A quick note to Dana - who's going to stage at El Bulli - and Dana - who's going to stage at The Fat Duck - and anyone else not necessarily named Dana who's leaving home to stage at a gastronomic restaurant. Here's a few things to pack along with your standard knife kit.
A small offset spatula. This will be your most important tool at the pass. Mark it well - and even then fiercely guard it at all times. Without it you will be lost. I showed up at El Bulli last season without one and was saved when Chris gave me one. He was running a small shrewd side business - important for survival as a stagiaire - buying them in bulk and selling them at a modest profit to the new spatula-less arrivals. Wilton makes a good cheap one.
A Sharpie - preferably a black Sharpie Professional - especially good for writing on greasy surfaces. You and your comrades will have an insane number of nearly indistinguishable mise en place items - "Is that citric acid or fleur de sel!" is not a question you want to mistakenly answer in the heat of service. I'm infamous for always having a Sharpie clipped to the front of my jacket.
And speaking of jackets, if you need to supply your own bring at least one with your name embroidered on it. If they learn your name fast, then they're more likely to call you to do something - hopefully good. It doesn't need to be an Egyptian cotton, hand-tied French-knot number - but just get at least one embroidered - check out Bragard - great quality, excellent range, reasonable prices.
Precision-tip scissors. At El Bulli, we used them on the fennel blossom fronds - that we picked on the winding oceanfront roadside up to the restaurant - at Les Ambassadeurs, on the lentil sprouts we grow in the kitchen. My sister Annie - who is with the paper world as I am with the food world - gave me a pair of Fiskars No. 5 Non-Stick Scissors - with the optional, limited edition protective sleeve no less.
Chopsticks - depending your adeptness. A Japanese sous-chef that I worked with actually made me a pair from a couple of ordinary disposable wooden skewers that he cut down to length - I cherish them to this day. If you're not good with chopsticks, I suggest Tweezermans.
A Moleskine and a pen. Moleskines are the most durable pocket notebooks I know - everything else has fallen apart after a few weeks. I have a small personal library that have survived heat and sweat, beautifully.
A digital camera. I specifically bought an Olympus Stylus for the kitchen because it's ultra-compact and all-weather - again as with the notebook, two very important criteria - and it did take good pix.
And this one's for the girls - please wear underwear you're not shy about showing in front of the guys. If you want to wear lace thongs every day to work, you go girl, but please don't hog the one staff washroom because you need to change in privacy. And file this under "way too much information" perhaps - and avert your eyes now if you're of a delicate nature - but seeing as a fair number of some of the best cooks in the world have already seen me in my underwear - I can personally - highly personally - recommend Patagonia Women's Capilene Boy Shorts in this department.
I'll add more as I think of it - and get the guys to add their tips too.
Take care, make friends, write home, wear clean underwear, and have fun kids!