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Age for becoming a Chef

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
I was wondering what people thought about age as a factor to consider for starting training to become a chef.

I am 30 years old and have achieved a good measure of professional and financial success as an attorney. On the other hand, the emotional satisfaction that accompanies my job is non-existant. I'm extraordinarily passionate about food and for some time, I've been considering changing professions to become a chef.

I used to help run a friend's restaurant, so I'm somewhat aware of what I'd be getting myself into in terms of the enormous pay cut, the hours worked, etc. I could live with those consequences, but what I'm concerned about is whether I'm realistically too old to start over and have any measure of sucess. I know that I will start at the bottom of the ladder, but I'd also like to feel that there is a realistic opportunity for me to achieve a degree of sucess in the kitchen that I've achieved in the courtroom. Sure, I'll probably never make what I'd make as an attorney, etc., but I'd someday like to work in a high-end kitchen as a chef.

I suspect that going to one of the "top" cooking schools like the CIA would help jump-start me along the way in terms of employment opportunities, but I'm wondering what else you all think I should consider, etc. One can never really start cooking too young, but realistically speaking, is there a point where you would advise people that they are starting too late?
post #2 of 30
My dear Fromage, it is never too late to do good things. That's what the pastry chef I work with said to me when I found out he's only about three years older than I but has twelve years of experience on me. I thoroughly identify with your concern about starting "late." With the heraldry of bright young (our age!) chefs glowing in the spotlight, I also feel like I have to catch up in a major way. But every time I get that rush-rush feeling, I have to remind myself that during the same twelve years that the pastry chef spent in the kitchen, I also achieved a wealth of experience that he does not have. The best part? I am able to apply this experience in a way that makes our work more efficient and professional. This has helped me to win the respect of not only the pastry chef, but all the managing chefs who have known me. This never ceases to amaze me. I thought that I was entering a rigid system when I started. A system where I would have to do everything as it is laid out for me. But the truth that I have found is that anyone can be a contributing member at any level. But you still have to work your way to the top. Skill is something that is developed over time and experience, I do not want to be catapulted into a high position before it is warranted. Remember that the faster you rise, the harder the fall, especially when there is little experience to bolster you.

Like you, I also have ambitions. But because I started "late," I am more cautious and picky about who I work for. Every move I make is well researched and methodically pondered.

I am wondering how you define success. I get that you don't define it in terms of money earned as you are willing to take the salary plummet. I think you are looking for some level of glory and celebrity because your goal is to lead the kitchen of a high-end restaurant. Your passion and tenacity, along with years of hard work and skills building will get you there one day. And that is actually how I define success. It is having the courage to satisfy your passion (and, hopefully, you know that your passion will only grow). And you are right about the emotional rewards. I wake up every morning wanting to go to work and looking forward to getting there. I was 27 years old when I made my decision to go into cooking. I just thank God that I got started so early!
SmartGirl to the rescue!
SmartGirl to the rescue!
post #3 of 30
Welcome to Chef Talk Fromage!

It's never too late to do the things you love. Think of it this way, you will be working for at least the next 35 years. Wouldn't you prefer to have a job you enjoy.
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #4 of 30

never to late

It is never to late to start. I am a graduate of the CIA and when i was there i was the youngest in my class. The average age on campus was 26, my partner in school was 50 years old and my roomate was 52 years old. I was only 19 when i was excepted and now i'm only 23 and an executive chef, but as always i learn more from ppl than i do out of a book. Alot of the ppl in my class chose the feild because they were tired of there jobs of which were not in the culinary feild. I chose it because it chose me i've done it now for 13 years and i can't picture myself doing anything else. It is the hardest most challenging feild of study u will ever go into because it is always changing and there are more "tricks to the trade" and ideas than can be documented. Long hours and holiday's in a kitchen cooking for ppl u don't know but are glad u are there have to be the bigest reward u can have. It is definatly a proffession of passion not of fortune or fame. So if u think u can do it I say GO FOR IT. Goodluck and i'm sure u'll do fine as long as u love it.
drink,eat, and be merry
drink,eat, and be merry
post #5 of 30
Go for it. That's certainly been my decision. I start culinary school in February at the ripe old age of 48. When I told my friends, they all cheered. They knew, even before I did, that I should be cooking professionally. Of course, I've cooked for all of them many times. But their support was immensely gratifying, affirming. I met an older gentleman recently, who at 58 had quite his corporate job to pursue a different discipline. Eight years later he's developed a message therapy program for cancer patients at a major LA medical center, has a thriving private practice as well. He's very happy, fulfilled, never once has regretted the decision. That man's an inspiration. I say if you have the passion, have the guts and skills, dream big. Dive into the water. Best of luck to you.
post #6 of 30
Don't mean to be the dark cloud here, but there are so many other factors that one needs to consider before jumping into it. Your friends might love your cooking and you might tbe the best cook in the world. Does that mean you should train to be a chef? THe answer is probably no. Take it from a late starter/career-switcher: there are more reasons not to do it than there are to go for it. You have to consider the physical stamina required, the huge pay cut (from which you will likely never recover), the odd hours, the strain on family, the lifestyle which is less than rosy. That said, I've done it, and so far - and I stress SO FAR - no regrets.

Go in with your eyes open!

post #7 of 30
Anneke raised some good points. Do as much research about what it will REALLY mean to your life, before you take the plunge. And remember that there are many, many other satisfying jobs in this industry besides that of "chef," and many other places to work with food besides restaurants. Ask Foodnfoto or Pastachef, among others. Food stylist, recipe tester, supermarket or product recipe developer, kitchen manager; cooking in schools, in group homes, in other institutions, in corporate settings, in private homes -- these are but a few of the jobs and venues that need food professionals.

Think about the work you've done thus far in your life. Surely you picked it originally because it had an appeal to you. Is there any way for you to combine the KSAs from that work with your love of food? I turned down a great cooking job at a residence, because I really am not equipped for the "social work" component. But if I had been a former social worker who went into cooking, I would have jumped at it!

There are times when I'm somewhat discouraged about my prospects of making even a decent living in this industry -- but even after nearly 6 years, I still can't imagine going all the way back to anything else I've done before.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #8 of 30
Anneke says: “...might be the best cook in the world. Does that mean you should train to be a chef? The answer is probably no.” I respectfully disagree. The Americas need great new chefs to continue elevating our respective cuisines. Fromage said she was “extraordinarily passionate about food.” That passion can take her a long way. She is only 30 afterall. Even with partial gifts as a chef, she might make an extraordinary contribution. As regards to “stamina”, look at Martina Navratilova. She still competes at 45. I’ve a friend who is running her third marathon this year. She started running at 40, is now 51 and has no intention of stopping because of “stamina required.” She feeds off it.

I said: “...dream big. Dive in the water.” But pardon me Anneke, I mean no disrespect in pointing out your response: “...huge pay cut (from which you will likely never recover)” is misleading. Many people are highly successful in the industry. They are savy business people who run very profitable ventures. In Los Angeles for instance, six come quickly to mind: Nancy Silverton (Campanile, La Brea Bakery), Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Cuidad, Border Grill, Two Hot Tamales), Suzanne Goin (Lucques), Evan Kleinman (Angeli). I can’t imagine a Wolfgang Puck enterprise succeeding without the ceaseless, boundless “stamina” of Barbara Lazaroff. American cuisine would be in a far different state if Julia Child–still making appearances; talk about longevity!–took to heart all the “reasons not do it” back in the fifties and sixties. Or consider the food revolution Alice Waters started in 1971 Berkeley, how different our cuisine would be if she’d shied away from opening Chez Panisse because she feared “odd hours” or a “lifestyle less than rosy.”

I don’t mean to imply the road is an easy one. Far from it. I can’t think of a creative endeavor that doesn’t impact your family in some way, where the hours aren’t long, the remuneration less than satisfactory at times. Still, if you have a passionate need, can find some way to make it work for yourself, why not pursue it? Why waste your time slaving away at something that gives nothing back beyond your pay? Naysaying is far too easy. Open your ears and eyes of course. But follow your heart.
post #9 of 30

Then we agree.

I'm not saying it's not worth it. I'm just saying not everyone is Julia Child, or Wolfgang Puck (thank God!) or even Martina Navratilova. I have been lucky in my life to have a mentor that had stamina and longevity right up til she was 84. I know that it is possible. From knowing her, I've also learned that only a handful of individuals are capable of it. THere are more cooks in the industry, passion and all, who get stuck in that middle range, and never manage to move up, or fail at their business ventures. Not all of them, but a very large number sadly; look at industry statistics.

As I stated in my post, I'm not trying to discourage anyone, just encouraging people to ask themselves very difficult questions. I have asked myself these questions and have concluded that for me, it IS worth it. But it isn't for everyone. I know a lot of people for whom professional cooking killed their passion for cooking; it happens more often than one would think.

On that note, good luck with your decision making Fromage! Either way, we at ChefTalk are behind you all the way!;)
post #10 of 30

Be Happy

To me the most important thing in life is be happy . We as humans spend the majority of our time at work so why do something that does not make you happy . 30 is young and I would go for it if I were you . I love what I do and I enjoy going to work everyday . Remember in this biz you never stop learning
so it is always interesting and fun for people who like constant stimulation . With your intelligence you should do great .
Hasta luego!!!!!!:chef:
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
post #11 of 30
I started cooking school when I was thirty-one, I am now an Executive Chef at 38 and I make an excellent salary by any standards. It was truly challenging to get here, I honestly went through **** for many years, but I love my job and have no regrets. Go for it! (p.s. I am female if that makes a difference)
post #12 of 30
I truly believe that it is never to late to start into this business. As long as you are aware of the financial costs of your decision, and are willing to accept that you will only make $8-11 an hour for quite some time, then go for it. The one thing I always tell people though, is, spend some time working in a restaurant before you make that decision. Cooking at home, throwing parties for friends, and tossing together romantic dinners for that special someone is much different than cooking in a restaurant. The love of cooking and the love of restaurant work can be two totally different things. Yes, to survive the restaurant business you must have a passion for cooking, but you must understand that that is only part of this job. And the style of cooking is much different. Yeah, it's fun to throw a party for 25- 30 people, but do you think that you will have as much fun cooking for 200-300 people every night? Spend 6 months working in a place. If then, you still want to get into this business then plunge right in. If not, you haven't spent years and money attending culinary school.
post #13 of 30

career change

So you think that you want to change careers for something that is more fullfilling. I have couple of points: I love what I do, I have been doing this for fourteen years, and done evey job in the kitchen, and I do not regret mu decision to leave a big ten school for this. It is a world of work, commradery, celebration, and enjnoyment of food, wine, and friendship. But, before you leap into the field you must know that this is not about glory, title, or ego. It is about the food. If you do not truly love food, and cooking you may be making a mistake many of us put in 14 hours a day six days a week between actual cooking, paperwork, and research. It is not a decision to be taken lighly. Anthony Bourdain has many valid points in his book Kitchen Confindential about what can happen to your personal life, and I would agree with him when he say's "But I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
One last thing, It is never to late to follow your dreams.
post #14 of 30
To be honest,I think you have no problem with age.Period.
What you wish to do with your knowlege is another question.
My mother went back to school when she was 56.The only reason mom dosen't cook now is the physical demands are more than she can handle.I'm 39 I spent the last 26 years (yes 26) on my feet in a kitchen and I'd like to go to school.There is no age barrier in life when it comes to learning.Mom spent about 50 years in the kitchen brfore she realized what she wanted to do.
Waste nomore time.
Good luck!
post #15 of 30
I am 53 and dream every day about changing careers to become a food professional. The question "Is it too late?" is very relevant to me. Although I have been moderately successful in the engineering field most of my life, I do not have the financial security (or youth) that Fromage apparently has. I have a family who would be seriously impacted by any decision I make that resulted in such a drastic pay cut. People tell me all the time that it is never too late to realize your dreams but Anneke's questions keep rearing their ugly heads. If I had Fromage's resources, even at my age I would not hesitate to make the move. I say do it and do it now.


Seize the moment!!!
post #16 of 30

to cook or not to cook

By all means, try to stage in a Restaurant first.Get a feel for what is really going on and then decide.

I have been in the field since I was 17 (32 now) and have worked for the greatest 2 owners anyone could possibly imagine.
I started as a busyboy, then expedited for a couple of years then was thrown to the wolves one busy night when the saute man quit.

I only work grill now(as well as frying and smoking of halve chickens in a BBQ pit over hickory---yummmm) but do work the saute side every once in a while to keep up to par so to speak.

I am now the Sous Chef (will be certified by April) and basicly it is my kitchen.I stll have to answer to the Kitchen Manager, but I am basicly given "free will" to do what I see fit for specials and such.

I am in the absoulte best position I could be in at this time. Guess what. I am going back to school to learn even more because I want to work in higher end Restaurants and create amazing dishes for folks to enjoy.
I will be leaving by summer for hopefully bigger and better things.I just have this burning desire to learn more from some of the best chefs I can possibly work with.

It is never to late to start in this profession, and everyone has something to contrbute to our profession.

post #17 of 30
I am 44 and am getting ready to start culinary school in April....and I could not be more thrilled! I, too, have lead a successful business life in marketing for over 20 years but hey, it is just not fun anymore. And being VP is not all it is cracked up to be!

Cooking is is is fulfilling to be a part of a fabulous industry....I can't wait!
Dinner's ready!!
Dinner's ready!!
post #18 of 30

well this is completely up to you because i am 18 years of age and i am a sous(2nd) chef and i have worked in kitchens for bout 3 years and i think you should go for it cause at the end of the day you should follow your dreams. the other thing you should think about is the money is good depending on who you work for and the role you take in the kitchen and 30 is a pretty late age to be thinking about chefing because most chefs will retire between the ages of 40 and 50 because it can be a very stressfull job at times trust me. if you want to know anything else just inbox me :)

post #19 of 30

Ummmmmm.....You are replying to an 11 yr old post.......

post #20 of 30
it would be interesting to know if the original poster is "chef fromage " now or is wondering if 41 is too old to start cooking.
post #21 of 30

No age requirement or restrictions as far as I know.  But if you invested a million bucks in a place how would you feel about letting a 20 year old with 2 or 3 years experience  run it? Think about it.

post #22 of 30
post #23 of 30

If I were you this is what I would do...

1) Stay in Law, focus on getting a job that pays enough to live but allows you room to comfortably save

2) Read, get cookbooks that the chefs are reading, save all of your receipts. Read a lot about wine as well. (if you don't understand something, post ?? in online forums.)

3) Make a business plan to own your own restaurant, really think about what you want it to be, but don't focus too hard on the concept.  Keep it loose because when owning a restaurant a year down the line you will want to change everything when you learn what you are doing.

4) When you have the money, find a smart chef that you get along well to open the restaurant with you (whether as a partner or a paid employee) Listen to what the have to say and build an awesome place around that.  If you give a great chef tools and room to create the way they want you have created a nearly fail safe environment.


You will at that point have the law experience to fall back on and you WILL learn a lot about being a chef through your restaurant.

Also I am the type of person that needs goals to think about constantly just to survive, maybe your job as an attorney won't be so bad if you create a dream that you plan to live out.


Be smart, Take the high road.


but that's just my opinion

post #24 of 30

Sorry if I am reiterating one previous posts (i didn't read all the responses to your query). I came across this thread from a google search because I had the same question. I am about to turn 32 and have only been working in a professional kitchen for less than 2 years. I had some experience as a pizza maker and at some diner type places but never anything classical and definitely not haute. I have become completely obsessed with cooking and one day becoming the world's greatest chef. That's not to say that I wish to revolutionize cooking like Ferran Adria or even Heston Blumenthal, but to achieve a relative amount of success at such a mature age seems daunting when what is most required in this industry is time dedicated to perfecting your craft (cooking). What I am coming to realize is that much can be achieved with this maturity if you apply yourself to be the best, and to read and cook and theorize and most of all ask questions and question methods and practices.


If you want some practical advice, I should start by saying the brigade system is difficult to adjust to when you are used to "democratic" work environments. That is to say, expect to be treated like a slave and ask for more, give of yourself until you have nothing left, and your chef will drag your tired body to the top. Become indispensable and the person upon whom all must rely. Learn the fundamentals of french cuisine and the recipes of Escoffier. Then read On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This and see how Science has challenged tradition to bring modern cuisine to the forefront of cooking. Learn what is important about being a top chef working at a top restaurant. My observation is that the chefs the greatest success are those that pay attention to details, and that means knowing how to make everything you serve from scratch. if you put ketchup on your burger, make the ketchup, in fact, grow the tomato. Essentially, become obsessed. Anyway, I'm hoping to become the next Rene Redzepi so I feel your struggle. I have degrees in Kinesiology and in Fine Art and found my passion in front of a burner. Good luck.

post #25 of 30

Hi Fromage, what happened next? I am 40 and thinking of changing careers...

post #26 of 30
Originally Posted by sourdough67 View Post

Hi Fromage, what happened next? I am 40 and thinking of changing careers...

Probably nothing as a 15 year old thread and only posted once. The food industry is tough work. If you are 40 and looking at going into the culinary field expect 75 percent of the people being younger than you are telling you what to do. Expect long hours for little pay. We do this for the passion and not the pay. Starting out you can expect next to nothing for pay? Maybe 10.00 an hour.

post #27 of 30
All this stuff about following your passion is good, but......

There are very few 45-50yr old cooks.

Because cooking is almost always a stepping stone to management.

That, and it is hard on your body, and after 50-ish your back, feet, and knees can't keep up with a 20yr old.

So if you have no issues with 18yr olds as fellow culinary students, great. If you have no issues with 20yr olds as fellow cooks, and 30yr olds as supervisors then this will be the career move for you.

If not, there are some threads on this site from a 50yr old who went to culinary school and complained about the students, who went on to complain about her co workers and supervisors. I'd rather not say who this poster is/was, but if you p.m. me I can give you the name.
...."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 #28 of 30

Is this the oldest zombie thread yet?  I wish Fromage would return with an update!

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
post #29 of 30

Thanks guys, I'm not worried about 30yr olds telling me what to do as I currently volunteer in a cafe where the head chef is 23! I just want to do something I enjoy for the rest of my life but as I need to eat I wanted to know if anyone would employ a 40yr old even if fit and willing in a trainee position.

post #30 of 30

Sure they would.  It depends on the market but I've worked with guys and gals as young as the law will allow in a kitchen up to their early 60's. 

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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