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.

Burnout


RonThePirate
 Share

Recommended Posts

I can remember so well, and so clearly, the day I walked out of Aurora--and in a larger sense, the restaurant industry. That was in 2005 and I was 21, I'd been working my way around the fine dining circuit in Dallas. I wanted to become a chef. I wanted to become a great chef. I wanted to become the greatest chef in history. I was filled with ambition and determination, I wanted to work with the best so I could be one of the best. I had great expectations for what I wanted to do in a kitchen and beyond (and still do).

And one day, July 1, 2005 in particular: I quietly cleaned my station, wrote a prep list, collected my tools, books, and knives (which my chef had abused--sorry, it really irritated me how he handled them), and I walked out. Everyone in the restaurant caught on to what I was doing and said good bye, wished me well. I drove off, got a call from my chef cussing me out, but I didn't care anymore. I didn't care, I was disillusioned. I stopped cooking, except for special occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.), and I faded away from the industry.

I left the industry, and have "seen" what else the world has to offer and I understand its pros and its cons. People make any work either fun or terrible, I've learned that. Standing around, waiting to help some ignorant freak... whatever gets a paycheck though, right?

An aspiring chef is a hard thing to be, we don't get paid much, and we don't go out much. Herein the problem of this lifestyle comes into play. Does 80 hours of work at a restaurant that has 5-stars from its local news paper (yeehaw) deserve $350 a week? I say yes, because I was cooking really cool dishes, mastering new skills, working with a terrific group of people that made the job fun. The chef made it hell, so much to the point that cooking was no longer enjoyable for me. It wasn't fun, it was a chore.

The politics of the industry are so wayside, it's difficult to survive. And that's what's kept me out. The kitchen doesn't feel like the place I should be, and it breaks my heart because I've put my heart and soul into everything up to reach that point, and suddenly--snap--I couldn't tolerate the attitudes and treatment anymore. And yes, I was working for an over-demanding chef, yes, I was physically exhausted (slept 21 hours strait when I got home), yes, I think too much about this shit, but there's only so much one can take in the end. The pay sucked, the hours sucked, the management sucked, the location was kinda inconvenient, but the crew was unforgettable.

Seems like forever ago, but still, now that I've started cooking again... why should go back? I feel like I can't work in a kitchen but I know I can cook the food. Too young? Too immature? Too soft? Too weak? Too slow? Too clumsy? Too mental? I do not know. But if any of you, dear readers, have an opinion or advice or story or recommendation or whatever your imagination wants, please do so. There's a part of me that wants to go back into the kitchen because it's what I've done, it's what I'm good at, and people realize that when I cook. Other times I think, it's only a kitchen, why don't you take on the world? You can do more when you take on the world... yes, but is it better to make a lifetime of memories or memories for a lifetime?

I really needed to vent :hmmm:

Thank you! :smile:

Ron Lipsky

Aspiring Chef

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The atmosphere of the kitchen is a powerful thing, isn't it? The sheer adrenaline rush of performing at a high level for an extended period, the satisfaction of battling pain and fatigue to meet ridiculous time demands, usually with insufficient resources?

I ask myself many of the same questions you do, Ron, though in my case it's complicated by the fact of being 20+ years older (I'm a career changer). I love what I do, but recognize that the pay is not commensurate with the time and stress demanded. The physical and mental strain are not to be lightly dismissed. This time of the year, in particular (November and December are ghastly busy where I am), I am usually ill from the pace of the preceding six-eight weeks.

To me, the bottom-line question has to be your passion. Do you still have it? Does good food, and good cooking, still excite you as it used to? The workload will be similar from one busy restaurant to another, but the chef's personality makes a huge difference. I've been blessed in my bosses and co-workers, but many of my friends and former classmates have not been so fortunate. Having lived a varied life since I left home at 15 (in the '70's, that would be) I have drawn a few lasting conclusions from my experience. One of them is, "Life is too short to work for an asshole."

In short, I would suggest that you take some time to rethink your experience, and take that chef's unfortunate personality out of the equation. Look at what's left. Do you like it? Do you want it?

I don't want to sound paternal or condescending, but man, you're young! At twenty-two or twenty-three, you've got time to try several things, yet.

As I read your post, I see a love for food and cooking. If you come back to the industry for another four or five years, you will have ample opportunity to learn and grow professionally. If you ultimately decide that it's not for you, you'll have still learned many valuable skills. The people skills you acquire in the pressure-cooker world of the kitchen transfer well, and few other careers can inculcate the sort of focused intensity you learn as a cook. These are both very portable things, which would serve you well in the longer term.

Conversely, if you choose to walk away for three, four, five years, well...that doesn't mean you can never come back. Speaking now from the chef's perspective, if I'm interviewing a guy who got burned out, tried other things, and decided the passion to cook was still there, well...I'm probably going to give that guy a job. Not without the soul-searching interview, you understand, but he'd have an advantage. Please understand that this is not hypothetical on my part, I've got a couple of guys working for me who went that route.

Finally, bear in mind that there are other ways to make a living as a cook besides working in a restaurant. Cooking classes, catering, personal cheffing, and the like, alone or in combination, provide a satisfactory living for many talented cooks. Self-employment is not for everyone, and can certainly be a terrible slog, but it can also be very satisfying. Many members of this board earn their living this way.

Like most people from Atlantic Canada, I come from a long line of pragmatic survivors. My attitude is that you make your decisions in life, abide the result, and press on. Whichever way you choose to take your future, you cannot go far wrong if you approach it with passion and integrity.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"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

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... One of them is, "Life is too short to work for an asshole."...

...Finally, bear in mind that there are other ways to make a living as a cook besides working in a restaurant.  Cooking classes, catering, personal cheffing, and the like, alone or in combination, provide a satisfactory living for many talented cooks.  Self-employment is not for everyone, and can certainly be a terrible slog, but it can also be very satisfying.  Many members of this board earn their living this way...

Life is definitely too short to work for an asshole. But the irony is assholes make dynamite small business owners. What is up with that. The industry abounds with them. There's cool people too...probably...just kidding... both of them. :laugh:

No but seriously, burn out sucks, man. My t-shirt's in the wash. Unfortunately, being smoked is permanent. It flavors all that follows. It's a short path to the next jumping off place. I really hate that that happened to yah. But still yet you did good to get yourself out. Let me repeat, you did good. And probably the guy rode you because you were so much better than he was. Just a good guess on my part.

I think you should put it behind you, though it ever lingers in the nostrils and find your spot out there in food-dom. Use it to your advantage as a barometer.

I mean I worked for a woman who's husband sexually harassed me in front of her. Twice. Now who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Just as effective. Like she's gonna document that.

Glory to God the stories I could tell, the places I could go.

But here's the deal don't let the assholes win. It's that simple. Go for it. Your world obviously is the kitchen huh.

I vote for personal chef because you are more of a people person. Learn from books until you get up the nerve to get up close & personal with the next nutjob.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

for a vacation i suggest time off between jobs and school.

imo you should really think about what you want to do if you're having doubts a year into your career. get out now and do something more profitable. you shouldn't have to look hard!

sincere regards

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ron,

All of us in the know in Texas understand the working conditions offered by the chef at Aurora. We all have been there. I too have walked out in mid-shift for the same reason, it's called, "firing yourself". You just had bad luck going to Aurora.

One thing to remember, your time, skills, and effort are what you have to offer, you need to learn that those attributes ARE in demand. Get out there and find a chef of whom you can learn from. Try The French Room or similar, a little more of a corporate envirenment will preclude any particular chef making everything personal.

Good Luck,

Dan Aleman

Austin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boo Hoo-it's a hard life and it isn't a secret anymore, no matter who you work for(try line cooking in NYC for 350a week)-so you wanna be a great chef, then make yourself a great chef. Quit your whining and go for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You write so well, why not try to become a food writer? I'm sure that's not an easy field either but you'd get yelled at less!

Someone mentioned cubicle farms ... they are mind-numbingly dull. And you get fat from just sitting there all day. And there's the politics....

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boo Hoo-it's a hard life and it isn't a secret anymore, no matter who you work for(try line cooking in NYC for 350a week)-so you wanna be a great chef, then make yourself a great chef. Quit your whining and go for it.

I agree that "BooHoo" is perfect and stellar advice for whining.

In fact "Get a grip on your ass" was one of my favorite things to 'relate' to the kids. :biggrin: And while I believe there is a time and place for whining, although a little goes a long way, I think Ron's post goes beyond whining to (internal) train wreck, aka burn out. And while it is survivable and you can come out better than new on the other side, unfortunatley train wreck is much more difficult to untangle and burn out leaves permanent scars.

But yeah, get it passed yah and go for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can remember so well, and so clearly, the day I walked out of Aurora--and in a larger sense, the restaurant industry.  That was in 2005 and I was 21, I'd been working my way around the fine dining circuit in Dallas.  I wanted to become a chef.  I wanted to become a great chef.  I wanted to become the greatest chef in history.  I was filled with ambition and determination, I wanted to work with the best so I could be one of the best.  I had great expectations for what I wanted to do in a kitchen and beyond (and still do).

And one day, July 1, 2005 in particular: I quietly cleaned my station, wrote a prep list, collected my tools, books, and knives (which my chef had abused--sorry, it really irritated me how he handled them), and I walked out.  Everyone in the restaurant caught on to what I was doing and said good bye, wished me well.  I drove off, got a call from my chef cussing me out, but I didn't care anymore.  I didn't care, I was disillusioned.  I stopped cooking, except for special occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.), and I faded away from the industry.

I left the industry, and have "seen" what else the world has to offer and I understand its pros and its cons.  People make any work either fun or terrible, I've learned that.  Standing around, waiting to help some ignorant freak... whatever gets a paycheck though, right?

An aspiring chef is a hard thing to be, we don't get paid much, and we don't go out much.  Herein the problem of this lifestyle comes into play.  Does 80 hours of work at a restaurant that has 5-stars from its local news paper (yeehaw) deserve $350 a week?  I say yes, because I was cooking really cool dishes, mastering new skills, working with a terrific group of people that made the job fun.  The chef made it hell, so much to the point that cooking was no longer enjoyable for me.  It wasn't fun, it was a chore.

The politics of the industry are so wayside, it's difficult to survive.  And that's what's kept me out.  The kitchen doesn't feel like the place I should be, and it breaks my heart because I've put my heart and soul into everything up to reach that point, and suddenly--snap--I couldn't tolerate the attitudes and treatment anymore.  And yes, I was working for an over-demanding chef, yes, I was physically exhausted (slept 21 hours strait when I got home), yes, I think too much about this shit, but there's only so much one can take in the end.  The pay sucked, the hours sucked, the management sucked, the location was kinda inconvenient, but the crew was unforgettable.

Seems like forever ago, but still, now that I've started cooking again... why should go back?  I feel like I can't work in a kitchen but I know I can cook the food.  Too young?  Too immature?  Too soft?  Too weak?  Too slow?  Too clumsy?  Too mental?  I do not know.  But if any of you, dear readers, have an opinion or advice or story or recommendation or whatever your imagination wants, please do so.  There's a part of me that wants to go back into the kitchen because it's what I've done, it's what I'm good at, and people realize that when I cook.  Other times I think, it's only a kitchen, why don't you take on the world?  You can do more when you take on the world... yes, but is it better to make a lifetime of memories or memories for a lifetime?

I really needed to vent  :hmmm:

Thank you!  :smile:

I totally sympathize with you man, I just recently left the industry. I have thought about this time and time again and its really hard to say why. The kitchen is a strange place though. Mys elf i burnt out faster than normal becasue of my competitive attitude always comparing myself and just beating myself up for things i could not control.

Although as the days go by and in my situation it was not the cehf who made it a bad experience but its something that I couldnt explain. I just didnt feel as if I was enjoying it as much as I did anymore. I was woking in France at this point and the kitchen I was working in was very welcoming i made some great friends, but something was missing an di couldn't explain it. I was working long long hours, i had no friends outside of the kitchen, barely spoke to my family, I was a social outcast. I came back home at some point and started to look for a job and when i finally got one at a very prominent place, i just didnt want to go back anymore and it was just a feeling I got that just told me it wasnt where i belonged anymore.

I have thought about going back from time to time and i can only describe it as the "itch" it can be very rewarding working in the kitchen butit comes at a price. I am going to give myself a few years off from the industry, im not saying that i wont go back for sure but i am going to go back to school and get a busineess degree before i decide. I come from a back ground where educationi s very important so going to cook for aliving didnt appeal to my family, but I ended up deciding what I wanted to do with my life because it is my future right. Well it has come full circle now and im going back to school not because im being pressured into it by my family but because im choosing to go back n my own terms.

Anyways this has turned out to be an interesting rant for me haha nice to get things off my chest.

But to close i just wanted to wish you the best of luck and you know you might find yourself back in the industry and you might not and its not a matter of you're too weak, too whatever it is, you do what you think is right for you, what make you happy. I know it can be confusing though, because you will probably tink " well, cooking makes me happy, so is that what i should be doing" or even "i've been doing it so long, why stop now, just a few more years." But really make up your mind 100% before yiou make your decision. What's really important in your life, for me i realized it was my family cuz you only got one and your loved ones will alwys be there for you so don't neglect them. OK take it from someone whos been there and back you'll know what when its time to leave and when to go back. :raz: LAter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will tell you guys/gals right now that I just come off of a 5 month stint for a know it all my way or no way - yelling throwing make the servers cry chef and I think he sucked - I left there thank GOD because of my wife. But this industry is changing - more ladies in the kitchen and sexual harassment can get lots of distration. Before changing my career I was subject to the training films on harassment and a good work environment and the studies that went along with it - a confused unhappy borderline postal walking out on you chef is not a good thing to have = the place now is a family and understand and help each other out - does not mean we don't get confused at what the servers punch things in - and yes that is nerve stomping - but all in all everyone is to get that person fed - good food and drink and get money - buring out is the responsibility of MGT to see things that aren't quite right - before chef joe comes in and goes postal or leaves.

addition - burnout is MGT - if they wnat to keep the good people then you do something if not you don't - let people fire themselves. I come from the real non food world and vaulable people are hard tom find and keep - so you gotta do something even if it is small

Edited by Jakea222 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

buring out is the responsibility of MGT to see things that aren't quite right - before chef joe comes in and goes postal or leaves.

In a perfect world, it might be managment's responsibility. In a hotel situation with a nice corporate world with an HR and lawyers yes, mmm good stuff. Let's play hardball! But in most small businesses no. You just need to luck out & land in a good spot with good people. Like I said, I was

sexually harassed

by the boss' husband

in front of her

twice.

Oh and that was resolved to everyone's mutual satisfaction :laugh::rolleyes: NOT!

So I think it's more that each of us need to be responsible for ourselves. We need to be sensitive enough to ourselves to our own senses to see when deal-breaker levels have been attained and take action before we break. Once you do break, you have that ability to detect deal breaker status already downloaded if you decide to login for future reference. It acts like a force field, lights flash and bells ring, it's log off time! Like a nuclear reaction, you have time to act before final countdown/meltdown.

When you are continuously slammed in any pursuit and sleep deprived etc, it's more difficult to see those trees until you wake up to find one up your...

Edited by K8memphis (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I front of the boss' wife - that is crazy. BUt I will tell you the real world has lawyers looking and I was called several times as depositions were constant. I can say that the tone at the CIA was changing. Some professors were old school and you could tell they had to hold themselves back from comments and afew did even slip - it was general statements - not directed towards anyone. BUT I worked for an old school CIA and he was a jerk - aged me 10 years in 6 months. Used to pride himself on making people cry or the servers cry - that was always tough - as I got to play bartenders and dry the eyes and push them towards work. I can say as a career changer - I will NOT follow that kind of crap nor allow it to happen when and if I get to a point. I treat everyone wiuth respect and dignity and yelling and degrading or feeling up certainly does not psychologically build up people to perform at 100% - so you guys saying suck it up - that is BS and for 10$/hr that really is BS - you pay me 2-3 or 4 times that then I will let you vent and I will take the vent for the employees too - people are valuable - good people are hard to find. Sorry about your situation it really pisses me off to think about it -

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I  front of the boss' wife - that is crazy.  BUt I will tell you the real world has lawyers looking and I was called several times as depositions were constant.  .... Sorry about your situation it really pisses me off to think about it -

Crazy like a fox, man. During his apology for issue #1 he created issued #2. Think about it. who is she (the owner) gonna side with if I escalated it. Life's too short. No no no, don't waste any energy on that. It's over. And actually my burnout was years earlier, so for that employment episode I logged into 'emminent burnout maintenence screen' and got myself out of there.

But the desire and ability to create wonderful foodstuffs remains in all of us whether we can do it professionally or not. That is one of the wonderful consolations is that we can do it every day anyway.

F 'em.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  The chef made it hell, so much to the point that cooking was no longer enjoyable for me.  It wasn't fun, it was a chore.

The pay sucked, the hours sucked, the management sucked, the location was kinda inconvenient, but the crew was unforgettable.

Seems like forever ago, but still, now that I've started cooking again... why should go back?

Well, the hours and pay will always suck. You know that going into it. But if cooking becomes an unenjoyable chore, that's a different story.

I work in a kitchen with a lot of negative reinforcement and a lot of disgruntled people, though I hear it's one of the nicer places to work in. Much of the time I'm cranky myself, usually due to the unrealistic timeframe expectations. At that point, cooking becomes a chore and I fantasize about opening a corner bodega.

Why go back? We had a guy last night say he's travelled a lot and that was the best food he's had in years. And I cooked it for him. So that's why. Pride, glory and a sense of utilizing your talent to thrill and amaze.

Ask yourself: What would you do if you didn't do this? I know I'd be at home, cranking out dish after dish, with a full freezer and no one to eat it all.

Best of luck to ya, let us know what happens. You can always go into catering or small commercial production somewhere, or private cheffing. One of the most enjoyable cooking jobs I've had was for a meals-on-wheels-type charity- hey, it's not like they're going to pay any less.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm surprised that no one is able to think out of the box on this. If one can't hack it as a a career cook, but wants to stay in the "industry", there are tons of other possibilities. Private domestic positions, teachingat a local votech, etc. There are possibilities to create your own niche if its the right area. I've worked with professional prep cooks who could've led any kitch, but instead chose to cruise in well paid prep positions, fixed scheduals, at quality restaurants. Then there's there's the prepared food kitchens of ,say, Whole Foods. Do you ever see any stress on their faces? They are in a state of constant karmic bliss, and the employee discount doesn't suck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I think you DO have passion for the kitchen. You DID make the right choice to trust your gut and get out of that bad situation. I think you DO have the balls to work hard and reap the rewards of a job well done. I think you feed off of that and if you do want to re-pursue your passion, you will be able to put it in perspective. I think this time off has helped you realize what you want, and next time, you won't let it go so far as to walk out ceremoniously. Trust your gut and find a kitchen that fits.

Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

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