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Would love to hear from an industry veteran

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
This may be a long first post, but I'll try to use decent grammar and plenty of line breaks.

I am going on 27 years old.  I started cooking about 21 months ago at a giant corporate chain restaurant (whose name I'll keep out to myself) as a way to break into the business.  I had been enrolled at LCB about a year prior and actually dropped right before I left because I didn't want to over commit myself in a field I had never worked in.


I started my job at the giant corporate chain restaurant at the bottom, but within three months I was running the line on the weekends.  I may not have a lot of experience, but that type of environment is not what I would call cooking.  Truth be told, I really ended up hating how artificial everything was, and managed to land a job at one of the better restaurants in town, working cold food.

Time from hire to quitting at the giant corporate chain restaurant was about 10 months.

The place I went - which is still my current gig - has been full of ups and downs.  The owner is borderline abusive in the way he treats his employees, we are tremendously understaffed as far as I can tell, and the general hygiene and cleanliness is not what I consider up to par, no matter how realistic I'm trying to be about it.  My head chef is a bit of a joke to be honest, more of a sous chef to the owner (who has never cooked in his entire life).   It is an exceptionally disorganized place under his watch, and technique is pretty much out the window.  To be honest, I can barely believe we are as successful as we are in attracting and keeping business.  It's no longer a challenge for me except for the constant challenge of keeping my head straight while under a deadline.  It has become really hard to stand behind the product we put out, which I believe is the key to keeping your passion up.

Those are the downs, the ups are the fact that working this line has been amazing experience just for the sheer amount of work and responsibility I have on a day to day basis.  I have met some really great and talented people, and all around, the quality of the food we put out is actually pretty damn good for what it is, due to not much more than my dedication to make things happen.  I've been bumped up to hot food, and am supposed to start learning saute after the summer (though I don't trust my owner as far as I can throw him).  I've also managed to show myself I can really do what I love and to really work my ass off.

I've been working there for 9 months now, but my enthusiasm and willingness to do the best I can has just been beaten out of me.  The downsides are piling up, and I really dislike the area I'm living in, and am really looking to relocate sooner rather than later.

My biggest concern is my lack of experience, and the fact that I would potentially be leaving two places consecutively, after spending less than a year in either of them.  This rolls into the fact that since I've graduated high school, I've done a lot of moving and a lot of short term work for not very high wages.  It was fun, and I know how to do a lot of pretty interesting things because of it, but I'm ready to get serious.

I know I'm facing a few hurdles moving somewhere else with these things in mind, but I consider myself an intelligent and very hard working person.  I don't mind starting from the bottom and working my way up.  All I'm looking for is somewhere professional that will let me learn if I put forth the effort.
 

So if you've made it through all that, my big questions are:
At this point in my career should culinary school be an option?
Do any of you as chefs and managers have experience hiring people from out of state, especially for a non-managerial position?
Anyone have any ideas on where to go?! heh.

Thanks for your time if you've read this, I'm eager for responses.

post #2 of 9
I think you have what it takes, you have passion, drive, and your not afraid to work. I think school would be a good idea, trying to work you way up in this business doesn't work for everyone. School will give you the walk, in your talk and the tools to succeed, You have learned a great deal, even if the first year was, what not to do. I think you will do well, get some schooling in this business, and then show the world what you have...........

Question 2:  Chefs are always looking for cooks with passion and drive.
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thank you very much for the vote of confidence, it's good to hear from someone other than my mom ;) just got done with a 13 hour day, complete s*it show, I'm really at my wit's end at this place. I seem to care more about the food than the people that own the place. Rang in a 45 person party in the middle of our dinner rush, without mentioning it, and the food ended up going out crappy, and I'm WAY too anal retentive for such shenanigans. On top of it they changed our plans to forgo dinner service on mothers day, with only two days notice, so all the plans I made with my family are total shite. Have u been through a culinary program before? What do u recommend? Is there a fundamental difference between a place like le cordon bleu and the CIA? Should I look for something more local? I'm rather tentative to sign up for 40k in loans to pay for a course that takes less than two years. Thank you for your time :)
post #4 of 9

In my opinion, you should take classes on a local level at a community college or the like. Get the basics down. Some of it may seem very elementary to you but pick the instructors brain for all he/she is worth. You can do this while holding down a job at a decent place, that way you don't get stuck in school land cooking. If your goal is to own your own business, take an accounting and business management course while you're at it. Big loans are tough to get out from under when you're making a cooks wage. Give yourself more options by not getting into debt. You'll be able to travel more and get yourself into a higher caliber place if you're not held down by needing to repay the money you borrowed to go to school.   

 

The very best thing I ever did for myself (as a chef) was to go work for a great chef at a great restaurant. It will change you as a person and as a chef if you are open to it.

post #5 of 9

Probably the most honest post I've read in a while.

 

Firstly, a little Army factoid:  Many "up and coming" officers will purposely ask to be transferred to the worst run outfit.  Thir logic is simple:  You can learn more from a lousy-run outfit than you can from a well run one.

 

Very few places that have both an owner and a Chef will run smoothly.  The owner controls the money  and THINKS they have ultimate control over everything.  The Great Escoffier wrote something along the lines of "When the owner denies the Chef the right to choose his purveyors, the owner looses his right to complain."  

 

So, you might not have learned how to make a Pate en croute, but you have learned how to run a cold section quickly and organized (the proof of that is that you're still employed), learned how to move in the hot kitchen, are very aware of hygiene, and of staffing minimums.  What you haven't learned yet is HOW the owner keeps people coming in through the doors, and this is a secret that many, many people would like to know as well.

 

I'll say this about schools and about O.T.J. T. :

 

School has one, and only one mandate:  To learn the curriculum.  Not so much focus on speed, or even organization, but you have to learn what they want you to learn, or out the door you go.

 

Restaurants have one, and only mandate:  To turn a profit.  If it is profitable to mark off steaks an hour before service and fire them in the oven a'la minute, they'll do it.  You may or may not learn the right way of doing things at work, but if you don't work quickly and organized, out the door you go.

 

What-chya-need is both.

 

If you were to enroll in University, a prerequisite is a highschol diploma.  No one gives a rat's hiney about where you got it, or how.

 

No one really cares where or how you learned the basics of cooking, only that you know the right way of doing things, and that you apply this every day.

 

The only ones who really care about the name of your culinary school are the ones who don't know much about cooking--the H.R. people, and/or the new owners who don't know what they've got themselves into.

 

The ones who know about cooking, and how to run a profitable, well run business have a far superior and much, much harsher test for you:


They watch you like a hawk for the first 4 hours doing regular job duties and then instantly make up their minds if you're worth keeping, or tossing out.

 

May I suggest...?

Take a look at what local C.C.'s have to offer (community colleges).  The actual curriculum doesn't differ that much from the more expensive ones.

 

Remember this about schools:  They're kinda like a piggy bank:  You can only get out of them, what you put into them......

 

Choose wisely, and take your time.

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #6 of 9



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MisterShow View Post

Thank you very much for the vote of confidence, it's good to hear from someone other than my mom ;) just got done with a 13 hour day, complete s*it show, I'm really at my wit's end at this place. I seem to care more about the food than the people that own the place. Rang in a 45 person party in the middle of our dinner rush, without mentioning it, and the food ended up going out crappy, and I'm WAY too anal retentive for such shenanigans. On top of it they changed our plans to forgo dinner service on mothers day, with only two days notice, so all the plans I made with my family are total shite. Have u been through a culinary program before? What do u recommend? Is there a fundamental difference between a place like le cordon bleu and the CIA? Should I look for something more local? I'm rather tentative to sign up for 40k in loans to pay for a course that takes less than two years. Thank you for your time :)

I started my Career in Hawaii, started a family and couldn't take the time to go to school. I worked my way up in every operation, made the best of every situation, and it made me a better person, Chef, teacher. Like I said earlier some places you will learn the right way, other places the wrong way, both are learning experiences on how you will form your own view on how you manage, and create, a food service of your own. If you have the chance to go to a Culinary school, I would take advantage it. The thing I don't like about working under a Good/Great Chef is, you only see things out of one window, one idea, one vision. You seem to be the kind of person to take the ball and roll with it.

 In the early years of my career I had the ability to see an entree, put my own twist on it, and make it. I loved the idea of doing it my way, and have people except my vision. IMHO if you have good basic knowledge of this business, an over flow of passion, and drive, and a never ending love for creating quality food, you will succeed.......................Good luck...................Chef Bill.............P.S you can't be one of a kind, if your run of the mill.

 

post #7 of 9

Unless you're the next Jeremiah Tower, at your age you need to go ahead and go to culinary school - the best one you can afford.  Work hard, study (you need to be reading now - get Bouchon by Thomas Keller and absorb the technique sections first) and learn the basics.  The first thing you need to know is how to execute the basics flawlessly but under no serious time constraints.  Once you understand what perfection really is then you can go on to learn how to produce perfection more quickly.  There is nothing worse in the kitchen than a guy in a hurry to make lousy dishes and thinks all the while he knows what he's doing.  Always remember that you are cooking for the one person in a hundred who knows exactly how a dish is supposed to taste, smell, look, and feel in the mouth.  Everybody else is just an F'n idiot.  Don't be an idiot along with them.  KNOW YOUR CRAFT!

 

Read, read, read.  Cook at home, cook at home, cook at home.  Make a Mornay sauce and make it tonight.  Make pate brisee tomorrow night (here, it would help to read Keller first).  Find a recipe for a killer cake and make it the next night.  Keep pushing.  Time is on your side at your age.  I doesn't stay that way forever... 

post #8 of 9

The only advice I can offer is that working by with a great chef you can learn how to do things right and WELL. Workign with a crappy chef will teach you how not to do things so either way you are learning. I have worked with many poor managers and have learned by their mistakes and the great managers have taught me well also. All the advice above is great, educate yourself the best you can and read as much as possible. Culinary school is not necessary what is is the desire to learn and work. You can learn everything you would in school by doing. Keep moving around in the industry, work with as many chefs as you can, they can all teach you something.

My biggest regret after 20 years in is not moving around enough while I was in my early years, I missed out on a lot of "education".

 

Also you have to learn the difference between caring about food and what is good for business. If you take too much time making everythign perfect you will always be in the weeds and the customers will wait. Work on your speed. If you can remember the three cardinal rules-setup, timing and hustle, you cannot go wrong.

Fluctuat nec mergitur
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Fluctuat nec mergitur
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post #9 of 9

The US has lots of great restaurants. I too moved from place to place often with less than a year at one place.  I learned what I could, and moved on, I guess I got bored or un-enthused.

 

I would bust my balls to get into the best place in town.  I'd save my cash, and travel overseas, and learn from high calibre places overseas.  If i have the capacity to produce high calibre food, I can always tone it down.  But if my skill is mediocre at best, I can't be flexible enough to play with the big guns when the need arises.

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