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Career changing advice...


OrleansAg
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I’m not sure if there is a more appropriate forum (or existing thread) for this topic, but I know there are a lot (obviously) of society members that are employed in the culinary industry. And, I am trying to explore a career track change to that area. Let me explain…

I am 30 and have been working for a large corporation for about 8 years. Pay is great, people are nice and I have progressed upwards. I have a B.S., MBA, and M.S. and a lot of experience in purchasing and negotiation. My point you ask?…well, I have no passion for what I do and like many people who come to this point I am trying to determine if I “stick it out” for a job I don’t exactly hate that pays well, or try to find my way to an area that I can really dig into and love. I love to cook. I have always loved to cook. As my handle suggests, I grew up in New Orleans, and of course food is a religion there. I read the Professional Chef in my spare time, try my hand at stocks, research knife sharpening techniques (for Pete’s sake!), and I have even enrolled in a local culinary arts program (Midwest Culinary Institute), taking weekend classes. Yet, taking one class a quarter will never get me to that goal. But it’s a start and it exposes me to local Chef Instructors and cooking opportunities.

People ask, “What do you want to be?” and “What specific area of the culinary field do you want to work?”….and I wish I had a good answer. I guess I am trying to find a place where I can leverage my business skills to continue to earn an income (can’t outright quit…I have a kid) and continue to participate in culinary classes. I am going to try to attend some trade shows (IFT, NRA, RCA…) figuring that might help me make more contacts. And, of course, I have been diligently exploring culinary websites and job sites. Also, while I do not have restaurant experience, I do understand the rigors (time, lack of $, getting chewed up by higher ups, etc..) but with my background and the fact that I am not 18, I think going to work as a dishwasher first would be quite difficult, so I am not sure if that is an option either.

I realize this is a bit of a personal post, but I figure this is the audience that may understand me the best. So, I’d appreciate any ideas or thoughts or advice you may have. Or even if you just want to tell me to get off my butt and make something happen! (I know, I know…)

Thanks

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Sounds like you are off to a good start, research wise. Keep going.

Take a Career Decision Making course. There are all kinds of government and private programs you can take advantage of. Take the Strong Interest Inventory or some other such vocational testing. Explore this completely and objectively through a third party, NOT the career counsellor at the cooking school of your choice. They just want your money. Career Decision Making counselling will help you identify your goals and priorities and help you organize and research and set realistic goals for optimal outcome. It will also give you a realistic picture of how your current skill set matches up and meshes with what you might want to do in the future.

If I had taken such a course, I would never ever have gone to cooking school. I may have entered the food world in some other capacity, but I never would have gone the chef route. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will kill your enjoyment of cooking like working in a restaurant. Do you really want to be 35 and working for 10 bucks an hour in a 100 degree room with a bunch of sweaty men who are better and faster than you because they have been in the kitchen since they were 12? And who daily torment you in ways even the CIA would not approve of? Yeah, me either.

Good luck!

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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I am somewhat in the same boat as you. I do not have children to consider, but I do have a wife and a mortgage. I am currently in the computer industry but started out after high school as a Food Service Specialist in the Marine Corps. After my enlistment, I went into restaurant management. My goal had been to go back to school, get a business degree, and open my own restaurant. After 6 years of corporate nowhere land, I took a job at a computer company and ended up in sales less than a year later.

Now, however I wish to enroll in a culinary program and more or less start over. I'm looking at a local school as well. Unfortunately they do not offer weekend courses and only the core program can be taken at night. (The Chef probably has a wife too.) So I will have to rework my weekday schedule to accomodate morning classes. I chose this school because they are the only one in Atlanta (that I have found) that has accreditation with the ACF (American Culinary Federation).

I do not think either of us will enjoy working our way up in a kitchen at this point in our lives. Perhaps you should seek the capital to start your own business. Catering is an avenue that would allow you to continue to work your day job and could also be quite rewarding, if not lucrative. I have a feeling that is the path I shall be headed down. At least until I can convince a bank I am successful and get the loan to open a restaurant.

Off topic - Oddly enough I am headed to New Orleans (actually Slidell) this weekend. I am attending a party with a friend (born and raised in Metarie) whose sister's husband has a band and they do an annual celebration. We plan on going to Pat O's to watch the Saints.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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If I had taken such a course, I would never ever have gone to cooking school.  I may have entered the food world in some other capacity, but I never would have gone the chef route.  Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will kill your enjoyment of cooking like working in a restaurant.  Do you really want to be 35 and working for 10 bucks an hour in a 100 degree room with a bunch of sweaty men who are better and faster than you because they have been in the kitchen since they were 12? And who daily torment you in ways even the CIA would not approve of?  Yeah, me either. 

Good luck!

Oh man, you make me want to reconsider! What I am personally worried about is how rotund sitting at a desk has made me. I have not stood 10-14 hours on my feet in a very long time. I definately want to avoid that grind.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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Oh man, you make me want to reconsider! What I am personally worried about is how rotund sitting at a desk has made me. I have not stood 10-14 hours on my feet in a very long time. I definately want to avoid that grind.

Please note that going through culinary school and/or working in a kitchen will do nothing to diminish any rotund-ness you've cultivated!

-drew

www.drewvogel.com

"Now I'll tell you what, there's never been a baby born, at least never one come into the Firehouse, who won't stop fussing if you stick a cherry in its face." -- Jack McDavid, Jack's Firehouse restaurant

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I do not think either of us will enjoy working our way up in a kitchen at this point in our lives. Perhaps you should seek the capital to start your own business. Catering is an avenue that would allow you to continue to work your day job and could also be quite rewarding, if not lucrative. I have a feeling that is the path I shall be headed down. At least until I can convince a bank I am successful and get the loan to open a restaurant.

Off topic - Oddly enough I am headed to New Orleans (actually Slidell) this weekend. I am attending a party with a friend (born and raised in Metarie) whose sister's husband has a band and they do an annual celebration. We plan on going to Pat O's to watch the Saints.

I hear ya. Working for $10/hr at this point is a non-starter. But I also realize that starting any food related business with no background would also be a poor investment. So I am trying to take classes and make some contacts. But, you're right, that is definitely an option at some point.

Oh, and enjoy New Orleans. Not sure if Pat O's is the best place to actually watch the game, but you'll have forgotten about it after the first Hurricane.

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It seems that you guys are at a crossroads and aren't sure of which way to go. I was a cook/owner of two different restaurants for 16 years. I'm 42 and have been out of the business for 2 years.

There is nothing wrong with the restaurant business per say. But I do feel that most people who are not intimately involved in the industry have overly romantic notions about the business.

The reality, as mentioned above, are long hours, low pay, and no social life. I basically lived in a kitchen for 15 hours a day then blew off steam in the bar - so you don't have to be chained to a desk to become "rotund" either (I've lost 40lbs since).

Don't get me wrong, belting out 250 dinners in a night, working with others ass-to-elbow in a boiler-making stress induced high can be quite fulfilling. Its all the other stuff (personnel, customers, ordering, breakdowns, mortgage, bookeeping, etc) that can drive you nuts!

My suggestions?

Culinary instruction may be a good idea, if only to introduce you to a "stage" or two or three. A placement in a working kitchen where you work for free in exchange for experience. This'll give you a good feel of the environment.

Maybe hook up with someone with similar interests and maybe more kitchen experience - join forces and start something small.

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I wonder if you could do an angry 8 at the corp and then maybe intern at a nice restaurant? I wonder if your corporate employer would support you in this endeavor and maybe find a way to give you a 1/2 day on Thursday and Friday? Maybe make it up on Sunday.

I would send a letter, not an email to these people. They are professionals, they take their trade seriously. Ask them for advice. I would be surprised if you did not get a well thought out response.

Send them you a thank you note as a follow up, will set you apart from others.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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Who can recommend leaving a life of relative comfort finacialy, to pursue a life of hardship(long hours, low pay) to feel satisfied? Give me a brake! If you can afford not making real money(unless you hit some crazy jackpot niche) then hey go for it. Fullfill your cooking need, its easy, Bravo,Food network, et al have let the secret out, we have the life! I think that sometimes people tend to get intoxicated by the hype of the shiny side of the industry and neglect what it takes to get there(other than dumb luck, I hate those people). Welcome to the biz....

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400 covers cooking to someone else's recipe will test your medal. If your involved with a crew that does 400 covers your lucky if do anything more than plate the food.

If your passion is food but your mortgage, car payments aren't a catering and or brunch gig might be worth a look.

You might want to keep an eye on this. Hell look at other cities too. Copy paste them into a word doc, those listings as book marks don't last long.

Do try and get an internship though, most places like free help. May make you appreciate that corporate gig.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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Thanks for the advice so far and the site links. I will definitely follow up on them. And, for some reason, I always forget about Craigslist as a place to see job openings.

Also, I understand the point that many of you are making about people being swept up in the 'glamour' of the Food Network and getting a very unrealistic idea of the industry. I get that, and that is why I wanted to take some culinary classes to see if indeed I was "swept up" or not. And also try this board, reading, taking to chefs/cooks, attending trade shows, etc...and I can tell you that thus far, I don't feel like I am offbase about my passion. But, like I've said, I know I am in a different position agewise/lifewise than some others starting out, but I have some other talents and strenghts that could help me too.

But again, thanks for the advice and links. Just helpful to hear other perspectives.

Oh and SundaySous, what is an angry 8?

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OrleansAg, I bit the bullet, and did the career change thing. I'm not a part owner/chef at a restaurant in Italy.

Ask yourself:

do you want to completely give up on a social life? seeing your kid grow up?

No kidding around, you commit to a kitchen, that's where 95% of your energy goes.

Do you want to be at the bottom rung again, financially and professionally?

It's hard after you are used to a certain level of respect and financial security.

Going to cooking school will not prepare you for the grind of a kitchen.

Are you an adrenalin junky?

I think I am...I've done some wacky stuff over the years, and I love the rush that comes with a hectic service. I also know what its like to bottom out, hit the no energy reserve wall, and then you start to understand why drugs show up in the kitchen.

I'm not trying to scare you...but stage around and see what you think. No one in a class room can adequately prepare you for what you will be facing......

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I am in the same boat. I grew up in New Orleans and worked in the restaurant biz for many years. Mostly front of the house, but there were occasional stints in the kitchen. I then moved to Boston and got into the the tech world. In 2000 I moved back to the big easy and I own my own relatively successful development company, but i am getting burnt out. My passion is food and wine/booze.

I turned 39 this week and my wife and I are looking at our futures. We have two little ones under the age of five, my wife is a stay at home mom, and I can not immediately give up my income. We are starting on a plan that will get us into the retail wine business first that may eventually lead to catering or our own establishment. IF we were to own a restaurant it would most likely be a bar/restaurant doing something like tapas.

All of it is simply in the talking stage at this point, but having been in the industry before, I am in no way romanticizing the life.

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though the website isn't much to brag about, the restaurant is. the lark is probably the best restaurant in detroit (again not necessarily saying that much), and has been named best restaurant in the united states by conde nast traveller mag's reader's poll.

its owner, jim lark was a successful real estate developer (i think) who retired to open a restaurant with his wife in the 80s. it has since been an incredibly successful restaurant and a constant leader in the detroit culinary scene

good luck

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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Oh and SundaySous, what is an angry 8?

Apologize, the angry 8 refers to the 8 hours you put in when you hate your job. Comes from the construction trades.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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I'm not at a corporate job now that was actually the restaurants I managed, I don't really make all that much, I am by no means financially set. At the moment I want to augment my income through catering or some such and eventually open my own place.

I do however have experience in the industry. I've cooked eggs to order for 1200 Marines and I've worked 36 hours straight in a 24 hour restaurant on christmas eve and christmas day. You would be surprised how busy the only place open on Xmas can be. You stay in the weeds. It's possible to do in one day what you normally do all week. I used to come home wreaking of waffle syrup every day.

I think that I would want to model a business after Muss and Turner

Anyways, thanks. for the advise. I hope that I have imparted some wisdom as well. I still do not see myself trying to work my way up in a kitchen or striving to attain a Michelin star. My interest lies more in elevating my culinary skills and profiting from it as well. Although, I do personally regard being certified as a Chef somewhat glamourous :P

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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At the moment I want to augment my income through catering or some such and eventually open my own place.

Have you considered gingerbread houses for the holidays? Great way practice pastry skills and there is money in that stuff that no one ever eats.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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At the moment I want to augment my income through catering or some such and eventually open my own place.

Have you considered gingerbread houses for the holidays? Great way practice pastry skills and there is money in that stuff that no one ever eats.

Actually my best friend and I catered another friend's wedding at their request last year and then this year we were asked to do a wedding party for one of his wife's co-workers. The first was about 75 people andthe latter about 20. The first we did buffet style and spend the entire sum they gave us on the food and decorations. The marine corps taught me how to garnish a food line. Doves made from apples and tomato and lemon peel roses were bountiful on top of parsley covered tables. Four tables actually, with 30 different items to select from. We really went overboard. I discovered that I could have done half of that and been just fine. At my own wedding we payed a lot for just a fourth of what we had produced. Basically $750 of food produced about a $5000 catering job. However our wives were not happy with the rampage of the week prior to filled with shopping and prepping, not to mention that last minuite stuff at the church's reception hall/sunday school. They especially were not pleased with the conscription into the service staff.

For the wedding party, I wanted to try my hand with plating dishes and putting them out for people to select from, we did five starters and 5 entree's to (cough) keep it simple. I learned one very important thing from that party. I'm going to need access to a professional kitchen and my best friend has never heard of the words "clean as you go". Your workspace should look like you have not started yet when you are done in my opinion. Spatula in one hand and towel in the other at all times please. :laugh:

Anyways I posted the pictures of the platings for critique in the "Plating and Presentation Q&A" Be gentle after viewing please. These were buy a guy with some formal training and a guy with none.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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I guess many of you who are in the industry won't agree (and even get some anger) about the path I'm following, but I was in the same boat as this thread is about and tried to find a way out. A bit different one I may say...

I'm 31. I work as an architect for more than 6 years. My income is not great, but it's a bit better than the standards here in Portugal. Let's say that I can't complain.

I've allways loved cooking , but never had any experience on the cooking industry. After living one year in Italy, the love for cooking and food grew up a few steps and I've started to face it in a different way - as something that could turn out to be a professional activity, not just as a pleasure. But I was in my final year of graduation and the immediate path was to go ahead, starting to work as an architect, as I've been studying for that in the previous 6 years. And I do love architecture. So, at that time there was no U-turn.

The feeling for a career change was not about not enjoying what I actually do -which I do enjoy a lot - was about liking other thing best.

My love for cooking, and in particular for pastry, increased throughout the years. All my friends felt delighted with my "cooking skills", and dinners at my place are allways a "must-go" for them. But they're friends... so they're gentle and nice to me...

I've done some cooking classes, nothing really serious. What attracted me most at those kind of classes was all the sharing between the chefs and the "pupils" and in-between everyone. Everyone used to do things a different way than the other, everyone knew this or that awesome product...

About two years ago I´ve re-started to feel the appealing (not the Food Network appealing, as we don't have it here - although I do watch Iron Chef online LOL) of working in a kitchen. Maybe one day having my own restaurant. The last two years I've visited and eated at a lot of restaurants, throughout the world, and looked at them with a different perspective. I really wanted to be part of it. But I couldn't live withouth my actual income, and I guess I was not prepared to move a few steps down on what concerns to my actual way of living. Romantics yes, but income doesn't fall like the rain... and I don't get feed and my bills payed by the wind. One have to be realistic : I had never cooked for strangers. So, I could be wrong about my real skills. I could be abandonning my job for nothing, to join a cooking school or even an internship somewhere, not getting paid... That's what I had in my mind by that time.

So then I've decided to put my skills to a test. I've applyed for an Internacional Chocolate Recipes Competition which was taking place at a Chocolate Festival here in Portugal. My recipe was one of the 10 choosen recipes, among more than 150 recipes applying. Now I had to face a chef and pastry chef's jury, and cook it before them...and an audience. "Holly Cow!" : having people watching me cooking, people that I had never seen before, and being under the pressure of having a jury asking you about all the steps you were taking while the two-hour time was running out very quickly....

For my own judgement it didn't went well. For their judgment, I won.

That was a great thrill and I felt very proud about it. For the first time in my life I had people who weren't my friends, and who work in the industry, saying that my cooking work was great and that they for an instance thought that I was cheating them because I wasn't an amateur (as it was an amateur's competition) and I worked in the industry. But they've checked with my boss that I really worked as an architect and things got clear for them.

One year has passed since then. The willing of a career change increased. But once again I had to be realistic.

And this is where my option could hurt some of those in the industry's feelings....

I'm oppening an "underground" restaurant at my place.

Every saturday night, 12 people for dinner.

A five course tasting menu with wine pairing.

You book via e-mail and you'll get the address on your cell phone the day before the party was schedulled.

It's nothing new, although it will be new here in Portugal. (you can check for example Hidden Kitchen - http://www.hkmenus.com - in Paris, by two american girls who are having a huge success)

I can detail it better if you're interested.

Yes...I won't be feeling the preassure of 100-200-300 dinners per night.

Yes... I won't be feeling the preassure of loosing my actual income

Yes... I won't be feeling the preassure of having to decrease quality in order to still be allowed to pay my staff's salary

Yes... I won't be paying taxes and won't be working under any Health Department's warranty to my clients.

But I won't force anyone to come. And everyone is aware of the guidelines... I'll have a LOT of pleasure about sharing my cooking points of view and skills with my friends and friends-to-be. That's what I expect from my future costumers, that they'll become my friends too. All together through food.

Yet romantics, but with my feet on the ground. And hoping anyone in the authorities to be working on saturday nights...

Edited by filipe (log)

Filipe A S

pastry student, food lover & food blogger

there's allways room for some more weight

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What a great thread!

Its good to know that there are others out there.

I too am living the drab, meaningless corporate existence.

I am turning 31 this week and have had my own restaurant dream for nearly 12 years now. I also have a mortgage and a wife and a small child. I also have health insurance and a comfortable salary; these things have kept me in the rat race and away from a professional kitchen all this time.

However, this fall I signed up for an associates in culinary arts program and I'm loving every minute of it. For all of those who say its not the real thing, I hear ya.

I plan to try to get a stage toward the end of the program (and I might come back and ask for some advice on that) but please don't try and deter me from my dream. I plan to open my own place in the next 5 years, and I know the kitchen is where I belong.

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" I won't be paying taxes and won't be working under any Health Department's warranty to my clients."

will you put that on your menu?

Maybe not by those words, but that's part of the concept, nobody would feel cheated about that. When you go to a private dinner at a friend's place do you ask him if his kitchen is according to all the restaurant regulations? This is what it's all about : private dinning.

Filipe A S

pastry student, food lover & food blogger

there's allways room for some more weight

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