Kitchen interns—all interns for that matter—occupy a strange little place in the world. They’re free labor, but they’re unpredictable labor. They have to be watched over and taught and even nannied a little, but they can turn out to be incredibly useful. They catch things on fire, but they also cheerily churn butter for hours and pick herbs in the hot sun. And in this day and age of globetrotting celebrity chefs and the glamorization of the kitchen, the interns are more hopeful (and helpful) than ever.
We asked some local interns for their most horrifying experiences from their stints in some of the city’s best kitchens. And you know what? They all responded with perky words about their unpaid labor, the thrill of prep lists, busy Friday nights, and the hustle and bustle of it all. Granted, talking smack about your chef is a good way to ensure you never get asked back for a full-time job. But we managed to get some candid recollections out of a few Seattle-area kitchen interns.
Morgan Randall, 20
Utah Valley University culinary program student
Intern at Etta’s
"I pretty much harassed the Tom Douglas offices for five weeks until they gave me an email for the guy who does the hiring, then I kinda hounded him too. I met Tom once when he was checking in on the kitchen…and I pretty much just stared at him."
Garrett Sweet, 27
Student at Le Cordon Bleu Seattle
Extern at Canlis
(Sweet staged previously at New York fine dining restaurants Per Se and Eleven Madison Park)
"During my first week one of my tasks was to strain the stocks into different-sized pots in order to reduce then for jus and sauces. Leaning on my training at school and from other kitchens, I used quite a bit of cheesecloth for the process. One of our cooks told me I was using way too much cheesecloth. I set the pot with the strainer and cheesecloth on the stove to transfer the stock, and as I was lifting the full stockpot the cheesecloth burst into flames, set alight from the pilot on the stove. I put the stock pot down and grabbed the now-on-fire cheese cloth and stuffed it down into the pot and grabbed a pan to cover the flames…the stock wasn’t ruined but I was pretty embarrassed. Lots of ’What’s burning?’ and ’What’s that smell?’ comments followed, but everyone in the kitchen was quite good-natured about it. Needless to say, I will never use that much cheesecloth again and some of our cooks chuckle whenever I’m cutting cheesecloth."
Alex Kirchner, 22
Intern at Skillet
"I worked at a nightclub in Hollywood as the lead audio-visual engineer…that’s when I started to want to cook. I’d moved out of my parents house and I was always eating Hot Pockets or whatever, and I though, ‘You know what, I’m sick of this frozen food.’ I started toying around with the idea of cooking at home and realized I liked it…I went to Seattle Central’s culinary program for a few months but I didn’t feel like I was learning enough. Now I’m at the diner three days a week, and I just enjoy going there, it’s always fun, I like the atmosphere and all the people are super cool and the food is interesting….when I think of diner, I think of plain food but Skillet just does not fit that description; it’s crazy, awesome food."
Sepehr Sadrzadeh, 19
Culinary Institute of America student
Extern at The Herbfarm
Sadrzadeh is the butter man at the Herbfarm. He spends up to six hours a week churning butter. What he’s learned at his internship? He never knew exactly how much effort went into making butter.
Kelsey Wonsavage, 19
Culinary Institute of America student
Intern at Crush
"I love working there so much that I’ll literally do anything for them… so I’ve been working in the garden and yesterday I was weeding it for a couple hours and I got totally sunburnt…One day head chef Jason Wilson, he called and asked to have me go pick herbs, because there were some VIPs coming in and he thought it’d be amazing to give them some fresh things from the garden, and it’s 4:30, a half an hour before service and I’m running over to the garden to pick herbs."
Howard Kuo, 31
Stress Engineer at Boeing by day
Stowell prep cook by Saturday afternoon at Anchovies and Olives
"I just really like food, and being around that environment is really cool to me. I just want to be in the kitchen and learn the industry."