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Planning career change... I'm nervous.

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone! I am new!

Ok so I am in CA and I work in IT at a well known laboratory here in the bay area... Anyway, I have dreamed for years about being a chef and of running my own restaurant or even catering business...

Currently I am known as the master of my grill among my friends and family, I have created a few rub recipes for some of the meats that I grill, I find new recipes and modify them, I taste an Hor D' Voir ("orderve" for those who flinch at my spelling.) from a snooty guest at my house who won't share her recipe, and I will figure out how to make it just to spite her... and better. I love cooking. and I love the idea of running my own business.

I'm making good money in my current IT job, and considering its at the lab, its also VERY secure. I recently started talking to my wife about going to school full time to get a culinary certification. (If I understand it right, I want to become a "Certified Culinarian".). We started doing the math and such, we we discovered that if we save up, I could start the spring semester at DVC (Diablo Valley College) and go back to school full time to attain my dream. (Which of course means quitting my IT job... yay!)

Anyway... Just curious to know if anyone has experienced the culinary program at DVC? I have heard from some that it has a very good program, and from what I can see of the curriculum, it looks very nice. (and affordable).

I'd also be curious to know if anyone career shifted like me from a secure high paying job to persue culinary arts? (How did that work for you?) Making a ton of money has never been my ambition, I am 29 and I just want to make enough to live happily and also enjoy what I do.

Anyway, I am happy to join these forums! Any advice/stories/or tips would be welcome!

post #2 of 13
Thread Starter 
Oh, one more thing... I am committed to my plan for a career change... which means in 8 months I quit my job and go to school and live the poor man's life for a while :)

I also forgot to mention that I intend to start a catering business in my town when I complete school. (I will attach myself to a local caterer (hopefully) during my schooling so I can suck all the knowledge I can from him/her)
post #3 of 13
If you love cooking, you'll learn irregardless of what you do, school will accelerate this, but it alldepends on you.

Running a business, that's a different story. Catering is not about cooking, it's all about the other things: Marketing, pricing, sales, logistics,.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
I completely agree... I have a love for cooking, but I have also always fantasized about running my own business... (primarily all of these fantasies involve a food business :) ) While I can learn cooking from many sources, I find that the (ugly) business side of food service leaves me with many unknowns.

I figured a culinary program combined with some restaurant management courses (and an internship while in school) will give me a much clearer picture of what it takes to fulfill my fantasy.

As far as catering goes... Everything I can put together tells me that this field will give me the pleasure of cooking for others, help me establish a business, and yet not ruin my life if my first endeavor fails. (I.e. startup costs for a catering business are much less than say... a free standing restaurant.).
post #5 of 13
Watch out. Don't take this lightly. You're in the business of feeding people, you can make a fantastic meal or one that kills or injures, and just like any other contractor, you can get cheated and wait for years to get paid.

If you want to go legit, you'll need a place, a licesened one. If you can find this, great, if you have to lease or rent, that's an additional contract to honour. If you don't go legit you're at the mercy of your customers, and you won't be taken at face value, you'll be an excuse for them to try out their bargaining skills on you--unmercilessly. As well, there's the small issue of taxes: what to decalare, what not too.

Money gets money. The more you start off with, the better your odds are of surviving. But remember this: No matter how good your food is, how competitiive your prices are, how good your service is, no one will use you if they don't know you exist....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #6 of 13

I made the switch!!

at 29 years old also. I am in NY so I went to CIA from a good paying job in the Jewelry industry with the intentions of starting my own catering business. Now that I am out of school an working for a local restaurant, I realize how much more I have to learn before jumping into my own business. As one post suggested, you can make a lot of people sick if you are not careful in this industry.

The other problem is staffing. No one does things your way, no one. And keeping people happy, (and honest) is the hardest part of the business.

I have decided to stay in the restaurants for a little while continuing to teach myself through reading books and magazines so I can be sure I will succede in catering.

Good luck, it is an awesome industry!!
post #7 of 13
Dear n00b:

You have every reason to be nervous. Not because food is a terrible industry to get into (on the contraty, IT'S THE BEST!!!), but because you must be prepared to have too little income to support your family for MANY years to come. And because grilling for a few friends is light-years away from doing it day in and day out for an employer or under your own attempt to have a viable business.

Have you actually worked in a restaurant or for a caterer? Before you make the great leap into the unknown, DO THAT. You may find that the reality of working in foodservice is very different from your dream -- to the point that you cannot reconcile the dream with reality. Fantasies are only good when they are grounded in the nuts and bolts of reality.

I'm not saying this to discourage; I just want you to understand how much more there is to having a successful food business than just loving to cook. I went to restaurant school eleven years ago at age 46, and found that it was indeed a great match for me -- I worked in restaurants, ran a manufacturer's kitchen, and did other food service jobs. But my goals were different from yours, although I think I learned much of what you need to know, between school and talking to people who were actually doing what you want to.

Learn all you can BEFORE you start to make the switch. Then if you still want to do it, GO FOR IT!
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #8 of 13
It never fails. I usually smile when reading your posts. You give tips only experienced Chefs would know like, keeping smelly foods out of the oven because it does double duty for baking. I don't know if half the people pick up on you experience.
Today made me chuckle:
"You're in the business of feeding people, you can make a fantastic meal or one that kills or injures, ":lol:
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Suzanne, I have never worked in a commercial kitchen or anything like that... I do realize that it is very hard work and sometimes overwhelming, in fact, while I am in school full time studying culinary arts and restaurant mgmt., I plan on working in a restaurant or with a good caterer on an intern basis so I can discover the real experience.

But aside from that, the fact is that I really hate the field I am in now, there are so many reasons why I don't like it, but to name a few: the politics, the redundancy, and the lack of recognition for a job well done.

In the IT world, there isn't anything you can accomplish that would have your signature on it... No one can go look into my server room and say "Wow! Jason must have done this..." There is no "Style" to speak of, and to be honest, I am one of those people who like it when people notice things I do well.

The basic concept here is that I want a career change... Culinary arts happen to be something I love, and I figured I would give it a shot... If that doesn't pan out, then I'll go back to school to pursue something else... but I just want out of IT.
post #10 of 13

career changes


All the frustrations you have stated are ones that I have experienced in every professional kitchen I have worked. Would venture to say they are part of most fields of work.

I you want to you should totally do it. Always remember your love for the food. I would however resist romantic illusions, mostly likely be disappointed. As it was said you should work in the industry before dropping all that money into school...A comparison I would make would be like playin army men in the backyard as a kid compared to actually being a soldier when the bullets really start flyin.Good Luck!
post #11 of 13
Give it a try!
post #12 of 13
The point isn't to work in a professional kitchen WHILE you go to school, it is to work in a pro kitchen before you go to school, BEFORE you spend all the money, time, effort, quit your job, etc, then find out you don't like it for whatever reason.

School won't tell you if you want to be in the business or not. I bet you went to school for IT didn't you? How's that working out for you?

Politics? Redundancy? Lack of recognition? Welcome to the professional kitchen. The saute guy won't help you out because he's afraid you'll take his job, meanwhile you grill your 30th Filet Mignon of the night, and the chef walks around the room and smiles while everyone tells him how great his Filet is.

I understand that having friends over for dinner, being a good grill man/cook, experimenting with recipes, etc is all fun. But you'll learn about fun when you have to pick, blanch, and shock 3 cases of green beans. Spend 4 hours peeling and chopping onion, or garlic, or shallots, or peel case after case of potatos or asparagus, and tell me its fun. Stand in one spot for 10 hours. THATS redundant.

My advice is work in a kitchen for a while. You might find you're happier taking a few cooking classes for fun, and hosting dinner parties. There are plenty of avenues to explore in the culinary world (clubs, parties, etc) than working for 8 bucks an hour in a kitchen.

If you work in a pro kitchen for a couple months, and absolutely love it--the energy, the pace, the comraderie, the rush, etc, then yeah, go to school and make a life out of it. But don't just jump headfirst without knowing what you're getting into.

Good luck, and keep us posted.
post #13 of 13
Speaking as someone who's basically doing what's suggested above (I've started working in professional kitchens for the past half year from dishwasher to line cook), I wholeheartedly agree with them. I really recommend you try working in a cook's position for 6 months before you commit yourself to whether or not you want to do it for the long haul. Although I really do enjoy the work, the people (OK, I admit I'm less fond of the cleaning and closing and more fond of the actual rush and normal dinner hours) and value the time spent, I'm not sure if I can "throw away" my previous education and start clean again (I recently graduated from university so I'm still in my early twenties and so I fortunately have more energy to throw around), especially with the money I earn in the kitchen.
"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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