How to Break Into the Food Business, by Chef Mary Dumont

Mary Dumont © John Earle
By F&W Editors Posted February 03, 2015

Here, chef Mary Dumont shares five tips on how to break into the food business.  

F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). 

Who: Mary Dumont
What: Chef
Where: Harvest, Cambridge, MA; @chefmarydumont 

The question of how to break into this industry comes up a lot and it's something I often address when talking to my line cooks about their futures. These days, there is more emphasis on being promoted quickly, more money, the next fad, the new everything. But in reality, being a great chef comes from experience, which takes time. Here are a few other key points I try to pass along.

1. Be patient. Nobody learns how to cook overnight. You may be a terrific line cook, but that doesn't mean you're ready to be a sous chef. Give yourself an extra year to work on answering all the questions you have for your sous chefs and chef. When you have the answers, you're ready to move up.  

2. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you want something, ask for it. Nobody has time to be a mind reader. If you want to work a more difficult station or learn a new skill, no one will know or give you a chance unless you ask.

3. Never burn a bridge. Chefs may be short on patience, but they are long on memory. You'll get the best jobs because you are talented; you'll keep the best jobs when you earn it by being a quality person.

4. Have some reverence for the craft. In an industry that is becoming more about personalities, remember that we are privileged to do what we do and make other people happy. On a nightly basis, we get to share in people's lives and create a special memory for them. I can't tell you how often people come up to me and tell me that they got engaged, married or some other major life event. That's what makes me happiest. Never lose sight of the fact that we are ultimately in the hospitality business. 

5. Get over yourself. It's good to be confident, but never forget that there's always going to be someone better than you are. Always be open to learning something new and relevant instead of being an arrogant know-it-all. Humility is a great quality.

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