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Becoming a chef


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So, if your fifteen year old daughter expressed an interest in becoming a professional chef, would you encourage her or not...

And if you were to encourage her, how would you nurture this passion? I have my doubts as she is a very keen cook, but a picky eater. For example, how the hell can you have a chef that doesn't eat cheese? :huh:

Industry insiders, I eagerly await your opinions. Unfortunately, I have just read "Kitchen Confidential", which, as a consumer, I found very interesting, as a mother, I found :unsure:

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So, if your fifteen year old daughter expressed an interest in becoming a professional chef, would you encourage her or not...

And if you were to encourage her, how would you nurture this passion?  I have my doubts as she is a very keen cook, but a picky eater.  For example, how the hell can you have a chef that doesn't eat cheese?  :huh:

Industry insiders, I eagerly await your opinions.  Unfortunately, I have just read "Kitchen Confidential", which, as a consumer, I found very interesting, as a mother, I found  :unsure:

Don't know what the child labor laws are in your area, but in France you could pull her out of school and apprentice her off full time... :laugh:

More seriously, encouraging her to get a job as a busser or hostess or dishwasher or whatever (not at McD's, but it doesn't have to be fine dining, either) as soon as she turns 16 will give her a taste of restaurant life, a little pocket change, and ensure that decisions are made with at least a modicum of knowledge of what she's getting into.

FWIW my first restaurant job was as a dishwasher and the chef there started talking about turning me into a cook after about a month, having me do very basic prep work like peeling shrimp, breaking eggs, assembling bread puddings (from canned pudding), and so on. As I realize now, this is a traditional route towards becoming a chef. My favorite part was making the onion soups during service -- which encouraged my love of cheese, btw. The restaurant shut down soon thereafter, hopefully not because of my soups and pudding, and I spent the remainder of my checkered restaurant career in the more glamorous front of the house. But, it sure gave me a taste for the business on both sides of the line and, God knows, if the place hadn't closed, I might be a chef at someplace like...Olive Garden, probably.

(PS, if you just finished KC, note Bourdain's general preference for cooks who have come up through the ranks rather than going the culinary school route.)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Thank you for your reply.

There is a chef in South West France called Maïté who has a reputation for good food and no-nonsense. I was thinking of writing to ask her if my daughter could come and do a few weeks "work experience" with her. My daughter is really struggling academically and France has a very rigid schooling system and she is failing hopelessly. I feel that if she wants to cook, if she can and if she can get some inspiration, we might be on the right track.

Do you get letters from hopeful parents asking if you will take their little angels on for a few weeks experience in the kitchen, or is it normally down the first job/holiday job route that the youngsters start?

What about her dislike of cheese.....

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As much as I complain about the hours and pay, yes I'd encourage her!!! At that age she's already thinking about her future, bravo....nuture it. Let her try as many things/careers as her heart desires.

Take her to good restaurants as excursions. Just as you'd take a child to a museum. Buy her a good/professional level cookbook and get her the ingredients to try to reproduce them. When she's 16 enourage her to get a job at a local restaurant, what can it hurt?

Even if she doesn't go into cooking professionally it's a very fun and rewarding hobby that she can dabble with her whole life. Let her take an inexpensive cooking class. Give her opportunities to see that she can be anything she wants.

P.S. you can be a picky eater and be a Chef, totally. You never know she may out grow that or she may not. That doesn't mean she won't enjoy preparing food for others.

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Take her to good restaurants as excursions. Just as you'd take a child to a museum. Buy her a good/professional level cookbook and get her the ingredients to try to reproduce them. When she's 16 enourage her to get a job at a local restaurant, what can it hurt?

Even if she doesn't go into cooking professionally it's a very fun and rewarding hobby that she can dabble with her whole life. Let her take an inexpensive cooking class. Give her opportunities to see that she can be anything she wants.

As someone much closer to your daughter's age than most others here, I would find Wendy DeBord's most beneficial. If she really has a passion for food and cooking, why not give her the opportunities to realize this potential.

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My parents shipped me off to stay with a french chef for the summer when I was 17. I hadn't really expressed an interest in being a chef, but they had become friends with him while he was living in our area for six months, and thought it would be a good experience for me... At the time, he was working in a chateau-hotel in Normandie. Being summer, there was a whole troupe of stagiaires (sp?). I didn't get to cook much, but spent a lot of time hanging out in the kitchen. And I decided that if I would have to be a stageaire at some point, I did not want to be a chef! I also learned how to make perfect crepes, and langues de chat.

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15 is a great age to get your feet wet in the kitchen!!!

As a chef (in Vancouver) with daughters I think that if she is meant to chef, she will, with or without you. If she's not meant to, you can help guide her to the next thing ( possibly food related...)

There is no escaping the downsides, without whining on about them, as a career path it's comparable to the entertainment industry... I did not encourage my girls to be models or actresses either :smile:

By all means though see if you can position her in a relatively gentle kitchen and get her doing prep, dishes and some customer service. All building blocks for cooking and a good way for her to start finding her feet. A good caterer in your area is a 15-year old girl friendly option.

As an aside, neither of my girls cooked , or showed any interest in it other than being informed and interested eaters, till they were 18-19, and now both are showing off in the kitchen. Surprising and delightful !

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Like busboy sayd : let her try some basic restauration job ; dishwasher, busgirl, bread girl (nothing complicating).

I started as a dishwasher at 16, went back to school (2 degrees in Culinary) and I'm now cooking in a 4 Diamond restaurant. and I'm 19 now. It's hard work, hard dedication, I just spent 38 hours in 3 days cooking for hungry Partyers, but I love it and would probably not trade it for anything in the world.

and for the cheese thing, i'm intolerent to lactose and still cook, i love cheese anyways, can't eat any of the soft cheese neither creme fraiche (basic of pastry). But i still cook with them daily...

Hope all the luck to your daughter and yourself in a hard decision!

...snow is pretty

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When I was about 15 or 16, I mentioned to my dad (who taught me how to cook) that I might be interested in becoming a professional chef. His response:

"Do you really want to spend the next 50 years of your life in the back of a hot restaurant?"

I didn't. Of course, that's just me. But I like the fact that I cook as a hobby. I think I might get burned out if I did it for a living.

Funny, another poster mentioned that a career as a chef is akin to a career in the entertainment industry. That's the field I ended up working in instead of cooking. Go figure. :cool:

"Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit." -- Anthony Bourdain

Promote skepticism and critical thinking. www.randi.org

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the picky eater thing i think would be a problem. not so much the fact that she wo'nt taste somethings (although that's huge) but more so the fact that the discipline of having to brave new foods is nothing compared to the other more strenuous pressures of working in a kitchen. is your daughter used to living a very unstressed life style? for actual advice though personally i'd turn off the food network. i think it glamorizes the industry a bit too much. everyones flocking to cooking schools to grab a piece of the aciton.

bork bork bork

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What everyone is telling you is good advice -- getting the job experience will be amazing for her. As her palate develops, her tastes could change. I couldn't eat romano cheese until I was in my 20s; it was too strong for me. Same with baccalao, certain olives, peppers, and dry wines of any color. (And when I started cooking professionally, I quickly got a reputation for being able to take the chef's concoction and "back out" the recipe, because my sense of taste was so keen). Right now, it's probably more important for her to see if she feels at home in a kitchen.

(PS, if you just finished KC, note Bourdain's general preference for cooks who have come up through the ranks rather than going the culinary school route.)
Yep, even though he himself went to the CIA. Personally, I think culinary school can teach some important, essential things that a new cook may not learn right away.
everyones flocking to cooking schools to grab a piece of the aciton.
Ain't that the truth! But, my 9-year old niece wants to be a chef and got her first inspiration from me (of course!), and then Rachael Ray. :blink: I told her to get through third grade first, and then we'll talk.
"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Aw man! All your words are so inspiring! I myself have questioned my career path in the past and everytime I land in a new type of work environment, I still dont think I'm satisfied with what I really wanna do in life. But lately I had a revelation, all my life I've been cooking, been interested in tinkering in the kitchen since I was 5, watching our cook, my mom or my grandmother cook was an event for me. So I did have my inspirations and I was set to go to culinary school, but I guess as time passes by, one's interest kinda changes, so I went to all different types of job retail, pharmaceuticals, medical field and now at 21 yrs of age I joined the military, but everytime I get frustrated, I find myself back in the kitchen at home cooking my frustrations away, it soothes me, gives me that good kind of stress and I have all the patience in the world to stand in front of the stove to stir and observe what I've been cooking, then it occured to me, maybe I really want to be a chef like my original plan was before I got sidetracked. I love to entertain at home, throw parties and such, and so far I havn't made anything that tastes horrid as far as I know, and it satisfies me to see my guest do the yum factor after the first bite. After serious thoughts, and countless talks with my close friends, I've decided I'm going to give this thought a chance. Currently I've been researching about how to get in the culinary scene to get some experience. Then eventually to a culinary school ( as most of the prominent culinary schools require certain number of hours working in food service to get in, found that out in my research ). I'm glad I saw this discussion thread, it made my thoughts clear about some doubts that I had. And Bordelaise, encourage you're daughter to whatever she wants to do, if its her passion let her indulge in it. If ever she becomes very succesful in her trade, all she can say is "my mom backed me up all the way".

...a little bit of this, and a little bit of that....*slurp......^_^.....ehh I think more fish sauce.

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So many aspiring culinarians! It's good to see! I've really enjoyed what I've read on this thread....

Now, for the big reality check here.

I've been in the restaurant business for 27 years. I started when I was 11 years old as a busboy / dishwasher. Yes, I was illegal, but who really cared in 1981 America.

I then went on to culinary school, then after that got my BA from Indiana University. I never let the education part escape me.

Today, I consult restaurant people and aspiring ones alike. I help them save them from failure for the most part. But, I give helpful advice in all areas of the industry, including education.

Here's what I want to say with some 'EMPHASIS' - If you really think your 15 year old is ready for a career in the culinary arts, find her a job in the business in your neighborhood first. Sure, sending her off to France would be awesome, but save her some embarrassment, and at least let her get her feet wet somewhere ahead of time. The last thing a French Chef wants to do is babysit a 15-year old American girl who doesn't speak much French. Not a real good combination.... Unless she speaks French of course....

One thing that stuck with me about your original post is that you mentioned that she isn't privy to trying new or interesting foods..... You're gonna have to find a way to escape that - because working in the food industry means being creative with new and interesting ingredients. Have her watch Fear Factor..... (when they eat the bugs) - Or encourage her to watch the National Geographic channel when they show those Amazon tribesmen eating spiders, etc..... All of that may help, but at least it would open her eyes to diversity in food. And that's key in being a "Chef."

Eric

RestaurantEdge.com

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Here's what I want to say with some 'EMPHASIS' - If you really think your 15 year old is ready for a career in the culinary arts, find her a job in the business in your neighborhood first. Sure, sending her off to France would be awesome, but save her some embarrassment, and at least let her get her feet wet somewhere ahead of time. The last thing a French Chef wants to do is babysit a 15-year old American girl who doesn't speak much French. Not a real good combination.... Unless she speaks French of course....

RestaurantEdge.com

Bordelaise says in her profile that she's from Bordeaux. I assume she means the one in France.

(PS - Not everyone on the board is from the US...I wish more posters (not specifically picking on you) would remember that....)

Edited by loiosh (log)
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Thank you for your reply.

There is a chef in South West France called Maïté who has a reputation for good food and no-nonsense.  I was thinking of writing to ask her if my daughter could come and do a few weeks "work experience" with her.  My daughter is really struggling academically and France has a very rigid schooling system and she is failing hopelessly.  I feel that if she wants to cook, if she can and if she can get some inspiration, we might be on the right track. 

Do you get letters from hopeful parents asking if you will take their little angels on for a few weeks experience in the kitchen, or is it normally down the first job/holiday job route that the youngsters start?

I'm honestly a little confused with what is being asked. All advice to encourage your daughter to start heading in a certain direction is right on. Getting her to sample the life in a kitchen with a part-time job or a 2-week internship is also a great idea. But I get the impression that because you're daughter is "faling hopelessly" you or both of you want to pull her out of school to start work in food service when she has 3 more years of school to go? If the former is the case, I'm not sure why you brought up her schooling problems. But if the latter is the case, I am definately not an advocate of pulling children out of high school to work. Maybe there's a desperate nature to your situation that is causing you to find alternatives to school for her. Maybe you're trying to find ways to get her started on a career path instead of just blindly going to school like so many of had. I just don't know.

Can you please clarify for my benefit (if not for others too) what you're really asking us?

Thanks Bordelaise

Respectfully,

Bob

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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Welcome Bordelaise!

I would agree with what has been said before, that you should nurture your daughter's passion to become a professional chef but to also constructively do so. Busboy is right, if your daughter truly wants to cook professionally I would have her get her feet wet first by having her help out in in a respectable kitchen where she can learn the tools of the trade and see how it is on the front lines so to speak instead of diving in head first and leaving school for a full-time apprenticeship all at once. Here in the United States, in my experience, chef's are very responsive to eager individuals who want to learn the craft of their (ie the chef's) take on cuisine. I got my first restaurant job (in the Garde Manger station), here in DC, when I was about 20 and without any previous restaurant experience. I got this gig because I was eager to learn from this chef and he was willing to teach me as an apprentice because he could just see my deep passion for food and learning. Ultimately in about a months time I was let go because I just lacked the technical skills required to do the job but the passion was still there. So in a years time I went to culinary school (the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan) to match my passion with technical knowhow. I would suggest your daughter do a modification of what I did by offering her time to a chef on the weekends or other free time (once or twice a week) so she can figure if she likes what she see, no pressure to do anymore, just a time to feel things out.

As for my two cents and a warning, from my personal experience in the restaurant biz, as a line cook, passion will only get one so far in this hectic and stressful line of work. As I am sure anyone here who is also a line-cook, or has been one, can attest that this biz can be thankless most or some of time time. The trick is that you love to cook so much that the negative parts of the job just don't matter, in this case the ends do justify the means. I put myself in this category, that my passion will fuel me through the thick and thin (low pay, no benefits, very long hours usually in excess of 50 hrs per week or more and this is a bare minimum (I did 70+ 6 days a week)). To be truefully honest after the years went on, me cooking on the line, and loving every minute of it, it took its tole. I am now in a place where I need to take my very accomplished career as a line cook, off the line because physically I can't provide what my passion can. Physically working as a line cook makes me ill even-though my passion is right there at 110%. Passion is a good thing but I have found it is not limitless (and can be easily tapped because of the work demand to preform quickly, 110% of the time, and depending on how refined the restaurant is, never mess up, perfection is not an idea it's the main goal). I would heed this warning, especially in this industry, you have to know how to take care of yourself or at least in my case, burn out can occur.

Thanks for posting and good luck in your daughter's search! (PM me if you'd like, love to chat more)

Hobbes :biggrin:

Edited by Hobbes (log)
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I've wanted to be a chef since age 10. From the beginning, my parents discouraged it, saying I needed "a real degree." Fair enough, I figured, I'd get a real degree at their expense, work in restaurants for cash and experience, and then pursue my passion. I went to college, studied journalism 'cause it was easy, with the promise of culinary school the only light at the end of the tunnel. My parents continued to strongly discourage it, reminding me that they hadn't written $80,000 dollars worth of tuition checks for nothing. "You'll never make any money, you'll never have a family, you'll never sleep, you'll become a smack addict," they told me. I succumbed to the guilt and accepted an offer for a "real job."

Where am I now? Stuck in a job at a software company, just as broke as I would be as a rookie chef, and dreaming every day about a food-related career.

Encourage her to try her hand. If it's not for her, she'll be weeded out quickly; my first kitchen job almost broke me, until I learned to swear. :wink:

"It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you."

-Nigel Slater

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I have a few thoughts about this subject. I think as a parent, first off you should encourage your kids to do whatever they may express interest in. Support your daughter, it's a great thing to do.

Second, you should get her into a kitchen quickly. Maybe the only thing she'll realize is how extremely difficult the work is, and maybe she'll head back to school and fix her grades and move on to some nice cushy office job with 2 weeks off at the end of December and every other holiday that exists...

Third, I am a firm believer that this career chooses you, not the other way around. So maybe at 15, she'll show great interest and ability in kitchen work. That way, you can get her to fishish school, and then start working or head to a culinary school.

I worked in the corporate atmosphere for a while. I couldn't take it, staring at a computer all day drove me insane. Went to school and have been working in a kitchen for years now, don't think I could do anything else.

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I didn't discover about my passion on cooking until a few years ago. My father works at a restaurant so I know how hard this profession can be for the family. Whilst all the people are enjoying the holidays spending quality time with the family, my father is always busy at work making sure the guests are happy. My father have always discouraged me to join the business because of the long hours and the fact that family has to come second if one wants to be successful. After obtaining two degrees from university, I really didn't enjoy the things that I learned in school. Upon graduation, there is nothing out there that really interest me. After some soul searching, I realized I have always enjoyed helping out my nanny in the kitchen. So one thing led to another, I am now attending culinary school and immersing myself with a bunch of foodies everyday in the kitchen and the lecture room is a lot of fun! :smile:

Long story short, definitely nuture your daughter's passion by asking other chefs to let her stage at a restaurant. At the same time, remind her schooling is very important as well. I see many of my classmates struggling in courses that involve any kind of math. Afterall, we are in a business to generate profit so we have to be good with the numbers.

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Thank you all for your replies.

Just to clarify a few points:

We live in France, in Bordeaux. My daughter is fully bilingual - if anything, her French is better than her English.

We are coming to a crossroads as regards her education. I am not going to pull her out of school, but at the end of the year decisions will need to be made as to whether she stays on in mainstream education (highly doubtful, she will not have the grades unless a miracle happens) and she will need to decide on what she wants to do.

She is not an organised person. Thinking about her and reading your replies has helped me structure my own thoughts a little. She loves to cook, to eat, to talk about food (very French!) but she really has no idea what it all entails. I cook every night for eight of us and it looks easy. It is very different cooking for 80 paying covers. She needs the culture shock of a real kitchen - hands on experience - combined with the discipline and background of a cookery school.

Should I look into downtown brasseries, silver service restos or family run restaurants? And, dumb question here, but should I stick to French or does it not matter where the early experience comes from?

I am afraid to say, that I fear that when she finds out what very hard work it actually is, she might rethink her planning a little...... :wacko: Having said all that, I am a writer and I love it when I get the chance to write about food. Her other love is writing - perhaps a background in food would give her an opening into the world of food writing. Then I would be jealous!!

Or we send her to boarding school to push her academically, and then if she still wants to be a chef, take it from there....

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when my daughter was growing up i was a single mother and working very very hard to support us. for much of this i had a catering business, and she would come along to help. i'd set her up in a corner of the kitchen, and she'd play with her dolls. later she helped me doing service, food prep, etc. when she was 10 she asked me if she could wear a white blouse and black skirt and join the waitstaff.

when she was 11 she said: i want to be a caterer when i grow up.

when she was 12, she said: you know, you work very hard for little money. your clients drive you nuts and dont treat you with respect. and they get these nice parties and they have nice houses too. and they get weekends off! what do they do for a living?

when she was 12 and a half she said: i want to be a doctor and got serious with her studies.

roll on down to the present day. she is a doctor in manhattan, has a gift for it, loves her job, loves her patients, and loves all the restaurants she can afford to go to!

the only moral is that life working in the kitchen was harder than she expected, and she got it over with early on in her life. it wasn't for her, so she forced herself to work harder in school to do something that WAS for her.

on the other hand, the kitchen is where some people are meant to be! your daughter could be one of them. she's very young and should be exposed to many different types of foodie experiences so she can figure the right direction to take. having french as her almost maman tongue will be a huge help, i would expect. France still has the passion for good food that only france has........

:smile: marlena

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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