So first, a little about what I've done so far, and what I want to do.
In August I will be graduating with a Bachelor's in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management and for the past two years while at school I have worked as a line cook at a hotel. This is my only experience working at a real restaurant and I started out working in garde manger and on the salad/sandwich line. After a couple months I moved to hot line, which is usually where I am now, mostly making food for the pub, but I've done the entrees for the restaurant a few times as well and recently doing some buffet/banquet cooking and learning a lot. It gets pretty busy during certain times of the year and I'll do a few hundred covers a night with a second person helping during the rush. These past two years I've been a full time student while working on average 35hrs a week (sometimes more, usually not much less) and only taking a couple weeks off during winter break. So, not to sound cocky or anything, but I know what it's like to work a lot (if you include class/homework/studying), I expect to be working at least this much after I graduate, and I'm not afraid of a little hard work.
When thinking about my career I've played around with the idea of staying in school to get a master's in accounting or econ, but I always come back to wanting to become a chef. So right now my plan, after a little vacation, is to get a job working at the best restaurants I can get into to learn as much as I can and eventually work my way up to an Executive Chef position (management degree should help), and hopefully open my own restaurant at some point.
So I know this is what I want to do now, but I'm just not sure of the best way get there. I would really like to start off by going to culinary school (ESCF-Ferrandi being my top choice), but after already going to a 4yr university and with student loans to pay off, it just doesn't seem like the smartest investment in a notoriously low-waged industry. I would still like to go to ESCF in the future, but right now I need a job. I live about 40min outside NYC so I would like to work at some restaurants there for a couple years to get some good experience. I work with a guy who is going to try to get in touch with some of the chef's he knows/work for in the city to see if he can get me in anywhere (maybe with David Burke).
Sorry for the long intro, but anyway...my questions are:
How hard is it to get a job at a top notch restaurant in NYC with no culinary degree and only 2 yrs experience? I don't really want to wash dishes, I'd gladly start as a prep cook, but I'll do what I have to.
What are some of the best restaurants and chefs to work for in NYC?
I would also consider an apprenticeship, can anyone recommend where to do this? I think the ACF has a list that I will check as well.
Has anyone here ever worked with David Burke? What is it like because I hear he can be pretty intense sometimes?
What can I expect to get paid starting out? I'm planning on moving into the city or Hoboken with some friends, and even with roommates, I'm worried about not making enough to cover living expenses.
Will working at some well respected restaurants be a good substitute for culinary school when applying for an exec chef position?
Lastly, I like the idea of culinary school because, while you may not master any one thing, it exposes you to a lot of different foods, methods, cooking techniques etc, where I feel that learning at a restaurant you only learn what they make and how they make it. Is this true at all? It seems like a lot of the top chefs have either gone to culinary school, studied in France, or both.
Again, sorry for the long post, and any input would really be appreciated. Thanks!