How to Become a Cook With No Previous Experience

At any restaurant, cooks are the backbone of the business. They’re in charge of many things: preparing quality food, maintaining the kitchen’s pace, managing a team of diverse roles — all things that ultimately have an effect on the rest of the staff including servers, bartenders and hosts.

According to Eater, there is a nationwide cook shortage in cities such as Madison, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. While there’s a huge opportunity to get a culinary job, you’ll need experience before you get hired. In this post we’ll cover steps you can take to land your dream job as a cook.

STEP 1: Find Your Perfect Position

Various positions can be worked in a kitchen, often referred to as the BOH or Back-of-House. These include line cook, prep cook, grill cook and more. Once you determine which position fits best, you can shape your research and practice around that role. For those just getting started, we suggest pursuing a prep cook or line cook job. While both roles have requirements such as great knife skills familiarity with classic cooking techniques, they’ll be more attainable positions to start off in.  

STEP 2: Apply for a Different Job in a Kitchen or Restaurant

Working in a kitchen or restaurant will prepare you for working as a cook — it also helps that restaurants regularly promote from within. By working as a food expeditor or a dishwasher, you’ll gain valuable experience in the kitchen and would be a perfect candidate to move onto the line, especially if you express interest in cooking.

STEP 3: Learn the Basics

Knowing kitchen lingo can be half the battle, so familiarizing yourself with popular cooking terms and methods can better prepare you for the kitchen environment. Here’s a list of 101 cooking terms with definitions. It’s also important to know classic cooking methods, such as sautéing, roasting or baking. The Daily Meal does a great job of covering 15 of the most popular methods, but watching cooking shows on TV or online will get you better acquainted with the vernacular. When you’re interviewing, chefs and managers will be impressed with your knowledge and you’ll feel more comfortable getting started.

STEP 4: Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’ve got the methods and lingo down, it’s time to start practicing your technique. You can master some skills that will make you look like a pro, such as expertly chopping an onion or making the perfect omelette. Having great knife skills will also help you land a culinary job. YouTube has a ton of videos like this one that will help you improve your knife skills.

The more you practice the better you’ll become, so treat your personal kitchen like a professional one. Offer to cook for friends or family, and focus on perfecting your technique. Executive chefs always look for consistent knife cuts and neat plating, so pay special attention.

STEP 5: Stay Safe While Cooking

When handling food there are necessary precautions to keep yourself and your guests  safe. Some of these include washing your hands regularly, cooking food to the proper temperature, maintaining safe storage techniques and prohibiting cross- contamination. (Check out this article where the United States Department of Agriculture outlines some of the basics of safe food handling.) You’ll also want to be wary of common food allergies, which can range from milk to shellfish.

By getting your ServSafe Food Handlers Card, not only will you be able to test your knowledge but it’ll show employers you take your job seriously and are committed to ensuring guests safety.

STEP 6: Secure Your Ideal Cooking Job

Now that you’ve followed these steps, you’re ready to apply for that cooking job you want. Remember, you can start off in an easier position such as food prep to become more comfortable while you continue to learn and grow.

Why stop at learning to cook? Learn how to become a server, bartender or brand ambassador with no experience.

Shiftgig allows you to claim shifts that fit around your schedule, and we’re hiring for cooks! Download the Shiftgig app (on your iPhone or Android) to apply.

About The Author

Cat is the Marketing Manager at Shiftgig, primarily focused on content marketing and social media. She’s passionate about helping transform the way people work and empowering our Specialists be successful. In her spare time, Cat does stand-up comedy at Chicago’s own Second City!