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Bordelaise

Becoming a chef

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LOL!

Speaking as somebody who's quite possibly closest in age to your daughter here, I think her interests are still shaping. Maybe food will become her work, maybe it won't.

IMHO, I think she just needs to see what the real world is like. A wake-up call, if you will.


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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She is not an organised person. 

Can you say more about that? There are of course different kinds of organization (and of intelligence :wink:). The organization required by academic work is not the same one required by line cooking, but success in either requires organization. My limited experience in and knowledge of professional kitchens suggests that the right sort of organizational skill is mandatory. To take one little example: the ability to attend to the crucial details of mise en place have been mastered, and even championed, by chefs who have also detailed their mediocre-to-poor school careers.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I would like to insert here some information about being a non-traditional chef. I've loved food and cooking since I can remember and have been cooking for my family since I could read a cookbook and reach the top of the counters! I used to spend my babysitting money on interesting ingredients to make "exotic" foods like Shrimp Tempura and Indian candies, like Burfi. Back then, I'd never even eaten in a Chinese Restaurant, or much of anyplace besides McDonald's--we had a big family and no budget for "dining out". But I read cookbooks and grew veggies and ate my grandmothers' cooking (one from Canada, one from Mississippi--with all that that entails in variety).

I grew up and got married, and learned how to cook "normal" food like macaroni and cheese from scratch, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc, because we didn't have a lot of money then either. Then I found myself a single mom and faced with finding out what I wanted to be when I grew up--now.

I went to college and took accounting, then, when that proved a bad idea, I took sciences, art, history, everything I could try because I just had no clue what to do for a living--I had job experience at McDonald's and in retail till then. What I'd really like to be is a profesisonal student!

One day when I was whipping up some trays of fabulous canapes for a Hallowe'en party, my best friend said "Why don't you go to cooking school?" I'd never even thought of it before, didn't really know anything about it--I had a vague idea about Cordon Bleu and France, but that was way out of my range of possibilities.

Well, I ended up going to Johnson and Wales in Providence, got a restaurant job after my first semester and kept on working to pay my way through school.

In the ten years that followed my graduation, I worked in fine dining restaurants(in the pantry because it seemed to be where they hired women to cook back then, if you weren't in the FOH), as well as on the line when I finally got a clue and stood up for myself, family restaurants, fast food, and small concessions, private eating clubs at a college, Fraternities and Sororities at universities, foodservice director at summer camps, and have been Exec Chef at a couple of places as well, from casual dining to Upscale Inn. I burned out of food at about the average ten-year mark, and went back into retail, which I still enjoyed, and about 6 years later I yearned once again for the smell of fried things in my hair, and went back to work in kitchens.

I now work in a private residence where I get to cook anything I want, make my own schedule, do all the shopping and dishes, clean some, and get to spend time on the computer or watching TV because I can multi-task my menu through the day, making my time my own. I get paid a more-than-decent wage with great health insurance and 2 wks paid vacation time, and I like it. I think of myself as semi-retired sometimes, because I play more than I work in a given day.

All this is just to say that slaving/stressing in a hot restaurant kitchen for 40-60+ hours, while fun for some, isn't the only way to make a living in food. True, I'm not raking in millions, but I have everything I need and a little more for fun. How much more can anyone ask out of life?

I wouldn't push your daughter so hard you scare her out of the industry or make her end up hating food. France may be very different from here, so I don't really know how to advise you, but thinking outside the box can also offer some solutions.

Though, if you are trying to scare her back into studying and working harder at school, it might just work! :wink:


It's not the destination, but the journey!

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It depends how you define "hard." 

 

Is it brain-surgery hard? Rocket-scientist hard? No. 

 

It's grinding, numbing, joint-pain, dogged perseverance no-sleep hard. It's work-all-the-time-for-minimal-pay hard. If you aspire to be a chef and own your own place (never mind Michelin-starred, as in the article you linked) you'll need to learn how to run a business, which is something culinary schools in general do a poor job of emphasizing. To be a really notable chef, you'll need to combine an industrial engineer's meticulous attention to detail* with an artist's flair and creativity. Also you'll need to manage people capably, which is often the hardest part of the job and the most difficult to learn. 

 

That being said, have at it. I graduated culinary school at 40, because cooking was something I was passionate about. I opened and closed a couple of restaurants (see my earlier comment about running a business) and eventually wound up out of the industry, but what I learned provided the basis for my current career as a freelance writer.

 

Organization, focus, cleanliness -- and of course cooking chops -- are all highly portable and useful skills, regardless of whether you ultimately end up employing them in a commercial kitchen. 

 

* Not a random analogy...the chef I worked for when I was going to school was an industrial engineer by training. Her partner, the trained chef, wound up managing the front of the house while she ran the kitchen. 

  • Like 8

"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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Cooking by choice because it's your hobby and your passion is a world away from doing it day in and day out while marching to someone else's drummer.  

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Two thoughts.

 

First, echoing Anna A, are you looking to expand your hobby or join the profession? Joining the profession means that days off for aching feet or spouse's birthday or mother's brunch are non-existent. If you want to expand the hobby, then start doing in-home private meals. That's how I started before I jumped into professional cooking. Your friends will love to eat your food and they will probably even be willing to pay for it.

 

Second, you don't need to work for free.  I don't know what market you're in but there is such a shortage of lower level cooks in the business right now. You can walk into any larger establishment and get a job. But, be willing to suck it up and do your time. I'm working with a culinary school student right now who thinks dishes are below her education. Guess what lady - I have a friggin PhD and that doesn't stop the dishes from needing to be done. And then keep perspective - you aren't set to take over the grill after one successful month. There are folks who have been doing this job for years and are very good at it. Hone your skills, prove your worth and the rewards will follow, and that will take months/years...not weeks.

 

Just for example, right now I'm keeping my skills sharp by working in another chef's kitchen. I have a few accomplishments under my belt as well as a few degrees, but I am ALWAYS the first in the door (well, the baker beats me) and I am ALWAYS the last out (except the chef), and the second I walk in that door (after clocking in) I haul those 50 pound bags of flour up the stairs into the panty and lift that 75 pound meat grinder onto the counter for the small dude who will need it first. I am constantly pulling ingredients out that I know other cooks will need, and I jump on the damn dishes when I have a down moment to help out the dishwasher. To my way of thinking this is professional behavior. And I don't give a crap if some of my co-workers show up 15 minutes late, don't realize that we even had inventory to haul up the stairs because it's always up there when they arrive, and if they don't reciprocate. To me, this gets at Anna's question of hobby or profession. Anyone who acts like this in a kitchen will rise quickly and the chef will invest their time and knowledge in. Anyone who doesn't...they can peel potatoes and trim green beans for their entire day.

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What have you been cooking for the past three years, and in what quantities?  

 

Do you follow recipes or directions well?  Can you substitute successfully when needed?  Are you constantly trying to improve quality and consistency while also doing it faster and more efficiently?  Can you lift and carry at least 50 pounds? Do you still love cooking even when nobody thanks you and your whole body hurts?  Can you keep track of eight things at once?  Then sure, see if you can get a trail shift in a restaurant for a taste of real kitchen life. 

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I didn't go to culinary school. I walked into a restaurant that was looking for a prep person and said I'd take the job but was interested in actually cooking. I was hired, worked along the lines Rob mentioned above, paid attention, jumped into the cook's position if he needed to be away for a few minutes for some reason and when he quit, I took over. I wasn't really ready for it at that point. I considered myself an above average home cook and I knew the menu and how things were done but there are some aspects, especially the timing, that only come with doing it. So the job was probably more difficult than it would have been for someone with more experience, especially since one cook and a prep person was the entire kitchen staff at that place, but I learned quickly and survived it. When the new owners took over, they had a different focus for the place. A better direction but involving a lot more than I'd been doing (with less help, the prep position was deemed unnecessary so it became just me in the kitchen). So I had to convince them I was up to it and do some more fast learning. They were the fifth owners of the place in a 20 or so year period and we made it by far the most successful it had ever been. So I'd agree that hard work and dedication are the most important qualities you can bring to the job, the rest can be learned (in school or on the job if you're willing to start lower on the chain) The hours can be insane, the work can be hard, the financial rewards aren't as great as one would like them to be. You really do have to love it if you're going to look at it as a long term career plan.

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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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7 hours ago, gfron1 said:

Two thoughts.

 

First, echoing Anna A, are you looking to expand your hobby or join the profession? Joining the profession means that days off for aching feet or spouse's birthday or mother's brunch are non-existent. If you want to expand the hobby, then start doing in-home private meals. That's how I started before I jumped into professional cooking. Your friends will love to eat your food and they will probably even be willing to pay for it.

 

Second, you don't need to work for free.  I don't know what market you're in but there is such a shortage of lower level cooks in the business right now. You can walk into any larger establishment and get a job. But, be willing to suck it up and do your time. I'm working with a culinary school student right now who thinks dishes are below her education. Guess what lady - I have a friggin PhD and that doesn't stop the dishes from needing to be done. And then keep perspective - you aren't set to take over the grill after one successful month. There are folks who have been doing this job for years and are very good at it. Hone your skills, prove your worth and the rewards will follow, and that will take months/years...not weeks.

 

Just for example, right now I'm keeping my skills sharp by working in another chef's kitchen. I have a few accomplishments under my belt as well as a few degrees, but I am ALWAYS the first in the door (well, the baker beats me) and I am ALWAYS the last out (except the chef), and the second I walk in that door (after clocking in) I haul those 50 pound bags of flour up the stairs into the panty and lift that 75 pound meat grinder onto the counter for the small dude who will need it first. I am constantly pulling ingredients out that I know other cooks will need, and I jump on the damn dishes when I have a down moment to help out the dishwasher. To my way of thinking this is professional behavior. And I don't give a crap if some of my co-workers show up 15 minutes late, don't realize that we even had inventory to haul up the stairs because it's always up there when they arrive, and if they don't reciprocate. To me, this gets at Anna's question of hobby or profession. Anyone who acts like this in a kitchen will rise quickly and the chef will invest their time and knowledge in. Anyone who doesn't...they can peel potatoes and trim green beans for their entire day.

Well said. 

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40 minutes ago, dcarch said:

How is your health?

 

It better be very very good.

 

dcarch

Knees too. Mine are shot.

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That's the thing about opposum inerds, they's just as tasty the next day.

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Lot's of people with warnings, but if you want it you can do it. My knees are fine after years of abusing them running (good floor mats, good shoes, proper exercise outside of work). My back is fine (lift with your knees, wear a brace for heavy stuff, exercise, regular visits to a good chiropractor). Liver...well...I do enjoy my drinks but I'm sure the sugar is going to kill me before the drink.

 

Let me put it a different way in regard to all these health warnings - if you aren't taking care of yourself now, it will only get worse. If you are maintaining good holistic health, then you can certainly keep it up but it will have to be a commitment.

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16 hours ago, nicoleivy5 said:

I have been cooking for three years but I want to become a professional and make it my living.

 

Echoing pastrygirl, what, exactly do you mean by "cooking for three years" (and "cooking for free")? Restaurant? Home? Catering?


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

 

-The mosque is too far from home, so let's do this / Let's make a weeping child laugh.

    Nida Fazli, poet, 1938-2016 (translated, from the Urdu, by Anu Garg, wordsmith.org)

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I was a good amateur cook, cooking for friends and dinner parties and family. Cooking in a restaurant is exactly the same except you're doing a dinner party for 20, 30, 50 people who all want different dishes. And you're doing it twice a day. And they're paying you to get it right, they're not going to say it doesn't matter if you eff it up.

So, in fact, professional restaurant cooking is nothing at all like home cooking. Nothing is the same. Everything you know is wrong, right down to peeling onions and washing plates.

As has been said above, nothing beats experience. Get a job as a dishwasher, many restaurants need one. Do that well and a good chef will let you move up, encourage it even. A bad chef will let you onto the line/be a chef de partie straight away because you cook a mean lasagne for your family.

Good luck.


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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Becoming a chef is, I believe, as difficult as becoming anything else, and in many ways more so. I am not a chef and never have been, but I've worked around the industry for a long time and two of my brothers and my only sister are chefs - real ones, and I have a few nieces and nephews of the next generation, rising through the business.

 

It is intense becoming good at anything worth becoming good at. I'm not saying becoming a chef is more intense than say becoming a doctor or a nurse, where people's lives depend on you all day, every day. But it is damned hard work.

I am now almost retired from a second career. I did OK in the first but didn't reach the dizzy heights (not sure I wanted to). I started out as a dumb rookie full of attitude and ignorance and had to relearn everything I thought I knew. It took years, then I had to quit due to health reasons brought on by the job I loved so much. 

I was shattered, physically and emotionally, and it took me about a year to regain confidence and find a new path, one which, in the end made me even happier. I was lucky. And had the support of a great family. But I had to start out again as a rookie and learn my way. The only difference was that second time around I knew I didn't already know everything - in fact I knew next to nothing.

My point is, I suppose, that you are not going to become a real chef in three months or even three years. I meet so many people who call themselves chefs but are actually just poor line cooks.

 

If you love what you are doing and are willing to go through the struggles to get to your goal, then, in time, you will. In time. But, if you can, have a backup plan in case it doesn't work out. No shame in trying and failing. There is only shame in wanting but doing nothing.

It is not my intention to dissuade you or patronise you with unwanted advice. I genuinely wish you luck, but remember that luck is only what you get to build on - it takes work, too.


Edited by liuzhou clarification (log)
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If it's something you really feel you're passionate about, then by all means pursue it. People have offered some good suggestions about getting your foot in the door and starting out - it's all great advise.

 

But I want to be very clear on a few things, because one of the more idiotic things I see are young cooks coming in who make decent home food, think they can become a 'professional chef' in just a few years with minimal work or real skill. If someone or something tells you that this is an easy profession to excel at, they're either an idiot, or work in a shitty hotel.

 

40-60 hours a week is laughably putting it lightly - don't be surprised if you, at times early on once you make it to some sort of leadership role and hit salary, end of working 70-100 hours. Have you worked triple digit work weeks consistently? If's stressful, exhausting, and just flat out crushing. You will hurt, want sleep, and never see existing friends or family. This year will be the first holiday season I get to see my family in maybe like 8 years - Every other year I've been working or too exhausted and sore from work to travel to see them. Generally speaking, holidays mean nothing to kitchen staff except days you have even more work to do.

 

Do you like having money to spend on things? Too bad, because in most cases you get paid shit. And I don't mean just 'kinda bad', but as in 14/hr is, where I'm from, a 'Good' starting pay. Congrats, if you're lucky enough to work a normal work week at about 40 hours, you'll make an astounding 29k per year. 

 

Thankfully though, chefs who scream at you all the time are getting phased out - someone finally let it sink in teaching instead of throwing pans was a little better for a team building environment, but don't think you'll do something right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Get ready for lots of criticism - things need to be on point, every time, so a little 'oopsy' in the middle of a busy dinner service isn't usually met with a pat on the back and the chef saying 'I'm sure the gentleman waiting 20 minutes already for that steak you burnt the shit out of will understand and will buy us all Ferraris as a token of friendship!'.

 

I'm not saying all of this to be negative, I'm saying it to be truthful and honest about what you want to get in to. Too many young cooks these days get it in their heads they can be what they saw on Top Chef or what have you for minimal work, when the reality is that this is a very, very, tough industry. This is a profession for people who care, and are passionate, and really have to enjoy every aspect of food, or else it's pointless. Especially these days - you need to be knowledgeable, you need to be a problem solver, you need to be a hard and tireless worker, you need to be learning new things every. single. day. - and to be a chef, not just a cook,  you need to be a leader and a teacher, hold yourself to higher standards than the day before. Don't expect a payout any time soon, even in the first 10 years, honestly. And even then, it's all based on what you put into it yourself. You need to practice, to learn on your own and in the kitchen.

 

So again, if food and cooking is really something you are truly passionate, by all means go for it. But this is not a profession for the lighthearted, you need to really invest yourself. Try it out in a professional kitchen, and be honest to yourself later on if it's something you can stick with or not, there's no harm in realizing *now* that it isn't your thing.

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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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20 hours ago, dcarch said:

How is your health?

 

It better be very very good.

 

dcarch

 

#1 reason I didn't go to cooking school. 

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On 1/9/2006 at 6:42 AM, miladyinsanity said:

LOL!

Speaking as somebody who's quite possibly closest in age to your daughter here, I think her interests are still shaping. Maybe food will become her work, maybe it won't.

IMHO, I think she just needs to see what the real world is like. A wake-up call, if you will.

 

I think miladyinsanity has it right! I went the chef route for 7+ years. Worked in some great places, learned a lot. However, I realized I couldn't make it financially. Even working at the top 5 restaurants in the area. So I finished my degree and got a job as a data engineer and I am still only in my early 20s. So I could still make another switch.


"Sense Of Urgency" -Thomas Keller

86ed Chef's Advice

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14 hours ago, nonkeyman said:

 

So I finished my degree and got a job as a data engineer and I am still only in my early 20s. So I could still make another switch.

 

Oh, indeed. A friend of mine down in the US served several years in the Vietnam-era Navy, then went on to be an investment banker for a decade+, then managed hotels for a decade+, and eventually passed the Michigan bar and became a lawyer when already in his fifties. 

  • Like 1

"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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