Culinary internships add real-life experience to what’s taught in the classroom.
When culinary interns starts working at Charlotte Country Club, Executive Chef John Cornely gives them a “blind basket” with a set of ingredients they must use to prepare a dish, to give him a baseline understanding of each intern’s skill level and to help structure a plan for the rest of his or her employment.
At the end of every internship, Cornely then has each intern go through another “blind basket” exercise, with the hope of seeing their new skills emerge. “It’s kind of fun for them to see where they are and how they have progressed,” he says.
No matter what skill level an intern starts with, the goal is to see growth over time. “Some of them come to us pretty green and then others have a little bit of experience, so we kind of tailor the program to not only what they’re looking for, but also to look at what skills they already have,” Cornely says.
Charlotte CC attracts interns from Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte campus, as well as from a local community college and a local high school’s culinary program. To focus one-on-one with each intern, Charlotte CC’s Cornely says he typically tries to only have one on staff at a time, so they can rotate through multiple kitchens working alongside Cornely and his sous chefs. Creating dishes and working on specials, a la carte operations and menus for banquets are just a few of the tasks interns will complete.
“I want our interns to see what the real-life applications are, [compared] to what they’ve learned in school,” says Cornely.
Because Cornely wants to make sure his interns understand the importance of the team in the kitchen and the relationship between front- and back-of-house staff, he also tries to expose Charlotte CC’s interns to the different departments at the club. “It gives them a good overall experience of the culinary operations within a club,” he says.
A World of Experience
Executive Chef Michael Matarazzo, CEC, of Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., typically hires two to three interns from schools like Johnson & Wales and Piedmont Community College. He also hires four international interns per year.
International interns stay at the club for 12 months and rotate through all of the kitchens at the club. “We try to get some cultural change going and give them the best experience they could have,” says Matarazzo.
Other domestic internships at Farmington last just a few months, so coming up with a strong plan at the beginning for what the intern will do is the key to success, Matarazzo says. Pinpointing an intern’s strengths and weaknesses, and understanding each intern’s different learning style as quickly as possible, also helps to maximize the experience for both the intern and the club.
Interns at Farmington typically begin working in the banquet kitchen or grill restaurant. After gaining confidence in their abilities, they will then move to taking over a work station. The intern will get to experience prep work, manage an action station during events, take over hors d’oeuvre production, and then complete a rotation through the pastry shop.
“By rotating them through all the stops, they have the unique opportunity to make their own prep list, prioritize their day and learn a variety of skills within one internship,” says Matarazzo.
A good goal for each of the interns at Farmington is to line-cook at one of the club’s busier restaurants by the end of their employment, Matarazzo says. “Some end up being really key players that we’re upset to see go at the end, while others grow from inexperienced into to more confident and capable cooks who are a little bit more prepared when they get back to school,” he notes.
Developing More Than Cooks
Before Cornely hires an intern, he looks for people who want to be a part of a team and who want to learn. “We can teach an intern how to cook, but attitude is something you can’t teach,” he says.
“Down the road, we want them to be successful in their careers,” he adds. “That reflects back on the club and on us as chefs.”
The majority of the interns at Charlotte CC end up staying with the club as either part-time or full-time staff members, including some of the high-school students. One employee who first started as an intern in high school has now worked at the club for five years.
“I take my role as a chef and as a teacher very seriously,” says Cornely. “I think being able to give back to the students and back to the industry is really important.”
Beyond working in the kitchen, Cornely wants to implement a professional development program for his interns, to help them learn how to write a resume, set up a LinkedIn page, and use social media.
To ensure that each intern at Farmington is learning to the best of his or her ability, Matarazzo values one-on-one interactions throughout the experience, as part of striving to help in any way he can.
“We try to provide mentorship and direction, even if they don’t want to stay with us,” he says. “We want to be part of their decision-making process and a resource for them as they move forward.”
Ensuring the Future
As recruiting people into the culinary industry continues to become more challenging, making the investment in time for teaching culinary students becomes more critical.
“If we don’t, one day we might be standing in the kitchen by ourselves,” Matarazzo says. “Or we can be proactive and take people in as much as possible, and turn them into the people that we’re wishing that we had in the industry.”
This year, however, the COVID pandemic has imposed limits on the internship programs at both Charlotte CC and Farmington CC. Matarazzo was able to keep his two international interns employed through the pandemic, and they were set to leave at the end of August.
But while the future is unknown for now, both Matarazzo and Cornely hope to resume their internships as soon as possible. “These are the future chefs of our industry, so I want to do everything I can to set them up for success,” says Cornely.