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Done with restaurants

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
Just venting a little... I'm done working in restaurants. I'm sick of working with underqualified cooks, getting @#$% pay (I get the high end of the pay scale for restaurants, but it's terrible compared to any other semi-skilled job out there), and I hate the lifestyle. I've worked in the top restaurants in this city, worked with chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world, I've cooked for celebrities, food critics, even had a picture of one of my dishes as well as of myself published in newspapers. Yet I've still got this terrible, empty feeling in my gut.

I've been in-between jobs for the last 3 weeks, I've worked in 3 restaurants in this time. They suck. Bad. They've won awards, got good reviews, but the food is not up to par. No one cares. People screw up, and still serve the food. Ingredients are not fresh. No one wants to make better food. Either I fight an uphill struggle to try turn it around singlehandedly, or I give in and make mediocre food. Neither option is acceptable to me. I'm sick of working with hacks and posers.

I guess for now I'll just do pastries until I can figure out a better plan - I can make comparable money to restaurant cooking, and my pastries are pretty **** good (as good as any I've ever seen in a restaurant). No more working nights.

If any pros want to weigh in their opinions, offer advice, I'd appreciate it.
post #2 of 32
Sounds to me like you are making the right decision. After thirty some years in the business, I am also considering a change from restaurants. I will always have the soul of a chef, but my livelihood may soon come other sources, not because of other people (I can't change them anyway), but just because it is time. It feels right. Good luck.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
post #3 of 32
Banquets and catering man. Less stress.
post #4 of 32
hahahahhahhhhhha Kuan you are a hoot! Offsite catering is probably the most difficult (in my opinion) gigs going. You are creating a kitchen were there may not be walls much less running water or electricity. Guess it's all relative with what you're used to doing.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #5 of 32
Thread Starter 
Was actually thinking of this. I worked in a few restaurants that did some catering on the side, and it was good times. The function that I remember best was during December, with temperatures outside at -20C. We had an outdoor tent set up with space heaters and induction stoves. Of course halfway through the night the power went out, so we had no lights, no heat and no stoves (except the home's BBQ and a couple bunsen burners). We also only had 1 jacket between the Chef, Sous-Chef and I. The banquet went very well though, the guests were happy at least.
post #6 of 32
Hey Mike!

Have you ever thought of a change of scenery and not career? There are several cities south of your border that could benefit from your talents. Atlanta is a great city and about as restaurant friendly a place as I have ever been. For me it was just the 3.75 million people that followed my arrival there that made me nutz. So if "big" cities aren't for you there are other places too.

Don't get me wrong a break isn't and may not be a bad thing. In fact if it's really in your blood then you'll be on break for 6 mos. maybe a year tops. But just sounds like ya need to re-ignite the passion!
post #7 of 32

Change is a good thing

You know, Mike, restaurants are a burn out. But hey, where's your "family"?
If you as good as I think you are...take some time, and do pastries, or whatever , get your mojo back, then look seriously for a great place to work, that will match your standards.
I didn't notice where you are, but, Chicago Ritz Carlton is a pretty awesome place, with very high, high standards, and goals. Four Seasons is known for it's attention to detail, just about anywhere. Free standing restaurants are always a page out of "Kitchen Confidential".
Clean up that resume, and your attitude and go knock em dead!
Glad you are venting here...we all know the drill! Oh too well!
Good luck!
Lyne in Seattle
post #8 of 32
You beat me to it, shroom!:lol:
post #9 of 32
And you beat me to it, too.

(Me, at one of our first functions after my partner has assured me prior to the event that yes, there was a stove to cook on.)
"Allright, where's the stove?"... (Used a gas BBQ and an inverted sheet pan for my Salmon Wellies for that party)

About a year later doing a high-end wedding dinner at an oriental house, beautiful Kenmore smooth-top range, proceed to to turn it on to heat up my stuff, no go. Ask the lady of the house where the fuse panel is, figured maybe the DJ blew a breaker with his eqpt. Take a peek, no stove listed, matter of fact, only 15 amp breakers listed! I'm freaking out, 1/2 hour to crunch time and no working stove, and no BBQ either. Lady of the house looks at me, kind of embarassed, leads me to what appears to be a broom closet just off of her immaculate kitchen, opens it up, it's the "real" kitchen! Week's worth of dishes piled up, clay pot of herb and chicken tonic going on a little propane burner, and an honest-to-goodness gas range, albeit littered with dried noodles and dirty pots.

Never a dull moment......
...."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 #10 of 32
Hey, I understood this. I grew up with the main kitchen in a corner of the garage, the basement, one corner of the porch, etc. ONLY THE FAMILY ever saw it, the guest waited in the "good kitchen."

I'm of the first generation to use the good kitchen in my house, but still have old stove and laundry sink set up for canning fish, etc. in backyard.
post #11 of 32
...and then there's the schlepping. The ice, the tables, the food in cambros, the serving dishes, utensils, chafers. ...and don't forget all that stuff has to be schlepped out when your feet are killing you, you look like a drowned rat, you're hot, exhausted, and irritable. And chances are there was no sink on site, so when you get back to the shop, there are those darned dishes.... I'm giving myself a headache.

Yeah. Catering is so much easier.
post #12 of 32
What, off site catering tough? I mean if you're the cook, you prep, fire, stick it in the cambros. Plate up when you get there right?

The rest is done by the servers.

Of course there are always going to be emergencies.
post #13 of 32
Why don't you try corporate dining? I manage 11 employees. My place does about 80k a month. My sales are good. I got some staff issues but that's not really uncommon. I work 6am-5pm m-f. I still have a life and most importantly I still have my wife. You'd get to make your own menus. (Depends on the company) You run about 36-38% food cost and go home every night feeling good. As for the catering thing. Sure you can get ok wages. Prep all day Friday which I loved. Work the parties still get home at 1-2am and you'd feel the same way. The one thing that bugged me the most about restaurants. You get home at 1-2am can't get to sleep till 3am or so. Get up at 10-11am. Then you have about an hour or 2 do laundry, eat, change your oil, go shopping for food cause when you come home at 1am there's know way in **** your going to leave and go to Vons for some milk & cereal... anyways I know your pain! ps. The kid’s right out of school should just not read this thread. IMO Some love it. Some love it for years on end. Then get old and well... you get old. gl mang!
professionalism .
professionalism .
post #14 of 32
I guess I'm doing it all wrong, then. :lol:
post #15 of 32
If you only knew.....
Honestly, the prep, timing, and logistics of a big off-site are absolutly horrifying. It can take, days...no weeks of planning sometimes.

Try a six course served meal for 750 off site some time. Trust me. you will change your mind.

The last time I did it, it was five days of prep, followed by two seventeen hour days back to back, separated by two hours for a shower and the commute.

It was, as they say a "near run thing".

You....Just don't understand man......
post #16 of 32
Yep, if I only knew. Right, I still don't understand.
post #17 of 32
In a kitchen maintaining consistency is probably the most difficult thing you have to contend with......well and depending on your facility equipment issues. You normally have running water, stoves that work, ovens that work, refrigeration, assorted and assundry electrical equipment.....robocoupe, K-6 or bigger, towels, a bathroom or two, small equipment.......most of the time you do have the staff you need in house. You've got a dishwasher right in the kitchen so that when glasses and plates come back they can be washed then. The front of the house has been decorated, it has tables and chairs set up, there are linens or the appropriate smallware/napkins. There is a floor throughout the building. You're generally in a city near a grocery so if you "of course this NEVER happens" run out of something you can send someone to pick it up or have your salesman deliver. You're usually around a hospital.

Now, if I forget an extension cord it can alter dramatically what I'm doing.
Sometimes we're making up a staging area....out of a tiny area.....without electricity or water because it's an atrium cocktail party for a few hundred in a building that is not used like this normally. You're relying on rental companies to deliver your total order......
you maybe cooking outside in the rain....
There are not always cook it at the kitchen cambro it in events.....
Your not just cooking food, your logistics are not within a 5000 ft area.
It's not like a restaurant where if you screw up on one table the remaining 100 guests don't really know about it......if you mess up generally it's the group thing....you are transporting food that in many cases need to stay at the right temps for a length of time....cambros are only so good.

There is more making do, there is more thinking on the fly, there are many more logistical & staffing decisions. Offsite catering is a different animal than running a restaurant, different than onsite catering, different than personal cheffing......it's just different. Timing, schlepping, coordinating every element under your watch.....
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #18 of 32
I actually understand because I did it for a year. I did everything from corporate picnics to multi course to a 20,000 buffet. Everyone is being overly dramatic. For the most part, everything I did went well. The bigger the event, the more support you have. I don't see why it's your job to make sure there are enough servers or an extension chord for your ovens. Whoever brings your ovens brings the chord, and that's also the folks who bring the hotboxes, or setup the reefer trailer. It's not normally the cook's job. Besides, you have your truck with all that stuff in there and a list of inventory that's checked each time it comes in and goes out.

Yeah I can tell stories about making a flatop out of sternos and sheet pans also, or about trying to fix broken sauce with bread. Those are rare, a good story, but rare.

So I guess what I'm saying is if you're organized and you have a well trained crew, there's a good chance that the event will go well.
post #19 of 32
Now don't get me wrong, I use a lot of Cambros, matter of fact have 5 of the mpc 300's that I use on a daily basis, but they're flawed. They're only good for moist foods: Anything in a sauce, mashed pots work especially well, large barons or top rounds are good, but dry stuff like a gratin? Fahgettabout anything deep fried, matter of fact the ol'fryer has been banned from my palacial kitchen for almost 10 yrs now (and a good riddance too!) Nope, transporting baked goods like salmon or beef wellingtons, quiches, = soggy city.

Catering is just a different set of logisitcs. For a rest. finding out at the last minute that you don't have enough 6" side plates isn't that much of a big deal, but for off-site it means he**, dashing off to wash the salad plates as soon as the main is out so you can plate the desserts. For a rest. a cat crossing the road doesn't mean anything, but for the off-site caterers it means sudden braking and alot of mess and smahed up goods and cursing and yelling.

For corporate catering a hard-a** security guard means lost business, if he won't let you use the normal elevator with your stuff (trayed s/wiches and desserts) and you have to go the the very bowels of the bldg, find the manual operated freight elevator crammed full of dry wall debris and sharp ceiling tile grids making you late for delivery and coated with drywall dust, you loose twice: They refuse the delivery and you have to "eat" the goods, AND you'll never get the business back because you were late.

Lot of work, catering. Different sets of problems, some very similar to restaurant work, but still the same AMOUNT of problems, just different ones. The grass is never greener on the other side, even here in Vancouver where it's famous for grass....
...."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 #20 of 32

To Kuan

I'm not in the business but I have to ask what type of organization had a 20,000 buffet? That is huge! I can't even imagine the logistics involved.

I have been on the consumer end and worked for companies that rented out various places - museums, etc. that have no kitchen facilities and have dinner for hundreds catered to them. The last one my company had was at a glass blowing plant in Louisville, KY. There were certainly some heat sources available but not for food. Well, maybe for searing. :lol: I can not fathom something on the scale of 20,000.
post #21 of 32
Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. We did it in the stadium at the University. One year I think it was 50 double sided lines. One meat item only, Roast Beef! We used almost all the ovens in the frathouse system.
post #22 of 32
don't see why it's your job to make sure there are enough servers or an extension chord for your ovens. Whoever brings your ovens brings the chord, and that's also the folks who bring the hotboxes, or setup the reefer trailer. It's not normally the cook's job.

Depends on if you are the owner/chef or a cook. I don't work for a corporation or food service, it's my company and staff is hired as needed.
I don't cook for thousands, I do cook for hundreds....in the middle of nowhere on a farm or some other location without amenities (close running water, electricity, level ground, bathrooms, ice machines, etc......)
Each of us that are offsite catering have interesting stories. It's my business, it's my job to know what I'm doing as well as everyone else involved.....just comes with the territory.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #23 of 32
Yeah, all those stories make for good telling, and I'm really glad to have this place to go to to tell and to read. I'm sure you all understand how helpful it is to be able to ask questions, get advice, recipes, and moral support. For that I thank you. Although I am a little jealous of the guys who have shleppers.;)

Like shroomgirl, I own my own company. Therefore I do much of the schlepping. I'd like to be big enough to have the staff do everything from remembering the extension cords to the cocktail shrimp (as is the case in a recent catering job I did:blush: ) Until I do, I'm happy, if not a little frazzled, to be doing much of the work myself or with an on-call staff. It's wonderful to be running the show the way I think it should be run instead of the way someone else thinks it should go.
post #24 of 32
Well, that was a good cause - I went to High School in Evanston, IL. Our coach was an idiot, though.
post #25 of 32
Thread hijakers lol...

Don't know much of your story Mike...have you considered traveling? I know that a lot of American cooks (I know your Candian, BTW) go to Europe and are wowed by the dedication and execution of a lot of the food. Have you considered taking the next step, whatever that may be? Moving? Maybe going to work in a small Inn with great food, or to a B + B, or a small, destination restaurant where good people may be hard to find, your dedication will be rewarded and you can make a difference?

I have a feeling based on your previous post that you are a good cook with a lot of experience, which should be able to get you a job anywhere in the world where you speak the language.

There are places out there where all the cooks care about the food, the standards are extrememly high and the food is killer. There are places where the chef is on the premises 24/7, teaches you everyday, and allows you to grow and come up with ideas.

I say have faith, and you will find it. Then someday you will open your own place (with any luck) and take your values and instill them in your staff.

Good luck.
post #26 of 32
Thread Starter 
I have definitely considered it (and have the opportunity). I've known other cooks who have gone to work in NYT 3 and 4 star restaurants, as well as Michelin 1-3 star restaurants. Chefs I've worked for have also been trained in 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants in France and Switzerland. I do speak fluent French so the language is no problem, but I'm somewhat reluctant to take that step. It's hard to pack up your whole life and just move away, especially since there are no guarantees that anything will get better.

And honestly, the reason I'm kinda down on the restaurant scene is the lifestyle - friends and family are #1 in my life, working in the 'elite' restaurant scene definitely takes away from your personal life. It was a very sad sight to see several talented chefs have problems with trying to balance their career and family, and often going through marriage problems because of it.

I'll be honest here. I haven't kept a girlfriend in years because of my job. The only friends I have left are the ones I grew up with in the 'hood, the ones who are loyal no matter what, which is very few. I almost feel like I've abandoned alot of people in my life that I was previously close to... Since I've left the restaurant scene 1 month ago, my personal life has become much better, my life seems almost balanced now. I know I can't go back to the old lifestyle.

I'll stay in the culinary arts for now, but need something different. Just need to figure out exactly what that is. I know I can succeed in any area of the business, just need to figure out which one it is that suits me.

Thanks for all the input by the way. Opinions are greatly appreciated.
post #27 of 32
Thread Starter 

This restaurant thing is like a cult, once you're in, you can't get out. As it turns out, I'm going to be involved in the opening of a new restaurant... The plus side, they're going to be doing food quite similar to what I want to do (hearty, simple dishes with a bias towards east european cuisine). I've also got the hours and pay I want (so I'll be able to pursue other activities outside of work). The owners and chefs have a good concept, they want to do high quality food (although less complex than I've been doing the last couple years), and I get a decent amount of freedom in what I do (without too much responsibility). I'm pretty pumped, it should be fun.
post #28 of 32
And if you're lucky, the gig is upstairs in a building with no elevator. Over all I enjoyed catering though.
post #29 of 32

Know how you feel

I think I know how you feel, Mike. You get disgusted because the people around you aren't as dedicated as you are and it's hard to lower yourself to their standards. I say I think I know because I've always worked in the low end of the field and don't have the working experience the rest of you do. I'm currently working for $7.00 an hour as a fry cook in a place that thinks it's fine dining. I have been in this business for 30 years and have attended culinary school. Am I disgusted? You bet! I have to be "trained" on the salamander. The cooks who currently work that station cut the steaks wide open to see how done they are. I cringe every time they do it, but when I suggested to the "chef" that he invest in an instant read thermometer, he said he didn't care if they did it because "The customers here don't like juice on their plates. Hopefully they turn the cut side down (they don't) and if I got a steak cut like that, I'd think it was great that they cared enough to check it for doneness." This guy is MY boss! i just don't even want to be affiliated with it, but I have to pay the rent. But the subject is Mike, not me. This may sound goofy to you, but have you considered working in istitutionsl food service? God knows hospitals, nursing home and schools could use good people. You'd certainly have an apprciative clientelle. There can be a lot of satisfaction in making bad things better even if the skills required are beneath your ability, least you'd be appreciated. You might like to be a salesman for a restaurant supplier. Some suppliers have kitchens and employ chefs to demo their products to customers, you might like something like that. Can you write well? Maybe your local paper could use a food columnist or good restaurant critic. Or you could hire out independently as as troubleshooting consultant for restaurants that need help. Hope this helps a little. I think we all get burned out at some point. Seems like we keep cooming back to it though! Good luck.
post #30 of 32
Mike, it all sounds familiar. Yeah, you're bummed out right now, best thing is to get away for a few months, then it'll be like an old girlfriend: The good stuff remains in your head and the bad stuff is forgotten about.

Seriously though, about your private life, sounds very similar to mine. Since starting my biz,('97) the only real contact I've had is with my immediate family and sales reps--and I don't look upon sales reps as "company".... Friends I had drifted away, and I never had the time or energy to find new ones. It's been my observation that cooks tend to be social introverts, and waiters social extroverts. Somehow we choose our professions that suit our lifestyles, and I wouldn't trade my mine for any other.

So if you can afford it, take a long trip, couple of months. Forget about cooking for the time being. By two months you'll be bored of it and chomping at the bit to get back into a kitchen.
...."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"......
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