Choosing an externship site was more then just sending a resume and praying that
someone would respond. I sent my resume to 6 different locations in the New York City area, all of whom responded but requested that I trail. What’s a trail? It’s a working interview. To sum it up, I traveled to and from the island of Manhattan 12 times on 2 hour train rides (each way) and to and from Tarrytown 4 times. I worked in 6 different restaurants all of which are highly regarded, Michelin Star rated, New York Times reviewed, and even James Beard bestowed!
What’s it like to work in a New York City restaurant? Like being a crew member on a pirate ship. It’s chaotic and arduous. There’s many swift movements and loud words like “CORNER!” that cut through the searing heat. Everywhere I trailed had a basement, which is unusual to a native Floridian. Some had as many as 5 flights of stairs (Where’s an elevator when you need one!). There were hallways that seemed endless and rooms that were dedicated to solely flowers, decorations, and chocolates!
The service always looked impeccable. One restaurant went as far as to profile their diners in oder to enhance their needs and dinning experience. Others employed young men and women with tattoos that covered them from head to toe.
Now, where does the 18 year old extern fit amongst all of this. One word: bread. Who better then to cut the crusty loaves. Everywhere I went I left a literal trail of breadcrumbs. I sawed through the tube-shaped filone from Sullivan St. Bakery and I plowed through the large pain de seigle of Balthazar Bakery. I really warmed up to the idea of supporting the local Manhattan bakeries.
The bread kept me in a corner with a panoramic view of each kitchen. I would slice brioche buns and watch as the garde manger carefully picked out the perfect piece of chervil with a pair of tweezers. In another kitchen I watched as braised pork belly was shoved under the broiler letting the skin explode into a chewy caramel layer! Some places let me hang over the grill flipping lamb burgers or pork chops; while others kept me far away from such intimacy with the heat.
Certain restaurants had the most confusing levels of hierarchy. When I was told to deliver a box to the sous chef, I did so. To my surprise the sous whom I handed the package to wasn’t the correct guy. It took 3 more sous chefs to find the right one!
The New York City food scene can be demanding and intimidating (to say the least). However, that doesn't mean you or I don't have what it takes to join “the big leagues”. Sure its scary knowing that you have to please thousands of New York hipsters, Instagramer’s, and posh residents but if you find the right place then it certainly takes some of that weight off your shoulders.
For anyone seeking an externship, here’s my advice: go leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Even if the restaurant isn’t for you, who knows, you might wind up making a great impression and a one of a kind connection. Just make sure you clean up after yourself, they’ll appreciate that.