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Career Change

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hello everyone,

The advice I need is career related. In two year's time I am planning on going to culinary school full time. This alone seems like a straight forward, easy discussion but the circumstances are tricky.

I am 34, married six years, holding a full-time well paying job in the computer field. I've been doing this work for nearly 15 years, prior to which I was in the military. I have a happy home life and we live quite comfortably. My stock options will pay off what debt we have and a $50K culinary school education. I have some college which includes higher math, literature, political science, and computer science. Put another way, I have indeed considered the ramifications of pulling up roots, displacing my family, and quiting a financially sound career. Here is some background.

I have become tired of my current work. I've done everything that this career offers from systems work, programming, databases, networks, and so on. It is no longer fun going to work. I have no aspirations to be a suit and tie manager which is the only direction left to go. I don't like sitting on my backside all day or sitting in productivity meetings all day. I like to have people say, "That was a fantastic (fill in the blank)." I can do that cooking.

I love to cook. My kitchen experience beyond the house was in the military where I was a crack shot doing KP. I wasn't a cook though. KP had me prepping, cooking, cleaning, serving, etc, but I was a telecom guy. Over the four years I was in the service I probably racked up six months or more of cumulative kitchen time.

I've read the "literature" by Bordain, Ramsay, and Buford. I've read the story of Loiseau. I study the Pro Chef, Larousse, Escoffier, and McGee. I need my time in the professional kitchen, I know.

Here, then, is the critical question... As a professional cook, what is your home life like?

I know that I will be earning bupkis to start. I know the kitchen is hard work. I know the hours can suck. I know that 15 years in the computer field means exactly zero in the kitchen and I will be starting out as a prep cook. But I also know that 15 years + 4 military means I can work my bollocks off and not complain if chef squishes a plate of food into my chest if I screw it up. For my wife, she is prepared for the change in lifestyle that my salary change would require and she has expressed her concerns over the change.

But are cooks really resigned to have to work 100+ hours, with no benefits and little pay, divorce looming over the horizon, living in a 400 sq ft studio with wife and child, never having a vacation or even a day off, constantly moving from job to job every six months to a year, no friends beyond fellow cooks? What about my wife, do cooks' wives "hang out"?

Is the picture really that grim? Many things I've read preach that a cook's life sucks and the only really happy cooks/chefs (with few exceptions) are those plastered on the Food Network. When does the life of a professional cook change and "having a life" become possible. As cooks, do we willingly give up that world?

I ask with all sincerity and respect since everyone in the profession who is married can help me with a really difficult issue. I don't want to destroy my family just to cook. I can be a slave at my desk and shut the heck up about it before I'd risk losing my wife.

Any advice would be welcome especially that from a married professional cook or chef.

Warmest regards!
"Honey, is something burning?" - my wife
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"Honey, is something burning?" - my wife
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post #2 of 15
First of all, you will be earning bupkis, but not just to start...for a few years. It's not that the hours can suck, the hours DO suck. You can work lunch shift in most places and have weekends off and morning hours, but you get more experience with a wider array of things at night. The amount of hours depends on the place. For some...when it's time to go home, the chef will tell you that you are home. For others, they are strict on only working 8 hours a day. It just depends. Most places do offer vacation time after a year, and a lot of places do offer medical coverage, but it isn't worth the price for what you get in my opinion. The people that move around a lot from what I've observed are one of four things; they need to constantly be learning (as soon as I have stopped learning for a while I move on), the place is so horrible compared to what they're used to that they can't stand it anymore, they are a terrible cook and/or worker and couldn't handle it, or they're searching a promotion. It all depends on you. I'm only 23 and just got married, yet I work the lunch shift at a 3 star (la times) place, but that is somewhat of a sacrifice to where I'd prefer to be in order to have a life and spend time with my wife. It won't always be like that but right now, my wife is the most important thing to me.

Hope that helps,

Chad
post #3 of 15
youre entire post is exactly the situation i am in now... and attempting to get into this field... however more ppl have tried to sway me to do anything but this field... i have the exact same concerns as you, and i am curious if the 50k on schooling is going to be a huge waste if only to find out i cant hack it in a kitchen.
post #4 of 15
My career change was forced on me, sort of. Our parent company filed bankruptcy, and closed our shop. I had a year notice that this was going to happen. As with you we had time to prepare for this "move" With my experience, my suggestions would be. Save as much money as you can. You will never have enough. The reason I say this is for the things we take for granted. Take the lil things like running out to get a pizza, or stopping to buy the wife something on your way home from work. After you leave your current job, these things won't happen. If your set on doing it I would suggest setting your lifestyle in the way it would be when you change, before it changes. Things that you don't worry about now, you will then. I'm very lucky that my wife supports the choices that have been made. Now this is going to sound bad, surely not meant to. Will your family support your change? Good luck wish you the best. Oh BTW this is the happiest I've been in years :D

Mike
post #5 of 15
You sound like a perfect candidate for food science. Go into R&D, your background may suit you better for that. Looky here...

Culinary R&D


and here... Institute of Food Technologists - The Society for Food Science and Technology

Good luck.
My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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post #6 of 15
I think it's only "grim" if thats how you look at it. No-one becomes a Chef for the money, or the benefits. We do it because it makes us happy -we have hospitality in our blood. I'm 33, I have a wife and a baby on the way. I only get to sit down with her for a meal once or twice in a good week, she's asleep when I get home and gone before I get up, but we are both very independent people and enjoy the time we do spend together.

If you want a career in the culinary world START NOW, times-a-wasting. -Even though Chefs are not pop stars and they don't expire after 35,( tv would like you to believe that all chefs are young and good looking) It's going to take you years to get your chops, education, and decide what part of this culinary world you fit into.

If your wife supports your decision, take the leap. You can always fall back on computers if you dont like it, or even do them part time to supplement income.

Food is the glue that holds a family together anyway, Life revolves around the kitchen table in most households. there is an importance to it, why wouldn't you want to be a Chef ? read "The Apprentice", the Jacques Pippin biography. Then have your wife read it. He has some amazingly insightful things to say about family and being a chef.

I guess the bottom line is: if it makes you happy do it, you don't have to destroy your family to become a chef. there will be sacrifices, but anything good is worth the work.

-ciao
mike
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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post #7 of 15
You can always take some night classes at a culinary school to see if this is the direction you want to head in.Believe me there are some days I wonder why I am in this profession.It happens with every job.You might be better off taking it slow and not putting so much stress on your family and your career.Most culinary schools offer night classes.You will know in your 2nd or 3rd quater of school if this is where you want to be.Take it slow and weigh all of your options.If you decide to become a chef believe me you can make a good living in a short time if it is your passion.Best of Luck
post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 
I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughts and points of view. I hope that other people who are in a similar situation as my find this discussion as helpful and thought provoking as I have. It's wonderful to have the insight of so many who have been down this path and can offer their perspective!

It goes without saying that I have a new found respect for the men and women in the kitchen (and the FOH) who prepare my meals at a restaurant. Never before have I have as good a view on what sacrifices they've made, personally and professionally, than I do now. Reading and wondering about my own culinary career has done that, so thank you all!
"Honey, is something burning?" - my wife
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"Honey, is something burning?" - my wife
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post #9 of 15
As a cook, you may well struggle to get a minimal 40 hour workweek. This is a constant headache, as you cannot reliably predict your income. If you are fortunate to have a health plan (rare) you may lose it if you drop to less than 32hrs a week.

As a chef, You can find yourself working many, many hours in excess of 40/wk. And very often you will be on salary and not recieve any overtime.

Home life? In general, not good.
If you aren't working you are exhausted.
If you aren't working OR exhausted, you worry about getting enough hours to pay the bills.

Look, I got into the business at 43. I'm 49 now, and and left it six weeks ago.
I have been an exec, and a sous chef. I gave it maximum effort, total commitment. I went way beyond what was required.
My top wage was 36K/year. I averaged less that one day off per week. I had a health plan as a sous, but it was crap. AND I was on salary, with no overtime.
I was broken, exhausted, and broke. The end came when the exec refused me two weeks off at the slowest time of the year. I had not had a vacation in six years. I was in my last job for 2 and a half years.
I NEVER called in sick. Ever.
I never took time off.

It came to this:
Unreasonable workload.
No overtime.
Crappy health plan.
No Vaction.
No sick leave.
Insufficent time off to recuperate.

My health was being impacted, small illnesses turned into major infections. Pain was constant. I missed my wife.My home.
Exec turned on me when I started to slow a little due to pure fatigue and sickness.
In short, I had to do something, or I wasn't going to be working anywhere, for anybody.

So I got out.
If and when I go back, I will either be a cook (if I can afford it), or chef owner. I will never be anybody's sous ever again.

Actuall cooking was great, very rewarding. It was totally overshadowed by cheap idiot owners and tyrannical chefs.
As far as the worklife side, it all sucked, all of it.Pay, benefits, working conditions, ......respect. Every place I worked was the same. Bad.

Would it be the same for you?
I would say the odds are better than 50/50. You propose to get in a few years younger than me. That might help you in the long run. But right now, if a teenager askes me about career viability in this business, I tell them:

Unless you are totally committed with every fibre of you being that this is what you want to do, don't. It's more akin to a career in the military or entering a religious order. You are going to give up a lot. Money, time, health. You cannot maintain a family on cooks wages. Nor make a mortgage payment. If you are lucky, you can afford your own high deductable health plan. Retirement? Forget it. Pipe dream. To attain that stuff you have to hit the non-working executive chef level. You write menues, do the ordering, hiring,firing, training. But you give up most of what it what that got you in.....:cooking.
post #10 of 15
yikes... the future looks bleak... i wonder how the FCI can claim '...and with average salaries in the upper five-figures, it’s an astonishingly great one.' if everyone i speaks to tells me cooks/chefs make close to nothing and drive beater cars.
post #11 of 15

It's tough!

Went from chef to pilot... Work WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY less, better health coverage, benefits, etc... But I still miss the Friday night rush and the cold beer after... Do it part time, while keeping your current job.. Find a place that will let you work on weekends to see if its what you really want....If it is, you can bypass a high end cooking school, go local, and just work stages in top restaurants...Build a resume... And your off to the races....
post #12 of 15
ChefSean

I am in your shoes. jsut 1 year ahead of you.

Im computer feild for the last 7+ years Last year I decieded when I lose my job (always a great thing they hang over your head in the IT feild) that this isnt what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn about culinary and have something to fall back on. well long stry short. the CC I was going to go to gave me a hard time. I went to a much better school in NYC and Im almost done.

Work Full time and go to school. IT will be the best thing for you and your family. and like someone else said. abotu 3/4 of the way threw you will know if its for you.

What Im doing is trying to ease my way in.
You can keep you current job and work 1 or 2 days in a resturant and really make a good trnasition.

The computer feild is very flexible with the work schedule. Im sure you cna work with your boss to change up your schedule to work a condensed work week to allow you to go to school and work full time.

If you wife will support you in the major career change she will definitly support you keeping the job and going to school. It will be hard hardly ever being home while you in school but it will out wiegh the benefits in the end.

BTW, Yeha got married over a month ago and its been rough but she fully supports me nad we moved 2 states over and back in with our folks so I can go to school.

true test of love and she is still sticking with me.
post #13 of 15

Career change...

If you are going to get into this line of work (or any line of work for that matter), you are going to have to love it...because the hours/pay/etc. are terrible and the only thing that will sustain you for a few years (if you are lucky) will be if you really enjoy it!
That said, have you checked out any resources (online or off), professional associations, etc. that could help you position yourself for this potential career change?
post #14 of 15
ok...now for a different scenerio.....
divorced stay at home mom, hadn't worked out of the home in 15 years....moved 500 miles to a new town. Designed my own personal cheffing business. School hours, 4 days a week $50K+.....cooking in gorgeous kitchens with incredible ingredients.....there were down sides but NOTHING compared to the horror stories being told by others.
That was 10 years ago....there have been numerous changes since then.
I still personal chef for a priest on Mondays.....essentially start at 8:30-9 shop, cook, eat lunch, pick up and leave by about 1:30-2 sometimes earlier rarely later. I make decent money but biggest thing is the health and dental insurence.
Catering.....I like it alot. Some weeks are busy, some slow. I get to play with designing menus to fit events, sites, guests.....that is an absolute turnon....schlepping shtuff not so fun, but apart of the gig.
Stage Directing...fun, help other chefs work through the logistics.....

I've got alot of friends in the business, those that own their own places usually have longer hours. Some have built up to having multiple places and are not in the kitchen anymore but doing most of the PR/marketing. The majority are enjoying what they are doing....a couple of the top tier chefs are no longer in restaurants but are traveling the world (literally) and booking team building through cooking events with various businesses....Funny that two would be doing that......

Consultants.....many people want a restaurant and have no (READ NO) idea what is involved.....so they call a restaurant consultant, Great money.....usually they are hired a couple weeks prior to opening when the owners find out how deep they are..........

Cooking Schools, again a fun gig to teach or work with teachers.

I hope you pull up some of the posts from the archives that deal with possiblities in the food world...you don't have to be slave labor in a gulag basement **** hole kitchen, with no family, screwed up friends and essentially no tan lines cus you've not seen the sun in years.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #15 of 15

career change

I started in the business at the tender age of 13, went in the military at 17, did it there for 20 years, got out and stayed in the business until 2000. Left it because I had been a Food & Beverage Director/Exec Chef in a hotel for $36k annually for 25 months and had worked "EVERY DAY" of those 25 months. Literally, not one day off in two years when along comes a 32 year old GM that got mad because while I was on my first 4 days off in the past 2 years he needs to order something and doesn't know how. Long story short, he learned real quick that you don't curse at someone's wife over the phone or not only do you lose your F&B Director/Exec Chef, it's detrimental to your health!!!
Went to electronic retail as a security manager for 5 years and now I'm back to being an Exec Chef.
If you get it in your blood you're screwed, because it's the greatest rush you can have short of jumping out of perfectly good aircraft, wic the Air Force don't posses by the way.
Good luck my friend, Bon Chance. I never attended a culinary school except for a class here and a class there, but if I did it would be CIA or FCI. I learned at the schools of hard knocks and I make a pretty darn good salary but I still worked the past 16 days straight at 10 hours+ per day. BUT I'M OFF TOMORROW!!!!!!!:beer:
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