I graduated college in 2000 with two BAs and have worked in the financial industry for the past five years and decided in December that I wanted to move from the financial services industry to the food service industry.
When I started looking for places to get experience, I knew that I couldn't leave my day job. I had some major debt from drinking away my depression spawning from cubicle life. So, I decided that I would try to find somewhere that I could intern at part time.
I knew that the place that I would be interning at would either have to be close to my day job, as to be able to get there as quickly as possible after work, or close to my home, as to not be an issue when staying crazy late. So I started researching restaurants in those two areas that produced the cuisine and the caliber of cuisine that I eventually want to produce myself. I sent e-mails, faxes and letters to these restaurants and only one place got back to me.
After playing e-mail tag with the executive chef/owner and having several missed encounters just due to sudden schedule changes, I ended up speaking with the chef de cuisine. I talked about what my goals were and what I was looking for to which hesaid, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any space to hire you." To which I replied, "Chef, I'm not looking for money right now. I have a day job. I'm just looking to get into the kitchen and to get some experience." He seemed taken aback for a second and said, "Well, you can come hang out a couple of nights a week if you want." And I asked, "When do I start?"
That was back in January. I started coming in on Mondays and Tuesdays after my day job. I thought I would be peeling potatoes and chopping onions, but instead, he put me on the garde manger station with a guy who had been there for about six months full time.
After about a month of cooking two nights a week, the guy who I worked garde manger with said to me, "Just so you know, in two weeks, I'm giving my two weeks notice, so if you want to move in, now is the time." But due to my debt I couldn't go full time. However, when he left, I picked up Saturday and Sunday nights for pay. They were actually paying me and I actually got to come in to do prep.
After about a month of being paid two days that I was on the schedule and coming in for two nights of internship where I wasn't on the schedule, I bumped into the executive chef in the dry storage room. "ZEN!!!," he said. "What are you doing here? You're not on the schedule." I told him that I knew and that even though I wasn't on the schedule, I told the chef de cuisine that I would keep coming in for those nights unless he kicked me out of the kitchen. To that, he said, "You know, we should really start paying you for these hours too."
And so has begun my transition into the Culinary world. This is the best thing that I have ever done with my life. I feel invigorated everytime I hear the ticket machine buzzing. I'm almost done paying off the debt and after saving for a few months, I'm taking all of my vacation from my day job and I'm going to Europe to eat for a month. Following that, I'll save a few thousand dollars and I'll make the jump to full time at a restaurant. I just feel incredibly lucky to have taken my first couple of steps into the culinary world in a two and a half star bistro.
So that's the short of my story. If you want the long story, it would involve talking about war wounds, burns, cursing and little explosions.