Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Telling high school students about "the life"


chefpeon
 Share

Recommended Posts

I have to give a talk to a class of high school students about life as a chef....I know plenty about it, but I'm having trouble being positive. The teacher told me to emphasize both the positive and the negative, and I can come up with lots about the negative part......but the other side is sorely lacking.

I'm looking for you guys who live the life to suggest some things that you would say to a group of high school kids looking to get into culinary as a career. Positive and negative. If I can get as many points of view as possible, that would be great....... :smile:

I'm not so good at talking in front of people. I need some material!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I taught high school before moving on to working in a kitchen. I'm currently trying to open my own place.

If you want the kids to have fun and remember you, make sure you get your points accross with colourful stories. Make it gross or exciting or have it sound like Kitchen nightmares or something.

On the positive side (which some stories should illustrate) you could point out all the options availble to those who work in food. How it has become popular/famous and that this will open many new doors in the future. How food is love and everyone has great memories of family food and reactions to smells. (again bring in something that smells great to prove your point here). Talk about how satisfying it can be to work and create art with your hands. Mention how rich some restauranteurs and chefs have become. Talk about El Bulli and places like that. Show off some high tech food stuff. Talk about the environment and its destruction due to food choices and how how organic and local choices can save the world. Talk about nutrition and how better understanding food is important for health both short and long term. High school kids don't need to know that working in a kitchen is another low paying 9-5 option, they can figure that out later. I would focus on what a kid with vision and drive just might accomplish in this world.

I could obviously go on (guess I haven't lost all my tecahing skills) but the key will be bring in something to touch feel smell. Bring stories that shock and excite. Don't preach or stand still and monotone. I'm sure you'll do great.

Edited by howsmatt (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ditto on emphasizing creativity and the satisfaction of knowing you've created something beautiful and delicious.

Add a bit about why you got into the business in the first place--despite being burnt out now, there must have been something to drive you into the business.

I'd throw in some personal anecdotes about happy clients.

If you're allowed to bring samples, you can bring some crappy supermarket stuff, and some of your stuff and have them compare, so they can understand how quality makes a difference (and then you can talk about how quality is important in the life of a chef). That's kind of positive, isn't it?

I'd skip the fame and fortune stuff, personally. So few people attain that level of success (if you consider it success), why focus on it? Most kids will focus on that, anyway, and regarding the food world, most kids only know about the fame and fortune bit.

If you do the sandwich routine--positive, negative, positive--you could probably get away with not sounding too negative.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have done quite a bit of speaking to high school kids, one of the most important things i tell them is that out of the people i graduated culinary school with are no longer in the industry, speak of the hours, cuts and burns, and the stress. I always do talk about some of the positive comments I have recieved, some of the fun we have had, maybe some of the jokes played on each other. I think they enjoy hearing about the diversity of our jobs, and about how easy it is to travel in the industry. I also talked about the old school/new school mentality and for sure the high tech cookery.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  High school kids don't need to know that working in a kitchen is another low paying 9-5 option, they can figure that out later. 

Well, I don't know . . . maybe they do need to know that. Just as they need to know that the vast majority of their peers who spend all their time in sports instead of doing their homework will not have pro-sports careers no matter how good they think they are. There are only a certain number of teams and there are a lot of people out there with the same dream. Similarly, there are only so many celebrity/rich chefs, and a whole heck of a lot of struggling, burnt-out thought-they'd-be's.

Yes, do tell them about the good stuff, but don't omit the realities. They need to make an informed decision.

You'll be great - I'm sure of it because you obviously care about this. I bet you'll be surprised at the astute questions some of the kids will ask.

Edited for clarity.

Edited by Special K (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Chefs and cooks tend to whine incessantly about how hard their job is -- they're damn near worse than farmers -- but, the fact is, you don't see too many of them walking off the line to go to accounting classes (though I do have a friend who quit cooking to be a sommeliere, fwiw).

So, just before you walk into the classroom, think for a moment about why you got into the business in the first place. The creativity and the great feeling about working with your hands...artisanship and joy and the the satisfaction of manual labor well done.

And, if you can't summon that feeling -- maybe you should sign up for those accounting classes....

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I rarely ever hear a chef talk positively about his job. It's almost like some secret oath that they take, never to articulate what they actually like about it.

i hear the same thing:

It about hard work, working with nasty personalities and misfits, doing the same thing over and over again consistently, no creativity but doing as you're told, physical pain, burns, no breaks, long hours, no life, no money, but you really have to love it!

What does that even mean?! :unsure:

Edited by savvysearch (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems like a lot of people do struggle to list the pros of becoming a chef as a career choice. Here are some of mine:

-I love food and I love pleasing people, whether it's satisfying a craving they have, feeding them something great that renders memories, or introducing them to a food they've never eaten before

-With a great meal, I can easily turn someone's bad day into a good day or a make a good day a great day, usually without having to interact with that person (a power that few other careers can provide, but the opposites are true as well)

-One day I will be my own boss when I open my own place - I will be able to do things my own way, the way I think it should be done

-I will get to surround myself with people who share my passion

-I will get to teach staff about food and cooking and give them tools to grow as cooks and as people

-Lastly, there are many things wrong the restaurant business, but I view them as opportunities to be innovative, gain a competitive edge, and perhaps one day I will have a minor impact industry-wide

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It about hard work, working with nasty personalities and misfits, doing the same thing over and over again consistently, no creativity but doing as you're told, physical pain, burns, no breaks, long hours, no life, no money, but you really have to love it!

What does that even mean?! unsure.gif

It means that we got into "the life" because of our passion for cooking/baking and food. But we found out about the realities along the way. Because it's human nature to focus on the negative experiences (mostly because they outnumber the positive), we seem like a bunch of whiny folk.

A lot of us have been in the business long enough that we feel "stuck" in it.....that we can't imagine doing anything else. As much as I whine about being burned out (and I am), I still couldn't imagine myself in an office, much less a cubicle. Or accounting........ugh! Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with my career, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Thanks everybody for the input you've given! I'm going to print out this thread and refer to it as I sweat profusely under the expectant eyes of the young'uns. :laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wouldn't ignore the hard realities of the job either (pay, benefits, hours, etc). If you're there to talk about the business, that's certainly a crucial part of it, and it's probably exactly the sort of thing the teacher who invited you wants you to talk about. When I was teaching, I did the same thing, inviting a range of professionals in to talk about their jobs, and I wanted them to talk about those issues in addition to what they loved about their jobs. You might briefly discuss how your own job compares to other vocations/careers as well in that regard because it's just a fact that many of the most creative sorts of vocations are paid poorly and require long hours, many years of learning and sacrifice and are demanding in more ways than most 9-5 type jobs. Popular media tends to romanticize a lot of the most artistic vocations or distort them in such a way that they look way more glamorous than they really are (starving artists in a Paris garret, or cute boy opens pie shop and makes a success of it making the occasional pie in his adorable pie shop whilst traipsing around solving murders, etc,). And the food tv/travel channel/Bourdain type stuff doesn't help.... There's a reason chefs like Bourdain and others prefer to talk about food rather than spend their time anymore actually making it for a living. You might also clarify how the restaurant industry in this country differs from the restaurant industry in, say, Europe, for example, the differences in compensation and benefits and the like.... Watch "Big Night" and "Babette's Feast" for inspiration. Recommend them to the class.

edited to note: Recommending "Hell's Kitchen" and a little bit of Gordon Ramsay wouldn't hurt either. :biggrin:

Edited by devlin (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm essentially one of these high school students you're speaking to. Somebody mentioned nasty personalities and misfits. Are relationships in kitchens intense? I find I tend to prefer working by myself due to having a relative inability to get on with most people (this might make me a misfit). I'm really quite fey and delicate and the idea of working 14 hours a day with 'nasty people' scares the hell out of me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You could also mention the non-restaurant opportunities which exist for culinary school graduates, and self-taught passionate cooks: food writing, test kitchen for food manufacturers, recipe & nutrition analysis for restaurants (would require some science training), personal chef, private chef, teaching, community work, culinary concierge, culinary tourism...

There are a number of fulfilling vocations within the culinary trade which have nothing to do with the insane hours of restaurant and hotel cooking.

The best thing about being a cooking professional? Portable skills, man, portable skills. What young person wouldn't want to know that they could work anywhere in the world?

Karen Dar Woon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How much of a barrier is language? I think sometimes, I'd like to cook in Paris. Would I not need to know loads of French?

Don't worry, all French people know English, or at least these two words: f*cking Americans.

:laugh: Just kidding.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You could also mention the non-restaurant opportunities which exist for culinary school graduates, and self-taught passionate cooks: food writing, test kitchen for food manufacturers, recipe & nutrition analysis for restaurants (would require some science training), personal chef, private chef, teaching, community work, culinary concierge, culinary tourism...

There are a number of fulfilling vocations within the culinary trade which have nothing to do with the insane hours of restaurant and hotel cooking.

The best thing about being a cooking professional? Portable skills, man, portable skills. What young person wouldn't want to know that they could work anywhere in the world?

I wish I'd remembered to mention all that in my talk. I'm just so embedded in thought about my own personal experiences, I couldn't think outside my own box.

How much of a barrier is language? I think sometimes, I'd like to cook in Paris. Would I not need to know loads of French?

Looking back, I would have taken Spanish and French in a heartbeat. If I had to choose though, it would be Spanish.

My talk went well. The teacher sent me a note after, telling me she'd love to have me back. I bet she says that to all her guests, so she can have a permanent booking schedule! I feel I did ok......I got through it at least.....I survived. :laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sorry that I didn't see this thread in time, but if you do go back, don't forget to mention that you're an artist. Your medium is pastry, for others it's the savory side, but a lot of people are in it because they're artists and their medium is food. As with lots of the other arts, expressing your creativity (through food) is a hell of a way to make a decent living. But that doesn't make the impulse less valid.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sorry I didn't see this in advance either-- I do a lot of teaching and I recommend a demonstration-- a quick cupcake decorating, or better yet carmelizing some creme brulee-- nothing gets their attention like FIRE. It should be something you can do quickly and deftly.

You did a great thing talking to the students-- I wish someone had given me the reality talk about science before I got into it!

Jen

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

If you do go back, make it 'show and tell' style.

Get a bunch of really great ripened Peaches and some not so great ripened Peaches. Have the kids eat the bad ones first. Then, send out the gusto.

Sure, Peaches are great right now, but that's just an example. Anything works. There are few more rewarding things to me than sinking my teeth into something amazing. Tasting how insanely pure one single flavour can be without laying it with something else.

They'll like having something to munch on other than caffeteria food, anyhows ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My ex-wife, the school nutrition services director, would want me to point out that many school districts now have restrictions or prohibitions on bringing in outside food to schools. This is primarily due to allergies. If one wished to do this, you should check with the principal of the school first. Not the teacher, as they may not be familiar with the district policies. The principals are.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...