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'I can only say 'tak': What you need to get a job at a high-end restaurant in Denmark

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'I can only say 'tak': What you need to get a job at a high-end restaurant in Denmark
A team of young chefs at Geranium back in 2018. Photo: Niels Ahlmann Olesen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Local asked readers working at high-end restaurants in Denmark for their best tips on getting jobs or internships. This is what they said.

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There's been quite a few recent articles, both in Danish newspapers such as Politiken and in international newspapers like the Financial Times, that have highlighted the darker aspects of the restaurant scene in Copenhagen, with excessive use of unpaid interns, borderline inhumane working hours, and reports of workplace abuse. 

But the truth is, this characterises top-level restaurants the world over, and want-to-be chefs and front-of-house staff still stream to Copenhagen looking to get an illustrious name on their CV. 

So what do you need? 

First things first, speaking Danish, particularly if you work in the kitchen, is not at all necessary. 

"There's no Danish needed," said an American who had worked at Noma, one of the three restaurants in Copenhagen with three Michelin stars. "90 percent of people there are not Danish. Some people have been there over 10 years and don’t speak it."

"You absolutely don’t need Danish," agreed Antoine, a French respondent. "I’m working in a Michelin and the only thing I can say is 'tak'." 

It's not even always necessary if you're working as a waiter or sommelier. 

"The front-of-house language is English and/or Danish, at least in Copenhagen," said Max, who works as a restaurant manager at a top-end hotel. "If you have extra languages that's a big bonus."

What you might need is specialist kitchen terminology in English, although as you also need some experience, you will probably have picked that up on the way. 

"Do you need Danish? No, but you need to know the kitchen lingo," said Dominik from Poland, who works for a supplier to the food industry. 

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What is necessary is experience. If you've never set foot in a kitchen or worked tables ever before, you're unlikely to get a try-out at a Michelin star restaurant in Denmark, even as an unpaid intern. 

"What sort of experence you need depends on what role you are aiming for: front of house will have different expectations compared to the kitchen," Dominik said. "To get your foot through the door, you need experience and references." 

The main restaurants encourage applicants to get in touch over email, with people seeking work at Geranium encouraged to send applications to Alessandra Andrioli at [email protected]. Jordnær, the latest addition to the three-star club, has no information on application, but its email is [email protected]

Noma, the most famous of the three, has a careers page here, which currently has no jobs on offer. 

Very often though, hiring even at Denmark's top-end restaurants can be informal, with news on job vacancies shared word of mouth, or on in posts on Instagram or other social media, and jobs filled through personal recommendations, or even simply given to the person who happens to turn up and ask at the right time. 

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"To get in as an intern, you just need to be young, and have a background in cooking, ideally at a high-end kind of place," said the American respondent who had previously worked at Noma.

"Some just show up and ask if they can volunteer, and quite a few get internship positions. Especially if the place is very low on labour. Young chefs would just show up, ask to give their CV in person and if the timing was right, get a position." 

A Nepalese chef with experience in London, Paris, and Dubai, said he had been given an hour-long interview and then "four hours of unpaid trials starting from cutting tomatoes and going up to plating dishes", before being offered a position at just 130 kroner an hour. His main tip for getting a job was simply to accept the low wage offered and not try to negotiate anything higher. 

Max also recommended "going to the restaurant itself and asking to speak to the manager", although he said this worked best at "smaller restaurants and non-chains". 

"Hospitality is still old school in many places. I get too many CVs which don't tell me much. Many times I hire purely based on the person's character and attitude and train the skills I need. Sending a copy/paste email doesnt really cut it for good quality places." 

Laura, from France, a former head waiter at a Michelin restaurant in Copenhagen, said that networking was a good way into a job, recommending that those seeking a position regularly attend events like cocktail-making competitions, other industry nights, and hang out in bars frequented by restaurant personnel. 

Events like the Mad Symposium or the Copenhagen Cooking and Food festival might be worth a visit. 

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Max argued that to get a job at a high-end restaurant in Copenhagen, waiters needed at the minimum a "basic understanding of wine, spirits, barista, mixology skills," as well as "basic stock/inventory control".

He said that if they could add to that specialist expertise in either working as a waiter, sommelier, barista, or mixologist this would make it "much easier". 

For chefs and waiting staff who want to move to Copenhagen from elsewhere, he suggested getting a job in a major hotel chain in their own country, and then transferring to one of their hotels in Denmark. Once you have some experience in a Danish hotel, it will then be easier to move to an independent restaurant. 

So is it worth it? 

"It's hard work but definitely much easier than in France, Italy or Spain, for exemple," Laura argued. "Overall fair pay, but it widely differs from one restaurant to another." 

Others were less positive. 

"Be ready for 14 hour shifts in an extremely competitive and more often that not toxic environment," Dominik warned. 

Have you worked at a top-end restaurant in Denmark? Please tell us about it by filling in the form at this link (or below) and we'll add you comments to this article. 

 

 

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