Cassidee Dabney has one of the more coveted jobs in her field: executive chef of the Barn at Blackberry Farm, an award-winning restaurant, both luxurious and deeply connected to the land, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

But she got her start, and a certain prestige, at an Applebee’s in Fayetteville, Ark. In her town, she said, “telling people you work at Applebee’s was like telling them you worked at Per Se.”

That job, making salads and French fries while she was in high school, has shaped how Ms. Dabney runs her kitchen at Blackberry Farm. She has also hired a number of employees with similar experience.