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Career expiration date?


MattyC
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So I've been working in kitchens since I was in high school, which puts me in the industry about 17 years now. It never really paid was well as other people I knew, went to school with, etc, but I was a cook, chef, and despite all of the BS we know to be in the industry, I could never see myself doing anything else. It was a tough love, but love nonetheless.

 

These days, I keep hearing about more and more people switching to something else, getting out of the kitchen, hanging up their aprons, switching to something new. Staffing issues, obnoxious food shows, too many restaurants, etc, all seem to just be draining the industry even more - I'm curious to those who have been doing this for a while, if you've ever started thinking about this, especially those who have families? Do you think unless you somehow make it *huge*, that the industry has a sooner expiration date, if it does at all?

 

I just feel like I keep seeing more of it with people I know - so-and-so is making aprons, blah blah is working at an oyster farm, etc etc. Things still related to food, but not killing yourself in the kitchen anymore. I'll admit it's been something in the back of my mind for a while now - as much fun as something like my custom soba-kiri is, not feeling like death and working 100 hour weeks without dental just doesn't seem to be a fair trade off

 

So curious if those doing it for a long time think about this kind of thing, or if anyone has done a switch like this themselves.

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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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24 minutes ago, Wayne said:

 

You might be interested in reading this article by one of our local writers.

http://torontolife.com/food/cooks-leaving-toronto-kitchens-corey-mintz/

 

 

 

I actually read that after someone I know posted it on facebook. There was an article from some paper in Maine not long ago talking to 5 chefs and why they left the kitchen as well.

 

As I said, seems to be more prevalent now than even a few years ago, at least that I'm noticing anyway.

 

 

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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I don't know if it's any more prevalent now, but the hard long hours will take a toll on most of us sooner or later. I think trying to keep a restaurant open has gotten harder than ever with increased competition and increased wage demands.

 

Right now it's so hard to find good cooks that one small place updates their hours on Facebook to reflect staffing - they've closed a few lunches this week. And I think it's one of the reasons why another place closed and is operating as an event space and catering kitchen. Lots of cook jobs means you can't piss them off or they'll leave, which drives up labor cost when you need to keep hiring and training. 

 

I do know one chef who went from CDC to catering to working for a local chain grocer in the interest of time and benefits for his young family.  I think most cooks have to move up or out eventually, whether because their body is broken or they realized they need to save for retirement. it seems like a natural progression to go from cook to chef to restaurateur, but the business side is so different, that path doesn't work for everyone. Sandwich shop, artisan pasta or salami, private chef, "clipboard" chef at a hotel, product rep, teaching ... Many more ways to make a living than being on the line. 

 

I got got sick of the stress and drama and craziness of restaurants, now I work for myself which is a different kind of stress but much less drama. 

 

 

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I worked in restaurants here in France and also in private service for 7 years and had to stop when my carpal tunnels wouldn't let me work any more. I'm glad I stopped when I did now, but at the time it was hard. Now I earn three times as much as when I cooked teaching and it's another great career. I teach English and 'Professional culture' to people who are doing degrees and masters to become hotel and restaurant managers, and their universal attitude is that Cooks Don't Matter - until they have to go and do their practical weeks in the school's kitchens. Then they gain some respect for the cooks, but still not enough. And they learn in their economics classes that it's really, really hard to make money out in the restaurant business.

The last place I worked was a 100 room hotel which had a restaurant, and the owner was happy if the restaurant broke even. We did 100 covers per service with three staff - the chef, me as second and a dishwasher. Menus du jour and à la carte and man we had to run to get through every service. Also as it was a chain there were VERY strict rules about never doing any overtime, everything into your programmed 8 hours per day.

Ultimately it all comes down to customers not being willing or able to pay the real cost of putting the food on their plates; even in my last job - with 7 years experience - I was earning so little that I was entitled to state handouts which were the equivalent of an extra 3 months salary per year. So people won't pay for it on their plates and have to pay for it through their taxes.

I'm always amazed when I see shows about restaurants in the US which have so many staff - 7 line cooks for 40 covers? Seriously? I've only once worked in a restaurant which had that many staff, and that didn't last for very long.

Almost everyone I know who worked in the business with me has moved out of the industry completely or sideways into sales or other businesses. You can't do this job if you have - and want to keep - your family.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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The daily grind in a kitchen will rob you of your hearing and mobility. Also your spirit if you allow it.  If you desire a living wage, health insurance worth a damn, and some retirement savings you'll have to leave the line eventually.  Granted there are few places to get the same high as running a busy service with a constantly chattering printer.......such a dying skill. There is a lot of joy and fulfillment to be found in shopping the outer aisles of the grocery store and feeding your family everyday. It's a different form of cooking but more essential to a good life.

Then again I've seen a few broken down 60 year old chefs still bangin' it out shift after shift. Mark Peel of Campanile fame comes to mind. But even he shut it down and went into consulting.

 

Cooking is a really hard thankless job you have to want to do. The best piece of advise I got in culinary school circa 1984 was to "do it all for yourself because no one's ever going to say thank you after those 6 straight doubles and brunch to boot".

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9 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

I don't know if it's any more prevalent now, but the hard long hours will take a toll on most of us sooner or later.

 

 

Maybe this, and I just notice it more now? I don't know, before it always seemed like you cook until you die, but now, even with people my own age (low to mid 30's) people are leaving. Seems sooner because things are that much worse with this industry? I wonder what the long term effects of this are if people go into this knowing after 10-15 years you're going to leave anyway.

 

I was wondering how many people did the switch to something else because I actually just did so myself, and I keep seeing how things are now, and how things were, even months ago, when I was stressed, overworked, broke, and I'm left wondering in reality why I didn't move to the other side of things sooner. Yes, I love cooking, but I also love being able to afford rent and feed my family.

 

To me it just seems like there is no end game for being a chef anymore, that it's 'cook for a while then find something else when you get burnt out or have a family'. I wonder if this is another reason why nobody can find good help anymore either, because why start a career in something you'll have to leave down the road anyway if you want a family or to not have health issues when older.

 

Kinda nuts thinking of it that way.

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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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@MattyC, can I ask what your new job is?

 

5 hours ago, MattyC said:

To me it just seems like there is no end game for being a chef anymore, that it's 'cook for a while then find something else when you get burnt out or have a family'. I wonder if this is another reason why nobody can find good help anymore either, because why start a career in something you'll have to leave down the road anyway if you want a family or to not have health issues when older.

 

 

I see various industrial and cultural shifts happening.  My first restaurant job started in 1999, after college and a few years of baking in bakeries and coffee shops, so it hasn't been forever, but it (the industry, the world) still seems to have changed in that time.  Cooking school was not on my radar at all when I went off to college in 1988.  I grew up watching Jacques and Julia on PBS, my dad was an avid gardener and my mom a skilled cook, we went out to restaurants for birthdays, and I liked to make cookies for my little brothers, but chef didn't seem like a career option.

 

Men are expected to spend more time with their children than a generation or two ago.  My dad was the old school dad, go to work, pay the bills, read the newspaper after dinner and pretty much ignore the kids unless someone was in need of a spanking.  Kids barely get spanked anymore, and spouses want to see their partner and share in childcare.  Once people have kids, working dinner service hours upsets the work-life balance.  The whole concept of work-life balance  is relatively new -  Americans are becoming more willing to sacrifice money for happiness.  The factory jobs are gone, women have careers, and there is a lot more encouragement to follow your bliss.

 

It's great that food TV and chefs becoming celebrities have brought more legitimacy to the profession.  But the explosion of cooking schools has not only sold thousands of people on delusions of grandeur, it has led them to believe that cooking professionally is a creative endeavor.  I will not deny there being a creative element, but consistency and problem solving are probably more important.  So you have all these cooks who think they are chefs and want to play and be creative.  What happened to learning from the chef and executing as instructed?  The same thing that happened to yelling and throwing pans?  I think cooks have gone from working under a chef for at least a year at a time to working with a chef for as long as it takes to satisfy their curiosity.  I don't know where the work ethic has gone.  Even if you're only going to do a job for 5, 10, or 15 years, why would you not do it well?  I think its more the special snowflake phenomenon, nobody wants to be told what to do or be uncomfortable.  Everything is supposed to be fun and engaging.

 

But is there really anything wrong with evolving into a new career?  You kind of sound like you wish you could be in the kitchen forever.  Some people do make it work.  I definitely want to stay hands-on, but my long-term chocolatier plan is to get machines to temper and enrobe and retail staff to do the wrapping.  And after 10-15 years of that, I'll either retire or try something else.

Edited by pastrygirl
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"You kind of sound like you wish you could be in the kitchen forever.  Some people do make it work."

If can work... but forever is exactly how long you'll be in there. I know I'm certainly in no position to retire and don't see that situation changing if I don't decide to move into another line of work sometime in the near future.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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On 8/28/2016 at 4:27 PM, Tri2Cook said:

"You kind of sound like you wish you could be in the kitchen forever.  Some people do make it work."

If can work... but forever is exactly how long you'll be in there. I know I'm certainly in no position to retire and don't see that situation changing if I don't decide to move into another line of work sometime in the near future.

 

To be honest, yes, there was a time I wanted to do it forever, but that changed a long time ago, over the years. Unfortunately, Tri2Cook said...... sure, you *can* literally do it forever, but you'll be stuck in it, never really getting anywhere, but for any sort of end game, I really don't think there is a future in the kitchen for people anymore, if there ever was. I agree that the snowflake idea that pastrygirl mentioned is part of it - a big part of it - but the others who aren't like that, the smarter ones, I think see the end of the road as a low-paying and painful purgatory unless you become big and famous, which hardly happens. But cooks now don't want to put in the work to become big and famous, they just want a few thousand instagram hits and their own show within the first 2 years of cooking. Take the shortcut.

 

Being a big name successful chef chef is rare, and to be honest getting more rare by the day. It's the same famous chefs opening up just more restaurants in new cities. And that coupled with wages not being livable, young cooks being terrible and needlessly arrogant, you have a recipe for a job where you NEED to leave in order to live.

 

It just seems I hear this even more lately. Cooks not even trying to get their 10 years in before finding something else. Year ago old cooks/chefs I worked with were sticking it out. Now, everyone is trying to find some other way to be around food but out of the kitchen. Almost all of my friends around my age or a little older over the past few years have moved into a different career, and shunned the kitchen.

 

And @pastrygirl, I actually took a job as a food sales rep for a company that I myself actually ordered from for years. I get to be around and learn about food a ton still, and have regular hours, expense account, dental insurance, good pay, etc - it's completely foreign to me to work in a field now that actually takes care of me. I was never opposed to evolving into a new career, but I never really understood honestly how much the restaurant industry short changes you or beats you down until moving into something else. I'm around food and talk about food all day, without the downsides I'm used to. I'm actually really happy. Plus, I get to see my 11 wk old son every night, which is huge to me.

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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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