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ChefTalk.com › Articles › Life After Culinary School Career Change Part I

Life After Culinary School Career Change Part I  

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Waiter, There's a Fork in my Career Path

This has to be at least chapter 10 in the Story of Logan.  I'll start with high school, which I graduated with no plans on going to college, of any kind.  During my junior year photo day I sat for the camera, threw up my collar and threw back my head.  The Sister (Catholic high school) assigned to make sure everyone behaved for his or her picture said to me, Logan, this is going to be the photo on your college transcript.  To which I replied, Take the picture.  I'm not going to college.


Three college degrees later I move into the latest phase of my life.  As I drive into Seattle I am overwhelmed with a feeling I haven't had in many years.  I haven't felt at home since my college days in Chico.  I had outgrown my birthplace and home for 23 years, Oxnard, CA (probably where your lemons and strawberries are from, go check the walk-in).  The cost of living outgrew Kristy and I in the San Francisco area.  Denver and I never really clicked, I guess.  Met some great people in Denver through Culinary school and work, but the town just wasn't for us.  New Orleans was, well, what a great place to spend a four-day weekend! We missed the West Coast.


Now the Pacific Northwest, with its fresh seafood, extensive produce, world-renowned wines, and the forever rain and gray ceiling gladly accepting our rent money, we have a new place to call home.  This isn't our first exposure to Seattle, my wife and I came up here for our honeymoon in 1997.  This had always been on our map of places to settle, and since the honeymoon fit in our budget, we spent a week here.  For seven days we saw the sites and tasted the best the city had to offer.  Our most memorable dining came on the plates of The Metropolitan Grill and Ray's Boathouse.  But I think the place we enjoyed the most was Noodle Ranch, a small, low-priced, single bowl, Pan-Asian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in Bell Town.  After a week of great April weather (sprinkled about two hours all week), we decided this would someday be the place I received my subscription to Gourmet Magazine. 


My job hunt started in late August 2002 with one interview and many resumes to distribute.  Our apartment complex sat at the base of Queen Ann Hill, 1 ½ miles north of downtown Seattle.  With Kristy already securing a teaching job, it was time for me to start bringing home the thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon and frying it up in the cast iron pan.   The one interview I was able to schedule before I arrived went well, but the job wasn't for me.  I was truly disappointed that it didn't work out because the menu was a small course, prix fixe, and seasonal menu, exactly what I was looking for at the time.  But the job was only Friday-Sunday and there was the Chef and a cook, that's it.  I saw that as great for job experience, but not so great when it came to work time flexibility.  I graciously exited the interview with both parties knowing I was not the ideal candidate.  I landed a second interview when I noticed a Chef packing up his truck for an offsite event.  I took my resume over to him, had a quick chat and he asked me to come in the next day to interview.  Again, another great interview, but this time there was the possibility of 30 hours a week until the busy season rolled back around.  The restaurant had a great reputation so I took him up on the offer to trail the following night. 


The next morning I received a call from a Chef who's name sounded vaguely familiar.  Turns out it was one of the Chefs I had sent my culinary school survey to a few years back.  I had previously tried to contact him but he had changed restaurants a couple times and I lost him.  I went to his restaurant and was offered a job after speaking with him and the Sous.  I told him about my pending trail, and would make a decision the next day.


I arrived for my trail at 4 p.m. and started working the line.  All went smooth and the Chef offered me a position pending his review of the budget and upcoming events.  If there is one thing I have learned about job hunting, it is to follow your gut feeling.  Something told me this was not the right place for me, even though I liked the Chef (he reminded me of a previous Chef and still good friend).  I chose not to pursue the position and accepted with the Chef I had contacted years ago.  I started working in the pantry in August and would move to sauté when ready.


Feet!  Back!  Neck!  Shoulders!  Hands!  I paid no attention to these until I started working 20-some hours on Saturdays and Sundays.  My schedule was Thursday, Friday 4-11, Saturday 9-9 and Sunday 8-4.  I can honestly say for the first 2-3 weeks I thought What the hell have I gotten myself into?! and Do I really want to do this the rest of my life?! on an hourly basis.  I quickly found out how tough a cook's life can be.  On top of the physical pain, I hated being away from my wife all the time.  My days off were Monday-Wednesday, which I basically spent alone.  It's not like you can call up your cook buddies and say Hey, come on over today and we'll grab some beer, hang out and watch Days of Our Lives'. 


Just when I got hooked on Texas Justice and Bonanza, another cook went and got himself into a little trouble in the walk-in.  It was enough trouble to land him in the unemployment office.  Although I was sad to see a talented cook get the boot, I was happy to see his 8 a.m-4 p.m., Monday-Friday shift open up.  And to one-up that, it was the same sauté position I had been trying to move into on the night shift.  Our Chef offered me the position, and now, five months later I go to work with a smile and welcome the weekend with open arms.  The daily aches and pains are still there, but not as noticeable.  I seem to have gotten into shape because things aren't as tough as they used to be, but large water-filled stockpots are heavy, no matter how much you like your job.  The best part of working sauté is getting a grasp on timing and learning how to cook things correctly.  And how can I forget my daily routine of two gallons of beurre blanc.  Butter sauce rules. 


What I have discovered since leaving Johnson and Wales is the road to become a Chef, whether it be in a restaurant, catering, personal chef, etc., is really, really hard work.  Fortunately for us the work is also challenging and gratifying.   My personal goals are clearer than they have ever been, and although I will not be in a restaurant setting for more than a couple years, I am closer to becoming who I want to be than I was yesterday.  And isn't that what a career change is all about? 


Until next month, keep on keepin' on...


 







ChefTalk.com › Articles › Life After Culinary School Career Change Part I