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A Chef and its un-supportive family.


ADF
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I am 21 years old and I have worked at some of the top restaurants in the United States, Sona in L.A, Daniel** in NYC, Alain Ducasse*** in NYC, and now a days I am starting at The French Laundry*** in CA. I would say I am from a family of intellectuals, but yet I am seen as the black sheep. I receive questions on a daily basis concerning money(the lack of it), Emeril, why are the plates/portions so small and when am I going to cook them a meal. I am seen as unsuccessful in what I do, often hearing of someone's family friend who no longer cooks or is a drug addict/chef. How money is more important than happiness, yes I do understand that in the end a restaurant is a business. Why my cousin who works at a retail store in the mall is a bigger success than I am. Are you sure you want to be a chef? Yes!!! The long hours, getting screamed at sometimes, the little money and no social life. I do it for the love, I am patient, capable, and I am happy. What is my point? I would like some advice from all sides of the board, how to respond with my family, how not to become depressed when told I am a failure, and some stories as well. Thank you.

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Ha ha!! I've worked at some of the places you've mentioned!! I'm working in France right now. Unless they are contributing to your monthly bills, tell them to eat sh*t!! I've had to do this too. Do what you love. The money will come eventually. Everybody loves a chef!!! Cook for them, that should shut them up.

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Well, if you're 21 and have worked in all those great places, it's pretty clear you didn't go to college. In a family of intellectuals, that could be a pretty damning oversight. How many of the really successful chefs out there are without the training in thinking and writing that college provides?

The way a chef becomes really successful is self promotion and brand building, both of which require a facility with communications... how else are you going to draw in investors when you want to open your own place? How are you going to make sure that you don't get swindled when deals are presented to you?

I'd bet that telling them you were taking college courses at the local community college might get them off your back.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Two thoughts from me,

First, At twenty one and having worked at these great places, plus the unmentioned places that helped get you here, it seems that you may be moving around a lot. That doesn't necessarily inspire confidence in those who think they know best how to live your life. As an aside, it doesn't inspire confidence in me as a possible employer, but it doesn't seem to have slowed you down in getting positions in prime restaurants.

Second, to paraphase George Burns, "Do what you love even if it means you'll be poor." I worked for a long time in the computer field and was very good at it, but I didn't love it. So now, I work as a cook and I'm much happier. If your family can't understand that then you need to ask them if they love what they do. Intellectuals working at the university level never make the same money as their colleagues working in industry. Every makes sacrafices.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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It's gonna take time to prove them wrong. And at that you may never hear them acknowledge their mistake and egregious disharmony. They are not very nice are they. You are infinitely more important than what they think of you. Sure it would be nice if they endorsed you and affirmed you ( I hate that saying!) but you still gotta make your way whether you get the blessing or not. Getting their blessing is very very cool. But I really like what Chef On The Go said, tell 'em to eat shit. I would a said eff 'em.

Family is family. It would seem you need to keep some distance from them because they are rather toxic to you right now.

I am very proud of you. You have my blessing.

PS. If you want to turn out like them, then trust them that money is more important than happiness. If you want to stay happy, keep going.

PPS. Are you self sufficient? If you need thier money you will have to eat it. If you are self sufficient then you will be ok.

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Well, they do help me from time to time with money. Family is family,I love my family thats it, I always will. Yes, I have moved around a lot, I know I need to be loyal at this restaurant,TFL, for the next couple of years, the moving around may be a cause of my family seeing me as ungrounded. Thank you everyone for your help.

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I think you've done an awful lot of notable things at your young age. Good for you!

One of the best things I ever did with my loving (but too involved) family was to become totally financially independent (serious school loans ! :sad: ) and move away from them. I COULD NOT let their idea (which is quite different from your family's) of what my life should be deter me from doing what I needed to do.

Define yourself. Get away. Support yourself so you never find yourself in a position to pimp your ideals for the rent :wink:

Best~

Kathy

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First off, I was also a cook in high end restaurants (although I never travelled around, just stayed in my city). I too, was the blacksheep of the family, always catching shit because I gave up thousands of dollars in university scholarships, moved out of the house when I was 18, and cooked.

It was rough, I was poor as @#$%, living in a housing project, surrounded by criminals, got into trouble with the police (at one point the police were telling me I was facing 5-10 years jail time for something I didn't do), etc... My family would always talk down to me, so I just said #$%$ it, and stopped talking to them altogether. Sure, it sucks when you don't have family to turn to for support or help, but you can't change them, and you've got to do whats best for yourself.

Nowadays I'm out of cooking (at 22 years old lol), out of the projects, on decent enough terms with my immediate family (we talk on a regular basis without incident), although I haven't seen any of my extended family in about 4 years. Just trying to find a legal way to hustle a few dollars, nothing sucks more than serving caviar and foie gras in a restaurant, then coming home to an empty fridge and no money for groceries... Right now I work a manual labour job, after 2 months on the job I make as much money in a 35 hour week as I would have in a 50 hour week at the restaurant (and I made alot of money compared to others in the same restaurants).

Anyhow, I wish you good luck, just realize that high end restaurants aren't always the best way to make money. At most of the restaurants I've worked at I've had access to some numbers... Not to mention I've made friends with several owners. Anyhow, the most profitable restaurant I've worked at, was a barbeque restaurant. It's been open for 2 years now, is packed day in and out, and the owner invested a rediculously small amount of money into it (serves very good barbeque as well, and has live bands playing on weekends). The owner of the best fine dining restaurant I worked at, wanted to sell...

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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ADF, I went from making a lot of money to making very little -- started out as an attorney and went to being a writer and running a nonprofit organization. I've experienced the condescension, the judgment, the cracks about being unemployed (I make them myself too). I think there are a couple of things going on there: the first is that people who love you are genuinely concerned about your well being, the second is that a lot of people resent you for living your dream. Society wants you to conform. If you come from a middle class background, your peers and family want you to be a professional at a desk, in a courtroom, in a hospital, to live a certain way. That's how your subculture judges success, and only a small percentage of people have the independence to step out of it.

As for how to respond, I think it helps to have a plan and to be explicit about it. Where do you want to be in five years? Do you want to have your own restaurant? Let's just assume that's true, that you plan to work at three more top restaurants for a year or two each, and then you plan to go out on your own. If so, make a presentation to your family, just as you would at a business meeting. Say, okay, this is what I've done, this is where I want to be in five years, these are the things I'm doing to get there. Maybe you're planning to take some business classes, or learn basic accounting, whatever (because you haven't likely gone to college, you should explain how you're going to do self-directed education to make up for your lack of a business degree). Explain how you're going to get investors by doing private cooking gigs on the side and by networking with customers and former employers. Explain how the restaurant business is a major growth area -- present statistics from the National Restaurant Association -- that this is what you love, that you're serious about it, that you've thought it through. Prepare your answers to the most common questions ("Don't most restaurants fail?"). And end the presentation with, "And I'm asking for your support." Make clear that you're not asking for investments (at least not yet) but, rather for love and emotional support in your pursuit of your dream. That's the point at which your family has to decide whether or not to get behind your dream. They may, or they may not. All you can do is try.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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ADF, I went from making a lot of money to making very little -- started out as an attorney and went to being a writer and running a nonprofit organization. I've experienced the condescension, the judgment, the cracks about being unemployed (I make them myself too). I think there are a couple of things going on there: the first is that people who love you are genuinely concerned about your well being, the second is that a lot of people resent you for living your dream. Society wants you to conform. If you come from a middle class background, your peers and family want you to be a professional at a desk, in a courtroom, in a hospital, to live a certain way. That's how your subculture judges success, and only a small percentage of people have the independence to step out of it.

As for how to respond, I think it helps to have a plan and to be explicit about it. Where do you want to be in five years? Do you want to have your own restaurant? Let's just assume that's true, that you plan to work at three more top restaurants for a year or two each, and then you plan to go out on your own. If so, make a presentation to your family, just as you would at a business meeting. Say, okay, this is what I've done, this is where I want to be in five years, these are the things I'm doing to get there. Maybe you're planning to take some business classes, or learn basic accounting, whatever (because you haven't likely gone to college, you should explain how you're going to do self-directed education to make up for your lack of a business degree). Explain how you're going to get investors by doing private cooking gigs on the side and by networking with customers and former employers. Explain how the restaurant business is a major growth area -- present statistics from the National Restaurant Association -- that this is what you love, that you're serious about it, that you've thought it through. Prepare your answers to the most common questions ("Don't most restaurants fail?"). And end the presentation with, "And I'm asking for your support." Make clear that you're not asking for investments (at least not yet) but, rather for love and emotional support in your pursuit of your dream. That's the point at which your family has to decide whether or not to get behind your dream. They may, or they may not. All you can do is try.

Well thank you, I do want to own my own restaurant before the age of thirty. I do come from a family of educated people but not educated about food. Foie gras and caviar does not impress this bunch. Food is seen as just a way to nourish the body,not as anything else, and it is very hard to convince them other wise. You should see their faces when I try to explain what a white truffle goes for. I grew up thinking Olive Garden was fine dining, don't get me wrong they are very consistent and know how to make money, and eventually learned food is many different things.

The Fat Guy is right I need to educate myself more, to know what will be the outcome of my career. As children many of us dreamed of being Rock Stars, Professional Athletes or Movie Stars and we ended up never pursuing our dreams. There is a sense of reality that plays into these decisions. I always try to just be patient and not give up my dream.

<p>

This article on Alain Passard is a good explanation on what I mean.

<a href="http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/08/05/yourmoney/marpege.php">Forget Greed: The Recipe for Success is Passion</a>

Edited by ADF (log)
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You're 21. You've worked in some incredible places. You're a kid. Why the hell would you worry what your parents think?

OK, we all worry about what our parents think.

But, you know, the heck with them. As a former fucked up 21-year-old and parent of a current (relatively normal, in his own way) 18-year-old I can assure you that every parent on earth is concerned when their child takes an odd turn and that almost every parent on earth will still love you regardless of the path you chose. Personally, they all thought I was insane when I spent my last dime on a Greyhound to Iowa to work in politics. 20 years later, they're still not sure how I make a living, but they're too happy with my wife and their grandkids and the fact that I am relatively successful in my own field to ask questions. There's an argument to be made that if you're doing something at 21 that you're parents approve of, you're doing something wrong (and I say this with a son about to leave home). Just keep cooking and - if you're as good as you say you are -- it will all fall into place.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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First, congrats on the TFL invite. ;)

Second, I went through the same crap you did. I've always been incredibly independent, so this job suits me like a handmade Armani. I've lived in 3 countries, 6 states, and countless cities pursuing my passion of cooking with the best. I've driven across the country twice in 3 years. Gone from running my own kitchen in Rhode Island making very good money, to being a commis at TFL working for free and living in "government assisted housing." All the while constantly getting grilled from the parents about how what Im doing is wrong and I should move back home and blah blah blah.

Stick with it. Tell em, for the time being, to blow it out their a**. Tell em just to give you some time to prove yourself and make your rounds at the restaurants and cities where you want to go. In the end, you'll catch a break and they will finally understand what you are doing and why. It took a while for my mother to understand why I enjoy working 16 hour days for free. Its simply because I was doing it for Thomas FRIGGIN Keller!

Anyway, give it time. Live your life NOW, regardless of what others think. It worked for me.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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I would like some advice from all sides of the board, how to respond with my family, how not to become depressed when told I am a failure, and some stories as well. Thank you.

Heh. I know parents who freak out when their kids decide to pursue oh, say, the ministry instead of the investment banking route. Or who think it's a pall on the family name when they refuse law school to get an M.Ed. and teach inner-city physical ed. (my oldest is heading to college soon and the youngest in a couple of years, so I can be very charmed right now that they want to study marine biology, ocean ecology, and mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms. Ask me in five years how I feel about it!)

The attitude a lot of people have is that cooking and food is playtime. Okay, maybe, but everything changes when you do it for money. Everything. And you're going about it right. Remember that your family loves you, but they love other things as well, and they could be concerned about you.

Then again, anyone -- family, friend, stranger -- who has their own self-esteem invested in what you are doing, is not going to be happy no matter what. You can quit right now and go into the same field as the "good brother," but it won't be enough. I will say that finding a way to not ask for money from them might help a little bit -- but I also know it's not realistic.

Enjoy your time -- no matter how your life turns out, you've got some amazing stuff under your belt.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Not to disparage your family but, "intellectuals" (?) seems a bit of a stretch if they don't understand and appreciate what you are doing. We have 2 boys in their 30's doing what they love. One a partner in a bar/lounge, the second, degree's in child psychology & child development who chooses to tend bar. My wife and I, both educated in medicine, applaud their realizing that life is more than what "mom & dad" want or being driven by dollars.

"I drink to make other people interesting".

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All of the above and

It also might help to answer their questions seriously.

Why are the portions so small? There is a reason, so tell em.

One of my friends put it this way: the best part of a cinnamon roll is first 3 bites. Then its just food to fill him up. In a multi-course meal, it would be a shame to fill up too soon!

and so forth. Whatever you believe the correct answers are to their questions, answer them. It makes you into an expert in their eyes, and thats a good thing.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I can relate. I'm 24 and I recently quit my fluffy-corporate-torture-office-job to work at a great restaurant. Of course the pay is bad, I have no status there and I work like a dog, but that’s all right. I feel good about myself for all of the things that I learn and make everyday. This is what matters to me. The 14 hour days just fly by because I am so engrossed in what is going on.

I'm pretty close to my family and of course most of them think I am insane for leaving the cushy job for cooking. They look at me with troubled eyes and ask me stupid questions. I have to admit, it is discouraging. Their ideas of what success is are different than mine and I have to accept it. It is a drag, but they are family and you can't pick them.

It's true, cooking for these nay sayers does appease them. But at least for now I would rather keep a little distance. There are many people in my life who are encouraging me and I would rather make wonderful meals for them.

You have accomplished so much already!! I'm sorry to hear that your family is being critical and lame, they should be proud of you. You have to get over it now though. Years from now, when you are very successful, those folks may still view your career as marginal. Also, try to surround yourself with friends and other people who are supportive of your choices, so that you do have some positive reinforcement in your personal life. And keep up the good work; I'm sure it will all work out.

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