Free NYC program teaches professional cooking skills

Know the difference between dicing, slicing and chopping? What mise en place means?

A free training program is helping aspiring cooks get their foot in the door at some of the city’s hottest restaurants.

The Manhattan-based Chef’s Connection School for Line Cooks teaches students professional kitchen skills and helps place them in line cook positions once they graduate.

The program is the brainchild of Queens native and photographer Alan Batt, 68, who started the school last year after hearing about the dearth of line cooks in New York.

“All the big chefs, they’re opening restaurants like it’s the end of the world and there’s no help,” Batt said. “Students don’t need any experience to join the class. … This is the only step you need to get into the kitchen.”

The course is offered monthly at Food and Finance High School in Hell’s Kitchen. Students train under seven chefs in food preparation, knife work and kitchen etiquette during the 10-day workshop. The next session begins on March 7 and interviews for the 16 spots will be held on March 4.

“You get introduced to how chefs really are through the program and it gives you the intro to kitchen etiquette,” said Anthony Ricco, 35, the chef de cuisine at Spice Market and an instructor at the Chef’s Connection.

“You could get yourself that first job without any culinary school experience,” Ricco said, adding that he hired five students out of the program.

Batt has also secured many of his students jobs at Catch, Spice Market, Momofuku, The Cecil and The Sea Grill. He covers most of the program expenses by collecting a $200 fee from restaurants if they hire and maintain students for two months, but he is looking for sponsors to help keep the program afloat. Chefs also volunteer their time.

The average starting salary for a line cook is about $10 and hour in New York City, but some students reported earning more than $15 an hour. Batt and Ricco said that students can move up in rank and salary quickly with the right work ethic.

Jamal Hollman, 28, received several job offers after completing the workshop. He now works at Catch and Spice Market in the Meatpacking District, cooking and preparing dishes as a line cook for both restaurants.

“The school is not a traditional culinary school but every day we were there we learned from different chefs,” Hollman said. “It’s not the easiest work and it’s not the most fun but if this is what you love to do you’re going to have fun.”

For information on how to apply, visit thechefsconnection.com.

The chef connection

Here’s a look at some of the chefs who have taught at previous sessions:

  • John Beatty, executive chef at Catch
  • Chad Brown, executive chef at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse
  • Ian Davis, sous chef at Ma Peche
  • Yuhi Fujinaga, executive chef at The Sea Grill
  • Chris Jaeckle, chef/proprietor at All’onda
  • Joseph “JJ” Johnson, executive chef at The Cecil and Minton’s
  • Brandon Kida, chef de cuisine of Clement at the Peninsula Hotel
  • Robert McCormick, corporate executive chef for the Dinex Group
  • Anthony Ricco, executive chef at Spice Market
  • Bryce Shuman, executive chef at Betony