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Thinking about cooking professionally


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I love food, i love cooking.... i dream about it, day dream about it... sometimes i can't even listen to people talking to me because i'm off in foodland....

i want to be a chef....

but, i'm not ready to give every other part of my life up just so i can cook... From my limited experience... chefs are either, divorced, alcoholics, drug addicts, never see their kids....i don't want to be any of those things... I want to be a part of my future kid's lives.... i want to experience the holidays with my own family.... I want to be sane....

So i started giving up on the idea because i don't see any other way to be a RESTAURANT chef without becoming what i don't want to be... Thinking i might be a mechanical engineer.... good money, also a lot of hours but not in the same way as a restaurant... it's interestiing but the passion of course is not there...

for some context.... i live in israel... i was thinking i could do the kosher thing...all kosher restaurants are closed on the sabbath and important holidays, leaving me decent family time... still a lot of work hours though... this of course would never work because kosher is sooooo limiting... i'd go nuts from culinary lock-down

How can i still be involved in food and maintain a normal life....

i know that no matter what i do, if i want to be succesful it will take a lot of hard work... maybe i'm looking for the easy way... i don't know... just confused

any creative ideas are very welcomed

Ron

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I was an engineer for twelve years, and at the age of 32 quit to attend culinary school. This was a major change for my wife and I involving drastic shifts in where we lived, friendships, income, and family life. I'm getting ready for my last year at school and I'm still not sure that I want a restaurant job. BUT, I'm absolutely sure that I made the right decision. I didn't want to sit in a dark room staring at a computer screen anymore and now I'm surrounded by life (interesting life) but life all the same. Do what you love and you'll find a way to experience the rest of life.

Bryan C. Andregg

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

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I said that very thing = I want to be a chef = and did it. It has been very worth it for me - HOWEVER. We work while everybody plays. My hours are bad, but I do see my wife once and a while - no kids thank goodness, because unless you have an understanding with who you work for - as I said you work while everyone plays. Holidays - nope. Weekends - forget it. The food - Oh yeah! the creating something from scratch and serving it - oh yeah. Good luck -- Please work in some places before you up and say I wanna be - real kitchens are not the food network or tv kitchens.

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I said that very thing = I want to be a chef = and did it.  It has been very worth it for me - HOWEVER.  We work while everybody plays.  My hours are bad, but I do see my wife once and a while - no kids thank goodness, because unless you have an understanding with who you work for - as I said you work while everyone plays.  Holidays - nope.  Weekends - forget it.  The food - Oh yeah!  the creating something from scratch and serving it - oh yeah.  Good luck -- Please work in some places before you up and say I wanna be - real kitchens are not the food network or tv kitchens.

i worked in one of the best restaurants in israel.... a real kitchen... just being around such high quality ingredients all the time made me happy... seeing the days catch delivered...

i had to leave because i'm starting school this coming year

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Trek, Hello.....

Let me disagree with two of your premises, the first being that a great many chefs are "divorced, alcoholics, drug addicts or never see their kids". That is no more true for chefs than it is for doctors, lawyers, engineers, restaurant critics or business-people in general.

Second, let me disagree that cooking kosher is "so limiting". That is true only with mediocre chefs of little imagination. It is true that there will be certain ingredients and combinations you will not be able to use and that is precisely the challenge - preparing high-quality dishes of interest not by using "substitutes" but by finding new and interesting ways to make your dishes.

I suggest before you go any further that you dine at Lilith in Tel Aviv and at Canela in Jerusalem, both of which are kosher but both of which offer up often excellent dining.

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You could always start staging/trailing in restaurants to see if its really for you. Or even take a week off from work (as a vacation break) and work full time in restaurant to see if it's your thing.

Another option is just become a food enthusiast..each weekend just cook hardcore with whatever theme/topic or cravings you have. Also could self teach yourself in various topics, such as wines for example. Though wines takes awhile to develop a palate and to understand, though all worth the journey.

Jim

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Allow me to second the vote for "food enthusiast." I have at various times in my life come close to deciding to kick this engineering gig to the curb and go to culinary school, but it keeps occurring to me that I can cook as a hobby: it's tough to be an engineer as a hobby (at least, the kind of engineering I do!). So, I work 40 hours a week as an engineer, from a home office, even, and have plenty of time to cook. Obviously not at the level of a restaurant chef, but enough to keep me entertained. And the nice thing about cooking being a hobby is that when you are sick of making item X, you just say, "okay, moving on, not gonna make X tonight!" Plus, I have enough time to spend an inordinate amount of it here at the eGullet forums! Don't get me wrong, being a professional cook is the right job for a lot of people, but don't think that just because you love food and cooking that becoming one yourself is the only way to go. I wouldn't survive a day in a pro kitchen!

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Daniel,

Lilith sounds like a great idea, i've been curious about it. Just curious, how did you become a food critic/food writer. not that I ever plan on doing that, sounds cool but my writing skills are atrocious

Chris,

Many people have told me "cook as a hobby".... it's a possibility... it's just that cooking at home is in no way as advanced as a restaurant kitchens.... The raw materials that a restaurant can use are many times not available to the regular consumer... but mostly, what you can learn from a cookbook doesn't even compare to what you can learn by working under a top chef.

Instead of working 10 years in something i don't like and the realizing i should have become a chef.... i'd rather get it right the first time... I know none of you can tell me if personally, i will like either one, you don't know me(i obviously don't know myself that well either)... but thanks for the guidance

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Chef Fowke in Vancouver does something very intersting. He takes one day a month and dedicates it to educating his consumers by making himself available to them in a program he calls "Chef for a Day". It isn't free, he books reservations and charges a fee but he takes you shopping and then shows you how to prepare what you bought. Its very hands on.

You could try to find somethng like this locally. I certain;y wish it was available here.

Chef Fowke's Blog

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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Daniel,

Lilith sounds like a great idea, i've been curious about it.  Just curious, how did you become a food critic/food writer? 

A vast love of food

A vast love for the relationships between food, psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history and literature

At first spending just about every franc I had in restaurants

A great deal of good luck.

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Here is what I will tell you. Being a chef in todays world is tough - it IS NOT the food network and I have lost several potential career changers to the real kitchen - my club is not huge - we push a lot of food and it is not by any means as much stress as some are. You have to love the food part. I jumped careers. I had the nice white colar job and got so IN to food that it became an obscession. I read everthing I could before finding a place I could work in with my hours in my paying job. I worked for over a year before I was put on payroll before and after hours from my paying job. I could not get enough and then I pushed towards a culinary program because I needed to have that as a foundation since my age is a factor. - I don't care what these posters say about the real world of cooking - most of these posters are arm chair chefs - meaning that could only dream about doing what I did and drop my life for the life of a chef and a SOus Chef at that - Sous chef definition is the guy that gets the blame for everything and the workload of the operation. So take your time in finding out about career jumping. I certainly do not have a WHITE chef coat like the chef on tv and I have burns and scars to show that it is not a great life but it is a drive inside of me that strives for what you see the chefs on tv doing - putting out great food to often times miserable people looking to make themselves happy.

Good luck in your quest my friend and I am happy to share with you my journey to the decision I made anytime you want to know it -- it was not easy and it has been a strain on me and my wife who I have to schedule times with so I see her - that is the only bad thing I have to say about the path I have - I miss seeing my wife - and coming for the exec world - the guy that said it is no different than any other career - he/shee is in fantasy land - no holidays - maybe one day off a week - hot - BUT great food is why I do it!

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I would guess that you would take a big cut in pay also. Engineers surely make more than line cooks, even sous chefs. If you just want to cook, pick up shifts in any kitchen you can find that will let you in. As a line cook, pantry, whatever, its only about cooking. If you stick with it long enough to make it to sous chef, its still about production, but also everyone elses production, and then non cooking , usually involving inventory and cleaning. As chef, its about managing, and numbers, less cooking, more overseeing. Oh ,and did I mention the crappy pay? But if your wife can cover your drop in income so that you can test the waters, go for it.

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Learn to write about food. Start a blog and build from there. If you are good at it maybe you can make a career out of it. Then you write a couple of books, create a web based foodie society and kick back and enjoy the mediocre life.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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Your basic premise is flawed - you don't switch careers and become a chef - you become a cook first, a grunt, a line cook. You work terrible hours for terrible pay for a long time in a hot, miserable environment. You do that long enough, develop a few chops, then maybe get to learn something abut food, then learn a little more, and eventually, after years and years of hard work, you might become a chef, at which point you will work longer hours and be blamed for everything.

I know, that's simplistic, but if you're questioning something like the hours or culture of professional chef-dom already, without even being involved in it, then you don't have what it takes. That's okay; I don't have what it takes to be an engineer.

I've personally found a situation that works for me with regard to seeing my wife and having a normal sort of life; I manage a kitchen in a large food co-op, working with local farmers and promoting sustainable food choices. It allows me nights and weekends free, as well as benefits and insurance, but it also means I don't get to have my name above the door or be able to present beautifully plated dishes covered with black truffles. It's a tradeoff. But it took me 17 years of cooking professionally to find that balance - to abandon my dreams of opening my own restaurant in favor of having an outstanding quality of life.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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I'm not a food critic. I'm a restaurant reviewer on my own Food Czar blog. I don't get paid (yet) so I'm not sure I qualify. But here goes:

I started blogging at the suggestion of a friend. I decided to write my own restaurant reviews because, let's face it, like most people I love to eat. I wrote several reviews online. Then I began emailing the local/state food writers and asked if they would please look at my blog and tell me what they thought. I added, if they liked it could they please link it to their publication?

OMG!!! Virtually everyone I wrote to was SO nice and helpful. I felt they went above and beyond the call of duty in giving me praise. Some even DID link my blog to their blog or publication. Because of that, I started getting invited to tastings, some at 4-Star restaurants!

In short, I may just have found a new career: freelance writer. One door can lead to another, it seems. I would almost certainly keep my day job, but every little bit of extra income helps!

Hope that was helpful!!!

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.... if you're questioning something like the hours or culture of professional chef-dom already, without even being involved in it, then you don't have what it takes.

I have to disagree strongly on this point. Not having what it takes and being realistic are two different things. If you're daydreaming about being a chef then you're in love with it, and that passion is what it takes.

I'm not a chef, I'm a pastry chef/confections artist and I've been doing it part time for a decade, completely self taught. I'm very good at it, but still unable to do it fully for a living at this point. I do crappy day jobs I seriously hate just to keep myself financially afloat, and I'm still always broke because my small side business usually ends up costing me money. But I knew my own personality well enough back when I started to know I could not handle working for someone else, especially not in a kitchen (done it in brief stints before) and I also knew the business well enough to know you have to be very high up on the totem pole if you don't want your creativity stifled, at least with what I do. I also knew that pastry school then working in pastry would have had me spending the next 10 or 20 years likely in debt. If I had to do it all over again, I'd have gone to school for something interesting enough that I could stand doing, worked this past decade making a decent living, building a nestegg and buying a home, etc. and setting myself up financially, all the while pursuing pastry as a side thing the way I have been, and then at this point have likely been able to take the leap and do it full time. At this point I'm stuck and frustrated, because I still have to work these crappy jobs. If you have the opportunity for financial stability through something else for a time, believe me, it's worth more than you think. Money isn't about buying stuff, it's about buying yourself leverage, it's about buying yourself less stress. And believe me as well, this passion you have for food is NOT going to go away, so don't worry that you'll lose it if you don't jump right in.

You'll probably get a hundred different responses from folks here about what you should do, and likely none of them will be exactly the right fit for you. But I hope with some advice and lots of "Gee I wish I'd done it this way" you can piece together what'll be right for you.

Best of luck. :smile:

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If it were 1983 again and I was trying to decide what I would do, I'd not have gone in the marines and applied to the CIA instead. I was completely ignorant of such things at the time. I find myself wishing now that I had done that. I like many others see the fallacy of trying to go back and do it now. I have a mortgage and a marriage to maintain. So racking up a 50K student loan at a culinary school and trying to pay for it with a $10/hr line cook job just ain't happening. If I were to try to do anything it would be to start doing catering part time for some one, learn the trade and move towards starting my own catering service. Develop menus and vendors, put a bottom line in a bank account, build the business, work hard,(continue to keep my daytime job) and eventually plan out the format and business plan to get my catering business established in a location where I could maybe put in some tables and open up to walk in customers. Stick to what you know and do it well. Keep it simple. This is tried and true advice. I think I'm going to go start work on that, right after I start a post on what do you need to know before you try to do it.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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If it were 1983 again and I was trying to decide what I would do, I'd not have gone in the marines and applied to the CIA instead. I was completely ignorant of such things at the time. I find myself wishing now that I had done that. I like many others see the fallacy of trying to go back and do it now. I have a mortgage and a marriage to maintain. So racking up a 50K student loan at a culinary school  and trying to pay for it with a $10/hr line cook job just ain't happening. If I were to try to do anything it would be to start doing catering part time for some one, learn the trade and move towards starting my own catering service. Develop menus and vendors, put a bottom line in a bank account, build the business, work hard,(continue to keep my daytime job) and eventually plan out the format and business plan to get my catering business established in a location where I could maybe put in some tables and open up to walk in customers. Stick to what you know and do it well. Keep it simple. This is tried and true advice. I think I'm going to go start work on that, right after I start a post on what do you need to know before you try to do it.

That is how I got hooked was working for a caterer. Look you guys that want to career jump - nothing is wrong with being a cook at home. Doing your job and cooking things that you see in books, reading about a dish and doing it...but unless you want to take that pay cut and start over like I did making 10$/hr and a slave labor up to Sous where you become a punching bag for everything and then move to the spot of Exec somewhere - it is tough. I was at the top of a white collar game before throwing it asidew to do this fodd thin - sold everything and moved to NY to the CIA with wife in tow and then moved here to Altanta with her sinec I dragged her - I am starting over. You don't get to the top of any business by not paying dues - BUT the food world is a little more tough...it is not the food network as I told someone and as the Exec Chef told a guy that came in to look to see if it was his cup of tea...we as chefs cannot make people want to have this crazy passion for what it is we do. I certainly don't do it for money, enough to pay bills, but to get rich - nope....but I also have a very high level of wanting to get to the next level of food. I did just find out that I don't have as much tollerance for peopel that do not have the passion that I have or even had when I first started...so the point being this - if you are really nuts about it - do it - if you just like cooking for friends and family - do it and do it well. Read - cook and live food with your other job too.

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Just go out and be a line cook and see if it's for you. Then you can better decide if it's for you or not. And the stuff about cooks being druggies and alcoholics, I wouldn't believe any of that. Think about it: a line cook has to show up on time and do his job everyday. A good restaurant desperately needs dependable people to operate on a daily basis. You're going to meet some great people along the way I assure you.

And you want to work in a good place as well. As in good, I mean meeting line cooks that have worked there for at least a year. That's a sign of a good restaurant. Then you can re-think your life better.

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