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Needing some help for major decision

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
How's it goin? Hopefully you can give me some help regarding some issues that are troubling me at this time.

I'm 23 y.o. currently in the process of jumping ship to experience the culinary world at a professional level. But lemme give you a little backstory.

I got my associate's degree in the medical field and have been working for the past few years in a medical facility. At the same time, I've been taking culinary classes at our local community college, part-time every semester. A couple more semesters and I'll be able get my associate's degree in culinary arts. It was supposed to be only a few classes just to see what it was like but the cooking bug bit me and I've been dreaming to be a professional chef ever since then.

Now on to the concerns...
-I don't know have any relatives/friends that are in the business so zero to no connections anywhere.
-I literally only started cooking a few years ago, roughly the same time as I started taking the classes at the communiy college. I never even once touched a spatula or frying pan before that. So I was really looking for a solid education, seeing as I have a lot of ground to cover.
-Now, imagine my surprise to read that a culinary student is doing so-and-so or working at this so-and-so restaurant. Basically, what I got from my culinary classes at the CC was new recipes. They gave out a recipe and they taught us how to do the recipe. They never really taught us "why" we do it. Granted that I know my way around the kitchen more than before, I really feel that my culinary base knowledge is way waay limited than other culinary students. Now, that I'm more than halfway to finishing the degree, I'm having second thoughts. Also, most of the lectures are the "teachers" reading off of the powerpoint slides/books. I could do that at the library! I'm really feeling ripped off at this point in time.

Should I finish my associate's degree in culinary arts in our local CC or save my time and money for culinary school (eg. Art Institutes/Cordon Bleu)/working in a professional kitchen? Will obtaining this degree affect any job placement in a restaurant?

-Next up is that there are no reputable restaurants here in our area. No, I don't live in a big city and yes, I live somewhere very very far from any big city. I even ate in some of these so-called fine dining and I was more impressed by the chain restaurants. And this chain restaurant is where I'm currently working as a prep cook (for my on-the-job training). In my opinion, this is one of the better upscale dining chains. But as I've read from the posts, it's almost like a cursed place, everyone says to stay away from them. Relocation is not an option at this time, maybe in a year or so but not right now.

Are chain restaurants that bad? How long should I stay before I go for greener pastures? Moving to a location where you have no friends/family (single), worth it for a good job? Anyone experience this yet?

My current plan of action is to get some restaurant experience at this chain restaurant and in the next year/s get into an apprenticeship program, learn-as-you-earn type of deal. Anyone know of a good apprenticeship program? How hard is it to get into one? If you know a better course of action at this place and time, please let me know. As for my associate's degree, I'm really reconsidering if I should cough up some more dough for a subpar education.

I am known for rambling on and on and looks like I've done it again. Thank you if you read through my lengthy post. Any advice/tips/answers will truly be appreciated. Thanks a bunch and have a nice day.
post #2 of 7
I would finish at the CC. If you almost have your AA, get it. It might not give you alot now, but its a good foundation to have nonetheless. Its not going to be the one and final thing youre gonna need, but if youre that close, might as well. Theres really not much a more expensive school can offer you. They just have a bigger budget for marketing.

Alot of people can talk alot of negatives about chain restaurants. Its not gourmet food at all, but theres no denying how dominant they are. I worked at a TGIF that did 6.5 mil/year. That is not chump change at all. You learn about speed, consistency, and prioritizing. If you are low on something, you will stock it up, otherwise you will regret not doing it when the rush hits. You can actually make a nice career if thats what you want to do (its not for everyone). Last I checked, my old KM at TGIF makes about 80k/year. Not too shabby. I stayed for a year before moving to the hotel that im currently at.

And sorry, I don't know much about apprenticeship programs... best of luck though
post #3 of 7
I agree with RAS on almost all points. You've come this far towards the degree, why throw that away?. And, despite what some snobby folks say, there is nothing wrong with cooking at a chain to learn the basics of your trade. In fact, I'd place that as #2 on the learning curve. Short-order cooking being in first place.

Where I do disagree, however, is on the question of going to culinary school. There is a difference. Most of the time, culinary programs at community collages are geared more to the cooking class concept. All you learn there is how to make specific recipes. At many of them it's also observation only; with no hands-on involved.

Rather than learning how to cook, which is what happens at culinary schools, you learn how to make a particular dish that may, or may not, have been chosen because of the fundemental lessons involved making it. Most often they are not picked for that reason.

The down side, of course, and one rarely mentioned, is cost. Culinary schools do not come cheap. No, tuition doesn't quite rank up there with Ivy League colleges yet, but it's getting close.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #4 of 7
You may be correct about community college but I guess it depends on which one. Some community colleges are better than others while some LCB or AI schools are better than others.

To the Original Poster, where do you live? Perhaps if we had more info on what you were dealing with, we can advise you better.
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 7
What is your source for this "fact"?
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
thanks for the replies! here's a little update

i've already done 100 hours in this chain restaurant... and I'm not liking it! I was given maybe around 40 hours of training then I was left by myself. 2 days of working alone and looks like I did a poor job and I was told to "work faster if I want to keep my job". but i know i can work fast, it's just that I had a really poor/insufficient training. and when I was by myself and I needed to ask something from my mentor he said something like "you should figure it out for yourself, especially now that you're alone."

the other 60 hours of work I put in was for free so I can "observe" how the people work (my own decision). the chef is an ok guy, he told me to tell him if I'm comfortable to be on my own again and "we'll give it a shot." although, I feel that everyone expects me to be as good AND as fast as the people working there for months and years. add to that that we have no breaks and on my feet all day.

lol i know i know i'm like a bottle, full of "whine" :smoking: but yeah now I'm disillusioned, with my confidence and morale at an all-time-low. I know, I have a passion for cooking but things like this make their mark, you know.

so yeah, I'm working for free at the moment, "observing". this is my first kitchen job and I don't who else to ask about it. is this the usual experience or am i setting myself up to be abused? is this the cursed chain restaurant experience?

should I stick with this chain restaurant? or look for others? is it gonna be any different anywhere else? hotel? country club? night club? other chain restaurants?

so for now I guess I will
-finish 250 hours with the chain restaurant
-finish associate's degree at CC
-apprenticeship at ACF certified Houston Country Club? (if accepted)

btw I live in deep south Texas and the nearest apprenticeship is in the Houston Country Club. Anyone heard of this place yet? this is the best plan I can come up with for now. any other recommendations will be appreciated very much.
post #7 of 7
Hey searclaw, I'm currently going to culinary school at a community college. I agree that the attitude is much more focused on production rather than actual cooking. But I will say this: befriend your chef instructors!!! I got to know my one chefs pretty well and he has helped me a great deal inside and outside of the classroom. He even set me up for a job. Your instructors can be great for networking; get on their good side and show them you have passion and really care. That would be my advice.
"Of course the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. At some point, I hope to learn enough to realize that I know nothing at all. Then maybe I'll be able to snatch a pebble from Julia Child's hand"
- Alton Brown
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"Of course the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. At some point, I hope to learn enough to realize that I know nothing at all. Then maybe I'll be able to snatch a pebble from Julia Child's hand"
- Alton Brown
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