Trust the French to make interning sound fancy. In the restaurant world, a stagiaire, or stage (pronounced staahj), is when a chef temporarily works in another kitchen, usually without any compensation. Oftentimes, chefs will embark on these internships to learn how to cook a different cuisine, expand their repertoire of techniques, or get a peek behind the curtain at a revered dining institution. It’s not a glamorous chill session full of swapping anecdotes with their culinary heroes, though; it’s a lot of dull, difficult work. However, if a chef is very dedicated and a little lucky, they just might walk away with a new perspective on cooking or a skillset that could alter the course of her or his career forever. These three chefs share the story of the cooking stage that changed their lives.
Daniel Gursha of Bambara, Cambridge, Massachusetts
“When I began thinking about staging somewhere, I started writing to a lot of different restaurants, but noma was always my number one. I had the cookbook, took it everywhere with me, and studied it religiously. Then head chef Matthew Orlando finally wrote me back, but I was almost too scared to open the letter. Luckily, he said, ‘We’ll take you in September 2011 until the end of the year.’ It was the best restaurant in the world at that point, so it was a dream come true.
The first day at the restaurant was amazing and overwhelming. You begin by doing grunt work and then you work your way up. Most people spend the first two weeks picking herbs and walnuts. There were some people who never left that station. I had to push to get out of there. I spent three weeks at every other station and then a month in the test kitchen alongside chef-owner Rene Redzepi. I got to sit there and taste the same things he tasted, talk to him about it, see what was going on in his mind and how he was developing dishes.
I’ve always been about trying to showcase ingredients for what they are. I want a carrot to taste like a carrot and I’m going to make that be the best carrot it can be. Going to Noma pushed this philosophy to new heights.”
Rob Weland of Garrison, Washington, D.C.
“In the early nineties, I did a yearlong stage at Pierre Orsi in Lyon, France, which was the gastronomical capital of the world back then thanks to Paul Bocuse. It was supposed to be unpaid, but, ultimately, they felt sorry for me, so they gave me a very meager wage. I was very young, so it was all very intimidating.Continue Reading