What's It Like to Train in a Restaurant?

From engineering school to professional kitchens, Brooke Caison's culinary career took a winding path. Today, she joins us to talk about how to know if the chef's life is right for you.

Kara Rota
2-minute read
Episode #213

Brooke Caison was getting an engineering degree, taking advantage of her natural aptitude in math, when she realized food was her true love. "I decided to go to culinary school!," she recalls. "I'd like to say the rest is history, but I feel like I'm just getting started."

The key to getting a job in a restaurant kitchen is what's called a "trail," or, as Brooke explains, "the culinary world's version of a job interview. It's the longest job interview you'll ever go on, pretty much for an entire shift. So imagine going to a job interview where you're there for eight hours. You're there all day, you meet everyone that you would be working with if you did get the job. It's a weird place to be because you really don't know anything, you don't know the kitchen very well, or really anything that's going on. You're extra dependent on all these people that you've never met before to guide you through your job interview. It's a very vulnerable place to be, but you learn a lot about yourself and the place where you would potentially be working."

So, if you're dreaming of a chef's life, how do you know if it's right for you? "I would say, start!" Brooke says. "For me, I started with a part-time job. If you're afraid of taking the leap and going to culinary school, do what I did. I'm terrified of finite decisions, so I kept my full-time job and worked part-time in kitchens for a year and a half. That let me know that this was where I was supposed to be, something that I could pivot to full time, and then I did."

Brooke is also a freelance food writer, which introduces a new range of challenges as opposed to working hands-on in a professional kitchen. "The two are so different in pace," Brooke says. "When you're in the moment and you're plating or cooking or you're in the middle of service just trying to get the food out, you're not really thinking, you're just going on muscle memory. When I sit down and write, for me it's an opportunity to reflect on what I've made, or things I've gone out and tasted that other people have made. It gets me to slow down and really understand what I ate."

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.