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In the very early stages of considering career changing

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone, I'm new to the board although I have browsed here very occasionally. :)

Anyhow I graduated college with a degree in business and management, and am currently attending law school. I can't say that I'm dissatisfied with law so far, but at the same time I keep thinking that before I continue and dump a ridiculous amount of money into law school I should make sure this is something I want to do, or there is nothing I want to do better. Which is what brings me to this forum.

Cooking is something I have always enjoyed although I have not found time to do it very much in the last 5 years or so. Also throughout my life I have toyed with the idea of being a chef but never took it seriously. But it did always sound fun to me. Being older and a little wiser I now realize that I'm sure being a chef isn't all fun times or like when I would cook dinner for my family, but for some reason I always find myself drawn to it anytime I think about changing careers or considering other paths I could take in life. But I also have not been filled with a burning desire to be a chef all my life like a lot of people on this site seem to be.

The thought of being a chef appeals to me, but of course the problem is I have absolutely no food service experience, even waiting tables, and I really do not have any advanced cooking experience either. I can make basic stuff, and I can do a few mildly complex dishes or baking, but I know several non-foodservice people who's cooking skills far outweigh my own.

So as I slowly feel out other career options when think about trying a career in culinary arts I find it both daunting and exciting. For the first time in 8 years I would be doing something I have absolutely no idea whether or not I would be good. Maybe I wouldn't have the sort of artistic creativity needed to be a good chef, or maybe I just wouldn't have the sort of coordination necessary to pull it off. The point is I'm very apprehensive even thinking about it, since the skills used would be those I have never used before with the possible exception of multi-tasking or mangement.

Anyhow I've looked at culinary schools and whenever I read or browse sites about that I immediately get excited and the thought of just learning how to cook and learning all these new skills immediately appeals to me. But it would be extremely foolish to even apply to the CIA or some place without knowing what the job is really like. What I would need to do is try working at a restaurant for 6 months to a year and see what if it were something I would really like to do, and then go to culinary school to pursue it. But even working part time I couldn't really do that at this point unless I were to leave law school, which I'm definitely not going to do for at least another semester. But if wanted to start getting into the culinary world waiting until I graduate would be unwise since I would then have almost a house-worth of debt to pay off. So it's kind of a catch-22, but I am starting to seriously think about how I could get some experience before I do anything rash.

Sorry about this huge rant, but I just wanted to get it off my chest and see if anyone has been in any similar situations.
post #2 of 10
Why couldn't you work PT while going to law school? Seems like the best option right now, and it would give you a taste of what it is like w/out changing your life.

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 
I'm currently putting in about 10 hours of studying per day during the week, and the only real option for any sort of PT work would be saturday, and maybe part of sunday. The biggest problem is I don't know how flexible any of the places around here would be with a schedule. There are some weekends I'm almost entirely free and others I wouldn't be able to work at all unless I wanted to fall behind in class. But if I found the right job it could be possible.

Whether or not I can find a job right now to get some experience another thing I was thinking about was just trying to get a better idea of what cooking is really like and taking some time every weekend or so to try cooking something new and see how it goes. This might not be pretty in some cases since the really good things I can cook right now I've been doing since childhood. This idea appeals to me merely from a relaxation standpoint since the little cooking I do always has some sort of relaxing quality to it, though this is not going to do anything to help me see what working in a high stress environment is like.
post #4 of 10
Okay here we go. My opinion only. Before I became a Chef I was in the engineering field. I did not want to end up like my father who was also in Engineering but did not enjoy it and always wanted to be a lawyer. I decided if I was going to be happy, I needed to do something I loved which was cooking. I did it, I was happy, my health and finances went down the toilet and I'm back in Engineering and I hate it, but I can't be in a kitchen anymore (not a pro one anyway, my health won't allow it) So I see things from many sides now. My opinion is you are in a position that when you work hard you will get paid well for it. You may end up putting the same hours in that we do, but the pay and bennies will be so much better! Will you be happier, ehhh....perhaps not. But I will tell you that if managed properly money "can" buy you the freedom to exlore and do what you like. With a Law degree you can still be closely involved with food in many ways. Be on boards of corporations, start your own business **** write a book and be a judge on the Iron Chef!
At the very least, you're still young, become a lawyer work for a few years, pay off school, invest a little, and take come cooking courses. You don't have to become a Chef to get tremendous satisfaction and happiness from cooking. Look at Jacque Torres dentist. He has a successful practice, took courses from the FCI and worked in Jacques kitchen for fun.
There are lots of ways to enjoy but you have a chance to create a firm foundation for the rest of your life. I say stick with Law for now, food can come later. (Then we'll talk!)
My latest musical venture!
Also "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
My latest musical venture!
Also "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
post #5 of 10
Even if you just get a part-time job as a dishwasher, you'll be able to see what it's like in a professional kitchen. You really should observe before you make any huge life change. I went to restaurant school with no experience, and while it worked out well for me, it might not for you. (In other words, do as I say, not as I did. :crazy: )

And -- maybe there is some other foodservice establishment where you might get your weekend job. Restaurants aren't the only game! Look at residences (if you're on a school campus, what about dining halls or fraternities/sororities?), caterers, even hospitals, -- they all provide food 7 days a week, and might take you on when you are available.

But I must tell you: one doesn't go to school and come out a chef. Even the best chefs on this site will agree that you are always in the process of becoming, but if you think you've gotten there, you're wrong.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice you guys are giving me. Everyone has made some good points. I've read a lot of the posts around here and I definitely would not make any advanced plans to change careers or go to culinary school without experience first. And I also realize there is definitely something to be said for finishing my degree here and practicing law, so long as I continue to think I would like to, which is what my worry has been. We'll just have to see what the next year or so brings as to what I decide to do. I might check into seeing if there's any place I could work a little on the weekends, just to see if this is just a pipe dream or if its something I really would want to try and make work. :look:
post #7 of 10

In the very early stages ...

You are a law student ... do you have summers off?

When I was in college, majoring in English and Chemistry, I volunteered in a local shelter that fed 150 people a day. No, it wasn't a "professional" kitchen; however, the regular "cooks" were all local restaurant owners, chefs, caterers, food service managers, and people who loved to cook and share.

The foodstuffs donated were different every day; I came away with an understanding of how to look at the ingredients available, figure out how to use them to best advantage for nutrition and flavor, create a satisfying meal from practically nothing. I learned more about the business of food economics than I ever would have otherwise.

So, use your summers wisely; work in good restaurants, take the time to be a Gleaner (folks who go out to the farms, dairies, food factories, stores, etc. and get the surplus or "sell today" foods) and learn about buying produce and everything else in season and out. Make friends with the producers of the raw ingredients: you'll know if you're meant to be a real chef in short order.

No pun intended!
post #8 of 10
Stay in law school. You'll end up earning far more money as a lawyer than as a chef. Yes, cooking is rewarding and fun, but most people get into this field with blindfolds on thinking that after graduating from culinary school, they will be hired on as an executive chef at some 5-star restaurant. Sorry, doesnt happen that way. Although I don't know what branch of law you are studying, my friend just graduated from law school majoring in criminal law and is now a county prosecutor earning 65K a year. Compare that to the average starting wage of a chef out of culinary school earning $10 an hour working 60 (or more) hours a week. Even with the overtime (which they tax the **** out of you for) you end up with a bi-weekly salary of about $1000, or about $24K a year. 65K (basically sitting in court all day long) vs 24k (standing on your feet for 60 hours a week)= become a lawyer. My friend also has a passion for cooking and after he graduated from law school and found a good paying job, he attended culinary school on weekends, and graduated within a year and had the income required to start up his own private catering operation. He only does weekend catering and only operates as a private chef for small private parties (maximum 10 people). However, he only offers high quality, premium foods for a generally wealthy clientel (many who work in the law profession) and he averages about $1000-$1500 per weekend, with only working about 3-4 hours a day. That combined with his salary as an prosecutor, he earns about 120K a year. So his gets the best of both worlds. His passion for law and cooking. Plus with his income, unlike many chefs who rent a $500 condo each month, he owns a 1 million dollar home and, unlike most chefs, actually has been on a vacation. So my advice: Law School first, Culinary School second. I wish I would have done that fresh out of high school.
post #9 of 10
Law graduate here. Worked in law for fourteen years before I copped on to myself and got out.

Go and get yourself a part-time job in a kitchen, Tim, and experience real world cooking. The reason I say this is that college cooking and professional kitchens are very, very different and one does not prepare you for the other. This is what I did and it was a good introduction. I can confidently say that for every 20 people that has walked in the door at work wanting to be a cook, only one has hung around. You only know it's hard work when you can feel it in your bones :)

I can't imagine what are you studying if you're studying for ten hours a day. Even when I was doing finals, I wasn't notching up that much. So let's be realistic, shall we?

If you want to live life fully, it should never be about the money. Because if it is, then you're in it for the wrong reasons :D

Culinary Arts is an interesting term. Because, to me, there's nothing artistic about it. No one owns a recipe. No one invents anything. Nothing is new. Not even the alchemy and fusion caper they were carting around a while back. It's all been done before. Cooking is a trade. That's what I love about it. Making money out of cooking is an art form. Which is where your business quals would come in very handy. Of course, I speak from a cultural perspective because, unlike the US where you have huge schools devoted entirely to cooking, in Australia you do not get a degree in cooking as it's a trade course which is done at a technical college. For the most part, you are expected to obtain a kitchen position first (which most people do) and support this with classroom studies. This method takes approximately three years to complete. Some people choose to do their theory course first (6 months) and then get a job but they must do two years' experience and then trade test before getting their papers (unless they already have that experience).

I'm currently completing my theory studies as well as working in a kitchen and I'm having an absolute ball. I'm set to complete the back end of an apprenticeship (about 18 months) and then I'm away.

And I couldn't be happier.
post #10 of 10
I already had my undergraduate degree in Computer Science before I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue cooking as a career. Of course, I had many of the same doubts as most people do when they face such a situation so I ended up doing my master's while working my way through restaurants (I managed to regularly put in about 25 hours a week, or about 3 days a week). When I finished school I realized that harsh reality hadn't dulled my love for the craft so in the end I pursued it wholeheartedly.

I never went to culinary school (nor do I think I ever will... I just don't think it's worth my time and money at this stage), but as they say there are many ways to skin a cat.

I agree with MeatPie on many of the points he brings up... cooking is first and foremost a craft and trade, even if you work at a high concept place such as Alinea; there are basic tools and skills in the industry you will need to master in order to be successful, no matter where you work. It it also work that requires some physical endurance, you will be up on your feet a lot, you will be burned, cut, frozen, bitten, stung, and be privy to all sorts of other wonderful sensations on a regular basis.

Oh, and most importantly, you will be underpaid.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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