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need advice from the chefs

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

I am dropping grad school to pursue a career as a cook. Ultimately I want to become a chef. I have no money for cooking school, so I will have to do it the hard way working my way through the kitchen. Since I have no professional experience I will have to start from the bottom, which is fine. My question is: what’s the best way to approach a chef in order to get a job in the kitchen?
post #2 of 24
Most times community colleges have a culinary program that is extremely affordable. I know a lot of them also offer tuition assistance that's literally free and extremely easy to get if you fit their criteria.
post #3 of 24
Find a chef you want to work for, beg to get in the door, work like a dog, absorb like a sponge. Most cooking schools are overated and severly outdated.
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.

www.azurerestaurant.ca
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Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.

www.azurerestaurant.ca
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post #4 of 24
I'm going to be brutally honest here and tell you straight up and straight faced to forget it.

Unless you wish to toil many years without health care, without the neat gizmos all your friends have, always buying the cheapest gifts in the group, shopping a goodwill or the salvation army, and perhaps letting down your spouse and or family. For a one in a hundred or worse chance to be a chef in which case you may still not make ends meet.

If you have no money now, you won't later either. Or much else I'm afraid.
post #5 of 24
I strongly reccomend that if you don't have the money to go to a private culinary school, go ahead and take culinary at a community college. Try to find one in your area that is accredited by culinary organizations. I.E. The community college I am going to for culinary arts is accredited by the ACF (American Culinary Federation).

Also I have been working in the industry for about a year now. I noticed that there are two types of people that work in this industry. One of them being the one's who work simply to learn the trade and make money. Then there's the type of people who really have a passion for creating beautiful and delicious food, and look at cooking more of an art not as a trade.
post #6 of 24
I would make sure that you are awake and fully conscious before making any decision like this. And then again, just to make sure.... slap yourself repeatedly upside the head and ask yourself......WHY. If you have done this and still want to become part of this wonderful and sometimes (but not often) very rewarding career.... You're ready!:D :bounce:

I missed Rivitmans post before posting my reply so....that pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. Oh yeah!!!!!

CIT you have learned much, Grasshopper. Not all but much!:look:
post #7 of 24
Hey Riv...what's wrong with Goodwill or Salvation Army...We get some really cool stuff there...got a perfectly good rainbow vac for $60.00 :smoking:

No really all the above points should be heeded...I am in school and working ...I gotta tell ya... I love what I do..I never go to work waiting to leave...and when folks compliment my product...it still blows my skirt up..

BUT I agree, I have never worked for such a wage, I could not imagine, a house, car, and toys with the hourly wage I make..now the bennies...over the top (one reason I took the job)

Told a master pastry chef the other day..when he needed help I would work for him part time for half what he is paying his asst...but I want to work with HIM everyday...did someone say work like a dog and be a sponge....
Scott B
MISC

As far as the Kitchen goes, it is a long, long day that is never really over, you just go home at some point
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Scott B
MISC

As far as the Kitchen goes, it is a long, long day that is never really over, you just go home at some point
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post #8 of 24
My sister a few years ago told me her daughter was trying to make a decision about what she wanted to do with her life..one of her choices was to become a cook, she asked my advice and I told her to run..not walk in the opposite direction. I have missed so many family functions..and other enjoyable things because I am always working...used to think I couldn't imagine doing anything else...I can now.

Best advice is to take all the advice these many seasoned veterans have offered you and think long and hard about it..and good luck.
post #9 of 24

Wow>>>

After reading everyone's responses...that's all I can say.....WOW>>>

You all sound so.......miserable.

Bugboy...here's a different perspective.

I had 2 degrees in graphic design and computer science and worked behind a desk for 5 years before becoming miserable and bored as ****. My advantage was that I worked in restaurants since I was 13-14ish..washing dishes, flipping pizza, then serving and bartending as second job at night.(rent is expensive right outside NYC) I went to CIA with 10k in student loans already in my back pocket. I played the negotiation game which worked out well...New england culinary was second choice...they're offering me 7k scholarshiip...what do you got...ended up with 12k from cia..another 15k federal grants...which if you make and have no money...is very easy to get...all you need is paperwork.
and worked part time through school. Finished with 10k in loans from cia which is easier than a car payment. Ok....yes the pay blows coming out of school...But...the rewards, money speaking, are the same as any business job...the more hard work and determination you put into it...the faster and greater the rewards come to you. And the most important part of any of this....You don't change your career to culinary to increase your salary...you do it because there is no where else you'd rather be. At the end of the day you come home after cooking for 12 hours and cook yourself a meal...and not think to yourself...ugghhh I need to stop cooking now....but only thinking....there is no better feeling than having the smells of food fill you up....and....when you sit down with dinner....the whole reason I changed my life to this....nothing feels better than a really really really good meal. (sex is a close second....but still second)lol.

If you love cooking...go for it....
Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
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Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
Reply
post #10 of 24

alright...

miserable might have been a bit harsh....it was mostly riv's post.

You mean you don't enjoy being the poorest one in the family all the time?
lol

My question is...since we're in the kitchen for ohhhh....26 hours of the day...what the **** are we spending our money on?? Is it just all the alcohol and drugs? (I am of course referring to the aspirin...lol)
Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
Reply
Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
Reply
post #11 of 24
I heard tale once that there was such a place that all the food that was ever delivered to your door was fresh and the highest of quality, that sales we always at their peak, costs never got out of control, there was a fair wage paid for an equal amount of effort, you're hired to work and 8 hour day and you actually do, all the employees that you have working for you are always on time and always show up ready to work.....But for the rest of us there ain't no walgreens to fill in the gaps.:rolleyes:

I would like to add that there is sometyhing about this business that get's in your blood (and not just the alcomahol and asprin cheflush mentions:D )that is dang hard to get rid of or shake once it's in ya. In all my years I have never found anything that can be equally rewarding as it is frustrating. But this industry and career are not intended for those with a weak constitution or for a "hey that looks like fun and I can make allot of money doing it" approach. Twenty seven years for me and aside from a tremendous amount of warm fuzzies... all I was able to take away from the industry was 5 ruptured discs, a degenerating back disease, and a severe case of spinal stenosis from the work load. Oh yeah the one thing I still can't shake. The desire to try and figure a way to get back into it because it was such a blast and for the fact that I really did love it!:cool:
post #12 of 24

I wrote a book

There have been times in my career when all I wanted to do was cook. No matter what the pay, hours or appreciation. I fell in love with food. There have been other times in my career when enough was enough. I HAD to make money. I couldn't spend all these hours in a kitchen, wasting my life away. No matter what has happened I have always cooked. Not because I had to but because I "had" to.
The money sucks some times and is amazing other times. The hours that you put in are rediculous and only usually noticed by the people that suffer due to them, not the ones that benefit from them. Your family are the people you work with, most of which you wouldn't even talk to on the street, but you have a common bond......FOOD! I'm not going to tell you whether you should or shouldn't. I guess it's more alng the lines of whether you could or couldn't. No one in my life was behind my career decision, but it was the only thing that I could do. I had scholarship offers in math all over the WORLD. All I could do was cook. I had no choice. When I was put together that was the only passion put in me. Having said that, I freely gave up relationships, was a poor father, and not a very good son, all because I wanted to cook at all costs.
I have met cooks that were able to balance all of those things in their life and be happy and not work 100 hour weeks. I just couldn't for whatever reason. I am still a young man and have a LOT to learn, but I do know what I'll be doing if I live to see 50, 60, 70 or 80.
As far as the balance thing. I have "sold out" for the last year and a half as a corporate chef for a large foodservice equipment company, to be a better father, friend and son. I am, however, feeling the itch to get back in a fast paced kitchen under a d#@khead chef that has more talent than I could imagine. Hi, I'm Powers and I'm a COOKAHOLIC!!!
SORRY ABOUT THE BOOK.....it was a long weekend, needed to vent :talk:
" Never fry bacon naked!"

-Powers
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" Never fry bacon naked!"

-Powers
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post #13 of 24
Alright if you want to honestly try the "skip culinary school" route I suggest investing in books and study, study, study. Once you can really talk the talk find a restaurant you want to work for and drop off your resume like twice a month and talk to the chef, if you can, tell them you are willing to work every single day all hours, weekends, holidays, you will be on time and smiling whenever you work etc. Considering turn over in a kitchen it may take less than two weeks for them to need someone. Keep track of who the chef is too because in some cases it changes just as often.

When/if you are handed a potato peeler (probably what you will be rewarded with for all your begging is a prep job) out perform, out perform, out perform. Your cuts had better be perfectly sized and consistent. The air runs out of your tires pretty fast if you over promise and under deliver. In a kitchen it's like here today, gone tomorrow and if you can't get the cuts perfect with decent speed you better practice that before you even bother. Get your hands on several pounds of produce "that fell off the back of a truck" and just cut and cut and cut and cut and cut and cut until it's right. Make sure you know what julienne, mince, dice, chop etc. all mean because if you mince something that was supposed to be diced... or worse rough chop something that was supposed to be julienned...

It's a tough racket and not for the faint of heart. You will slice the tips of your fingers, burn yourself, develop back problems, and suffer all other manner of injustices. The worst part is you may see people start later than you and shoot right up the ranks. Nothing inspires blind sanguineous rage like that.
Mike

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
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Mike

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
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post #14 of 24

Great Advice From All Of You

I (many years ago) talked my way into a kitchen with a very good chef in St. Louis. He taught me alot but I saw my future....no life, no money, etc. working for him, although I did get alot of great experience. I would have worked for him for nothing just for the joy of cooking but came to my senses in the nick of time, lol. It's backbreaking work, lousy hours, little pay and lots of pressure. Now I just do the occasional catering job and cook for family and friends to get my "fix", lol.

Follow your dream before you get too old and if it doesn't work out, at least you tried. If you don't try this adventure, it will be the biggest regret of your life. These chefs here have given you the best advice but you have to experience things in life for yourself. Listen to your heart first, then make sure you listen to your head. You'll make the right decision.

Don't you all think that Food TV has glorified the idea of Wealthy Chefs??? Just curious on your thoughts on this.
post #15 of 24
My only thought...I have yet to see a tv chef that has any extra talent or creativity than anyone who has posted here....Higher constitution, more personality or a greater insight into corporate business ...maybe...but more skill?? nope
Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
Reply
Does it matter if the glass is half full or half empty?
Somebody's gonna end up knocking it over anyway.

Assumption=The mother of all f**kups
Reply
post #16 of 24
Heck. In at least one case, the "star" can't cook, hold a knife or use actual food as ingredients. Didn't stop her from having her own show and selling lots of "cook" books.

Image IS everything.
post #17 of 24
Some important things to know when entering this industry at entry level positions. Knife skills, this is a biggie, if it takes you four hours to dice 5# of carrots you might as well become a basket weaver so I suggest you invest in some good steel and practice.

Safety and sanitation is another big one. Some of this stuff may seem like common sense, but how will you know the rules and theories without having an underlying foundation of knowledge. That's exactly what culinary school does for me, it gives me an underlying foundation of knowledge that is essential in working in a professional kitchen. You can also take a food handler's course without going through culinary school. It is called the ServSafe exam. Think of it this way, you can't run a food business if you cant even get the doors to open because you don't comply with health law regulations. Little stuff you should know such as holding temps, use of three compartment sinks, what to have at a hand washing station etc.....

One thing about cooking that you must understand is that it's not as complicated as you think. Put it this way. Understand that ingredients are not absolute and will change from recipe to recipe, but one thing that remains the same are techniques. Cooking is all about technique. Ingredients change but technique is always the same. Technique, cooking methods whatever you want to call them.

Now when you finally make it pass the ranks from prep to line cook to sous chef or any supervisory position you must understand the business aspect of running a professional kitchen.

I'm not a chef, I'm just simply a line cook that is still attending school (only been working in this industry for a little under a year), but from what I know and what I've observed being a chef is not just about knowing how to cook.

You must be creative, articulate, have great attention to detail, and know how to create delicious and beautiful food off the top of your head. You must know how to hire and fire, how to train people and how to train the trainer to train the trainees.

You must be creative in a sense because as the Chef you will create menus based on what you know and what type of establishment you are working for. You will make sure your kitchen staff is like a well oiled machine. You will be responsible for all food coming in and going out of your kitchen, not to mention janitorial supplies, equipment, training the dishwasher, handling labor cost.

Most importantly, I think is that you must know how to gain the respect of others. Best way I feel to do this is lead by example, be agressive yet gentle, and know what you are doing and why. Be knowledgeable, be fast mentally and physically but always stay one step ahead. Now gaining respect from others is all about people skills. Well I can go on and on about what I feel about things you should know before considering this line of work but it's better done than said. Gotta go to work now.

One last thing. If you are doubting yourself about having a passion for creating beautiful and delicious food.You probably don't.

I have a new quote.

"I assist in the feeding of 150-300 people daily. What do you do?"
post #18 of 24
only had time fro a quick read of about half the comments and a quick reply but have you worked in a kitchen before? if not i recomend getting into a kitchen and seeing if you really like it before doing anything rash like quiting school. i would estimate that about 60-70% of people that go to culinary school without working the real deal first dont like it and quit and find something else to do. working in most kitchens is hard, long, never ending, low paying work. not all kitchens are like this but most are especially if your just starting out. get some books, study up, find a place, beg a chef and get a part time job while going to school and make sure its what you want to do. other than that best of luck to you and keep us all posted on the progress of what you decide to do.

-Aaron.
post #19 of 24
That was very well put. Bravo.
"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
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"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
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post #20 of 24
Hi BugBoy,

Here is my advice, find a restaurant that has every station covered like, Pastry, garde-manger, entremêtier, saucier, expediter, sous-chef, chef... this is usualy a high end restaurant. In a restaurant like this you can learn from every position.

Another trick, In Canada, there is some enterprise that can give you a Red Seal diploma. You work for that enterprise, you learn from the chef, you do an exam and you get the Red Seal diploma. In other words, you work, you learn, you get paid and you get a diploma.

Good Luck, and I am glad to know that you want to be a chef, not simply a cook.
post #21 of 24
Thread Starter 
Couple a years ago a watched a program at discovery channel called “World Class Cuisine”. After that, all I could thing about was cooking. I watched those videos several times! I cooked, and cooked, and cooked. I was in between jobs, thus I had lots of free time. In no time I got a lot of confidence and just felt I was moving like a chef in the kitchen. I could use the knife real fast and pretty decently, and could have several things going on at the same time without never burning my garlic or overcooking my pasta! And the food…it tasted pretty good, thanks. In couple of months I became a celebrated family chef and instead of getting natural science books for b-day and Christmas I got cook books and kitchen stuff. I had the time of my life. But I got an assistantship for a phd program, for which I had worked pretty hard and I felt I should have given it a try. But I could never get really into my studies and cooking school was constantly in my thoughts. Ok, I am not a chef and what I was doing is definitely not what a real chef does in a busy restaurant. Yes, I did get inspired by a TV Show but, come on, anyone with little brain knows that TV shows are not about real life. It was never meant to be. Besides, it doesn’t take much research to get a feeling of what a real professional kitchen really is. This is not about money or glamour. This is about a feeling I have that no matter what I do in my life I would never be as good as I would ever be as a chef. Simple because I fell connected with this in very special way that makes things look easy, fun and magic. It goes way beyond passion! To wrap this up I honestly want to thank you all for your honest and passionate feedback. You took me seriously and that was something. I feel much stronger now and yeah, I am in the game. I will become a chef; not quite sure how, but I will.
post #22 of 24
I'm going to differ from the general theme of the posts in this thread.

FINISH GRAD SCHOOL!!!

You've already started on that course so you must have had some interest in that area. If need be you can skip a year or 2 and go back and finish.

If you drop it completely for another career and you bomb at that you're screwed.

So, finish grad school and then take up cooking for either a hobby or a career. Either way you'll know (and the world will know too) that you finish the things you start even if they're very very hard.
post #23 of 24
Bugboy, Rob's right as rain. You're still young, finish Grad school, then if you still feel the same way after you do that, then follow your dream. You have alot of time to go to culinary school. Earn lots of money with that degree, save your money so you don't have to work like a dog and go to culinary school at the same time. I know, I know, I told you earlier to follow your dream, but Rob is really right on the mark on this one. Honey, you still have a whole lifetime to change careers. Good luck!!
post #24 of 24
I just want to say that saying you know something is so different from actually having experienced it. Of course, that applies to everything in one's life, and this is no exception.

Also, it is important to know that you still enjoy the industry after the novelty wears off; if you still have the drive and desire to do the grind after being in it for a year or more.

With regards to grad school, I go to grad school (admittedly, I'm just going for my Master's in Computer Science), but I can manage to fit in three nights a week at a local restaurant and I've met some good and interesting people (don't dismiss the experience and potential of advancement even for part timers just as long as you show good judgement and a desire to work your arse off, I went from dishwasher to essentially second cook in about a year)... you might want to consider that route as well, since it's very viable.
"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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"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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