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The Industry, Schooling, & Career Change...

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
This thread is geared towards ppl currently in the culinary industry who are either chefs or sous-chefs. I am twenty-eight years old. I have been cooking recreationally for over fifteen years. While occassionally catering parties (privately) on the weekends. Typically small gatherings of eight to twelve people. I do not have any formal education (food wise), along with any experience in a professional kitchen. I am not even in a related field. My background is in finance, I have been a trader for some time and I am looking to make the jump from one career to the other. My concerns or issues with this are the decrease in pay, the timeline for success, and of course ways to shorten the learning curve from private kitchen into a professional one. Obviously, asking the timeline is like asking someone for lotto numbers or the next winner in the market. I understand it is all individual specific. I am just curious if there is an average or what you may have noticed from being in the kitchen.

Secondly; schooling. How many chefs here truly feel conventional practical education is a must? How many who have attended school would do it again? Would anyone here say to skip it and just learn through immersion in a kitchen? I have contacted FCI, CIA, CB, ICE, the usual suspects and am currently waiting for literature in the mail.

In conclusion; I would just like to know from those who have made a career change this late in the game, how difficult it was... more importantly how long it took to acclimate to the new environment.

In any event, I appreciate the time spent reading this and look forward to any and all help.
post #2 of 20
Wow, thats funny. I'm doing almost the opposite by trying to move from the kitchen to accounting.

First thing, I would get a job in the industry before commiting to school.

Second, If you must go to school, look at the local community colleges and trade schools. The only big name school thats worth the 40k is the CIA, but they require industry eperience before enrolling. Also, cooking school usually precludes you from keeping a daytime job fulltime so budget accordingly. Keep an eye on your debt load. How will you pay off your 40k school loans when you are only making 10/hr?

That said, I enjoyed going to culinary, and I'm glad I did.

Third thing, restaurant work is physically demanding with long hours. It hits transitioners really hard. Don't expect a lot of emotional support at work either, many times they won't learn your name for the first six months. Hit the gym starting now, and build your endurance up. If you are overweight, shed some pounds, it will be a lot easier for you. Also your feet will take a beating, get some very good supportive shoes (many threads here on the topic). You also might need an orthotic device for your shoes.

Fourth thing, work experience and networking count for more then any school degree could. Get a job as a dishwasher and take notes on the prep and station. Most people get ahead in this business, by attrition. When the salad guy no call/no shows tell the boss not to worry, you can handle it. Be johnny-on-the-spot. It might be easier for you to get hired at smaller independent places or at caterers.

Fifth thing, expect to do scut work. Plan on long days of peeling potatoes and chopping onions. Long, hot, sweaty, stinky days and nights cleaning shrimp and squid. I hope your s/o won't give you a hard time when you come home after midnight reeking of garlic, fish, and fryer grease.
post #3 of 20
I loved my 3+ years at culinary school, and yes I would do it again.
Do I think you need to go to school to become a good cook and eventually a chef? Of course not, but after you get out of school, you will certainly be ahead of the learning curve.
post #4 of 20

$60,000 to go to the C.I.A?

Im in the "did not attend culinary school" club and not by choice. I wanted to go to CIA but couldn't afford it. And by then I already had 3 years on the line at Houston's doing more than 400 covers in a day, and was moving up in rank quickly. Two years later I bought a 40 seat bistro in Queens that almost made money for 5 years...Anyway the point is culinary school is awesome but if you have cooking experience, understand some basic science, are smart, brave, solid on your feet and need really intense adrenaline rushes once or twice a day(all day fri and sat)you can go really far in this business without a degree. You just have to start lower on the food chain than those spoiled brat CIA grads...kidding ha ha

So now I find myself at the helm of an old school haute French restaurant that has been in business for 38 years.....Im 32.

Keep 'em burnin
Chef Brian
Keep those fires burnin'
 
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Keep those fires burnin'
 
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post #5 of 20
I took the long road.....was reading Gourmet at 11, catering by 16, cooking in scratch continental/french restaurant through part of college, district mgr asst for Arthur Treachers (learned alot amazingly).....got married and cooked all the time in Southern Louisiana for 15 years.....divorced and having been an at home mom/atty wife out of the workforce for 15 years with 3 sons the youngest having autism I needed a high end paying job that let me be creative....found it in designing a personal cheffing gig, school hours, no overhead, great return and it was exactly what made my heart sing.
Since then:
I've consulted with the local community college hospitality section, paid consultant for the nutrition and RD at St. Louis University, designed/directed/ managed food stages,taught kosher cooking classes, taught private adult cooking classes, taught wild shroom classes and talked at the national shroom conference, founded and run 2 farmer's markets for 7 years, taught farm camp/culinary intensive/ afterschool innercity cooking classes, catered, cooked in the woods for 200 people on butane burners....designed and ran loads of events, Dept of Ag boards, etc etc........envision it and then just go do it.
At the time I started personal cheffing I had NO IDEA where I stood in the professional cooking world.....15 years is an awfully long time to be learning on your own.

so school, depends on your personality and what you want to achieve. If it's owning a restaurant most successful restaurantuers would tell you it's about the business end.....the food is important but without strong business sense you'll last max 18 months. School only gives you what you put in.....
I know exceptional choclateer that is self taught, type A personality and amazing....really amazing....I know many bakers that did not go to bread school, one is head of R&D for Panera....I have many friends that have gone to CIA/J&W or the community college I consulted with, I have some great restaurant friends that went back to school to take some business classes prior to opening their restaurant....that has been open 3 years and has dbled in size.

There is a great thread from years ago that goes into length about the different areas of food there are....they don't involve fine dining restaurants.
Explore alot of the options to know the pros and cons to each setting...and what skill sets are important to have strengths in.....such as I've written about chefs for big money, but I am not a wordsmith, (obviously) BUT I have the info and a great editor who has spell check on her computer....probably grammer check too....:)

not sure if this whole segment is clarifying or muddling....HUH?!!!
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #6 of 20
Awesome post. This should help you out iconoclast.
I probably did NOT NEED to go to JWU, but I loved every second of it, and would do it again!
Do what you think is right, you have your own mind!
Culinary school was great, but so is my time on the line and in the restaurant. Another good thing about school is, they will help you alot on finding your first job!
post #7 of 20
I am doing what you are thinking of doing. I am 35 years old, and in the IT consulting field now, and I wanted to change careers. I took a job as a dishwasher in a local place and got my foot in the door. I worked on the weekends only so I can keep my current job (you know, to pay the bills). I began doing some prep work and actual cooking once in a while (while still being responsible for the dish pit). I then began culinary school a few weeks ago. So, I kept my normal day job, but needed to leave my dishwashing job while I go to school.

I work from 7am - 5pm at my job, go to school from 6pm to 11:45pm Monday through Friday. It is hard, and I get very tired by the end of the day, but boy is it worth it! I love school and am learning a lot.

The place I washed dishes at has already told me that they will call me if they need someone in a pinch, and they offered for me to come back there to do my externship.

The strange thing is, I felt a lot more fulfilled after a long day of scrubing pots than I do delivering a multi-million dollar project for my client.

I know this is for me.
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
that is what i am looking for... the rewarding feeling, or the fill of void. i mean going to a place you hate to do something that bores (although its an exciting environment) is the worst. at least for me.
post #9 of 20
Exactly, I doubt this business will ever, "bore" you.
post #10 of 20
Thread Starter 
so what to do~!? lol; do i just go dive in to a small kitchen and see how if i sink or swim or dump the 40k on french culinary institute? i know noone here can really decide that for me, its just that this is most likely the most difficult decision i have to make, which would effect my future greatly either way.
post #11 of 20
Yes, get a job in a kitchen before school.

Once you decide if the industry is for you, then decide if you want to go to school.

Not all schools cost 40k. At many comunity colleges or trade schools you can get a top notch cunlinary education for less then 10k.
post #12 of 20

School or Mentor?

Sauce or no sauce? What makes better pickle? What's on your burger? It depends on personal approach. So is culinary education. Some people have it in blood. Some need to be a part of schoolroom and be pulled on tracks. Some need environment to absorb and mentor to kick a## sometime.

I personally know many FCI graduates who switched to suites after few years in apron (I did the opposite). Does it make this school worse than others? No. Some people just weren't lucky. Or out of element.

After 2 yrs prep/line, I applied there in 90s, put paperwork together.. and (lucky me) "quitted" week before it started. My next job was under great Mentor who's not only been a visual example but let me "in" (his mind), honed my senses and broaden my horizon.
Would I get that for $25,000 to $60,000? I don't think so. Neither I would learn so much changing BOHs all this years. Speaking of pickle in right brine..

C
WE ARE NOT SELLING FOOD...WE ARE IMPROVING OUR CLIENT'S LIFESTYLE - HIS LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO EAT SOMETHING HE DOESN'T LIKE
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WE ARE NOT SELLING FOOD...WE ARE IMPROVING OUR CLIENT'S LIFESTYLE - HIS LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO EAT SOMETHING HE DOESN'T LIKE
Reply
post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 
this may be a foolish question; however... what are 'suites'?
post #14 of 20
Suits I think :) Collar and tie.

Good luck with your career change and you've been given some great advice here from people that have been there, done it, and know it from the inside out.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
ah... suits i am familiar with i thought maybe they were refering to something in the hotel industry since they put 'suite' idk.
post #16 of 20
There was a fantastic thread several years ago where we rifted through different variations of jobs that are connected to food.....not every restaurant is the same, personal and private cheffing, catering offsite is different than any other aspect of the industry, recipe development, writing, styling, stage/television/radio food shows, etc....one restaurant will not give you all the info out there.......most schools don't dwell on the majority of the possibilities.....oh moderators, would you please see if that thread still lives in the great black hole of computerland? Thank you!
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #17 of 20
"Suits" are office slaves. They usually can't stand heat.:roll:
WE ARE NOT SELLING FOOD...WE ARE IMPROVING OUR CLIENT'S LIFESTYLE - HIS LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO EAT SOMETHING HE DOESN'T LIKE
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WE ARE NOT SELLING FOOD...WE ARE IMPROVING OUR CLIENT'S LIFESTYLE - HIS LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO EAT SOMETHING HE DOESN'T LIKE
Reply
post #18 of 20
Thread Starter 
the spelling error threw me off... i thought the poster was referring to hotel suites or something idk.
post #19 of 20
Thread Starter 
yes, i tried searching the archives with out the results i was looking for... if someone could link me to it i would appreciate it. thanks.
post #20 of 20
Thread Starter 
anyone? bueller? bueller?
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