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Not just Chefs… 5 tips for working in food

“If you think being a chef is a beautiful job — it is, it is. But to understand how to work in this field you must have a criterion. And above all, passion.”

Andrea Sinigaglia, general manager of Alma International School of Cuisine, never tires of repeating it: in the kitchen and in life, opportunities do not rain from nowhere.

FareTurismo, the event for industry professionals organized by Leader Srl, has “married” in the 2014 edition Fareagrolimentare and career prospects in food. The most in-demand profiles among 1,000 interviews on the calendar so far? Chef, chef de rang, head waiter, food and beverage manager. The answers are there, judging by the boom in bookings. But passion is one thing, the right skills for a hiring in giants like Baglioni, Armani Hotel and Resorts, Hilton is another.

How do you make your way in the industry?

Here are five tips from experts who spoke at FareTourism.

1) The basics

If you are aiming for Food, the most obvious resume would require graduation from the hospitality institute and fluency in two or three languages. But training in high school or differently oriented institutions does not preclude anything; on the contrary. Among the most talented “alumni” of a pole of excellence like Alma are former psychologists with a passion for organic pastry, humanities graduates who have discovered a taste and vocation for cooking, “repentant” managers… As for languages, English is the abc of a growing dictionary. The most interesting games are being played in the markets, or rather, the emerging boards: Chinese, Russian, Indian, Portuguese. “The testimonies prove it to us,” Eliana Mennillo, Alma’s communications manager, explains to Sole 24 Ore. people with a completely different education, humanities, still manage to catch up on the gap and sell themselves on the market. The world of food and wine is not just about being a cook. On the contrary.”

2) Watch the web

All you need is web. From room manager to marketing expert, digital upgrading is the extra gear that makes its way onto resumes. There are the industry professionals: if you like exporting, a good command of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube) can make inroads as a specialization among wineries, starred restaurants and hotel chains. First- or second-level master’s degrees and internships in business communication may be considered for training.

3) Experience and internships. The four skills: specialization, internationality, flexibility and communication

Obvious, but decisive. Experience in the kitchen or dining room are among the top selection criteria for those browsing resumes. In food, the principle of any interview applies: highlight well and immediately what the company or restaurant may be interested in (collaborations with chefs, tasks performed in the dining room work, language skills…). The most impactful skills? Mennillo points to four in particular: specialization on a specific field, quantity and quality of international experience, flexibility in travel and schedule, and good communication skills. “Today, chefs and those who work in food are protagonists, communicators,” Mennillo explains. “Gualtiero Marchesi, our rector, was among the first to be able to communicate with the world, to communicate his cuisine.

4) Dream chef…

At its origins, Antonella Clerici. Then social media, new formats, the Masterchef boom: TV and the web are “mythologizing” cooking. But the gavetta, a star like Elio Sironi explains, is not done online: “This job is going to school every day. There is the school that trains you and the other school, the one that starts with the job. It’s such a big job with such a big responsibility that you can’t take it lightly. I always tell my kids: but what if we get a recipe wrong? The precision and updating has to be continuous.” The advice? Here, too, professional training (“Today’s hoteliers are complete packages, they work very well”) and momentum outside Italy do not hurt. Sironi has flown from Japan to the United States, from Switzerland to Britain. “English is not an option. It is the rule. If you don’t know it stay in the Italian circuits-it can be rewarding, but it’s always good to expand. Travel, see, learn.”

5) …and beyond. From the hall to marketing, the most in-demand figures

Not everyone is born a chef. Not least because food and wine opens the supply wide to quite different professions: marketing experts, “ambassadors” of wine and made in Italy in Asia and Latin America, chefs de rang. The most demanded and least found profile: room professionals. “Today everyone dreams of becoming a chef, but you have to respond to the market demand towards the dining room. So many upscale restaurants are looking for professionals who know how to manage a room and be technical in service.” The lifelong prejudices weigh on the profession: it is a degrading job, paid little and badly… “Abroad it is not like that. Here, in Italy, there is a lack of specialization in the hall and stereotypes resist. Abroad it can be a very rewarding job. And here, too, it opens doors, given the hole and the shortage that is seen. Of course, the apprenticeship at 1,500-2,000 euros can last a long time. But that’s part of the game, because working in the kitchen is a mission.”

6) But how much do I make?

But how much do you make? FareTurismo guests urge realism: the stellar careers of Gualtiero Marchesi and Carlo Cracco are one thing; the gavetta required of anyone who embraces the “mission” of life in the kitchen is another. Apprenticeships in the restaurant industry, as previously explained to Il Sole 24 Ore by FareTurismo director Ugo Picarelli, still travel around 800-900 euros per month. Below the 1,000-euro monthly bar, but 200-plus euros more than the low-cost (or free) internships prevalent in almost every category. If the career progresses, average pay rises and falls depending on experience and employer. For those who work only in hotels from 3 stars and up, the minimum union minimums are 1,060 euros per month for a kitchen helper, 1,072 for a commis de cucina, 1,105 euros for a waiter,1,163 euros for a chef de rang, 1,219 euros for a cook or maître d’, 1,278 euros for head cooks and ice cream and pastry managers, up to 1,377 euros for restaurant managers. These are the entry figures, but skill, tenacity and passion are rewarded. Not only with pats on the back. Not to mention that there is a lot of turnover in this industry, and any “move” to another company usually involves a tweak up in salary.