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Chain vs Fine-dining

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I live in deep South Texas, where there's very few REAL fine-dining establishments, like 3-5. And eventually, I want to be in a job where I do real cooking that focuses on quality. Moving's out of the question at the moment so basically I'm looking for valuable experience and possibly moving somewhere with more culinary opportunities.

I'm barely graduating from my associate's degree and currently I'm "observing" in a chain restaurant, in other words, I'm working for free.
I've finished the (paid) training for the job but with the exec chef deeming me "slow" and being under threat of "if you want to keep the job...," I've volunteered to work for free so I can be more comfortable and faster on the job. It really is more of a quantity than quality production line.

My reasons for applying in a chain restaurant include:
-the fine-dining establishments here are sub-par to average in quality
-it's always very busy and if i can survive here, i can go anywhere

The thing is... I'm not really liking the chain restaurant because of the working conditions (no breaks, not too much worth in the work - mass production, too much expectations for a novice) but I know I can do it, it's the masochist part in me. But should I continue to work here? Or am I setting myself up for abuse? Is it better anywhere else? Country-club? Fine-dining?

Which experience would you value more?
Experience in a busy chain restaurant or in a fine dining with average quality? Should I quit the chain restaurant and rush over to somewhere else? How can I look for better fine-dining establishments?

Answers, recommendations and comments are appreciated. Thanks.
post #2 of 24
I would start off in a chain restaurant just to learn the skill of being organized and learning to deal with stress. I would not stay too long though, or you will most likey pick up bad habits. Like purchasing pre-made foods and sauces.

Then I will get into more upscale restaurants, where you can learn sauce making, food pairing, and food techniques that were not taught in school.

If I could do it all over again, then I would work at the trendest upscale restaurants in my area for at least 6months to a year and steal all their prized recipes(joking, but not reallyhaha).

If you want to make a name for yourself and If you can actually cook then stay out of chain restaurants. IMO they are bad, but hey what do I know?
post #3 of 24
What are you ever going to learn in a chain **** restaurant? How to open Sysco boxes and nuke pre-portioned food? Find a Chef or a real cook and learn a craft even if it's not five star dining. If you are just starting out you are un-likely to get hired at a high end establishment any how. Working for a chain is just accepting mediocrity. Are there really no BBQ joints in your area? IMO the experience you might gain there would be a lot more valuable than oiling the can opener at a chain.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #4 of 24
LOL true story
post #5 of 24
allow me to add that learning to bake is also a great idea, any real bakeries around? I would also agree that going to a BBQ or any other non- chain place would be better then working at a say a Sizzler's or Perkos. Also, knowing breakfasts would be a tremendous step in assuring your continuous employment.
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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post #6 of 24
You anywhere near San Antonio? I went there and there are a few diamonds in the rough there you can try to apply at
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #7 of 24
Any hotels in your area? Not like Ramada or Holiday Inn though. I think there's a Marriot and a couple other decent places in Austin. If not, go work at the diner that makes thier own gravy. Better than Sysco man.
Bork Bork Bork!
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Bork Bork Bork!
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post #8 of 24
I agree. Find a hotel. You can still open cans and toss frozen soup in the water bath at hotels. But most hotels will have at least one better dining option.
post #9 of 24
A country club or private club might be an option as well.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #10 of 24
I started in a chain (Sea Galley..long gone from Oregon) when I was 18- I had no culinary schooling and had been washing dishes previously. I learned the line and cooking using fryers, grill, saute and ovens. Learned to tie and cook prime rib, prep fish, portion control, HACCP, inventory, ordering-all basic kitchen stuff but with powdered clam chowder-YUK.
Sooo, my point- you can learn anywhere you work, but to learn real cooking you gotta move your *** before you get to comfortable and loose sight of your goals. If you can't find the right job- right now, be sure to learn what you can from every kitchen you walk into.
I can still remember my first kitchen manager drilling into me good stock rotation and wastage control- skills I still use to this day....

Pembroke
UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
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post #11 of 24
where are you in S. Texas?
We lived in S. western Louisiana for several years.....
Beaumont had some cool places....of course Houston has a bunch....

So long ago I worked in a fast food place (Arthur Treachers Fish and Chips).....there is a lot to learn where ever you are.....chains watch ketchup packets, waste, quality control, staffing....they keep great records.

If there are butchers or farmstead cheese makers in your area check into what they do. Farmers too.
There are many places to learn about food....how it's raised, varieties, storage, prepping, cutting etc.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #12 of 24
I'm glad someone mentioned this. I really gained a lot working at a country club early on. We had high volume booked services, fine dining private events, mass catering, and sandwiches/burgers all out of the same kitchen depending on the day and time. It really gave me a feel for all aspects of the business.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
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Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
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post #13 of 24
I would try to stay away from chains that reheat most of their food. But if a chain is all you can get, it's better than nothing. Personally, I would rather work at a sub-par restaurant that makes food from the ground up than any chain restaurant.

Go to the sub-par fine dinning restaurants and meet with the chef and plead your case to them. Offer to work for free. Mention you are after experience. If you show passion and determination, it might work out. It did for me.
"To be a good chef all you got to do is lots of little things well" -Marco Pierre

"As far as cuisine is concerned, one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, observe everything, in order to retain in the end, just a little bit." -Fernand Point
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"To be a good chef all you got to do is lots of little things well" -Marco Pierre

"As far as cuisine is concerned, one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, observe everything, in order to retain in the end, just a little bit." -Fernand Point
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post #14 of 24
You've got to have to have a Steakhouse in your area, it's a must. If not there has to be at least some Tex-Mex or diners.
post #15 of 24
I work for a breakfast chain but it's a little different than most chains I find. We are strictly breakfast and lunch and while we get some of our stuff from the chain supplier alot of it we make onsite. The KM and I have been steering away from the campbell's professional soups and towards making our own, and we also make our own quiche, fudge as well as obviously cooking omelettes and eggs to order. We make onsite almost all of our sandwich and omelette fillings as well as one fresh fruit drink every day.
The chain does allow for some creativity and individuality between locations and I really like that. Word has gotten out that our soups are made from scratch and since we have been doing that I have defintely seen an increase in soup sales and that is making my owners money as my soup costs them pennies to make and is of much better quality compared to the high cost of getting it in premade. Today was actually a surprise for me... I created a black bean with bacon soup (I'll post the recipe in the recipe section) and one of the owners turned up his nose at it (he's not that experimental with food) but it sold like hotcakes.
Anyway... the chain experience for me has been a good one but as I said... I work for a chain that allows some leeway for locations to do their own thing.
OK ... where am I going?.. and WHY am I in this handbasket??
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OK ... where am I going?.. and WHY am I in this handbasket??
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post #16 of 24

 Let me start off by saying you can find Knowledge anywhere..

 

Chain Restaurants can teach speed what a better place to learn how to multitask then a restaurant were you have 10-15 tickets at once?

 

Me Myself I started in a chain restaurant " CHEVYS FRESH MEX "  not an upscale chain restaurant but a restaurant were u can learn 

 

Be Humble and learn as you go

post #17 of 24
I would open up your phonebook and start looking. There will be places out there that might not be "fine dining" but the care for there food much the same. Also someone said a texas bbq house. Those places are just riddled with culinary secrets. Try to keep an open mind and remember knowledge doesn't end or begin in fine dining.
post #18 of 24

If you are determined to work in great places, and aren't in an area that has them, GET OUT!  Don't waste your time. 

 

The last thing you want is to be a 30+ year old line cook with 10 years of experience but no chance of ever becoming a sous or more.

post #19 of 24

Work at the chain place, the 'fine dining' industry is already oversaturated with sub-par cooks (many of which have pretty giant egos).

post #20 of 24

I haven't worked for chain restaurants, but have worked for 3 major 'food markets' that had prepared foods. A different beast altogether, the biggest advantages were the company benefits and insurance, that you weren't short order cooking (there was catering but still completely different), and, well... the discounts on groceries :)

 

At company 'B', it was my first experience in an industry kitchen besides my family's restaurants. I started out as a catering cook; 6 months later I was promoted to KM of all BOH operations. It was one of my favorite jobs I've ever had, and I learned a lot from the corporate chef, head chef, and kitchen operations. The food was pretty damn close to fine dining; we featured items like beef tenderloin and chilean sea bass in the chef's case, and at $40/lb that stuff sold! I'm glad to of had that experience and still miss working there.

 

Company 'H' was interesting, but after working alongside their corporate chef opening a new location, I became discouraged very fast. Recipes made no sense at all, and watching the chef cut himself 3 times while taking the skin off a side of salmon (poorly) I thought, 'This guy is in charge of all the locations'?? That was the shortest time I stayed at any place...

 

Company W taught me, well... how NOT to run a business. Awful management, poor quality of food, horrible kitchen standards, etc. I learned some administrative stuff like purchasing/inventory, which is probably one of few things I can apply (from company W) towards other places.

 

Echoing what's been said, if you want to work with quality ingredients, learn proper techniques, and learn the most about the hospitality business... you'll have to seek out 'fine dining' establishments. Sometimes you just have to pay the bills and work places 'related' to your chosen profession. Yes, working at certain big companies made me almost lose faith in my path as a culinarian, but I don't regret my experiences (except company W, that place was horrible).

'A fool can't act the wise, but the wise can act a fool...' - Kweli

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'A fool can't act the wise, but the wise can act a fool...' - Kweli

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post #21 of 24

1-do what makes you happy.

 

2-chains are not likely to further your food creation skills. But it will likely teach you how to(or not how to) handle volume & a busy line. Repetition=creates line speed. I've met lots of school cooks who are great sources of information & cannot handle 2+bills at a time.

 

3-don't work for a prick if you don't have to. If it's valuable to your development, suck it up. Otherwise look elsewhere.

 

4-see #1. Life is short.

 

Good luck to you!

post #22 of 24

You could do it for a while, just to learn how to be fast. Dont do it for too long though. You will form bad habits and start taking shortcuts. Big hotels are really no different for the most part. Unless you work for the Bellagio or something. I worked at Hilton for a while years ago. Talk about straight outta the freezer, and into the oven!

 

You are at a conundrum when you are first starting out. Alot of fine dining restaurants dont pay new cooks very well. On the other hand, you can make upwards of $15 an hour (with benefits)after 18 months of turning and burning  at the Cheesecake Factory, or stirring hundreds of gallons of easy eggs over a tilt skillet at the Hilton.

 

So, be broke and learn new things, or make money and destroy your soul. It sucks, but we all go through it. Dont let your resume get cluttered either. Try to stay a year wherever you are.

post #23 of 24

From the threads posted so far on this topic, it would seem that chain restaurants are the skull and crossbones of the industry.

Since working in chain places offers none of the challenges, or creativity, or educational opportunities available at high end fine dining venues,

what we end up seeing is places like the Olive Gardens, the Ruby Tuesdays, the Denny's and IHOP'S being employed by robotic automatons who just follow pre-ordained recipes with no possible venue to create. And even then what happens the recipes, that are created in the ivory corporate tower aren't trickling down to the individual restaurants. Under cooked, overcooked, too salty, too bland, etc..........

 

My point being is that even working at a chain takes some kind of intellect to make the food consistent day after day. In and of itself is a challenge to work in a place that has chains all over USA or world and make that food correctly as t was envisioned by corporate.

 

So we can dissect chains and offer little in the way of their appreciation but it DOES take smarts to work at these places to get it right.

post #24 of 24
I agree with what some others have said here. There are still skills to glean by working in a chain. You can learn how to work fast and clean. You can learn how to multitask, how to work in harmony and communicate with the line so that your firing times are right and all of your food is coming up when it's supposed to be. (I've seen many so-called experienced cooks throw down a basket of fries at the same time that they slap a well done protein on the grill! The horror!) You can learn your meat temps, the list goes on.
Chains are often extremely busy and if you can learn how to keep a cool head in the midst of chaos, it will serve you well throughout all your years in the kitchen.
Some chains are better than others. I came up in locally owned places, and now have my first chain job. Nearly All of our food is made from scratch, we get to create, and knife skills are still required. Chains can offer you more opportunities for advancement because you can always take a promotion elsewhere.
With that being said, my knife skills and my knowledge of certain foods were subpar until I worked in fine dining. I actually learned that i had to first slow down and learn how to do things correctly, and that speed is not a redeeming quality if your food is poorly prepared or otherwise looks bad. Speed comes after you learn the proper technique. I didn't go to school but I picked up some good skills by working amongst talented people that had. My presentation skills and my overall expectations for myself and the food I'm making grew in a way they couldn't have in a chain due to the overall quality of the product used and the care it was treated with. No matter where you go, it's what you make of it. If you can see yourself doing this as a career, then pick out the best place you can find or a type of food that you're curious about and do what it takes to get your foot in the door. Once you're in, your attitude and willingness to learn and work hard will determine where you'll go from there.
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