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One Piece of Advice..

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
What is that one piece of culinary advice you'd give to a young chef?
What did you wish you knew before you got in the kitchen professionally?

Jen
"Yes Chef!"
post #2 of 16

There is no such thing as a "young chef", a chef is an experienced cook, who has learned to manage people, inventory, investors, insurance agents, food order takers and sometimes a salesperson, and satisfy the health inspector while seeing to it that the food satisfies the customers enough that they leave their hard earned money so the Chef can pay the rent, utilities, insurance, labor, and food purveyors without digging into his/her own pocket.

 

And, regardless as to their chronological age, they are definitely not young!

 

Whoops, almost forgot, once in a while they even get to cook!

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
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post #3 of 16

Look, I've been cooking since I was 16, I'm 47 now.

 

To cook, to physically prepare food, is just a stepping stone. Like Pete says, a Chef does many things, and cooking is only one of them.  If you're still cooking and not managing a kitchen at 30, it's time to get out.

...."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 #4 of 16

Read Daniel Bolud's excellent "Letters to a Young Chef" for some great advice about starting out in the culinary business. You could probably get it for really cheap used on Amazon.

 

Chef Pete and Foodpump...you guys seem really sensitive about your ages...why is that? It came up in the tattoo thread as well...not only did you both not answer the OP question, you both seem to take issue with her wordage...she's probably just doing a homework assignment lol. If she had asked advice to give a "young cook" would your answers have been different? Don't you both know what she means when she says "young chef?" 

 

Personally, the one piece of advice I would give is to take a notebook with you and write down everything. Recipes, flavor combos, plating designs, ideas, ingredients, etc. 

 

One thing I really wish I knew was how lousy the pay is. It's OK when you are twenty and have no responsibilities, it's quite another as you get older. 

post #5 of 16

yup.  Have a real "thingee" with culinary schools that tell their students that they are Chefs.

 

Why is that? 

 

Had one too many culinary school graduate with less than two months real working experience tell me that they are Chefs, ready to take over my job, and that the salary I offer doesn't reflect a real "Chef's" salary.  And they're  right, it reflects the salary of a cook with two months practical working experience.  Bad feelings all around:  I'm p.o.'d at the schools pulling a fast one over on the students, and the students are p.o.'d with me for offering lousy wages.  Kind of reminds me of the lyrics in an old Stan Ridgeway tune : "It's dog eat cat, cat eat mouse, mouse eat cheese, and the cheese just smells"....

 

I washed dishes before cooking, so I knew exactly what kind of pay I was going to get, and what kind of hours I'd be working.  

...."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 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Someday View Post
... If she had asked advice to give a "young cook" would your answers have been different?

You bet!

  • Notebook and pen, write EVERYTHING down
  • Ears open, eyes open, mouth closed
  • Learn everything you can for at least six months to two years
  • You WILL make mistakes, just don't make the same mistake the second time
  • Keep your knives sharp

 

 

Quote:
Don't you both know what she means when she says "young chef?"

Yup, and it is not correct. A "young chef" probably has 5-10 years cooking experience and at least 2-3 years as lead cook, regardless of chronological age. Of course, that is a generality and there will be exceptions. A "career changer" who has 5+ years of middle management before jumping into the culinary field will probably move up quicker.

 

For me, a culinary school graduate may qualify as a culinarian, and with 6 months to a year OJT move up to a cook.

 

I agree with FoodPump, a majority of culinary schools are doing a disservice to their students with their titles.

 

A cook cooks, a chef manages.

 

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
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post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Please forgive my wordage.

I need to clarify: In no way do I consider myself a Chef. Not even a teeny, tiny bit lol. I mis-wrote, and thank you Someday for seeing my point despite that word being mis-used.

But yes, I mean is there any advice that you would give to the young COOK you were when you first started working in a professional kitchen. I was thinking more of technical advice and tips, and of course the common-sense one of "don't piss of Chef!".

I don't care about age or starting salary or ending salary. I love to cook and want to put out freakin' fantastic plates that eaters will roll their eyes over how good it is. I'm here for the food, not the money. And if it was the other way around, yeah... I'd move on. But I am well aware it is a ladder, and I am ready to climb.

FoopPump and Chef McCraken, one thing I do know.. I will never, EVER refer to myself as a Chef in any capacity. ;-)
post #8 of 16

I think the phrase young chef can just be synonymous with "aspiring" chef, and can be interpreted as a reflection of experience level rather than age (as Daniel Bolud would say). I would think a more appropriate response would be to, if you absolutely for some reason feel the need to correct her, to do so, but then at least move forward and answer the question. 

 

Foodpump, that is a lot of things to assume about a person based on the usage of the word young chef. The OP clearly has the right attitude and I fail to see the value of you and ChefPete original posts. ChefPete's second post was excellent and more in line with what probably should have been posted originally.

 

I'm not trying to come down on you guys, I just think this is a great place for chefs and others to meet and get advice and such, and I'd hate to see new posters put off by things like that. 

 

 

post #9 of 16

Someday, about every 6 mths or so the topic of "What is a Chef" comes up.  Long threads, 4-5 pages long.

 

A cook is a cook, and is judged by what they put on a plate.

 

A chef is judged by how they run a kitchen.

 

Good Chefs have to come from good cooks.

 

No shame in calling yourself a cook.  O.T.O.H. calling yourself a "junior Chef", an "apprentice Chef", a "young Chef", etc.etc. is wrong.  So if the culinary schools won't educate their students on this, and the media won't, I guess I'll have to. 

...."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 #10 of 16

Walk away and never ever look back!!!!

Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodpump View Post

Someday, about every 6 mths or so the topic of "What is a Chef" comes up.  Long threads, 4-5 pages long.

 

A cook is a cook, and is judged by what they put on a plate.

 

A chef is judged by how they run a kitchen.

 

Good Chefs have to come from good cooks.

 

No shame in calling yourself a cook.  O.T.O.H. calling yourself a "junior Chef", an "apprentice Chef", a "young Chef", etc.etc. is wrong.  So if the culinary schools won't educate their students on this, and the media won't, I guess I'll have to. 



Right. But this isn't that topic...this topic was asking about advice for a young chef. I'm not here to even defend the use of the word "chef" coming from a culinary student. But I think the term "young" denotes an experience level rather than an age range. Of course a person in or just out of culinary school shouldn't call themselves a chef (as the OP also pointed out herself). 

 

Even the mere fact that she is seeking advice and trying to learn indicates that she is on the right track. If you take issue with the term "young chef," of course say so. But, IMHO, that shouldn't be the only contribution to the discussion. 

 

It's like, if I come in here asking how to grill, say, an "end piece of filet mignon." And you proceed to tell me that, in fact, there is no such thing as an endpiece for filet mignon, as filet mignon is only cut from the center of a tenderloin. Which is true, but it still doesn't help me learn to grill. 

 

 

post #12 of 16

If you read my first post, you would see that I asked the O.P. to see cooking as a stepping stone, that cooking is but one skill set in many skills that a Chef needs.  I was given this piece of advice myself when I was 18, from a Culinary instructor.  It has served me well.

 

Writing down and observing were other pieces of advice as well.  Of course, I could offer cryptic advice like "You can stir  sugar syrup or a carmel while it is boiling with no ill effects, but never stir a cooling syrup or caramel".  

 

About the filet mignon.  Sure, mignon is from the center.  But if you want to learn how to grill an end piece, it shows that you don't know how to clean or portion a whole tenderloin. So why grill filet, or for that matter tenderloin?  Why not learn how to grill a plain old N.Y. first? It's still grilling, right? Then go one to cleaning and portioning a whole tender, then lastly grilling a filet mignon?

...."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 #13 of 16
Thread Starter 
Blah, blah lol, I understand what you both mean, but as a culinary student and a former regular shmo, you could have been a little bit softer (foodpump) in the way you weed out the people just window-shopping. Luckily, I have a tough skin or I would have dropped out already, no? So yes Chef, I understand.

But my point is, as a culinary student, what would you tell the young you when you got frustrated and wondered if this was what you can actually have a talent to do. It's been a frustrating week and I just want to put out a good plate and I feel that everything is getting in my way; my partner, no butter, some other bullshit or I just suck and I'm in over my head and I can't adapt.

So yeah, sorry. Got any advice?
post #14 of 16

You want to put out a good looking plate?

 

One word:


Theme.

 

Say a lamb dish.  Classic theme? Gratinated pots, herb crusted rack, etc.  Ethnic? A tangine or a curry, some cous-couse etc. HOW you present the main and the sides is where you can get creative, but the ingredients, flavours, should compliment each other and be consistant with the main theme.

 

Dessert?
Again, theme.  Don't get side tracked with all the schnick-schnak and fancy garnishes.  Chocolate desset? A mousse? Deconstructed cake? Then find the garnishes to compliment the main elements, but keep it consistant with the main theme.

 

Talent?...........

 

Would you say Picasso was talented?  You must be aware he did a lot of "contemporary" and "Classic" stuff before he did his own original stuff.  That is, he was well versed with perspective, shadowing, colour combinations and proportions before he truly went creative.  Failure to master one of those elements would have made him far less creative   A truly talented artist or craftsperson, for that mattter, can only be truly creative once they master all the elements particular to their trade. 

 

So, for a cook, you have at your disposal the various cooking methods, various techniques, and an incredible array of ingredients that can only be used creatively once you know their nuances. Knowledge is power, but knowing how to use knowledge is wisdom.

 

Take care of the pennies, and the dollars look after themselves.  Look after the theme of the plate, and the look, and the garnishes will take care of themselves.

 

Hope this isn't too much blah-blah for the requested one piece of advice......

...."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 #15 of 16

Ok Jen,

 

I'm going to try again, and I'll probably have several "handing me my head on a platter". talker.gif

 

First, my undergraduate degree is from MHC and my graduate degree from SHK, probably two of the oldest culinary training establishments in the world. Not necessarily the best, maybe not even good, but the oldest. If you weren't exposed to them at school, shame on your instructors.

 

Say what? Oh, alright, MHC = Mama's Home Cookin' and SHK = School of Hard Knocks

 

The rest is only my opinion, take  it for what it costs you.

 

As a culinary school graduate, and the name of the school means very little, I would expect you to know without being told:

  • Wash your hands, before you start, when you start, when you change tasks, utensils, when you come back from somewhere outside the kitchen, and when you don't know what else to do crazy.gif
  • Wear what the Chef, Sous Chef, Head Line cook, line cook, prep cook, maybe even the dishwasher (assuming (s)he started at least the day before you did, tells you to, in that order! They all out rank you.
  • Take your tool box/knife roll with you to work, but don't bring it out unless someone tells you to. Make sure you have a pad and pen/sharpie.
  • The remaining four things posted above.
  • Remember, until someone is hired after you, you are the new guy/gal, probee, trainee, youngster (regardless as to age), etc. You are out ranked by everyone!
  • If you are told to do something, unless you are absolutely positive that you know, without question, precisely how the Chef wants it done, ask how it is supposed to be done.
  • Once told how something is to be done, never ask again and always do it that way until told otherwise.
  • Keep your station/work area clean and sanitized at every opportunity. Have to get something from the walk-in/storeroom, anywhere away from your assigned area? Clean your station first, until told otherwise. It also helps to tell someone where you are going or at least that you will be gone for 1, 5, 10 minutes.
  • Follow directions/orders/recipes precisely, if you are unclear, ASK, don't modify, adapt, change, or try to improve whatever you've been told to do.
  • Learn each task in detail until you can do it with a blindfold on and ear plugs in your ears. If you have trouble doing anything, ask for help and practice at every opportunity.
  • Remember, you are only responsible for what you are told to do.

 

Once the Chef assigns you something to oversee, remember, you oversee it, you do not do it, you still do what you are supposed to do while overseeing someone else, generally the probee crazy.gif (congratulations, you are no longer the probee)

 

You will know when it is time to exercise your "talent", do not before it is time! That may be three years after you start, it may be three weeks, that depends on how well you do all of the above and what the Chef needs.

 

OK, I've got my NOMEX underwear on and my Kevlar body armor in place, let the games begin!

 

 

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
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post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 
Now that's more like it lol. wink.gif

Foodpump: Good points. I especially liked "look after the pennies..". Food Costing begins next week and I'm already confused lol. Also, I really need to mater the basics, not just be kinda good at them, to start to be able to figure out what I really want to do and execute it. Making a stock and clarifying it should be done without thought for example, right? (still trying to figure that one out!)

Chef McCraken: Those are the types of things that make me so nervous! I don't even realize I'm ahead of myself until Chef is like "I didn't tell you to do that". I could also be a bit more organized. I try to keep my station clean and organized, wipe down when changing ingredients and such, keeping the area clear. But if you look underneath it's like a bomb went off sometimes lol. I am very aware I am the lowest on the pole, and I'm ok with that right now actually. I'm not ready to take the driver's seat in any way! Not yet at least. wink.gif

Thanks! biggrin.gif

And next week we end on ice cream, yay!
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