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Trying to convince myself to take the plunge...having difficulty

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
No, I'm not a professional chef...I've never even worked in a restaurant. Cooking has just been a very serious, very passionate hobby of mine for a number of years now.

Recently I looked into maybe taking the plunge, going to academy, getting into the industry...but I'm having a hard time reconciling the expense vs. reward of it all. There's a great culinary academy just down the road from me (almost literally)...but 10 grand for a 1 year certificate and close to 40 for a degree? And that's just tuition, not even the peripherals to buy (the uniforms, apparently my ceramic knives aren't permitted at this academy so I'd have to get a new set of metal/carbon ones, etc.) Does a career in cooking (keep in mind I'm not talking about owning a restaurant or becoming some sort of great executive chef; I assume that's a pretty rare thing) really pay well enough to justify that?

I've got a buddy who's a line chef at a steakhouse....he doesn't even clear 35 grand a year, and he's been at it a while. It seems like an awful lot of money for a position at the other end that doesn't really level out the expense. Is his salary just abnomally low or do I really have the numbers right in my head? And if did you guys even pay for it? My fiancee just started up back in school for her business management degree and they only gave her like 5 grand between the Pell Grant and the 2 Stafford loans--the rest came out of our pockets (though she at least has tuition reimbursement at work)...I assume most don't just have the difference laying around.
post #2 of 24

Just my opinion...

Hi! I would suggest to you that before you take the "plunge" that you try to get a job in a restaurant and try it out first. You can be very passionate about cooking when you are doing what you want to do...but doing the "every day grind" is an entirely different story! There are many jobs available in restaurant kitchens that you don't need a degree for. Get your feet wet...then if you really like it...take the "plunge".






post #3 of 24
This topic has been discussed in lenght, use the search option to read more about taking the plunge.
Remember, that 40 grand only gets you a degree, not a career or job.
As far as becoming a really great Executive Chef, that is not a rare thing. This country, my state, your town, this board, has many great Chefs. I always compare it to the NBA, Jordan did not make his high school team. There are thousands of better players, playing street ball then in the NBA.
Some chefs are fortunate to get exposure.But I bet that the great chefs here might be a little jaelous but they certainly don't envy them. The work load for these chefs are tremendous.
If you work your way up and achieve Exec. Chef status with a hotel or restaurant and the operation is profitable and most important, your customers enjoy your style, you are a Great Executive Chef.
If your hedging or waffling I suggest (like Kaylinda says)you do a little more research into the field. Once the passion sets in ,the monies are no longer an issue.
good luck
post #4 of 24

i know the feeling

i never went to school for cheffing, it is only a degree, but a nice one to have. like it was prev said you should get your feet wet first. it is not the most rewarding perfession in income stanards at first, but it can be. the pleasure is cooking for the customers and it is a demanding field. With out experience you will have to start at th bottom and work your way up like all great cooks. it takes time and patience which is the hardest disiplin to master. i wish you all the luck if you truelly feel that this field is for you.
post #5 of 24
Thread Starter 
Danke, but not plausible. I'm a younger man, but I'm not young. Have a mortgage, 2 cars to make payments on, a boat that's not yet paid for, furniture loans, credit cards, etc. etc. etc. I can't exactly abandon a 90k a year job to go slog tables or scrub dishes for 8 bucks an hour to see what the back of a restaurant is--my interest is gonna have to be pretty much based on nothing more than my love of food.

Was just curious what the pay grade was for a higher end chef type other than the ones you see on TV or opening restaurants with 200 dollar a plate type meals. From what I've read in the last day...doesn't seem like something that really comes close in terms of income. I'd have been willing to go down to 60 or so just for happiness factor, but 20-40...I'd go bankrupt :P
post #6 of 24
Even if you graduate a culinary program you are not only going to have more debt from school but you will most likely still be starting out at about the $8-10/hr range. I am actually dealing with the same thing right now...lots of debts/bills and cannot afford to leave my full time job at this point in my life, so I am trying to get a second cooking job somewhere. Could you get a part time job, maybe at night or weekends? It would give you experience and also give you alittle extra money to get stuff paid off....
post #7 of 24
First, you will not be a chef right out of school. If you're lucky, you could get 30-35K/year strait out of school as a cook. The pay scale for cooks/chefs varies wildly - I've known executive chefs of well-regarded restaurants who only make 45-50K/year, but then theres also chefs out there making millions. For cooks it's anywhere from 10 dollars per hour (if you've got decent training, otherwise could even be 8 or 9) to 60K/year (in larger outfits only, with experience). Cooks lead a pretty difficult life - hours are long, pay sucks, the only perks are free food and alcohol (not necessarily a good thing - this industry turns out alot of drunks). For chefs the hours are even longer, the stress is higher, but the pay is actually decent.

With the amount of financial commitments you already have, becomming a cook (with intentions of later becoming a chef) might not be the best idea...
post #8 of 24

Pastry Chef & Sugar Artist


In most professions it takes time to build income as well as your very precious reputation as being skilled and in high demand. I started my pastry/specialty and wedding cake business out of my home in 1993.
In 2005 I averaged 8 to 9 weddings a weekend . . . this did not include the additional birthdays. $150,000.00 in 2005 is not too bad for a licensed, home-based business that I can call my own.

Not only do I make as much money as I wish, but I have a fabulous reputation and have built up an extremely lucrative referral business as well.

If you are satisfied with just making money then perhaps you may wish to scrub the idea of becoming a chef. If you truly have a passion for the culinary field then your chances of success increase.

Like anything . . . hard work, passion for the work, determination to never give up your dream, and luck are a few of the ingredients to success.
You may check out some of the sugar artistry I do on: I wish you the best in making your decision.

post #9 of 24

have you ever thought of...

starting your own personal chef service? Many Personal Chefs are not formally trained, and they make anywhere from $35-$50 per hour. The challenge is marketing you biz. I am working full-time in the "corporate world" and doing the PC thing on weekends and nights. This is one way to get the rewards of a food-related career without shelling out all those bucks for school. All you really need is to be a great cook and to get your food safety certificate and insurance. Best wishes!
post #10 of 24
What exactly is a personal chef? and is there a large market for such a thing?
post #11 of 24

Working/exposure/ $

If you can't turn loose of most of that "material", or pay it off quickly, scrap the idea of the full school course. If you want to work AND make money, learn to be a waiter or bartender. Some of those guys just started wearing shoes a couple years ago, and almost immediately make better money than all but the top paid chefs. (by the way, a person working the line in a steakhouse is not a chef- chef is the chief). Before you laugh at the idea, just think about the waiter's plight; they often have to set down less than acceptable food in front of a guest, and then continue to interface with them throughout the meal- then try to wheedle a tip from them. The empathy gained from being a conscientious waiter is something most cooks need more of.
Coming back down to earth- unless you hate your 90k job, why don't you just take courses as you can, read the magazines & books, watch the shows, and start cooking at home. You could join or form a local circle of like-minded folk and live large while practicing skills, and still pay off your boat.
You could work your vacations around the seminars and mini-courses that are constantly offered all over the world.
Chefs are constantly leaving the profession after 10, 15, 20 years to become salesmen or to work as teachers in the ever-growing number of cooking schools. A number of culinary school grads go directly into sales/ marketing positions and rarely use their knives. The pressure, politics, and economics that are involved in culinary work can be burdensome and discouraging.
There are a lot of degrees between a foot in the water and taking a plunge; why don't you find some friends and family to cook for, and start on your own small-scale (but steady) course of study and practice while you still have the yearning?
post #12 of 24
As a chef and owner of my own restaurant, I don't believe the price of culinary school is worth the education. I did go to CCA, San Francisco 10 plus years ago when the price was not outrageous. I suggest working in a commercial kitchen in a nice restaurant where you live - you might have to work for free for a few months (I worked in a great restaurant for 6 months for free before I went to school) - keep your job and get a feel for the industry - it is extremely physical and high stress (in a busy restaurant) it may not be what you want in the end. It is very different than cooking at home. If you love it go for it. Go to school, although if you work for somebody who is willing to share information with you (such as terminology, knife skills, different cooking techniques) then you may not need to go to school. You don't learn to cook in school, mostly you learn principles. Also immerse yourself in books - find out which books the schools are issuing w/ their curriculum and buy them. Good Luck,
post #13 of 24

to answer your question bob...

There are three PC associations in the US that I am aware of APCA, USPCA and PCN. I am a member of PCN. If you want to know more, all of them have free forums where you can ask their members questions about becoming a PC. I would say with three thriving associations, yes there is quite a market for this sort of thing. People are working longer hours and taking home higher salaries than ever before. They want more time with their families, not slaving over a hot stove. The need is out there.

post #14 of 24
post #15 of 24
sure its in all the mags, forget the hollidays and persnaalllll, time
post #16 of 24
What many people forget is that there are a host of food related professions that do not involve restaurant work that can be very lucrative.
Check out a book titled Careers for Gourmets and Others Who Relish Food by Mary Donovan. You may find that your current expertise provides some crossover experience in one of these fields.
As a person with 25 years of restaurant and food service experience, I found that I didn't start making any real money until I left the restaurant kitchen. For example, the highest salaried chefs position I had (after European training and 18 years in supervisory/production roles) only gave me 65,000/year. Nice enough, I suppose, but the problem was that I averaged 110 hours per week. That averages to less than $12/hour and most restaurant managers push talented people into salaried positions that do not pay overtime.
I won't mince words here-the restaurant industry harbors some dirty labor secrets that would not pass muster with the US Labor Department in any other business sector.
My friends here at cheftalk are probably very tired of my objections to some of these practices so I won't belabor the point. PM me if you want more info.
Just remember, there are more culinary options available than may appear at first. Check out the website of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, I think it is It may provide some inspiration.

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #17 of 24
FOODN - i went to your web site that you left for anyone to check up on, ah yeah, there is a prob. i dont want to speak for no one but this is a chef forum not a chief of police forum. hey, they have really cool t shirts, and there visiter raiting went up twice.:smoking: busted by the chief:bounce:
post #18 of 24 is probably more applicable.:lol:
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
post #19 of 24
Good Golly, I'm sorry about that mistake. I also go to the NY Women's Culinary Alliance site which is a .org and I get the two mixed up. I've ended up at that police site by mistake too.
Again, sorry.

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #20 of 24

Reply to Poppinfresh

Cooking professionally is nothing like cooking as a hobbiest, no matter how enthusiasticly one "plays" in their home kitchen. Like any passion in life, if you can't see yourself doing anything else, then you've answered your own questions. People that cook, do so because this is what their heart tells them to do.

Just like professional actors, there are 1000's of people working just to get by for each celebrity chef that you see or read about. I taught culinary school for several years and met countless students with starry eyes of becoming a "Chef". Many make it in the industry, but more do not. Culinary school can be outragously expensive, so your ROI may not come for years. Especially if you currently have a lifestyle that you wish to keep in the short-term. Also, please note that degree-oriented culinary programs have the highest drop out rate of any academic program.

If you have enough money in the bank, or someone to support you for several years, then it might work. A suggestion would be to talk to the best chef in your area and ask to work week-ends, for free in necessary. Commit to a specific length of time (ie:tourist season), and see if this is truly the passion of your life that must be fulfilled.

Jimmy B.
post #21 of 24
I am looking into a career change myself and am in a few of the boats that you are: I make a fair salary now, I own a house (mortgage), and I have a spouse. That said, I'm going to visit NECI in a month or so to see if SCHOOL is what I'm looking for; I already know that I want to work with food my heart tells me that. If I decide on school I'm selling the house, and planning on living a much more asctetic life than I do now. And, between now and the start of school I'll be offering to work in local restaurants nights and weekends. I'll admit that it's going to be very hard to balance a full time job, and one that I can't afford to quit until we move, with working nights and weekends, but I want to have the experience if I go to school.
post #22 of 24
Poppinfresh, I can relate. I've been in the same boat 16 or 17 years. I have a wife, 4 kids, a house, a dog, etc. Fortunately I'm also self employed, so my boss is sympathetic. I've worked in a bunch of kitchens in that time. Usually paid, but a couple times not. The closest I came to full time was a summer at a resort hotel(6 restaurants, one kitchen, aye carumba) . I had a longtime 1 day a week gig covering someones day off. Helped a caterer a bunch. Now I don't seek the work, but occasionally get a call asking for help. Worked in a bunch of kitchens, made a lot of friends. One thing I decided is that if I'm gonna make a living at it, it's gonna have to be my own place. Oh, and I don't like working late nights, thats another thing I decided. So my attention is focused in that direction now, cause the desire isn't going away. Meantime, we eat well at home! My wife finally threw up her hands and joined weight watchers, my first thought? Cool, I'll practice spa cuisine! Anyhow, good luck with you dilemma.

post #23 of 24
I know.Please give me some credit, I checked the site out. I did learn something, there site is very boring, thank god for cooks, because someone has to eat and someone has to cook!
post #24 of 24

Get paid to learn culinary arts

Hello, I am a certified chef, and never went to school.You should get paid to
learn, not pay to watch someone else cook,don't waist your time and money.
Find your self a culinary apprenticeship program, you will get a better all around experience and get paid at the same time.You can go to my website
where I have all of the links nation wide for apprinticeship programs. :eek:from ctjchef
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