I woke up the day of my first trail with no absolutely no appetite, a swarm of butterflies in my stomach, and a fear that I hadn't felt in a long time. I had been dreading this day for weeks, but I knew it was the necessary first step in my journey towards becoming a pastry cook.
When I was preparing for my first trail, I scanned the web for any tips or resources that might help me. Honestly, I couldn't find that many out there! I found lots of articles talking about culinary trails, but there were not too many out there dealing with pastry. Now that I've completed my first few trails and gotten a job, I wanted to share my experience. I really hope my advice and tips can help somebody out there face their first trail with less fear than I had.
In case you missed it, this article is a follow-up to my previous post that talks all about how to get your first pastry job. Check that post out to see where to find jobs and how to even get trails scheduled!
What is a Trail?
When you apply for a job in the culinary industry, oftentimes restaurants or bakeries ask you to come in and work an unpaid shift. During this trail, the chef has the opportunity to see your skills, work ethic, cleanliness, and more. This is essentially the first impression you will give the chef, so you want to make sure you do your absolute best.
Sometimes, restaurants or bakeries will ask you to do both a trail and an interview. However, in my experience, I found that most places preferred to only do a trail and a short post-trail chat. In general, trails usually last about four to eight hours (depending on the restaurant or bakery).
My First Trail
Since I was unemployed and eager to get a job, I applied for tons of jobs (honestly far too many in retrospect!). I heard back from lots of restaurants, so I scheduled several trails over the course of one week. Given that the trails last several hours, I honestly wouldn't recommend scheduling them all in one week. I underestimated how exhausted I would be after each one, so it might have been nice to have a day to relax in between.
Personally, I ended up doing two trails before I accepted the position I currently have. For my first trail at a French restaurant, I headed down to the restaurant to meet with the chef. She provided me with a uniform to change into, and I quickly changed in the bathroom.
First, the chef gave me a quick tour of the kitchen, but everything she said went in one ear and out the other. It was so much to take in, and I felt so overwhelmed! This was also my first time in a proper restaurant kitchen, so I felt completely out of my element. After that, she walked me to the pastry station, and I quickly got settled in.
During that first trail, I mixed bread dough, portioned tons of Parker House rolls, prepared Italian meringue buttercream, and helped with other tasks. Various times throughout the trail, I had to use equipment that I couldn't find, so I kept having to ask the chef for help. Don't feel bad about asking lots of questions! The chef will not expect you to know where everything is, so he/she will be happy to help you wherever necessary.
That first trail lasted about four hours, and at the end, the chef took me back into the main office. She asked me how everything went, and she actually offered me the position on the spot. Since it was my first trail, I wanted to go on a few trails before accepting a position. I told her I would get back to her in a couple of days and then left. Walking out of the restaurant, I felt so relieved that I had the first trail under my belt!
Second Time's the Charm?
The following day, I went on my second trail at an upscale American restaurant. I really enjoyed seeing a different kind of restaurant, and this one started at around 2 pm.
After getting changed into a uniform at this restaurant, I took a tour of the restaurant with the chef. Then, the chef had me portion lots of rolls, make over a hundred biscuits, wrap candies, and more. I even had the opportunity to eat family meal with some of the workers at the restaurant!
Around 6 pm, I headed upstairs with the sous chef to see what the dinner service was like. The sous chef plated several desserts for me to see, and he even let me sample a bunch of them. I really enjoyed seeing a glimpse of how service worked at this restaurant, and it really tied the whole experience together for me.
Shortly after that, I sat down with the pastry chef. She asked me how the trail went, and she offered me the position. This job honestly felt like a perfect fit for what I was looking for, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity. I ended up accepting the offer on the spot! I chose to do this because I loved the culture at the restaurant, and I appreciated the opportunities they had for growth. Before going into your trails, make sure you know exactly what you are looking for so that you can ensure you find the right fit.
My Best Tips for Trails
Though I've only been on a few trails, I feel like I have a lot more confidence about them now. I wanted to share some advice for anyone out there who is getting ready to embark on this journey! Here are some of my top tips when it comes to acing your pastry trails.
1. Double check with the chef beforehand to see if there is anything you should bring.
Oftentimes, the chef will ask you to bring some tools, kitchen shoes, or a uniform. Then, double-check that you have everything before you head out the door. You don't want to give a bad impression off the bat by not bringing what they asked you to.
2. Ask all. the. questions!
Going into the trail, you are not going to know how to do everything perfectly. You are in a brand new environment, and chances are you have never worked in a professional kitchen before. As you start performing various tasks during the trail, ask questions as you go along.
After you finish a task, call the chef over and ask him/her how it looks. He/she will provide you feedback, and you will be able to improve during the trail itself. By doing this, you show that you genuinely care about your work, and you demonstrate your capability as a good employee.
During my post-trail interviews, both chefs told me that they liked how many questions I asked. Don't feel scared to speak up during your trail!
3. Go on a couple of trails before accepting a position.
Looking back, I am so glad I didn't accept the first offer that came my way. If you do get an offer at your first trail, it can be very exciting. But, if you get one offer, you probably will get others. Why not have a couple offers in hand before making a decision? You want to choose the restaurant/bakery that feels 100% right to you, and you won't be able to determine this after just one trail.
4. Follow up with the chefs after all your trails.
After getting home from a trail, write a quick email to the chef thanking him/her for the opportunity. These chefs sacrificed a lot of their time by inviting you into the kitchen and answering your questions. Show them that you appreciate the opportunity (and perhaps the job offer).
Then, after you accept a position, make sure to follow up to all the other places to let them know you are no longer looking for a position. It's unprofessional to just leave someone hanging, so just send them a quick message to thank them for their time. You never know where you might end up next!
I hope this post has been helpful for you, and I wish you all the luck if you are going on any trails soon. If so, let me know how they go and if you have a similar experience! I have also made a video that goes into a bit more detail about this experience, so feel free to check that out below.