Cooking School References

References are critical to a successful job search. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” a thousand times. Well, it’s true. And if it is true for an English major, it is twice as true for a cooking school graduate.

Your references will likely come from two main sources: your teachers at cooking school, and the supervisors or chefs under whom you served in your internship(s). To these you can add any professionals you have met and who know your work through cooking competitions, correspondences, or work experience.

If you participated in a young chefs’ competition during your senior year of high school and one of the judges spent an hour discussing what he liked (and maybe didn’t like so much) about your work, he might be willing to provide a reference. Especially if you have kept him up to date with your training and interests in the intervening years.

Do not impose on chefs (especially famous chefs) you do not know simply to get a reference. This type of move may seem bold and daring, but it can backfire. Ask for references only from people who really know your work. If you took two classes from a pastry chef of some repute and she was pleased with your progress, ask her at the end of your last class if she will write a letter for you. Try to have her put it in your file at school as soon as possible, so your work is fresh in her mind. If you go back to her six months later, she will still most likely be willing to write the reference, but it may not be as vivid as it would be days or weeks after she last saw you.

Keep in mind that references are seen by most teachers and chefs as a necessary evil. They understand how important references are on the job market, and they want to help their students and apprentices succeed. You are, after all, a reflection of them. Your success is their success too. But references are time-consuming to write. A busy professional will sometimes forget to follow through.

You should never be afraid to ask for a reference from someone who has seen you at work and knows what you are capable of. But you may need to remind him or her (gently, politely) to follow through. You are responsible for keeping track of your own references. They are a critical part of your portfolio. Be persistent.