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What it takes to be a chef

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
This is a comment/question about general chef stuff. But I am a pastry chef so Im putting it here.

Im feeling a bit depressed and defeated right now.

I want your feedback on my problem, please. Right now I am feeling horrible from being over worked.

I just dug out my text book from culinary school: "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen. Ill never forget the day I read what it said on page 8.

It says: "The successful food service worker follows an unwritten code of behavior and set of attitudes we call professionalism. Let's look at some of the qualities that a professional must have.

In order to be a good professional cook, you have to like it and want to do it well........."

I thought: well, Im good there. then later it says:

"A cook with a possitive attitude works quickly, efficiently, neatly, and safely. Professionals have pride in their work and want to make sure that the work is something to be proud of."

I thought: well Im good there, too.

Then it says:
Food service requires physical and mental stamina, good health, and a willingness to work hard. It is hard work. The pressures can be intense and the hours long and grueling....."

Then I thought: Uh Oh.

I do not have alot of physical stamina. I am not in great health.

So I began to question if I was on the right track. But this is what I love. I decided to proceed with my education and to pursue a career in food service. I have learned how many hours I can work and stay reasonably well. I have had a hard time finding work. I have taken jobs that were "beneath" my skills because of this. But I continued to search for employment that was more suitable. I was always very clear on my hourly restrictions. But I didn't want to seem unbending so naturally I agreed I could work more on emergencies. I was pastry chef at a very small country club. They assured me it would meet my hourly requirement. they were wrong. Unfortunately I had to leave that job. They didn't want me to go. So it's not like I had been letting them down.

Well, now I have a good job. Once again I was clear on my restrictions. However, occasionally I had to work more and I seemed to do ok. But one holiday season it was too much and I got ill. I didn't let on but it took 9 months to get back to normal. Now, I think it has happened again. In the last 10 days or so Ive worked about 80 hours. And in 3 days I work over 35 hours. My boss overbooked weddings and then had to leave town. Ive been off Sunday and Monday to recuperate...but I feel horrible. Im exhausted. My arms and legs ache. My shoulder is killing me for some reason. I ran a fever all day Sunday. I have 3 ulcers/canker soars in my mouth. My lymph nodes are swollen and sore. My stomach is hurting. I feel light headed and scatter brained. I just backed my car into another car this evening.

I REALLY love this business. It breaks my heart to think of giving it up. But it just isn't worth it.

The funny thing is: In over 2 years at this place Ive only taken one sick day. Maybe the problem isn't my boss....or even the industry as a whole, but my ability to say "no".

It just seems like in this industry there is not much tolerance for those who are weaker or interested in life outside of the kitchen.

I put in my notice. They begged me to stay. they are very happy with my work. So it's not like I haven't delivered.

Oh well.

What am I gonna do now?

Thanks for reading this rant.
post #2 of 12
Hi eeyore,
It's true, this unwritten code of ethics, and sometimes it's unethical, ironically. There have been many times in my 20+ yrs. in the business when I felt like I should be home recovering from some sickness or another, but instead came to work, because I knew that the place wouldn't function without me. Even now with my own business, I find myself occasionally working at times when I really shouldn't be. I think that you must be a perfectionist, who doesn't like to let people down, and that can, and will, lead to that defeated feeling when you are too sick to work.

I think that all you can do is be up front about your concerns from the start. There are plenty of people who make their limitations known from the beginning, and don't get taken advantage of in this way, but unfortunately, these don't seem to be the ones who rise to the top either. Continue taking pride in what you do, but be realistic about what you can do when your abilities are impaired (and I'm such a hypocrite saying all this BTW).

This unfortunate quality of the business is one of those things that you try to relate to rookies when they say they want to be in the business. On one hand, you don't want to turn them away, but you want to be truthful about the physical demands of the job, and most of the time, they look at you like you must be exaggerating. I wish that there were some way to stop this insanity, but especially in competitive urban areas, where talent is a dime a dozen, people who won't or can't do the job, will be replaced by those who can. No perfectionist could ever handle that, so we choose to work ourselves silly. The great thing about all that, is that we hone our skills that much better, because we eat, drink, and breathe our pastry all day (literally).

There are lots of corporate jobs that allow you sick days in the contract (What's that?). Maybe you can go that route instead.
post #3 of 12
Sadly,I know what you're talking about.My stamina is good,though...but after hour 13 of a 16 hour day,I do get a little worn down.It's not as easy as it was in my 20's!:) I sit when I get into my car to drive home.

I know what it's like to do 35 hours in three days and work 49 days in a row without a day off.You're right that there is little tolerance in this profession for wanting a life outside of work,but that is part of the job.You either accept it or move on.A friend of mine is a sous for Ritz-Carlton and his father died.They called him after two days and asked him to come back in because they needed him.That's just the way it is.It isn't always fair,but neither is life!

At my job,we have a woman [I'm not being sexist;I'm a woman,too] who is always whining about how this hurts,that hurts,etc.Well,as good as she can be when she's fresh,she is a drain on the team when she's in one of her moods.We will literally just send her home because she kills the morale with her daily complaints of problems.We all hurt some days,but keep it to ourselves.
She's gotten to the point where the next time she tries to leave early or call out because of whatever ails her,she's going to be demoted to "on-call" status,lose her benefits and whatever status she held in the kitchen for the past 5 years.It's nothing personal,but if she can't hack the job,we have to find someone who can or divide responsibility among others on the team.It's a business.
I know you stated you do not call out sick and you do your job,but this is just an example.

For the most part,whoever is in charge could care less what your problems are;they want the job done because being down a person can really mess up the flow of the kitchen and they are looking at the bottom line.

This is a feast or famine business;either you're struggling for hours or you live at where you work.This is a profession of extremes.I think it's better for you to realize your limitations if you have health issues than to force yourself to do something you know you can't.Sometimes things like that can haunt you later if you have inadvertently developed a reputation for not being able to keep up....because the truth of this industry is everyone is expendable to some extent.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
post #4 of 12
Well I think we can all relate to what you are going through, probably some of you more than I but either way...I see that you do pastry work...have you ever thought of getting out of the restaurant business and going to a specialty type job? Some specialty jobs have lower amounts of hours and less physically demanding work loads...

Chocolate Guild :: The Chocolate Connoisseur's Home Base
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the responses.

I dont know what Im gonna do. I dread the thought of trying to search for a decent job again in this field. And I feel like "what's the point?" If I do find one the same thing will probably happen again.

Right now Im just concerned about getting through work this week feeling as bad as I do. Im angry, but I know I shouldn't be. I know I should be careful and probably not let on how bad I feel. So once again, Im gonna be my upbeat, hard working self. Then come home every night take lots of pills (perscription, of course) and collapse.

Believe me, Im not usually a complainer. Im not lazy. The spirit is eager but the flesh is weak. lol

hmmmm Let's see what other careers could I possibly do now?

Weather Girl? They dont put in real long hours.

what about Park Ranger? They just basically ride around all day, right?

I saw on TV where this woman has a job at a dam sitting in a room by herself looking through a little window counting the fish as they go by. I could do that! Although Im pretty sure I would commit harry carey after the first week. lol

I met a guy once who had a job collecting sperm from bulls to artificially insiminate cows. :blush: Wonder if he needs help? :eek:

Any way. Thanks again
post #6 of 12
those who cant do, teach.

not meant to be rude at all. im saying that maybe you have some skills that can be passed on. my goal is to become a culinary teacher when my body gives out.
post #7 of 12
I am in a similar boat as you in regards to health..I am legaly disabled and have been for a while.I work similar hours as you its not going to get any easier so you need to think about your health. About the book you read..anyone can write a book and tell you the "right" things to do. Unless you worked with that person it should mean nothing to you.Hope I was not negative but those are my thoughts !

post #8 of 12
Dear Eeyore --

I feel your pain -- literally. :( I quit a restaurant kitchen job (line cook) rather impetuously when I realized that I just couldn't keep up any more. Of course I regretted it. What I didn't realize was the reason I couldn't keep up was that I was starting to go through menopause! Boy oh boy, did that mess up my ability to concentrate. :cry: I'm through that now, but out of kitchens. What did I do? I took inventory of my skills, looked at how I could use them, took a few Continuing Education courses, and now I work for myself, getting hired by publishers to fix cookbooks (make sure the spelling and grammar are correct, that the recipes are written properly, etc.). I'm still in food, I'm using everything I ever learned, and I love what I'm doing. Best of all, I can do it, sitting at home, until they carry me out feet first. ;)

But think about what jessiquina said: there are a lot of other jobs where you can use your food skills and a lot of other skills you may not even realize you have. :) Birmingham is not a tiny town; there are probably hotels where you might have a reasonable schedule if you want to stay in the kitchen. But there are a lot of other kinds of businesses that could use your food knowledge. There might be food distributors: how are your organizational and/or selling skills? Distributors LOVE to have representatives who actually know the products and can talk to other chefs. Are you a good supervisor? There are schools, hospitals, and other institutions that need kitchen managers. Probably some food manufacturers that need managers. And, of course, there's teaching at the avocational level, in high schools, tech schools, Continuing Ed, and for any number of institutions.

Don't sell yourself short. There's a whole big world of food outside the restaurant kitchen, just begging for you! :D
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #9 of 12
There are other gigs which aren't as intensive. For example

Corporate dining
Institutional foodservice
Catering (long hours but good planning makes a difference)
Personal cheffing
Food writing
Food editing
Private chef
Exclusive inhome catering
Inhome teaching
Servsafe instructor
Frathouse cooking (interesting)
Small volume Inn restaurants
Food sales
Food demo
Restaurant consulting
Food styling
Anything else?
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks all.

For years people have been telling me they want to take cake decorating lessons. Ive been putting them off.

I love to teach. Im gonna look into it. It would be a start.

post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
A friend of mine said I could use his kitchen to teach classes. he only serves lunch.

Im getting some announcements printed up, and Ive been playing with a schedule.

I dont waste time.

It'll at least keep me in the biz in some way for a while 'til I figure out some things.


post #12 of 12
Eeyore, there are jobs in this business that aren't as demanding time-wise. I have a friend that got a pastry position in a corporate test kitchen. She comes up with new ideas, tries them out, tweaks them to perfection, and then shows them to the higher-ups, who then oh and ah over her work. She works 9 to 6, Monday through Friday. Those kind of hours are pretty much unheard of in this business, but those kind of jobs are out there if you look for them. Of course, she isn't going to be the next famous "super chef", but not everyone in this business wants that.

Another option is to do what I do - work in a resort town that is only busy 8 months of the year. I work my *** off for eight months, then rest for 4. Well, not completely rest, the restaurant is still open for most of the winter, but it is closed the entire month of January and half of February. And I also do wedding cakes on the side, but there aren't a lot of weddings in the off-season. The restaurant I work in only serves dinner, so that also makes things easier. My boss is the owner of the restaurant and the executive chef - she is very flexible and laid back, makes my job much much easier. I can do pretty much what I want as long as I keep an eye on the food cost and can figure out what the customer's want before they even know what they want. I am not likely to ever become the next "super chef" either, but I am not worked ragged and I have time for a life outside my job - and those things are important to me.

There are a lot of people out there that believe that if you work in the hospitality industry that your work must be your life. But, that is why drinking and drugs are so prevalent in the your work is a hard thing to keep up for a lengthy period of time. Pretty much all my teachers at the culinary school I attended told me that they were there because they just couldn't work the hours of a restaurant or hotel chef any longer. Which brings me to another idea for you: teaching. It can be very fulfilling, you get benefits, days off, hours that won't drive you crazy...

Just don't give up on the profession entirely if it is truly what you love - you might not be happy anywhere else.
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