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Some questions about work after culinary school

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
To whom it may concern,

I am starting culinary school soon and I have many questions about how the work would be after graduating, be it at a vocational or community college. If anyone can answer any of the questions I have below I would greatly appreciate it.

1. Is it less stressful being a pastry chef compared to a line cook or sous chef?

2. When you initially went into the culinary work field, how were your weekly hours? I mean how many hours did you have free versus working.

3. How expensive is a good set of knifes that can last long?

4. If you love cooking, have you ever gotten really sick of cooking since you do it as a career?

5. Do restaurants have a preference about which type of culinary school a person went to, be it vocational or community college?

6. How dangerous is it working in a busy kitchen at a popular restaurant?

These are the questions I have come up with. I may add more as I come up with. Thank you again for any responses.

post #2 of 8

You ask some good questions but what school are you planning to attend? Also, have you asked anyone at that school these questions?

1. All three are different. I would imagine Sous Chef has the most demands out of all three positions. Also, what stresses you out? Our thresholds for mental or physical endurance are different. The food industry will be stressful regardless of your title. Work in general can be stressful.

2. Expect to work many weeknights and weekends, expect to drink on Mondays. You won't have much time to yourself.

3. Not an expert so I wont answer.

4. People get burned out in all professions. I would imagine people get burned out with cooking just like anything else.

5. Sometimes. More importantly, ask this question to the chefs or owners of places you want to work at. It depends on the chef or owner but as long as you don't have an attitude and you know the basics and can handle a busy night, you should be fine.

6. Dangerous? As in hurting yourself? If you learn to cook professionally and can communicate and work around people who are the same, you shouldn't lose an eye but you'll lose skin throughout your career.

Last question: Why do you want to go to culinary school and work in this industry?
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thanks jtobin625 for answering my questions. I plan to go to a community college that has a culinary program. I live in northern California and are looking at the options around here. I have also looked at some vocational colleges, but I feel that I more inclined to go to a community college. I have talked via e-mail so far to some schools, but plan to take trips to see how the schools are in person and get a feel of how the program is.

Choosing culinary took me a while truthfully. This is the third major that I chose. I have always felt a certain energy when I am in a kitchen cooking something. I feel that I could use this energy to make a career with it. Food is always going through my mind be it looking up recipes, or dissecting a dish that I am trying. I have worked in a restaurant kitchen for a little and it felt great to me. Preparing dishes, serving and making food that people like. It took me a while to realize these feelings and choose to make culinary a major part of my life. Thanks again for answering my questions.
post #4 of 8
I am only 20 years old. I have never worked in any other feild but the culinary world. I am in my second year of schooling at The CIA. I graduate in November with my AOS. They keep raising the tuition here and its getting a bit out of hand, (pushing 40k per year). I have relized that I want to have a family later on in life and they outweights actualy cooking in restaurants. My mom has her mind set on me atleast getting my BPS, doesnt matter where or for what she just thinks I need it. Which i guess I agree, right now with the economy the way it is, excuse my spelling by the way, its safer to get a job outside of school with a bps degree over an aos. I am not to good in schooling, the stress, the book work, i learn with my hands, and I dont like change really. I dont like being away at school from what I know. School isnt easy. I am not so sure anymore after 20 years of food that its exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I have worked at Food Network for 6 months for an externship and it was alright but again didnt like the commute and the just life style.

Basicly it comes down to this:

Expect long hours, stressfull hours, short breaks if any at all, 1 or 2 days off a week AT THE MOST, people always breathing down your neck for things wether it be wait staff or fellow kitchen staff, yes line chef, very stressful non stop stress from first order to last than above that is sous which is more stress, pastry chef is stress on its own, a different kind of stress, kitchens are dangerous, very dangerous sharp hot fast moving people small spaces, yes its dangerous, and knives are expensive, basicly you get what you pay for.

I dont mean to scare you away, its alot of hard work, if you want to do it GO DO IT.

As of now, Im thinking of going to get my BPS in education to have something to fall back on after I graduate. Here tho, mayne credits dont transfer to a normal college due to the fact that the classes here are all food related including math, english and gastronomy.
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
post #5 of 8
Quinn you're right about that. It's hard, it's stressfull, and personally I wouldn't in the least bit be surprised if you want to quit after giving it a year or two of your time. Personally though, I knew all of these things ahead of time, so I purposely went to a community college so that I would be able to afford to take up a second degree.
Basically I highly suggest you go to a community college, preferably one thats ACF accredited. Dishing out 40 thousand dollars and deciding it's not for you later on can really ruin your life. The schools don't tell you that you can't get loans, etc, etc when you already owe money or have a bachelors.
Personally though I love it for now, but that might be just because I get to work long hours over a short period of time instead of working long hours over a whole week. 40 hours in three days is a lot easier than 40 hours in 5. From what I've experienced so far, the job is only stressful when you work in a bad restaurant. If everyone knows what they're doing, food flows out of the kitchen at a steady and relaxed pace.
post #6 of 8
First off, IMO wise choice for choosing a community college! Excellent bang for the buck, and you won't graduate with romantic overentitled expectations of becoming a chef right away.

To answer your questions...

1. I have never been a pastry cook or chef, though I have done some pastry work in a restaurant where there was no pastry chef, so cooks were responsible for the desserts.

Personally, I'd rather slit my wrists open than do pastry full time. There is stress on both sides, it just comes in different forms. Trail with both and see which side you prefer. Though in the case of pastry, I'd say it helps to have a preference for using the left side of the brain.

2. My initial work hours were fine for my first two years of work as far as restaurants were concerned. I started as a cook on an hourly wage, and worked around 40 hours a week, sometimes a little more as holidays and special events demanded.

But I also supplemented my wages by doing temporary contract catering gigs all over the place, as well as personal cheffing. This added another 5 - 20 hours to my work week, but I had a lot of control over that vis a vis accepting or rejecting gigs. I also trailed at places which interested me, even if I wasn't looking for a job, just to learn and keep tabs on what other chefs were doing.

I'm now in my fourth year, and work 50 - 65 hours a week on salary.

3. Look into Forschner knives, good quality at a starting price. Later on, if you want fancier, you can try out other knives in person at kitchen/knife stores. Good knives don't have to cost a ton of money, but do take care of them and learn how to sharpen them.

4. Never! There's always something new to learn every single day, sometimes every single moment. Plus it's a job where you get instant gratification a multitude of times every single night for each nice plate you make.

5. I've noticed in job ads nowadays more places will specify a preference for cooks with culinary degrees, but equivalent work experience is also perfectly acceptable. As far as school preference goes, the only preference I've ever seen baldly stated up front is preference -for- community college/vo-tech grads, and for CIA and their equivalents to not bother applying. :lol: But aside from that, most places will withhold judgment until they see you in action and had a chance to talk to your past employers, if applicable. And of course, a lot of employment comes from being in the right place at the right time.

6. Depends on the chef and crew. Of the seven kitchens I've been in, I'd only rate one of them as dangerous. Not in a life-threatening way, just more in a "How -dare- you burn me AGAIN you shoemaker!" kind of way. Quite an adjustment for me, coming from places where doing stuff like that was considered shoemaking.

Kitchens are not comfortable places though. Even in highly organized quiet kitchens where no chitchat is allowed, you'll still be under significant stress and will likely have to deal with long term health concerns like stress, lack of health care, repetitive stress injuries, back/knee/foot trouble, and so on.

It helps to be careful about the drinking and drugs. Same with regular exercise. Unfortunately, the former is generally the first choice for team bonding. Hopefully you can figure out a way to mitigate the worst of this if you decide to go that route.

Good luck,
post #7 of 8
1. As a pastry chef/owner I can give you a resounding NO to this question. It is NOT any less stressful. Both sides of the kitchen are high pressure though often in very different ways. If you choose baking and pastry be prepared to learn to be extremely patient and to pull a rabbit out of a hat when things invariably go wrong because your patience ran out.

2. My first job in a kitchen I worked 22 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was intense but I loved it. Not all jobs are as extreme as my first one was but you can expect to be working more hours than you will have free for the majority of your career.

3. This is a difficult question to answer....knives range in price from $40 to $1000s for ONE knife. And you really need to go and handle a few to see what knife is best for you. Some people love Global knives. I can't use them---they're WAYYYYY too big for my hands. It's a personal preference. I can tell you this much---the knives you buy--any knives--will last a long time if they are properly cared for.

4. The only time I ever really get sick of cooking is when I have been cooking for long periods of time--like 60 hours straight with no break at Christmas time. Towards the end I'm ready to go home and take a long nap...and a few days break from cooking. That being said--I do NOT cook at home. Ever.

5. Most restaurants don't care what school you've gone to.....they're looking more for experience in a working kitchen/restaurant/bakery and overall attitude of the applicant. Choose the school that is the best for you personality wise.

6. It's not really dangerous working in a busy restaurant kitchen as long as you take proper health and safety precautions. I don't know about in the States but in Canada you are required to either have your Food Handlers course OR to work on a shift with someone who does. Your place of business should also be inspected about every three months (at least here in NS) so if there were safety issues they would be handled by your inspector and would have to be remedied or the place would be shut down until the situation was handled to the inspector's satisfaction. Common sense goes a long way in a kitchen.

I wish the best of luck in your future endeavours. Please make certain before you enter this field that this is an all consuming love for you. You can't just like it or have an interest to make this a lifetime profession. As you already know from working in a professional kitchen previously the work is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is most usually crap. You suffer with pain and exhaustion in your time off. And your family and friends often feel neglected because you are tired....and often your free time. But if you love cooking---really, really love cooking--somehow you'll find a way to make it work. All the best to you.
post #8 of 8
1) No. Bakeries/pastry dept.s are there for the same reason: To make money. Can't make money if you're staring off into space. Lifting heavy sacks of flour/sugar, heavy doughs/batters, lots of standing on your feet.

While kitchens might have their "rush", a good cook can dance through a rush like a ballerina-- what they rely on is coordination, good memory, economy of movement, timing, and experience. A good baker should have 5 or 6 things on the go as well, and should move like a ballerina--same techniques are needed.

2) Depends. As a noobie you'd be given less than 40 hrs a week,thsoe that have worked longer in that kitchen would be entitled to a full paycheck. If, however you're on monthly salary, you'd be working a lot more.

3) Knives. Look, they say a diamond is forever, but what happens when mankind dies off and diamonds aren't worth anything anymore? All good knives last for years, but there's no gaurantee that they won't get stolen or mistakenly tosed into the garbage(Believe me, this has happened to every cook, several times). If you're going to work in a busy kitchen,don't spend more than $70 for each knife, and don't bring more knives than you need to to work.

4) People get sick because they don't take care of themselves. You can get tired of cooking if you don't take care of yourself. If you work at the same job for more than 4 years things start to get the same. If you don't explore new ideas, new techniques, new ingredients, and read a lot, things get stagnant and you start to loose your zest.t

5) Exactly as Chefelle says, schools don't impress most Chefs, experience does.

6) Depends. If there are eejits at the workplace who don't know how to handle equipment like deep fryers it can be dangerous. If the place has a reputation for workers playing practical jokes, it can be dangerous. If you don't pay attention to what you wear: Loose baggy clothing, long loose hair, lots of jewlery, slippery shoes, and aren't "on the ball", it can be very dangerous.
...."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"......
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