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recent culinary grad looking for advice

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hey all,

I'm a recent culinary grad who doesn't feel ready to jump into the big leagues of line cooking. I just finished my externship at a restaurant and I know I need more "seasoning". I'm not sure where to turn to get my skills up to snuff.

I was hoping by posting this that anyone who may have also gone through a similar situationcan offer up some advice.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated
post #2 of 7
I delayed replying as I was hoping somebody with more experience would post, but here is what I have.

It is gonna suck, but if you dont feel ready for the world of line cooking, enter the world of prep cooking. The pay is typically in the $8-$11 range, depending on the establishment. You can get first-hand experience of the supply/demand of the restaurant, sharpen up your knife/sauce-making skills, and observe the operation of the cooks/chefs on the line.

I specialized as a "prep/float" guy for a chain restaurant during my time with them. I was there on the busy weekend nights, my job was to "float" inbetween stations and constantly supply them with whatever they depleted. This was easier said then done, as things like mashed potatoes depleted the instant a new batch was available. Before doing anything else, I always made sure that I had mashed potatoes heating up. The pay was on the lower $8.00 of the scale, but I consider my time spent there wisely used.
post #3 of 7

I'm sure I annoy RAS with my "I agree with what RAS said":),but I do: get into prep if just to acclimate yourself better with a kitchen.Get good and efficient at one thing and then move on.I did the same thing RAS did doing the floater/back-up long ago and I got a clearer picture of what goes on,not just what I was doing.

I cooked on a line for years...it isn't easy.It also depends on the crew you're with;very rarely will you have a team of people where it all goes like it should and you all help each other.I'll be honest,I got burned-out doing full-service restaurants.The line was just killing me [harder at 35 than at 25],but to this day,I still consider myself a line-cook at heart because you never lose that "move it,move it!" mentality.

But,if you want to do this,you have to get on that line eventually.It's ok to be downright scared because watching seasoned cooks can make you go "How the hello am I going to do THAT?" It takes time and practice to get good at it and we've all been there.

Trust me,I would still get psyched-up/nervous before service even though I was very good at what I was doing.I'd pace,triple-check my station,constantly twist a towel in my hands [anyone who worked with me knew I did this!]...everyone has their thing.

but if it makes you feel better,I've seen more than one chef have to get on the line when it was busy and see them horribly lost because they were so out of practice.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
post #4 of 7
Pault: I can understand your concern, and admire you for recognizing your skill level. I've been in kitchens where new grads (CIA, even!) had that deer-in-the-headlights look on the hot line. It was painful to have to watch.

Prep work will indeed help you build your knife skills, but it won't usually give you exposure to the line at service. My first couple of jobs after graduation were garde manger (aka salad girl in some places :angry:). Now, that may have had more to do with the fact that I'm female than with my skills or confidence (in the very first job, I KNOW that's why :rolleyes:). But guys work that position, too, and it is probably a better way to observe service, since you are right there keeping up with tickets. There's a lot of knife work involved in setting up the station; sauce-making too, sometimes. About the only thing you might not have to do is cook stuff à la minute. (Although in my second job, where my partner on the station was a guy -- who stayed there when I moved up to grill -- we also had to cover the fryer for hot apps and sides.)

Besides, I've always believed that we should try to do something that is just a little bit beyond our comfort level. Otherwise, how will we expand it?

Just remember that while everything you learned in school is right, it may also be wrong -- in that each chef has his/her own way of wanting things to be done. As you move through the business, you will (should) be learning and trying new things constantly.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #5 of 7
Other then prepping/float for TGIFriday's, I also worked on the salad/appetizer/dessert station. I started here before I did culinary school, so I definitely had minimum skills to bring, and it was my first real kitchen job. The amount of food they serve is overwhelming ($6.5 mil in F&B/year), and I consider this the turning point in my life of cooking at home vs cooking in a professional kitchen.

Prior to this, my innocent perception of the kitchen had been something to the tune of 5 or 6 Emerils in the back working harmoniously together in a perfectly clean and well-maintained kitchen shouting BAM as they put the finishing touches on their plates... WRONG!!!

As I worked prep or salads, I was constantly observing the saute guys and even offered them help when we were slow (which wasnt very frequent). My managers eventually felt confident in gradually moving me to the saute station during slow times. Before you know it, I was sweating behind that stove cooking up various pastas and "sizzle" entrees.

Im not sure where I'm going with this post, guess I wanted to share some of my own personal experience. In a kitchen, your success is only limited by yourself. You determine whether you will do the bare minimum and stay where youre at, or go the extra mile and rise up to the line and eventually sous chef, then EC...
post #6 of 7
After culinary school and my estern in a restaurant i was not comfortable with the kitchen either but I knew i wanted to cook and practice in some capacity. So I hired myself out to a few families doing dinners and lunch for them, but I made sure to tell them that i was just out of school and wanted to better my skills. They like the fact that i loved to and wanted to cook for them and so they let me.

End result I did very well for myself and they told me not to be so scared which was great and they pushed me to try all kinds of new foods on them.

I loved it and i got paid to do it so I dont know it might work for you.

good luck :)
post #7 of 7
I worked in kitchens for YEARS before going to culinary school. Mind you, I'm only 21, but at 16 I was a dishwasher for two months before going prep, and stayed in kitchens ever since. At 18 I was working saute at Johnny Carino's (which, btw, was the worst job anyone can ask for!!!) and at 20 decided to go to cul school. Well, it's only been a year, I dropped out of culinary school because it was interfering with my work (and I realized that the degree was just one really expensive piece of paper and my skills are sharpened by the daily grind and the industry itself) however I'm working as a sous in one of Denver's top 10 restaurants...... How I got that job was the experience, not the culinary degree. And trust me, the volume still kicks my *** sometimes, but one just has to learn the steps to the dance that is working the line. I recommend being a prep, like everyone else here, and give yourself a year or two before moving up to the line (unless you're a natural f'n genius then give yourself 6 mos).

And keep in mind- you're not in this industry for the money. Or the benefits. Or the vacation time. And ESPECIALLY not the nights and weekends off!!!
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