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Need Advice from you all please. (Long post)

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

As an older guy(for starting in this business) just starting out in the BotH. I am at a bit of a crossroads. I am 38 and finally have myself in a position that I can follow my dream of cooking and someday owning my own place. I have a dream job in this industry... I work Monday-Friday 6-2:30pm, i have all the benefits including vacation, sick days, and paid holidays. From the sounds of it I make a very nice wage, well over minimum wage. I am always very aggressive in my job roles, meaning I have always advanced very quickly in any job I have ever had.

 

Here is some back story... I grew up in a family restaurant(OK, just burgers, sammies and hot dogs). I worked until I was 27 in many restaurants but all in the FotH, with the exception of 2 years as an expediter/ food-runner. I was offered many times a manager role but always turned it down because of the massive pay cut I would have had to take, not to mention adding 20+ hours a week to my time in the place. I have cooked all my life for family and friends. Everyone always has their get togethers at my place because I will always cook and no one ever has to bring anything. Any time I ever go places I end up in the kitchen and everyone else leaves because I seem to take over. I am a very type A personality, however I have learned to curb my focus and I can follow directions if you can lead. Think of me like a pitbull... if you are a leader I will follow, if not, well...

 

All that being said, I do not want to end up working the grill at this place forever. It seems that they are not really keen on letting me do anything else because my station is a PITA. I take orders from the customer themselves. They basically tell me what they want and how they want it and I make it. We do not have tickets in my cafe. I have to remember everything while they stand there watching me do it all. I do all the prep for the entire station and stock everything. I even make homemade bread for one vegetarian burger that is becoming more and more popular.. ugh... Over all we have a brigade of 8 people(not including the executive chef) and we do about $7500 to 10k a day in about 3.5 hours. We have 1 oven, 1 steamer, and a 10 gallon kettle all in the basement and the cafe is 1 level up(so we have to take the elevator) along with my grill station. We are kinda like a mini buffet place. I work at a large technology company, so there are many other cafes that are much better stocked than we are, however we are the second in sales all the time. I am actually the busiest grill station of them all. I like where I work because we bust a$$ to get everything done and are very creative in what we have to do to get it all done.

 

I have only worked in a kitchen for 3 months now as a job, but I see myself becoming more and more relied upon by other in the kitchen for assistance and advice. I am asked to taste test food before they have the chef taste it for last minute seasoning. I am even being referred to on how to make basic dishes and marinades. When we have a special, I ask the chef how to make it, I am usually asked how I would make it... I tell him and he says to make it how I want. It's all very weird. It is not how I expected it all to work. 


Here is my actual question(s). I am being told that I do not really need to go to culinary school, and that I will get all the training I need on the job, even for advancement. I want to learn how to cook like a real chef, but I LOVE my schedule, pay and benefits. I want to grow and advance to as high of a level as I can. I dream of opening my own place, whether it be a full on restaurant or a little food cart. As I understand it, you all would rely more on past work history for your hiring process than education.

  • From a lending perspective should I have a degree?
  • Given my age, would I be taken more seriously for advancement if I have a degree to go along with my CV?
  • Should I leave my cooshy job to work in a real restaurant? 
  • I guess... should I go to culinary school?
  • Should I just stay where I am and buy CIA textbooks and go through them and learn all the technique, math and chit myself?

 

Any advise would be very helpful and appreciated. 

 

Rob


Edited by RGM2 - 6/6/11 at 8:31pm
post #2 of 18

Rob,

I have one question. Coming from a restaurant family will you be able to work for someone else as you move up through the ranks.?

 

I think if you are serious about having your own place, I would be taking some business classes now when you have the time.

FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply Panini! I actually take direction well, and have a very teachable spirit. I work well with others and have no problem working with others. Again, I do have a tendency to push my boundaries, but I also do know my role... I just do not remember it all the time :)

post #4 of 18

I had a huge post typed up but....

 

Actually now that I think about it... Do you want to be a 'Chef" or do you want to be a restaurant owner?

post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 

I would like to ultimately be a business owner, but I also do not see that happening for 20 years most likely. I would like to be a chef and learn to run a kitchen before I spend my twilight years reinventing the wheel.

So to answer your question.... I would like to be a chef for a few years before I open my own place.

post #6 of 18

IMHO, a chef and a business owner have a lot in common, a great majority of which is business knowledge!

 

A top chef manages, i.e. knows what has to be done and sees to it that it gets done.

 

A top chef is very careful not to get overly involved with "doing something" to a degree that it prevents seeing to it that everything gets done on time and as perfectly as possible.

 

A top chef knows:

  • How to hire people to get done what needs to be done
  • Business laws that affect his/her operation including licenses, regulations, etc.
  • Inventory control and how it affects profitability
  • How to read and interpret a balance sheet, P & L statement, Inventory report, Cash Flow statement, loan agreement(s), employment contract(s), vendor agreement(s), etc.
  • How to repair a (pick one or more) stopped up drain, plugged water filter, overflowing toilet, hood fan that won't start, Espresso machine that just quit, etc., or when to call a pro!
  • Wait table because a server was a no show
  • Handle any line position because a cook is a no show
  • Wash dishes because the dish washer walked out
  • Schlep the garbage and mop the floors because it is Christmas Eve and everybody else has gone home

 

And that is just for starters peace.gif

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks Pete, I get what you are saying. I just wonder more about what kind of stuff they will actually teach in school and if it would benefit me enough to have it on my CV? Would it be better to have the business stuff on my CV? Would it be better to stay at the place I am at now, and work on the business stuff at a CC? If I get a cooking degree it would require me to most likely quit and get a lower paying, no benefit having, regular restaurant job. I am just not sure which way to drive the boat right now. 

post #8 of 18

A business education will serve you better then a culinary degree, especially when it comes to management level hiring.

 

I think the only degrees that offer an advantage nationally at the resume screening phase for cooks are the CIA or Johnson and Whales, but that the advantage is not worth the expense.

 

Work experience and networking are more important, I think in getting a job.

 

Culinary school will give you a rounding out, but it's only part of the equation. Often, I found that my culinary education left me a little unprepared at times for working in the real world. It's just little things and work habits that you'll pick up as you work.

 

I'd stick with your current job while considering school options. Such a pay and benefits package is almost unheard of for a line dog. I would also give some serious second thought about owning your own place.

 

Last thought, don't get hung up on this "real restaurant" thing. Don't be a snob. The food service world is huge with ever changing variety. ~30 years ago, a "real restaurant" were places like The Colony. Now that class of restaurants is extinct..

post #9 of 18

It's a tough call. If you were younger (not that you are very old, mind you) like, say, 18-24, I might say that you would have the luxury of time and the ability to move from kitchen to kitchen to learn from different chefs. Then you could build up your experience and resume and pay dividends in the long run without going to school.

 

Since you are coming into the career late, culinary school might be a good option for you. It will give you a lot of information in a formalized setting, and if you use school in conjunction with real world experience you can come out on top. Its important to note that culinary school will not make you, by itself, qualified to be a chef. But it will lay a foundation of knowledge that will serve you well at any job you do. 

 

It will also, in general, teach you enough so that you can know if a chef you are working for will be a good mentor. A lot of cooks develop bad habits and take shortcuts not because they are lazy (though some surely are) but because, in essence, thats the only way the learned and they don't know any better. 

 

The "learn on the job" idea is true for many chefs, but like I said, since you are coming into the game late, a culinary school education might give knowledge to you that it may take years to gather piecemeal as you work your way up. And just to be clear, I'm not saying learning on the job is "bad" or "wrong," I'm just speaking about your specific situation. 

 

Good luck. 

post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by RGM2 View Post

  • From a lending perspective should I have a degree?
  • Given my age, would I be taken more seriously for advancement if I have a degree to go along with my CV?
  • Should I leave my cooshy job to work in a real restaurant? 
  • I guess... should I go to culinary school?
  • Should I just stay where I am and buy CIA textbooks and go through them and learn all the technique, math and chit myself?

 

Any advise would be very helpful and appreciated. 

 

Rob


Hey Rob

 

When one of my old Head chef's was doing the rounds for a bank loan for his first restaurant do you know how he landed it? He invited the bank manager for a meal at the place he worked, pulled out all the stops and blew him away. A bank manger will look at you better if you can put together a professional business plan, have a track record of what you are trying to achieve and you can persuade them of your character. A lot of this is subjective but keep knocking on doors and if you have been involved in restaurants most of your life this will look great on your loan application.

 

I was only a little bit older than most when I started in this industry (22) but even at that age you've lived a bit and are quite a bit more mature than most 16-18 year olds who were starting out in the industry. If you work hard, learn quickly and are enthusiastic, you won't believe how quickly you can advance. I had to keep turning down promotions because I didn't feel ready, I certainly didn't have to go looking for promotion all the time. Since it is usually the Head Chef who does the hiring and most of them don't have the greatest of respect for culinary schools I wouldn't go down this route. If your CV landed in my inbox and you persuaded me of your genuine interest in wanting to learn I would be intrigued and definitely get you in for a trial shift anyway. If you impressed on the job then when I thought you were ready for a move up if I had a position you would get it regardless of degree or age, if I didn't have a position I'd ring round all my chef buddys and help find you one. If you work for a chef who takes the time to train up their staff they will look out for your interests long after you stop working for them. I get a real buzz from seeing chefs that used to work for me going on to do great things and if I can help them out I always will.

 

It depends on your circumstances. Can you afford to take a pay cut for a bit? If you want to move into a Fine dining type place you will probably start in a really low wage working a lot of hours but if you pick the right place, you will learn a lot. If this isn't an option I'd look into doing a stage at a load of restaurants that you like the look of. Try and organise them during your days off and holidays and you can pick up quite a bit in your short time in these places. It doesn't need to be some famous restaurant working for some famous chef. I've learned the most from chefs just starting to make a mark because they can't afford to pay higher salaries for experienced people and will invest a lot more time in your training to get you up to the level that they require of you.

 

Don't go to culinary school. If you can afford to go to culinary school for how ever many years, you can afford to take a pay cut and go work in a decent restaurant. You will learn way more and be far more employable if you do this than if you go to some culinary school.

 

Whenever I started to feel a little to comfortable in a position, that is when I knew I needed a change. In this industry if you aren't looking to improve yourself then you are going to become very stale and if you are going to work every day bored in your job, your skill levels will start to drop due to this attitude shift. you won't even notice this happen at first. There is only so much you can learn from books and the best way to do it is under a chef you can talk to about it. I'm always speaking to my guys about what they saw in certain books, certain restaurants, certain tv shows etc. On the business side of things, this is pretty simple to learn, most chefs put it off beacuse they find it quite boring. But you can't be a good chef with out being a good businessman.

 

All the best Rob and let us know how you get on.

 

post #11 of 18

There's a multitude of good advice already posted here.

 

We're about the same age, and if I were you, knowing what I know now, I would take some sort of culinary classes just to familiarize myself with different aspects of the kitchen.

There are tons of kids I've worked with that are graduates of culinary schooling who just farted their way through culinary classes like they did with high school classes -a degree doesn't mean so much to me as an employer, experience on a line does.

But, at your age, I think you would benefit from the schooling.  Trying to learn by experience will take too long at this point and you'll just end up resenting your job. 

I wouldn't seek out CIA or anything, but a pass/fail at a tech school wouldn't be a bad investment IMHO. 

 

I'd do that before taking business classes. 

 

Then I'd take business classes.

 

simplified:

  • i dunno
  • no
  • no
  • yes
  • buy books and read.  always.  without rest. 
post #12 of 18

You do not need a degree to cook. I never hired a Sous because he had a degree, I hired him or her on their abilities in a kitchen . If you feel you have learned and mastered everything you could where you are now, it is time to move on . Look around, put out feelers or network. However if   there is room for more advancement where you are don't. Its your choice. I commend you on your initiative and work ethic, many people today lack that. Good Luck to you

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #13 of 18

There are some companies that will not hire you as a 'chef' unless you have gone to school. (Like the company that just hired me). They will hire you as a KM, and give you a fancy title (Food Manager), but they will not call you 'chef'. Of course, that's just MY company.

post #14 of 18

WOW. This is a different look at a question I've seen here a zillion times since I joined up. I guess I'm post #14, and I don't remember anyone suggesting junior or community college yet. You can get a very good education there on the cheap. That's my first thought. Anyway, I'm CIA educated. It's gotten me in a lot of doors, but that was it. I got in. If I didn't have any skills I would have been out that night. One thing I think I really goofed up was not taking any of the business side of the educational process. Dumb move on my part. The CIA books ainte by any means cheap. If you gotta buy them to make yourself happy, find them used, and bargain down the prices. That might be a nice thing to do if you've got decent on-the-job tech skills. You can't really beat skills. Another suggestion I'll make is simple. Look at the economy. I'm a little older than you are, and I don't leave good jobs. 

Quote:

I have a dream job in this industry ... I work Monday-Friday 6-2:30pm, i have all the benefits including vacation, sick days, and paid holidays. From the sounds of it I make a very nice wage, well over minimum wage.

Call me goofy, but I ainte leaving a job like that. Good luck with what you do. I hope things work out well.

post #15 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the advise you folks gave. Although it does very it speaks volumes to me. The culinary education I am look at is actually at the local community college that is about 3 miles from my house. I really like the idea of staging at other places around when I have time off. I live in Eastlake, there are some really amazing restaurants within a few miles of my house.

 

I am in a pretty secure financial position, which is why I chose to wait until now to get into this side of the industry. I actually make about 20% of what I used to a year ago,  but I do need to make enough to pay my 800 a month in child support. I am very happy to have a job though and I do not want to be without one. In the market up here I was EXTREMELY lucky to get the job I have. I hunted on craigslist every day for 7 months before I even had someone reply to me, even for a dishwasher... FFS people only want dishwashers with 2 years experience. It seems that it is an employers market here. 

 

I think I am going to wait a bit to make a decision. Today my chef and manager asked me if I could work an extra 4 hours at our catering kitchen today and tomorrow. I never volunteer for overtime, and any time they need to cut hours I ask them to cut me over folks that can not afford to take the time off. This time they asked me because the catering chef said they needed someone with knife skills and they said I have better skills than anyone else in the kitchen... including our sous chef. I think this is a huge stretch, but she does not really ever do anything that requires much in that department. But I think they were happy with my performance this afternoon. It was a long 12 hours, but I am very satisfied and happy they thought of me for the job.
 

Thank you all for the advise, I would appreciate more of it... I still have a tough decision to make because I am putting it off hahaha

post #16 of 18

Note   You will get the same basics in cooking at the community college as you would at CIA at a fifth of the cost. And the same AAS degree.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #17 of 18

well would it be better to stay at the location I am at now, and work on the enterprise stuff at a CC? If I get a preparing nourishment stage it would need me to most probable stop and get a smaller giving, no advantage having, normal bistro job. I am just not certain which way to propel the vessel right now. 

post #18 of 18

LOL. It's all good and happy to believe anything in life that you like. Whether it's really the case or not is a totally different matter all together. I do like the programs at a number of community colleges though. 
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefedb View Post

Note   You will get the same basics in cooking at the community college as you would at CIA at a fifth of the cost. And the same AAS degree.



 

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