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Scared Culinary Student! Help!

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I need some input from some seasoned professionals in this field.

I just got home from my Culinary Arts program orientation at school, and I'm admittedly a little scared now.

The program director began by telling us how grueling the field was, and that culinary professionals held the 5th highest divorce rate of any field. She also said they've recently replaced the medical profession as having the highest rates of substance abuse (mostly because the majority of chefs have very convenient access to liquor, and because taking up smoking is the only way to get a legally mandated break).

She went on to tell us that before she started teaching, she hadn't spent a Thanksgiving or Christmas with her family in ten years, and that we could expect to pretty much never have a free weekend again.

She emphasized the highly competitive nature field, the long hours, and the unbelievable stress levels, and effectively made my dream sound like a nightmare.

I went home, wondering if this was really the right field for me, and looked up the BLS's statistics on culinary professionals, and found that the money they made was both a lot less than I had read on other websites, and was no where near worthwhile for the job my program director described.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I'm sort of heartbroken right now. I really wanted to do this, because I love food, and I love making people happy with food, but what I've apparently signed up for seems to have very little to do with that.

Can someone that's been there shed some light on this for me?

Thanks for your time
"By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist." - Robert Bringhurst
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"By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist." - Robert Bringhurst
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post #2 of 9
I give her credit for not painting visions of sugarplums in your head like some of the schools do. For all that is is worth she is correct. The things she mentions are almost all true. I never saw a Holiday off nor a Saturday.Hours? who keeps track? I missed out on family things. As far as the drugs,that depends on the person, and it applies to every business. You see no matter what you do, you make your own bed. Some people start at the bottom, feel sorry for themselves and stay there, others rise. You can stay and be a line cook or a bench man in a bakery all your life or you can upgrade yourself by taking challenges and gaining more knowledge, If I had it to do all over again ? Sure I would its in my veins.
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #3 of 9
If you love what you do, you don't count hours. If you love your family, you find the time to spend with them. A good Chef is a planner in the Kitchen and in his/her outside life..........She brought up many facts about this business. The only one she forgot was you will love your job. Balance everything else and it will work.............I have worked the food business for over 30 years and in my own business for the last 15 years. I now work a 40 hour week, have a successful business and am happy with my life. You may work some places that require many hours, but it doesn't have to be the norm. I know many Chefs that work in all kinds of Food services that only work 40 hours a week with all holidays and weekends off. Pick and choose, you can be a Chef in a Hospital, Food service management Chef, working in large Cafe employee feeding programs.......there are many places that just have breakfast and lunch times of service.......................The instructor brought up stress. A good chef needs to manage stress. If you are well trained in your field, It isn't really stress. You will be able to handle all situations and be confident in your job.............This will be a profession you will fall in love with, don't them them scare you out of it........IMHO a good chef knows how to manage their time. If they need to work 16 hour days on a regular basis they are not managing their restaurant or employees, the Restaurant is managing them.....................Good luck, stick with it, you will be happy you did...... you can quote me on this................P.S if your program director was a recruiter for the school, they would be closed right now............. Don't get discouraged this business is about making people happy and getting a lot of self satisfaction. Remember is every well paved parking lot, there are a few speed bumps ....Chef Bill
post #4 of 9
Like Ed said, I also respect the person who told you like it is as opposed to those that tell you that you'll be a chef when you graduate or that you'll have your own tv show.

Questions for you...What were your expectations of the food business before orientation? Are you changing careers? If so, what did you do before? Also, what is your previous education?

Upon graduation, if you want to work in the business, yes, you will have long and late hours, the pay will be lousy, and you may not have your weekends like you used to, but you will be doing something you supposedly love. However, if you are changing careers, perhaps there is a chance that those skills could help you land something more corporate in the food industry.
See the truth about the culinary education industry at www.culinaryschooladviser.com 
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See the truth about the culinary education industry at www.culinaryschooladviser.com 
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post #5 of 9
As stated, you will not be a Chef upon graduation, so more than likely you will endure the personal hardships layed out for you.
Over time, and by applying yourself, you can work towards the jobs that give you a better balance between home and work.
The things your program director are all basically true, with few exceptions.
It's up to your individual outlook as to whether this is too much for you.
The news seems to have really rocked your world, so maybe this isn't the life for you.
You say you want to do this because "I love food, and I love making people happy with food" but money seems to be as big a factor for you.
You can have both eventually.
Or, you can forego the whole thing, invite some friends over for dinner to get your fulfillment, and work in a different field.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #6 of 9
I echo the sentiments of the other posters on this thread.

Professional cooking rarely turns out to be what people expect it to be. Yes...the hours are long...the work is hard on you physically...and there is intense stress and pressure.

Your time with your family and friends will be greatly limited...and if not careful your job can overtake your entire life.

The money is generally crap too...especially if you go into ownership.

One thing people fail to realize is yes..you do get to make SOME people happy with your food. But there are SOME people that you can NEVER make happy...and they can make your life a living ****. People who have no clue about food...people who have no taste...or I guess bad taste as the case may be.....

You'll have some people who revere you as a god because you cook for a living...and others who view you as lower than the scum on the bottom of their shoe for the same reason.....

If you love it...these sacrifices are things you'll put up with because the work is reward in itself. But only you can determine if these conditions are things that you are willing to live with long term. Professional cooking is not for everyone. And there's no shame in deciding that you prefer to continue to cook from home and make your friends and family very, VERY satisfied "customers"!

Best of luck to you.
post #7 of 9
Everything that's been said is true, or can be true. The hours can be very long. I went many years without ever getting a New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day off. If you work in a hotel you'll work Thanksgiving, Mother's Day & Easter (and those will be the most nightmarish days of your year). Be prepared to work weekends and Sundays, too. I've rarely worked more than 75 hours a week but realistically that's still a lot of hours. I suppose work did contribute to my divorce. And if you're looking to become a chef to express your artistic/creative side, that can also be a bust depending on where you work. In the corporate world (at least at the bottom of the ladder, where you'll be starting) the environment is often utterly rigid. The kale goes on the plate at 9 o'clock, the pickle at 6 o'clock, etc. I worked as a Sous for a corporate place where the Exec wasn't even permitted come up with his own soups, much less entrees.

Okay, that's the downside. The upshot is it's not always that way. To a degree you'll have to pay your dues, but even aside from that there are lots of things to do with your culinary training. Catering can be grueling and come with its own challenges and hassles but can afford more opportunity to express yourself. Personal cheffing is also on the rise. Even if you work a lot it won't seem like it if you love your job. I've run kitchens where I couldn't wait to get to work and almost hated to go home at the end of the night! You can make some fast friendships and have a lot of fun.

A lot of whether you enjoy your career will depend on where you land in your first jobs and what you make of them. It can grind you down or polish you up, you have to decide.

When do you plan to start school? If you can it would be a good idea to get a job working in a kitchen for a few months to see if it's for you.

Just my $.02.:lips:
"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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"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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post #8 of 9
Its good that youre asking questions and figuring out what you want.

DO NOT commit time or money to a school until you know for sure what your answer is going to be.

Pretty much all that has been said is true. I ignore the drugs/smoking, and I fare fine on my own (I think). I do enjoy grabbing a drink after the shift at the local bar, but anyone else regardless of work field does the same.

The pay is pretty low. I am 3 years out of culinary school and am edging just a little over $25,000/year . I understand that I'll probably be at this level for a few more years, but thats part of the game. I love what I do, and I love the people that I work with.

In the end, I truly do feel im doing what makes me happy, and you cant put a price on that now can you? Hopefully all the responses here helped you make up your mind a little bit more.
post #9 of 9
this only happens if u let it...it depends what you plan on doin in the field if ur gna be away from ur family! u decide on what u wna do...if u want to focus on family do some light catering perhaps
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