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is this normal?

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
some of you may already know my situation but i was wondering if any of you who have worked in top tier restaurants in the country (think Babbo, French laundry, le Cirque) or know someone who did can tell me if this is a road worth traveling. as of now, i am physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.

my current position is a line cook doing all the starches and veggies for the entrees. i create everything that isn't the piece of meat. i also sauce and garnish and send the plate out.

my shift officially starts at 230pm and i am to prep until 5pm when the restaurant opens . i am in the kitchen at 1130am at the latest because the prep that is required of me cannot be accomplished in 2.5 hours. at least it can't be done by me. other cooks who work other stations also show up at least 1.5 hours before their shift starts. we all clock in at 230pm.

my last paycheck came out to 710 bucks. i worked 85 hours. no OT for some reason. i work an approximate 40-50 hours a week on the books. in actuality, i'm doing closer to 70 hours.

the line is killing me since i haven't had prior work experience in a kitchen. i basically worked my way up from a dishwasher.

anyways, now that you know what i'm in to, i was wondering if this is how all "name brand" restaurants worked. i'm mainly doing this for the resume and the experience, but i have to admit, this job is turning me off to cooking as a profession. should i stick it out?
post #2 of 38
Congratulations on working your way up from dishwasher! and even though you feel exhausted both mentally and physically...welcomed to the world of food service!!! I got a job that on paper was "ASSISTANT PASTRY CHEF" at a very upscale Island , I think it was their Country Club... but it was where all the owners would come ( Think of people like OPRAH WINFRY, she used to own there!!) I was hired as a part-timer, 4 days a week, and I too worked 75 hours or more...I was scheduled in at 8/8:30 am and that was the late shift! and was not allowed to leave til we were done...10 pm to midnight!

Pay was lousy, conditions were worse, the place was a closet with ovens and it was dirty, dirty dirty! and dark and outdated... and we tried to make everything from scratch! The Head Pastry Chef had many ideas, and made us work to do them even if they were impossible...like serving frozen desserts out of doors in a Miami (tropical) July with white chocolate garnishes! the transportation of these items was a logistic nightmare...and she was wasteful...ordering like...1,000 white chocolate garnishes with logos, because she needed maybe 300 unbroken ones..(I'm exagerating, but you get the picture..lol)

for example, one holiday she made a traditional Taiwanese Dessert for a crowd that was more used to Coconut Custard Pie...( which she made with a graham cracker crust, rum flavored whipped topping and sweet coconut ...when I said she was better off sending someone to the local supermarket and picking up what the client wanted...now after there was a HUGE selection of mini pastries he wanted coconut custard pie! lol...EVERYONE hated her dessert, wouldn't touch her coconut pie...this all hurt her feelings...lol)

But you suck it up and think of the payoff....

it was horrible and there was no way to expand since the restaurant was in the Historic CARL FISHER mansion and they couldn't change a thing!!

My advice to you is to try to stick it out for your resume's sake if you can, do you know that now when I decide to "name drop" people are impressed. I don't tell them of course of the HORRIBLE conditions, that's the past.

Just give yourself a goal,a calender and a marker and just keep telling yourself...one more day, one more day.

Do what I used to do, I used to laugh and be happy at work since I knew I was NOT going to be there long and every day that passed took me one day closer to my "quitting" day..lol

Hang in there, this too shall pass!!! Take care, take a big sigh, breath ...and just think..one more day!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
post #3 of 38
OK post your prep list.
post #4 of 38
I have known people who did work at The French Laundry...you don't go there to make money;you go there to learn.Linecooks make less than $10 an hour.

There is also a very long list of chefs who are willing to work for free just to learn.

And if the line you're working now is difficult for you,fine-dining is much more demanding.

Just keep in mind that cooking professionally may not be for everyone in the long haul.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
post #5 of 38
Daniels in NYC, saucier was putting in long long hours $1100 a month. The busboys were making $40k. You signed up for 18mo but my buddy left at a year.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #6 of 38
What you have to understand is that many people would give thier left, uh..buttock to be in your shoes. It's simple market economics: The demand is high so the pay is lousy. Like it or leave it, but the smart thing to do is to get the experience and bragging rights, and then milk them for all they're worth.

After my apprenticeship (3 yrs, monthly salary of sfr700) I sought out the 5 star Hotels in Zurich. The pay was lousy, absolute minimum according to the Gov't figures. Hotel Baur au lac, which had a brigade of 40 cooks and an Eidgenosische Diplomierte Chef (the highest a Chef can go in Switz.) HAD NO VENTILATION SYSTEM IN THE KITCHEN, the summer restaurant was almost 300 meters (yards) away from the kitchen, the ice cream freezer in the pastry dept must have been over 60 yrs old, ran on some kind of salt water solution. When I left the payroll dept. stiffed me for double staff meals on my paycheck. The Chef had written me a "Zeugniss", or letter of recommendation, this piece of paper was my goal and it was worth the effort. I repeated this at Savoy en Ville and Rest. Kronnenhalle, all 1 yr contracts, all lousy pay, (albeit better kitchens) and top of the line tyrinical Chefs. After that my personal life has started to make demands on earning better salary and I had the experience and paperwork to get it..
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #7 of 38
I did my apprenticeship at an exclusive country club with an extremely talented chef. I worked 80 hours a week. It was just expected of the apprentices. When I was not at work I was taking 12 hours of college credit in the culinary program. This is one of the few businesses that you excel as fast as you are willing to push yourself. I made banquet chef in 2 years, Sous chef in 3years and Exec Sous in 4 years. I had told myself I would be an Executive
Chef in 5 years and I succeeded. I wanted to quit many times. I saw all of my friends having fun and thought when is it going to be my turn. This career is about choices. I am 38 years old and have been doing this for 15 years now, I still work 80 hours a week. I would advise you to think about what is important to you. I am currently finishing my degree so that in 7 years
I can start the next phase and begin teaching.
post #8 of 38
yeah, sometimes there is just 80 hours of work expected from you and 40 hours of pay offered to you....

you can either do your 40 hours paid, frantically trying to get everything done without enough prep

or you can put in overtime and get things done, even if its unpaid.

luckily for me, im not normally doing prep anymore, and as our prep kitchen is not quite built yet its having to be done in the main kitchen, alongside starters, so weve got extra people in to do it earlier on, so we have room for starters....

i still think about just throwing it all in and getting an office job... i was making $15 p/hr just doing basic clerical, and if i really put all in i could pull $50 p/hr doing computer servicing (i did a degree in networking concepts and computer platforms

but thats not what im in this job for... luckily i dont have to do 80+ hours a week... i do 50 or 60 (for 42 hrs pay of course!) and i still get some time off to do things i want to do, not that i have a lot of money to do them with... so i just play COD4 all the time :) sgt soap mactavish of the 22nd at your service lol
post #9 of 38
Sadly it's normal.

Cooks at many fine places make no more than cooks at slop joints.

While the good places may have linups to get a job there, there is an overall shortage of kitchen labor, that is becoming increasingly serious. There has also been a total failure in the concept of supply/demand. Cooks wages should be going up in a tight market, but they are actually receeding when adjusted for inflation. and about two thirds of all cooks make sub poverty level incomes. The wage gap between cooks and dishwashers is getting smaller, now only 2 or 3 dollars.
post #10 of 38
The nicer place you work, the less money you make.
post #11 of 38
If your doing it for the experience that is fine. There is no business in the world that doesn't appreciate FREE help. **** whatever happened to a good wage for a good honest days work. Look at it this way. You saved them $710 plus. You gave them a free week. **** yeah they are going to make money, thier doing with 1/2 the staff they should be using. If this was your place wouldn't you appreciate free help?

post #12 of 38
Thread Starter 
ok... so i show up at 1130 for this prep list.

first thing i do is make a gratin. this takes about an hour to prep.
i then do about 30 orders of crostinis. takes about 15 min.
while the gratin is in the oven, i chop 3-4 bunches of veggies that will later on be used in a stir-fry.
i julienne another bunch of veggies.
i also take the kernels off 18 qts. of corn-on-cob
i do a risotto using a box of arborio, onions and garlic.
by this time, i yank the gratin out and cool it in the walk-in
i steam off 18qts of potatoes.
while the potatoes are steaming, i'm doing a brunoise of hearts of palm and carrots. about 2 cups.
i render 8 slices of diced bacon
i also do a jasmine rice with oil, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and shallots. i finish these in an oven for about 30 min.
by this time, the potatoes come out
i rice the potatoes in batches.
i heat up cream and soften my butter.
i do a garlic mash as my first batch.
i do a bacon mash as my second batch
i do a taro mash as my third.
wrap everything into pouches using plastic wrap, and place into a warmer.
i pull my jasmine rice and set it aside to cool.
i throw in 16 cups of white rice into the steamer and 6 cups of brown rice which i do in a pot and finish in an oven.
i set my double boiler on and do a bearnaise sauce using 6 egg yolks and 2 cups of clarified butter.
i also fry up a pasta garnish. about 15 orders.
service is setting up and i take apart 2 live crabs, put the white rice in a large rice warmer, give the brown rice to the waiters.
i take my gratin out and cut it into portions.
i collect the risotto and give it to the chef.
i get on the line by 5pm and start cooking all the sides for the dishes that start firing.

oh... yeah.... btw,

we also get VVVIPs that get their own menu.
so on those days, i have to do a special fried rice, steam off other veggies. do about 2 cups of hollandaise, create a tomato sauce, and gather special plates that are used in the dish. also, this has to be done by 5pm.
post #13 of 38
LOL, on the bright side...that sound like my house when I used to have family over!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
post #14 of 38
I think when you do the potatoes for your gratin you can do 2-3 days at a time and leave them in the walkin. You use a slicer attachment? It's a potato gratin right?

Render your bacon in the oven.
post #15 of 38
What kuan is doing is pure instinct--he's running on auto-pilot: Multi-tasking and planning everything out 4 and 5 steps ahead. If you watch the Exec Chef and the experienced ones you'll see this, everything planned out ahead--right down to where they'll lay down a dirty spoon, where their hands blindly and automatically reach out for a common used tool or knife, and anal retentive tendancies as to how the station's low-boy fridge and general mise en place are set up. These are tricks to shave off time; planning ahead chops off hunks of time, and multi tasking is what you breathe...
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #16 of 38
Hey Guys and Gals,

I guess I don't get it. If you went to school and did well and learned what you were suposed to, why go some place just to learn things a different way. Make a name for yourself at the place your at. Arn't your schools teaching you the right ways to do things? Don't you practice at home?Why would you work for nothing, or what you call a good resume? These so called pro's learned from school and practice. You are makeing it hard for the up and commers to make a decent wage. If you give your labor away for free why should the owners pay you? You have the skills and the schooling, don't kill the future for others. The owners want you to feel that you are worth less don't give them that. That is why the unions were formed in the 30's. You are worth your hard work and skills, don't do this for the next generations. If some of us have to make a sacrifice of not working for a while to get our point across lets' pay it foreward. I have worked for nothing all I got was an owner that laughed all the way to the bank, and was me a sucker. Please, Please don't do this. If nobody applies for the job then the wages either goes up or the place shuts down. I have had to do with less because we lived on one income, it sucks but it won't change if you don't let it.
post #17 of 38
Blah that's what he's supposed to do and that's what he wants to do.

You can also prepare your gastrique for the bearnaise in advance, and the hollandaise, for goodness sake do it over an open flame. Ditch the double boiler.

And whisk in a figure 8 or Z pattern.

Saved you 10 minutes there.
post #18 of 38
Thread Starter 
i have people in the kitchen who can do it over an open, flame but to tell you the truth, i end up over cooking the eggs. it probably takes getting used to, and i'll have to find the time to master the technique one day.

as for the tarragon gastrique, i do prepare a large batch once every 2 weeks or so, so that is no prob.

i can't do the potatoes in advance because i have to store them in water to keep it from oxidizing and when potatoes get wet and are then exposed to air, it gets super hard to work with. like pringles. the potatoes warp into a curly shape.
post #19 of 38
How are you doing the gratin? You put them in a hotel pan and cover with cream and cook, then put cheese on top and brown? So like a 1.5-2" thick layer of potatoes?
post #20 of 38
Thread Starter 
you know, i kinda thought about it. but the fact of the matter is that many people come into the kitchen with the prospect of learning. and we do learn. a lot. i guess for a lot of cooks, this is part of the payment. which is why so many don't want to leave.

we don't have a union of course.
post #21 of 38
Thread Starter 
i do a layers of potatoes and layers of taro separated by layers of a bacon onion mixture with layers of parmesan and a thickened parmesan/cream as my adhesive. the thing fills a half sheet pan and comes up 1/2 inch over the top.

baked in an oven.
post #22 of 38
And how are you doing your julienne? With a mandoline? Are you doing a classic square julienne or oblique julienne?

If you are doing large amounts of celery leave the root section uncut. This will hold the celery together. Same with onions. If you are doing onions don't do the horizontal cut, and sometimes it may be easier to have the root side closer to you.

Sometimes you have to see other people do things the easy way and pick up on it.
post #23 of 38
So if it's all layered up who cares? It'll all cook flat anyway.
post #24 of 38
Somne good questions Butcherblock.

I guess it all depends on your way of thinking. If you think you're going to learn everything at school, and upon graduation there is nothing more to learn--in other words that all there is to learn about cooking, eating, and the whole dining experience is a finite subject-- well then the world will be a fairly difficult place for you.

On the other hand if you comprehend that here are many styles and ways of treating the same ingredients, equipment, and techniques--just like there are countless ways and styles of say, playing a guitar, then the world is a pretty exicting place, and you have countless influences to model YOUR style after.

Face it, the world is more and more crowded every day, people gotta eat, and they like to do it as cheaply as possible. Never before has the world been taken over by chain restauarants, processed foods, convienience foods and plain old cra* then today. As a gut-reaction to this fact, many people want to eat out--just once a year-- at a really fancy place that offers fresh new concepts, excellent food, and a memorable dining experience. There always will be a demand for fine dining, and a demand for cooks and Chefs who can provide this.
So why do cooks get paid cra* and the waiter walks away with a $100.00 tip? I dunno, riddle me that. The owner's fault? Not neccesarily. Owner never makes big bucks untill he sells the business--or usually the property... The waiter's fault? Not neccesarily, although there are Gov't enforced rules about splitting/sharing tips. Could it be, possibly, (gasp?) the customer's fault? Just maybe?.... We all know the story of Mr. Jones who wants to buy a Caddilac. It's a gut-reaction for Mr. Jones to source out the cheapest dealer with the best price to provide him with a $70,000 car. The customer is the driving force behind the whole business, the walking wallet, so to speak. Change the customer's way of thinking and you might get higher paid kitchen staff.....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #25 of 38
Thread Starter 
it's not so much the layering that is what takes so long. i mean, the cream, and ingredients Do have to go in a certain order so that the layers do not come apart, but it's also the rendering of the bacon, the slicing of onions, cooking the mixture. yada yada.

i've seen seasoned pros do this gratin, and the fastest i've seen it done is in 45 min. and into the oven. it takes me about an hour, so i'm not looking to shave time off over here.
post #26 of 38
Hah! Yeah, OK. :) Just hang in there bro, and look at the way other people do things. I'm sure you'll pick up stuff sooner or later.
post #27 of 38
consider it training for being on salary. :lol:
post #28 of 38
what about doing more than 1 box of rissotto a day, if your using that much then why not do more. Also if your sitting there stiring it the last place i worked at they just turned it on real low and only stirred it ever few minutes and added liquid when needed, it wasnt the correct way of doing things but it worked.
post #29 of 38
I have to agree with foodpump, and disagree with Butcher Block. We've all had to pay our "dues", whatever that means. The fact of the business is based on this: IT IS A BUSINESS. No matter how you want to try to categorize it, the bottom line will always take centre stage. I had my own place, and lost a lot of money in the process. My lesson, I'd rather play with other people's money than my own. However, there is a balance in this situation. As an Exec. Chef, I always try to remember the thousands of hours I personally put in for free. Hours away from my family & friends. My team has what I would like to call a realistic schedule. If they feel they can not complete their Mise on schedule, and have to come in early, all they have to do is ask, and trust me they do (& most times I will step in to be the prep cook myself). Let's face it, there are many times in a kitchen, when the Chef may not realize that one station is overworked, or understaffed. I'd rather someone ask me for help, and me be able to re distribute labor, so that everyone is happy. My advice for you 9Ball is, do you feel that what you are learing is worth the extra effort? What you learn in school pales in comparison to what you will learn in the field. I don't agree with working for free, but ask yourself, am I in the right environment? Trust me, there are a lot of good Chefs out there to learn from, who value the future of our business.....which of course is cooks like you..
post #30 of 38
What is amazing to me is that the food service industry in general seems to be the only place where employees and employers expect work to be done off the clock.
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