A piece of paper will not save you in the food industry. A trail is the restaurant world’s version of an interview but it is anything but a calm conversation in an office. Trails are thrown right into the fire, fighting tooth and nail to impress the chef, to show they have what it takes to make it in that kitchen.
“You either sink or you swim baby!” These are the words my brother, Ryan, always told me when talking about his job as a chef when I was growing up.
He has seen it all, from working as a dishwasher in a local Jersey City eatery to being on the line for five star restaurants in New York City. I was the first one to try his first meal, hot dog soup on a blazing July day a decade ago. Now I only expect the best when he makes me a meal, I don’t expect anything less.
I learned how to love food because of his journey as a chef.
When discussing the trail with him, he told me the processes that a chef must take before, during, and after the trail in order to get the job and become part of that team. For starters, you must know the ins and outs of the restaurant, what’s their top meal, how they conduct their business, etc.
When you get to the kitchen, ready to showcase your skills and to show that you got what it takes, you better be on your A game.
He told me how a simple mistake, whether it be dropping a mint leaf on the floor, or simply cutting a duck at the wrong angle, could decide that you are seen fit to make it in that restaurant. Cooking is an art, and if you even dare to mess up that art, you do not belong in a kitchen.
“The chefs need to know that they can trust you on the line and that you aren't setting them up for failure. That's why the trail is under a thick microscope beginning on their first day. every radish cut, every mint leaf picked, and every cow butchered is under scrutiny. The chefs work for an art. They are overworked and underpaid. They need to know that you are on their side.”
Moving on to the other side of the spectrum in terms of the trail, I talked with Sydney Giddens, the manager of Talde in Jersey City.
Sydney has been a friend of my brother for years now, and I too have seen her rise through the ranks in the restaurant world. From working as a waitress at Union Republic in Jersey City to overseeing the daily operations of an established and loved restaurant such as Talde, she too has seen it all.
Talde has become one of Jersey City’s top restaurants in a matter of years due to Dale Talde’s mixing of Asian cuisine with American culture.
When talking with Sydney about the trail and whom she looks for in a trail, she quoted Woody Allen saying that “99% of success is just showing up” and that being focused at all times during the trail will be looked upon with admiration from the other chefs.
Sounds like a breeze doesn’t it? Not so fast. Trying to remain focused in an 120 degree kitchen surrounded by flames and complete strangers critiquing your every movement will drive just about anybody insane. Even if you make it past the trail, welcome to your life for the rest of your life. It is seriously not for everybody.
But that’s the thing, chefs are a different breed; trust me, I know.