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some advice with perseverence.

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
hey guys,

i was just wondering if any of you ever doubted your choice in career. how do you get over this? i'm currently in college and i'm one a semester away from graduating. i took it upon myself to follow my love for cooking and food by working fulltime during the summer at a restaurant. i was very enthusiastic about learning and was looking forward to diving head first into the career. but, after doing the same prep list for the last 3.5 months, i find myself questioning my career move. i went into a pretty high profile restaurant (ranked top 10 in the nation by gourmet magazine), with just the promise to the chef that i wanted to learn and that i'd do my best no matter what. i still give it a 110%. i clock in from 9-5 everyday but i actually start work at 8 (as soon as the kitchen opens) to get a head start on "the list" and leave around 6 or 7 (because i still wasn't fast enough). i go home dejected, but for the most part, i'm enthusiastic about doing it all over again the next day. i'm at the bottom rung in the kitchen outside of dishwashers, and i got nicknames up the wazoo. none of which come with a story that somehow is elevating to my reputation. i guess i was at the tipping point in my positive thinking (and i'm pretty positive!!!) the other day when the rude and irritating grill guy heard my dreams and aspirations and told me that i might have jumped into deeper waters than i expected as it is.

sorry if i come off as whiny or something... this kind of concern could never be voiced in the kitchen and i guess i ended up turning here. kitchen confidential's author, anthony bourdain said in his book that if a cook begins to doubt himself, he becomes a liability to his fellow cooks. that's the last thing i want so i really want to get out of this funk.

thanks for listening to me rant.
post #2 of 19
I've been there.

The first thing you've got to do is cowboy up and get back at it full speed. It's normal to be hazed for your first 6 months or so. Make it to a year then worry about the nicknames. This is to weed out the people who can't cut it when the going gets tough.

The next thing you have to do is to share the story of how you got your nickname. Transform it from a source of shame to one of humor and twisted pride. If you share your story, I'll share one of mine.

It is normal to feel like crap when you screw something up, but don't spend so much time thinking about. Figure out what you need to do to correct the problem, do it, then move on. Eventually you'll get faster and more precise.

Work on staying calm and collected. Don't panic, be cool. This should be your goal for the next couple of weeks.

Depending on your comfort level and the workplace, you might want to try dishing some of it back. I'll send you a link that should help you.

You should also come here to talk if the job is getting you down. The collective wisdom of our regulars is astounding.

Hang in there bud! It gets better:chef: Keep us posted!
post #3 of 19
Don't take Bourdain's comments as any kind of universal truth regarding the restaurant business. He wrote Kitchen Confidential to be provoke both restaurant owners and patrons by exposing some dirty little secrets of the business. They may be true in some instances, but certainly not all.

You are being a little hard on yourself, I think. You've only gone through one stint at school, and 3 1/2 months of general prep work. Culinary students are slow at prep for a while because they work hard (presumably) at being precise and accurate. It takes quite a while to build up speed and facility at this kind of work. You should accept that for quite a few years after graduation, your days will be filled with mind-numbing, repetitive prep work. That's what 95% of kitchen work is. As you build up your operational and organizational abilitites, your skills will improve and you'll move up the ladder. Expecting to learn the creative aspects of culinary design and execution from the chef while being a summer extern is unrealistic. But if you keep your eyes and ears open and your conversations restrained, you are likely to observe some of this process as the chef and sous do their work.

There is a certain quality that successful, talented culinarians have. I don't know how to define it, but it can't be learned in culinary school-that's where you learn the basic tools of the trade. You either have it or you don't and pursuing real-world kitchen work is the only way to find out if you possess this quality. It's analogous to being a successful actor. Many people go to drama school with dreams of being the next stage or film star, but only a few really make it, and only a very small number of them make it without putting in years in the chorus line or in small, no-lines walk-on roles. Some never get noticed by the big dogs, but continue on to have lucrative careers as directors, producers, turgs, designers, gaffers and such.

The same is true for those with culinary aspirations. Some don't have that enigmatic quality affords them high paying, notable restaurant careers. Some, like a friend of mine, make the covers of the food mags and lists of the years top chefs, but learn that to maintain that notability, they must sacrifice everything else they want from life (love, family, holidays, vacations, outside interests just to name a few.) But there are many other ways to use your love for food and cooking to carve out (bad pun, sorry) a lucrative vocation. Keep at it, explore lots of different techniques and disciplines, and practice, practice, practice.


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!



Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #4 of 19
umpteen years ago we had a thread with alternatives in the culinary world.....there are loads of options other than working in a restaurant.
Can one of the moderators please bring that thread back?

Funny thing I had this conversation last night with a farmer in his mid-50's....said every year he thinks of doing something else but can't fathum working (teaching) inside all day. I've another friend that is going from owning and cheffing in top restaurants to possibly selling stoves....small sons at home and arthiritist in his back.......

I'm off now to talk about venues, catering and expanding to larger format....not sure what'll come of it but I'm not going to sign on to 6 days a week umpteen hours a day in one location.....I'd be bored to death in 3 months.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #5 of 19
I agree with the other alternatives to restaurant work. I've heard alot about cooks/chefs that become vender reps. Seems like a good way to use the knowledge.

I do think that 3 1/2 months in a single restaurant is not long enough to make a judgement about the segment. I'd always start to get bored after 6 months and would start to look for greener grass. I've been trying to correct this wonderlust, but the best way for me to satiate it is to take a p/t job somewhere for variety.
post #6 of 19

my .02

Ok man I understand what you are talking about. I think some point in time untill you get a pat on the back and a hey u did a good job these feelings come with the territory. I have had so many nick names in the kitchen it is not funny. Everywhere you go you will get more and new ones. It a kitchens way of welcoming you. When I first started my job I was busy prepping and burnt a soup. The day line cook I was working with was mad as ****. Now I understand why but at the time it was another story. So from that day on I was elscorcho for a long time. The funny thing is after that I started to pay more attention. I mean things are not always going to go your way and in most places they will notice the bad before the good because the good is what they expect. You can work a grill and cook every steak perfect and never get a good job tonight. The minute one of those comes back you get noticed real quick. That is not the attention you want. So before you go making any desisions I would give it more time. The more time and the harder you work makes that pat on the back and good job well worth the wait.
post #7 of 19
Isn't that the truth? And that's an important thing, isn't it? Just because you didn't get complemented one day doesn't mean you did poorly... because otherwise it just means the chef had to keep their eyes on you just to make sure you didn't screw up.
"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
post #8 of 19
Just my 2 cents, take it with a grain of sea salt.
Your's is a natural reaction to your situation. This will be a bit of old fashioned advice, but makes things a bit easier.
Goals and challenges.
Set some goals. Give yourself a number months to move from prep.
To get there, challenge yourself. Something like, finding 5 ways to reduce your prep time. Less trips to the walkin, multi-tasking. Work your full list. You should never be cleaning or preping an ingredient more than once a day. If you find yourself peeling and cutting onions more then once you should be able to prep all of your onions for your whole list. Try to reduce any useless steps. If your taking a step to the garbage more then once, then move the can closer. These are just a few examples. As you get faster, you will be building ammunition for you to use as you ask to get off prep.
Remember, just my 2 cents, and may not work at all for you, but it takes your mind of the negetives and the concern for thinking you might be going slow while in the kitchen.
Good luck to you
post #9 of 19
Hot Hands
Thats my first nickname. I went to clean the grill and grabbed it bare handed. Long before any sign of a callous had shown up on my hand. Long before I held a knife at the line.
Hot Hands.
It hurt, and the only thing I could smell was my flesh against the 600 degree grill rack, and hear the gross sizzle, and the cooks laughing at me.
Hot Hands.
For a year that name followed me. My hands were bandaged for a week. Water filled blisters, and peeling skin. It just plain hurt.

A for a year, I was hot hands.
But I stuck through it.
I have those scars to show me where my stupidity earned me that name.

After a while, the teasing stopped, and they called me Tim again.
Soon I was an equal.

The hazing is so common, just stick through it. Cherish your nicknames.
It means they accept you. If no one spoke to you, you would be plum out of luck there.

As for tedious prep work, yep, its dull, and everyday I always lend a hand to the prep cooks whenever its slow because I've been there.

Speed comes with time and comfort. It used to take me about an hour to do a box of onions. Now with my favorite santoku it takes me about 30 minutes.
There may come a time as well when you miss the repetition of doing prep. Prep time has actually become my favorite part of the shift, because I don't have to think, and I'm not over the grill or range.

Stick to it and your hard work will be rewarded.
post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 
well, i just got back from work. nobody said a thing to me. usually, that's a good day. finished at 6. clocked out at 5. major achievement for me since if i took my sweet time, i'd still be there.

i got a lot of reponses from you guys, and i honestly am grateful. being in the kitchen for so long, i was half expecting all of you to tell me to just shut up and keep my head down towards the cutting board.

to answer some of your questions and reply to comments:

1) i do challenge myself; daily, hourly, by the minute. before i started this job, i never wore a watch. now, i stare at it constantly as i chop. i grab all my materials in a hotel pan and camp out at my station for the next 8 hours. so i minimized my trips anywhere. this is also the reason why i think i have foot problems. i also keep a small notebook in my pocket to record times everyday for every task i do. start and end times for dicing tomatoes, onions, scallions, blanching... everything. i'm sure there's probably some things i can do to shorten my work time, but as of now, i haven't discovered it.

2) i think i gave the impression that i am in culinary school. i'm not. i am currently enrolled in the state university and am one semester away from graduating with a psychology degree. about a year ago, i realized that i no longer wanted to do anything psych related for a profession. but since i only had a year to go before i get a degree, i went ahead and decided to finish it. i turned towards my first passion, cooking as my future. i wanted to go to the CIA straight out of highschool, but my family wanted me to go into a academic field.

i had a lot of fun reading your stories about how you came about your nicknames. unfortunately, my nickname in the kitchen is a little more depressing. i'll go into further detail:

i few years before i started, there was another cook who also started by coming into the kitchen knowing nothing. he worked for a few years and has since left. i will call him last name: "smith" since i do not wish for his name to be disclosed. "smith" was a personable guy. he was nice, but at the same time, he was by his very nature, incompetent. i few of the people i asked about him told me that "smith" was , "book smart" but lacked common sense. he asked questions that were idiotic which answers could be easily deduced if he thought about it for a second. he was clumsy, messy, and slow. he knew the answers to everything, but lacked the ability to execute. he's everything a decent cook shouldn't be. he was always in the weeds, and constantly forgetful (leaving things behind, and moving on). he was the type of person who could win at jeopardy and come out of the tv studio and get hit by a car because he chased a quarter into oncoming traffic.

so my nickname is "smith". and it's funny because no one can tell me exactly what to change or correct about me. only that i remind everyone of him and that on a pretty consistent basis, i do the exact same things he did. in fact, when i was first interviewed, the chef went into the kitchen and was asked by another cook, "how is he". my chef gave the response, "i think we got another smith". to which the cook went, "oh noooo."

so you can see why i'm bummed. this isn't a humorous event that got branded on me (i have some of those nicknames too). but basically, i'm labeled, "destined to be a crap cook" everytime someone calls me, "smith". and i guess yesterday was the straw that broke the camels back.
post #11 of 19
Hey Buddy,
A few suggestions......if you don't enjoy working on a daily basis....get
out......If you dwell on "off the cuff insults" thrown at you on your off time...
your taking it all to seriously.....don't time yourself and write it down in a
journal......go out and have a drink with the cooks sometime....even if your
not a big drinker......come in for free and help one of the line cooks one night......Your really getting bogged down with unnecessary sentiment.............in your own words, put your head down and keep going.......no one ever became a great line cook of chef in just a few months....I feel your pain, but......it sounds like schoolyard complex.....its not important what others feel about you....its what you feel about yourself and what you do......promise yourself you will find a place where you can enjoy working.......Good luck......
post #12 of 19
In this business, you sort of walk backwards into more promotions than not.

Just be the last man standing when others fall down.
Be 100% reliable, and follow chef's instructions. That's all it takes. Someone WILL quit. Someone WILL go to jail, freak out, have a meltdown, come in drunk.

Trust me, this works, as much as I'd like to think that it were pure merit in every personal case of mine. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that more than
2/3ds of the time I moved up to fill recently absent shoes.
post #13 of 19
In addition to all the good advice, perhaps just as important in my opinion is a thick skin and a sense of humour.
"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
post #14 of 19
As in food-smith? That's pretty good! A wordsmith is a good writer, a blacksmith someone that shoes horses well, silversmith, etc.
post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 
you know, despite my gripes, i do enjoy what i do. i still love working with food. so that's not the issue. i do suppose the people will take getting used to. i mean the dividing barrier between line cooks and prep cooks is pretty significant. it just may be the case that i have to move up in order to understand or get along with other people.

as for coming in free and helping out, i do that at least once a week. sometimes after work, or sometimes i come in on my day off.

as for drinking with the line cooks. i'm afraid that's not much of an option. the line cooks drink until 3-4am. i have to be in the kitchen again at 8. they come in around 2.

thanks for the advice. things have lighten up since i first posted this thread. i guess i was feeling down about the whole situation and decided to post.
post #16 of 19
Okay, I'm going to be the little devil on your shoulder, but go anyways (well, at least every once in a while)! Go to work tired, hung over, etc. but just be there on time and still work your hardest (without chopping off your or other people's fingers in the process). Besides, you don't need to stay until 4... you can leave earlier.

I really feel that life is too short without doing something that drives you to the edge every once in a while.
"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
post #17 of 19
Hazing!!? 1970, 14 years old, a real punk. The chef, 350 lbs of mean Portugese, told me to do something, I said "NO", when they caught me and took me to the root cellar, they pants me, rubbed me down with homemade corn muffin mix pulled my pants up and made me go up and work the grill in an open air diner! Once dried, corn muffin mix chafes real bad. Never told even the dishwasher no after that! If the rats in the alley had have told me to get them something to eat I would have said "YES"!
Ever been sent to the pastry chef for the ice cream coloring???, how about being sent to the Exec Chef for the counter stretcher???!!!
Want to clean the grease trap in an old WWII mess hall everyday with a number 10 can for 3 weeks because the first cook doesn't like you? How about working the fried egg grill after an all-nighter being initiated into an elite group requiring you to drink shots of wild turkey and vodka all night.

You are at a point that we all get to. I got to mine after 30 years and I went to work at Best Buy for five years. It took going to Vegas and wandering the halls of the Venetian one night, stumbling upon Bouchon, going in, having a meal and watching the "buzz" of the staff. I went back to my room and cried. When I got home I reworked my resume' sent out 47 on the net inside of two hours, and got this break after three weeks. My feet are killing me, I've had the ligament cut in my left foot, and will do my right foot this year because of plantars faciaitus. I use absorbine jr. to get to sleep as well as extra strength tylenol and the occasional loritab for those espicially hard nights, will I ever leave it again - **** NO!!!! I love it, it's in my blood. I would rather scratch the a** of a siberian tiger than leave the kitchen again!
And yes, I have been doing the same routine mise en place every friggin day for the last 23 months trying to train a staff of women that have been in the same place, doing the same thing for 34 years, they keep putting parsley on the pastry plates as garnish!!!!!!!:mad: Or today's eye-cather used strawberries :confused:The thrill and satisfaction of creating seasonal menu's, and the importance of sanitation, and consistency, they don't want to change and I'm not giving up!! I'm going on male hormone pills
(if there is such a thing) any day now but that's allright I'M NOT LEAVING THE KITCHEN!
Dig in my friend and enjoy the ride, it's the best roller coaster you will ever take in your life! :chef:
post #18 of 19
Thats what I am talking about!!!!!! Go out have fun no need to stay out all night. Just have a few, get to know these people. It will aways work it self out. Big dividing line between Prep and Line cooks NO. Everyone is a cook all the same. Usually your line cooks are more experienced but not a dividing line unless you want there to be. I remember when I was a prep cook Looking at the line and being very intimidated. They were like these higher beings that I could not touch. I moved up and realized the were no better than me. It is all how you make yourself feel about the situation.

I am glad to hear things are slowly getting better!!!!
post #19 of 19
Rivitman's words ring very, very true. Don't psych yourself out by overthinking the nicknames. More often than not, you'll get a nickname from folks who can't remember your given name. And kudos to your parents and you for getting a college degree while getting restaurant work experience.
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