find your true passions.
He says, “If you’re thinking about trying to become an executive chef at the age of 21, I would urge you to maybe think that through a little more. Whenever we get somebody who’s in their early 20s and already an executive chef, I always think, you’re not baked yet. Don’t you need to work the fish station? Do you need to make stocks?”
Be Open to New Opportunities
One of the reasons it can be so beneficial to work in various parts of the industry is that different jobs and connections can lead to opportunities you may not have even considered before.
Allen says, “Try to keep your mind open and recognize opportunities that you might not have considered.”
Image via: TV’s Ted Allen: National Restaurant Association Education Foundation