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My life predicament - Any and all help appreciated

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

I’ve considering taking the culinary route and last night I started to write everything down. This long essay, essentially, is what I came up with. Please read through it and let me know what you think of my situation. I apologize if this is in the wrong forum but regardless i feel that you all could offer some great advice.

 

I’m feeling completely confused for what the future holds for me. I’m attending a state university now and currently have an undeclared major. I have an undying passion for food, one that extends much farther than the t.v.’s foodnetwork portrays. I enjoy school but only for the experience’s it has brought thus far; other than that, I couldn’t care less about the gen. ed. Classes that I’m forced to take to get in to a major. I’ve thought about the path I should take: continue school and get a degree in something or attend a culinary school where I could study what I love. Each of these options carry with them pros and cons that I’ve tried to weigh but I still stand confused.

 

Attending the university seems like a futile cause. I’ve never excelled in school but have been an extremely average student. I understand all too well that this world demands a degree in something to land a decent-paying job. I don’t need to make a lot of money in life; all I want is to be happy with what I’m doing at the end of the day and to live comfortably. As I said earlier, I have a thing for food. I’ve done the research and I understand that a chef’s life, or rather a line cook- that is what I would be working until I could open my own place or work my way up over the years, is very demanding both physically and mentally. But continuing my education in a traditional collegiate sense seems like a struggle because I hate the way students are taught. We’re forced to memorize facts and figures that mean little to nothing to me and will be forgotten as soon as finals are over. The professors don’t necessarily have a background in teaching but are rather professionals in their field of study and often don’t come equipped with the mindset or skills to pass those skills on to the student body.

I’ve thought about attending culinary school and pursuing my passion. I also have taken in to account the life style that comes with it. 50-60+ hour weeks on top of a mentally and physically draining environment is all but appealing but the caveat being I would be working in a field where I could potentially express myself through a medium that I enjoy working with and in the process making people happy with food. A lifetime of happiness paired with a lifetime of hard work compared to a “normal” lifestyle where I could afford more of a social life but sacrifice what could be my calling in life. It’s impossible for me to weigh this. I’ve done more research on what I should do that I have for my classes at school this year.

 

My plan thus far is to work over the summer at one or more restaurants and gain the kitchen experience. Depending on whether or not I could see myself working in a professional kitchen the rest of my life will dictate if I continue my formal education after two years or apply to the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park. I plan on going to school for two years to obtain my associates degree. This would create a “safety-net” of sorts; if I would so choose to return to school, I would not be so far behind that it would seem too daunting a task and it would also allow me to gain the “college experience” that I do want. Also, I signed a lease on a house for next year, so that kind of roped me in to two years. I would like to attend the CIA, Hyde Park, New York because it is the country’s most prestigious culinary school. I only get one go around in this life and I feel like attending a more renowned school would offer me more life experience because in the end I could say I attended a challenging school aside from a community or technical college. I am not saying that technical schools are bad or not sufficient but rather that the CIA could offer me more than they could because of 1.) the travel- I could see much more of the country, 2.) the networking- working with top chefs and meeting countless people associated with the school’s reputation, and 3.) I want to get out of my current state.

 

It seems like I might have everything figured out, that once I work the summer I’ll have a good idea of whether or not it’s something I want to pursue farther or not. The problem comes in later in life. With a traditional college education I could work a regular 9-5 job and make a decent living but it COULD be mundane. With a culinary education I could do something I love but work incredibly hard for a very long time where the pay is not very good. It’s been preached at me for as long as I can remember: “Do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life.” But what if what I love entails working incredibly hard. I know, I just know, that if I can cook on a line that the a culinary life would be wonderful for me. On the other hand I enjoy, quite a bit, a leisurely lifestyle but I enjoy working hard and the sense of completion that comes with it. I am trying to weigh two separate life styles and it’s absolutely mind boggling.

My parents believe, particularly my mother, that a traditional education is the path for me. This stems from both of them working very hard, my mother in and out of restaurants as district manager and doing training for a chain back in the 80’s and 90’s. They don’t want me to work hard; they want me to have an 80k salary, 9-5, and use cooking as a hobby when I can afford to do it. This makes sense. This makes a lot of sense. The thing I have to say about this though is that I want to be happy with what I do. I want to love what I’m doing. If I don’t care about my career then I feel like it’s a complete waste of time. Sure, the job might come with benefits, a fat paycheck, and time off, but if it’s some company where I’m monitoring the expense reports of a product I don’t give a damn about then what’s the point? I can be happy when the job is over? I still have to go 40 hours a week; I still have to not enjoy it.

These points are rather extreme; I could find a job with a four-year education and be content but in the back of my mind I would always think what could be. When going out to dinner and the dish arrives at the table I would think “I could have created this dish- I could be feeding these people right now.” And, quite honestly, that is my biggest fear in life. I want to be happy with what I do, I want to actually love what I’m doing.

 

I do not know if I would enjoy sacrificing that much time to the kitchen. Not having a social life because of the hours, missing important dates whether it be birthdays, holidays, or spontaneous get-togethers .I enjoy these quite a bit. On the other hand I want to be able to tell people what I do with a smile on my face and a proud feeling within myself when they ask “what do you do?”

 

I write all this at 1:30 in the morning in the hopes that it might help organize the thoughts in my head. There is no particular structure to this “paper” and it might be outlined in quite a confusing manner but I believe that the essence of my struggle is there. But before I end this paper I’m going to write a little bit about myself. I’m 18, I’ll be 19 in January. I’ll be entering my second semester in just over a month, it’s November now. I’m rather upset that I didn’t decide to go to culinary school around my junior year of high school but instead decided that it would be a fabulous idea to be a business major. I walked in to school believing that, in this day and age, this is what is expected and what I HAVE to do as the next part in my life. I worked as a dishwasher for about a year and did some minor prep work. I was not in love with food then. I worked as a cashier and a customer service manager in a grocery store and found my passion in food during culinary classes at STEP, which is an extension of high school that offers technical career classes for students. I had always been fond of cooking, enjoying to explore with flavors, textures and plating techniques and after competing in a culinary competition I found that I craved the team work and the sense of accomplishment that came with it. I loved working with product and transforming it into something that people enjoyed, actually enjoyed eating. I love the entire process of cooking and I can only hope that once I get the real restaurant experience that it will fuel my passion even more. That it will make up for all the negatives and instead of being major problems with the career, namely the hours, that it will be just small annoyances that I have to put up with.  Ideally I would like to only attend the CIA- Hyde Park for its two year program.  I am completely and utterly dazed and confused.

 

Loans. They are evil little things. I’m also quite worried about the debt I would be accumulating over the 4 years- whether it be 2 state university and 2 culinary or 4 state. Tuition for the state university is roughly 17k a year and the CIA is roughly 25k. That is a huge amount of debt and I’m paying for everything with loans. So not much to say about that other than I don’t want to, for lack of a better word, get screwed.

 

Also, if I were to attend a regular university for four years I’m considering majoring in something like business administration, marketing, or something like that but also considering majoring in philosophy because the liberal arts degree offers a broad spectrum and teaches one how to think critically. There has been an explosion of philosophy majors in almost every spectrum of the work force from human resources, business, and all the way to medicine. It teaches you how to look at problems and fix them using methods that one without the background might not consider or even see. It’s versatile and quite interesting. Just my thoughts on that.

So really what I’m asking for here is your thoughts on what path I should take. In the end it is really up to me and the time in the restaurant this summer should really be the deciding factor but there is much, much, much more to take in to consideration than just that and even more than I have written here tonight. I’m sure that you can see as the paper grew longer in length that the structure and cohesiveness of the essay started to fall apart. It’s late and I apologize if the thing is rather messy and unorganized. There is order in the chaos. So, I would like to thank you if you have taken the time to read my predicament and would like to thank everyone in advance for their input and experiences as well as thoughts.

 

Thanks so much,

 

N

 

p.s.

I’ve thought, quite a bit actually, about picking up and moving out to New York and working as a commis under a chef in a restaurant. It’s rather scary because I’ve considered this quite heavily. In actual execution I don’t believe it would hold up. I’ve got little money to spend on travel- I could do it however. I don’t have a job lined up or living arrangements. I do have acquaintances out there though and it could be done but it would require planning. I’m surprised, the more I think about it, how easy it could be. I mean, it would be rough, it would be really rough. I would abandon my education and I would work INCREDIBLY hard. Still it’s possible. I’ve researched on how to do it, yes there are ‘guides’ on how to move to New York and I’m almost convinced that if I could land a job as a commis or a payed stagier that I could make it. My life wouldn’t be simple. My parents would be rather upset. I don’t know how I would tell them. Maybe just get everything planned out, take what I need, and once I’m settled give them a ring and say what exactly is going on. This actually sounds appealing. If I did this I would be forced to work with my passion- restaurants are always looking for cheap labor, especially if they know that I’m willing to learn. I wouldn’t have anything holding me back from working long hours and learning everything I could. What’s your thoughts on this? It might not be the smartest decision but I’m sure it’s been done. I’m sure I could do it.

 

 

 

I’m passionate about food. I know what the restaurant territory demands. I’m not chasing the life of a t.v. chef. I know that the glamour of cooking is extremely exaggerated and in actual reality it is dirty, hard work. I’m kind of in love with the idea of that. It takes a special kind of person to work and be successful in a kitchen, sometimes ‘special’ means crazy.

Also! Relationships and families. I don’t know if they are viable when in the restaurant industry. The hours seem like they could get in the way and cause a lot of grievances. I want to get married but don’t want kids. I just got out of a relationship of almost 2-years and I really do want to be able to be able to have a girlfriend and a career. I don’t want to have to choose one or the other. I’m certain that it could work but the stress it could cause is rather daunting. So any advice, experience, thoughts, ideas, etc. on this topic would be appreciated.

I’m sorry, I kind of attached a few more topics after I thought I was done. Again , the order is chaotic but the message is there. Thank you so much for reading.

 

post #2 of 28

This is really thoughtful, and folks with culinary careers should have useful advice.  Thanks for writing at length.  I'll just offer a couple points as someone who teaches at a university:

 

First, yes, there are places and courses of study with a lot of "forced to memorize facts and figures that mean little to nothing to me and will be forgotten as soon as finals are over."  And it's a shame.  You mention philosophy toward the end, and it sounds like you've figured out that the way to get good value out of college is to look for small, challenging classes.  The big, exam-driven lecture courses are money-makers for universities, and the students who get the short end of the stick.  So do try and escape the memorize-and-test classes, whatever you do.

 

Second, you can always do school later -- a lot of my undergrad students are in their 30s and up.  On the whole people are better students when they're a little older.  I would do the cooking now, while you have the fire in your belly and you're young enough to handle the physical strain, and think about a liberal arts degree a bit later.  Nothing to prevent you from doing a little reading in the meantime.  You'll be happier doing what you want, and unexpected opportunities or choices you haven't yet imagined may turn up.

post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thank you very much for the prompt response.

 

The second situation you offered has got my mind rolling. There are so many ways to go about this whole thing and I just want to make the most ergonomic and best decision for me. Best being relative term because I'm sure there are many viable ways to go about the whole thing but to choose the most viable, straightforward path that offers the desired end result. I would love to hear from more of you. Please, any and all comments would be helpful.

 

Thank you so much in advance,

 

N

 

- I know the post is a giant wall of text and seems like a daunting task to read it all but I greatly appreciate those who take the time to give it a look over.

post #4 of 28

I think what you've done now is very mature. I'll offer a few points with my experience behind me. First of all before you make a hasty decision do what you plan to do in the summer and work in a kitchen, maybe you don't have to jump around to several, but just so you know what is up for you. However there is a whole wide world just for food, that doesn't mean you have to be in a service kitchen. I went to study to become a chef because it was the only thing that made sense in my head, and can I tell you what a shock I got. You can know all of the facts about what goes on and how is drains your body but you do not in-fact know anything until you have experienced it.

 

I know several people who have postponed their university education and went to chef school and then went back part time. Especially if it is something business orientated, it gives you insight on how to run your own business and know all the risks you are taking.

 

Now on the debt, there is nothing you can in life without money. Which doesn't mean you are screwed if you pile up your debt, it would not be in vain if it is for education. Go talk to bank or a loan advisor and tell them your situation and they will help you.

 

Now you need to remember this is all on you. You know what you want to do you just need to go do it, and whatever you choose to do put your heart and soul into otherwise there is nothing for you there.

 

 

CK

post #5 of 28

Definitely spend some time working in a restaurant before making the final decision. It's a lot different than you expect it to be, even after you've heard everything. Besides that, CIA requires at least six months of food service experience before they'll accept you.. use that time to your advantage to make sure it's what you really want to do. Also, I agree with Colin. This is for me personally, but if I'd gone straight to college at your age, it would have been a complete waste of time and money.. again, that's me personally. I waited until I was 26 to return to school, and here I am. I've been working in kitchens since I was a teenager, and I'm still doing it.. I've just now decided to actually go to culinary school. Well, I decided a couple of years ago, but it took a couple years to get things worked out.

BUT, if after you put some real hours into a restaurant kitchen environment you decide it's still what you want to do, then by all means go for it.. and good luck!

post #6 of 28

Do not, whatever you choose, do not, pick up and run to New York with the idea of getting a job as a commis or line cook as soon as you land.

Take these few facts into account-

1. In the current economy, food service establishments are going out of business right and left. For evidence, go to NY Craigslist and check out the listings of restaurants and equipment for sale and auction.

2. Every 3 months or so, the CIA (1 1/2 hours north of NYC) graduates (AKA spits out) several hundred wannabe chefs who head straight for the city only to find the only jobs available to them start at about $12.00 per hour.

3. NYC (including all 5 boroughs) is still experiencing a significant contraction of employment. Why do you think Columbia grads are spending time in Zucotti Park at the Occupy Wall Street protests? This is happening, most importantly, in the financial services sector. These are the people who eat out at restaurants. When this sector loses 10 jobs, restaurant jobs decline by 50.

 

I applaud your desire to pursue your passion. However, you are 19 and need to gain some perspective on how that passion can be utilized most effectively. To gain perspective, an education is important. Believe me, if memorizing facts and figures is tedious now, you will find that learning and remembering all the formulas you need for food production will be just as tedious. The reality is that once you land a job as a prep or line cook, you will NOT  be "using your creativity" to make diners happy. You will be preparing someone else's recipes and formulations and expected to do it perfectly the same 12 hour day after 12 hour day-all for about 10-12 an hour with no benefits. 

 

The thing is, you cannot know at this point in your life, how a liberal arts education can enrich your life as a chef. The best chefs out there have an expanded view of the world beyond the kitchen and dining room. Read bios of some of the most creative, Dan Barber, Jeremiah Tower, Alice Waters, Marcus Samuelsson, just to pull a few out of my hat. They are educated people who use that education to enrich and give depth to their pursuits in the culinary world. Take it from someone who has been in the business for a while. One of the most boring people you will ever meet is the chef whose only life/work experience is restaurant kitchens and the latest dish they plated. I can't tell you how my eyes glaze over when I have to interview these chowderheads. 

 

There are many, many vocations in the food industry that do not involve cooking in a restaurant kitchen. Check out www.goodfoodjobs.com to get a sense of what some of the others are.

Then, suck it up, enrich your brain in college, cook for all your friends in the meantime, read every cookbook you can get your hands on, work in restaurants during the summer (though try to find one with some kind of unique identity) and then pursue a culinary career. 

 

 

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post #7 of 28
Good words from all here. Especially Foodnfoto! My post can be considerably shorter thanks to you. Stay in school get your business degree. Understanding finance & how to operate a business is far more likely to make a difference in moving from a line position to management, & especially so if you ever intend on owning a business.

In my opinion( sorry if this offends some of you) but it's just an opinion. I am not condemning anyone or saying that you are wrong. I really feel that culinary degrees are not all they are cracked up to be. If you have the passion you'll find the ideas & techniques on your own & through work experience. A one year certificate from a trade school can teach you the fundamentals and could be worthwhile, but if you really have what it takes to succeed in this industry, it'll be because of your attitude & work ethic. Actual work experience will increase your pay more than any degree will. The business or philosophy degree will make you more rounded & leave more doors open to you. Honestly, I have been thoroughly unimpressed with the vast majority of culinary graduates that I have worked with. Could be the whole "you can't fill a cup that's already full" thing. It's to the point now to where I will not consider an application from a culinary student unless they have good work experience.

One thing that I failed to consider before deciding to go this direction with my career, is how much time I miss with my family. Not having time for a full social life is no problem, but when I haven't even seen my kids in a week, I have to ask myself why the hell am I doing this. Any perceived glamour in this job is wiped away when you have to explain to a six year old that their birthday will have to wait until later because the restaurant is too busy this weekend. I also did underestimate a little the wear & tear on my body, but that's not a major problem for me. Missing my family is a major problem. Now that the children are older, is a little easier, but nothing will ever give that time back.

Go to school, get a degree( anyone will do really), and make the most of whatever opportunities come your way.

Wrote this on my phone, tried to fix the auto word substitutions, but this is just too time consuming... grr
Edited by Sparkie - 11/28/11 at 12:50pm
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
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A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
post #8 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for the responses, I appreciate every post and look forward to more.

 

The recurring theme seems to follow my plan- to work this summer in a professional kitchen. I couldn’t agree more and that is my goal. Do any of you have any suggestions on how to land a job in a kitchen? Tips and tricks? I know not to go in during service so 2:00-4:00ish would be ideal to go and talk to the chef, correct? Should I call to setup an appointment rather than to show up unannounced and risk interrupting a task he/she might be preoccupied with. My resume is rather lackluster when it comes to restaurant experience seeing as I have minimal prep work with a dish washing background and two years of being a customer service manager at a grocery store as well as a little gig at a paintball place. If I explain my situation to the chef, let them know that I really want to learn, will that help them overlook the lack of experience on my end?

 

As for culinary schools, I’m seeing that most employers are looking for work experience over a culinary degree. Is this really the case and would a culinary degree from the CIA be beneficial or would work experience be a more viable route? I can see the ups and downs of both sides, for and against culinary schooling. The way I’m kind of viewing the whole culinary school thing is 1.) it’s a life experience that I fell may be worth it 2.) It will teach and help refine the fundamentals and 3.) It’s a networking possibilities. Whether or not this is worth $25,000 thousand a year is still up in the air. I see just as much value in going strictly with work experience as well. I would like to know what the communities consensus on culinary schooling is, though.

 

Picking up and running to New York was ridiculous thing to consider, however, it is quite an entertaining thought. I know the logistics of it don’t make much sense and the probability of myself actually being successful in a stunt like that are stacked very high against me.

 

Does a business degree from a traditional college help that much more than the liberal arts degree I’ve been considering? Would a two-year associates degree and a culinary degree along with work experience be a viable/logical/rational path to take? The whole school thing is where the problem is rooted. There are many paths that I can take; I could take a semester or a year off, gain some work experience and then decide what to do from there but then I sacrifice the safety net and I’m scared that time would be wasted. I want to do things in a way that time isn’t lost i.e. taking a semester off isn’t an appealing approach to me. Is the general consensus that a four-year degree is worth the time and money even if the endgame may be a culinary lifestyle?

 

I suppose the possible paths that lie ahead of me could be:

-Two year degree from traditional college, work experience over the summer, and culinary school if that is where life takes me

-Four Year degree, work experience as planned, culinary school or professional kitchen

There are many more possible paths but these two sum up the majority. Any more thoughts on the original post as well as this one are welcomed with an open mind. I’m more thankful for the responses than you could all know.

 

I believe I touched on everything that has been said. Looking forward to reading many more responses,

 

N

post #9 of 28

Holy jeez foodnfoto absolutely nailed it


I went through the same process.  Except I finished undergrad non-culinary.  Did a summer stint in a kitchen to give my passion a shot.  In the end, I loved it, but foodnfoto couldnt say it better.

 

Get ready for mundane, repetitive work, with no room for creativity.  Its not your job to be creative.  Essentially keep the mindset that "you dont know shit".  Not saying you do or dont, but your best bet is to do what youre told and absorb as much experience and knowledge as you can.  Sure I learned a ton of fundamental skills working, but the bulk of my food knowledge came from reading a ton out of work and experimenting for myself and friends.  

 

Dont even think about quitting one path altogether to go into cooking, especially without trying it.  The kitchen can really suck sometimes, just by its competitive battlefield like nature, so grab as much experience as you can getting down the basics of working at a restaurant pace and dodging the inevitable political minefields you'll encounter if you start getting noticed.  Which is a good thing.  Give it a shot, and learn learn learn, especially from your mistakes.  

post #10 of 28

I agree with everything foodnfoto said, except the wages are often lower, and the hours are often longer.
Cooking has become a 'cool' career, and there are a lot of wannabes out there who love to talk about 'chef culture' and knives and
what's going on in the world of culinary arts - but more often than not they have no idea what to really expect.

post #11 of 28

gHi Sushichef,

If you want to go to CIA work for a CIA grad and have them write you a letter of recommendation. I left Harvard and went to CIA and things went well for me. I also wrote a letter of recommendation for a young guy like you to go to CIA  and he's done very well. He worked out in Vegas and now is a chef at a very popular place in DC. I had student loans and paid them off and it didn't really cramp my style too much. I've come full circle now and thinking of going back to Harvard and take some classes at their extension school. Different trains of thought are good for chef's. Joanne Chang studied mathematics and she's awesome. And I think Daniel Leader was a philosophy major. Good luck!

 

post #12 of 28

words are important and thy wrking in a restaurant or thy finding of an establishement for you to find out of the environement is veryimportant.

 

at 16 I told my father who wanted me to carry on higher education "I want to be a chef!"

he was a Copper at the time a rank officer. and he worked in pastry and baker before (Boulanger PATISSIER) and worked as a chef in the Army for 2 years then he knew what I chose was a question of time and money "but I must save my son from those evil places!" "you will get nowhere!"

OK I said to myself then "I will Prouve you wrong!""it is possible to do something!"

he does like my cooking by the way!. but always ask me when I say to him I restarted to do brioches. "Have you done a levain!" (old fashion ways but proper way to do bread or brioches! (I found other ways! I always reply NO!) even I know he is right! he will proove it to me I know! like he did with Tuile biscuits! AAAAAAH! well I do tuile biscuits for a type of a jobs but his at home was well too much butter and his technic was different. i employe similar for a different kind a sweet that he does know!

anyway we getting away from the subject of the conversation or thread!

 

well ok not sociable hours. but at least you get to work many time you are not crowded on bus or train or Metro.

 

you start very early at time and finsih late and so what!

you please people! that is the cost of pleasing people.

 

on salaries well it is hard and it is always hard!.

when you think in Edwardian time what an employee was getting. it is not changed too much when you put it in perspective according to the fluctuations of time and events!

 

a good talent in an industry can be rewarded sod all. just a shackle.

 

the goal to achieve is fair. but then with a vocabulary like you. you should get upon the industry and learn and learn and join the teaching side.

of it.

 

the side I know may afraid you! I have been in many  kitchen's jungles, and will tell you that when it get tough the tough get going! and even the more nightmarish it can become, when you open your eyes in the right direction and look upon the under world of that industry. I mean the untold or the incredible of what noone want to speak about!. Ouch I have some nightmares! and some dreams!

 

that in my part of views seen from my eyes. lets classify it as an Xfile! OK I ain't here to scare people off!.

 

D

post #13 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thank you all very much for the responses.

 

I'm going to be applying for some positions in a kitchen this month for the summer when school is not in session and would very much appreciate some advice on how to secure a job.

 

-When applying, should I call ahead first and schedule a time with the chef to meet or does showing up unannounced suffice if I'm dropping off an application and a resume?

 

-When dropping the resume/application off, what exactly is proper attire? A nice shirt and khakis? I feel like I would rather be over dressed to show that I care about the position than to show up in jeans and a T-shirt which screams 'I don't care.'

 

-I plan on explaining my situation, a summarized version of this, as to not take up his entire day! Is there anything, any topic, I should focus on more? Stressing that I want to learn the ins and outs of a professional kitchen and being genuine seems like a good route.

 

-I know I won't be landing a position on the line because I have no prior experience but I'm somewhat fearful of being stuck as a dishwasher where the time constraints, several months during the summer while I'm home from school, would limit how much I could learn / experience in a kitchen. I'd like to know what you all think about this; what position should I apply for?

 

-What is the optimal time to visit a restaurant to speak with the chef? I would think that it would be between 2:00 and 3:30 but would like clarification.

 

Any and all advice, tips, tricks, etc. is welcomed with open arms as I can and will utilize every bit of information this community can offer.

 

Again thank you all for the replies, I very much appreciate the responses from every single one of you and would love to hear more in regards to the original post as well as on the topic of applying for jobs.

 

I hope this post finds all of you in good health,

 

N

post #14 of 28
You start as a dishwasher. Do not underestimate what you can learn from any position( or person). You may understand something about the fundamentals of cooking, but you will never understand what it means to actually work in a restaurant until you have done it. Dishwasher is the perfect place to start to learn the dynamics of relationships in the kitchen( one of the most important being respect for what they actually do). This gives you the opportunity to show that you can work with speed, & show a willingness to work. If you have talents that can be utilized in the kitchen it will happen. Provided you keep those dishes caught up. Most places I've been expect dishwashers to do some sort of prep if they are able.
Gotta go now, more on this later
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
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A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
post #15 of 28
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of dishwashers to a kitchen. When you are down a cook, everybody steps up and gets the job done. Sure, the stress level goes up a bit, but you get through it no problem. Take out a dishwasher & all hell breaks loose. You're deep in the weeds, out of saute pans, out of plates, servers yelling for silver, much higher stress level! These are the most important people in the kitchen.

That being said, if your aspirations are to be a chef you need to experience EVERYTHING that you can. Change jobs every two years, work in a greasy spoon, corporate QSR, fine dining, hotels, even fast food. Each presents a different set of challenges and offer valuable bits of experience and knowledge that you cannot glean any other way. Remember a chef's main duty is to effectively use their resources to satisfy their clientele and provide profit to the owner. When you've walked a mile in everyone's shoes and learned respect for every position then you will have the wisdom to truly and effectively utilize your resources.

Forgive me for making assumptions here, but I really hope that you don't have the attitude that you are too good for certain positions or jobs. It's an attitude that I have no respect for, nor does it have a place in my kitchen( at least when I get another shot at the top spot!). Just because I spent the day grilling prime steaks, it doesn't make my contributions to society any better than the guy scrubbing the plates or the guy down the street flipping burgers.

On to your queries...
Is gonna be different for every chef of they want to talk to you before reviewing your app or not. I typically will drop off an app and resume with the hostess or manger to pass to the chef( always mid afternoon & if the place looks like it may be busy I return some other time) After a few days I will call and ask if he's had time to review my information and hopefully set an interview.

I drop off the app dressed casually, but nice. For an interview I will dress formally.

Really you are looking for an entry level position in an industry that is the nation's largest employer of entry level and unskilled labor. I realized that Times are tough and jobs are hard up come by, but don't over think this.

Follow your heart and your aim will always be true.
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
post #16 of 28
Thread Starter 

Let me apologize if I came off as 'too good' for a position as this is not the case at all. I have all the respect in the world for this position and I hope that I didn't seem crass in my last post. What i was trying to get at is that with the given time I'm home from school, given I can't find a job in the city where the university is, that I won't be able to move up the brigade far enough to actually get cooking experience. I realize 150% that a dishwasher is the first step is pursuing the career path that I'm interested in and is an admirable, key component to the kitchen, I've held that job title before. I would like to know what to put in on the 'position applying for' section of the application. Should I put in 'dishwasher,' 'prep-cook,' or 'any available?'

 

What I'm scared of is the time I'm actually available to work whilst going to school. I would love to get in to a restaurant and work my way up the brigade but this takes time, more than the three months I have during a summer break. Experiencing and learning every position in a kitchen is vital so what would be the best route in a situation where I would basically get trained in and be leaving to return again over breaks to follow?

 

I have a potential job down around my school at a little bar and grill that I'm thinking about pursuing. I also plan on, within the next two weeks, tailoring my resume and applying to four restaurants around my home city, two that are close by and two that are downtown. I also have an uncle that owns a restaurant downtown and could potentially have an in there. What do you all think of 'job shadowing/ a chef or line cook? I feel like staging around here may be frowned upon because of the liability it can carry. Would spending a day with someone in the industry to ask them questions and see what they do be beneficial or would I just be a cumbersome obstacle for them to try to work around?

 

Thank you again, Sparkie, for the responses but let me take this time to thank everyone who has posted. I look forward to hearing more from all of you concerning anything that I've questioned or any information you find pertinent and deem worthwhile knowing.

 

Let me apologize one last time if I came off with an elitist demeanor; I truly do not harbor that attitude and I value an honest, hard day's work. I hope that I explained my viewpoint as to make it a little clearer. If anything I've said seems 'cocky,' chauvinistic, I apologize and that is not who I am in any way, shape, or form. If I've come off as any of that please forgive me, it's my wording and I know sometimes a textual medium of communication can be a little off-putting in the way that it exaggerates perceived inflection and skews the denotative and connotative elements used.

 

I hope all of you the best. Thank you so much for the replies,

 

N

post #17 of 28

Just put down 'any available', you'll have an opportunity to clarify your goals when you speak with the Chef.

As far as 'shadowing' a chef? I'd say it couldn't hurt if you aren't able to stage. This is a crazy career, and you should know what you're
getting yourself into.

post #18 of 28

Here is what I`ve discovered after 35 yrs in this business. "If you find a jod that you are passionate about, you`ll never go to WORK a day in your life".

 I`ve helped Oil drillers, young people,stock brokers, and even board house wives find their passion and made them a Chefs. At your age life is all ahead of you and you have time to figure it all out. Food service can take its toll on you and your body and may not earn tons of money. but then again ability and passion are what has made all wealthy people wealthy.

 Culinary education can give you knowledge, but real life experience is what makes you valueable.

post #19 of 28

Here's some free advice, take it for what it's worth.wink.gif  Finish your current semester of school.  Study hard and keep decent grades.  Get a restaurant job at semester or when summer rolls around.  If you wait til summer, be careful not to waste the semester in between.  Plan on working for the summer at least, but seriously consider taking a full year.  You're very young and in the grand scheme of things a year is nothing.  Don't sleepwalk thru college, piling up loans with no clear idea what you'll do. 

 

A year in the kitchen won't necessarily tell you if it's going to be your life's work but it sure as h3ll can tell you if it ain't!  If you're burned out and unhappy after a year then formulate a different plan.  Restaurant work is too hard and requires too many sacrifices to do it if your heart's not in it.  And it doesn't pay well enough to bother if you don't love it.

 

I don't know how to advise you on culinary school.  I learned everything at OTJ University.  If I'd realized when I was 22 that I'd still be doing this at 42 I probably would have went to school for culinary arts instead of IT & business.  If you do go, I agree you should go to a good school.  I've hired and worked with a lot of kids that came from "diploma mills" and they basically wasted $45k and two years.  IIRC a few have even won class action lawsuits vs the worst of these mills.  No matter what school you attend much (probably most) of your real learning will take place under the first couple of Chef's you work under.

 

You're wise to take such a reasoned look "behind the curtains" before leaping.  Best of luck to you.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #20 of 28

1 word:Apprenticeship

 

Get out there and find out if you really like it.  Like everything else, it takes a commitment and sacrifice.  I don't know what it is like in the U.S for anyone who wants to start in the culinary world, but up here, there are a lot of dues to pay.  And you don't get paid Jack S#!t. 

 

A lot of chefs I know worked their way up from the "trenches", scrubbing pots, and getting screamed at for plates, and they are probably the best chefs I know.  I find that people who get into a culinary school right after high school have overly arrogant attitudes and can't produce a thing, and the people that work an then go to school know what it is to actually be a chef.

 


 

A limb on a tree and a tree in a hole and a hole in the blog and the blog down in the valley-o!

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A limb on a tree and a tree in a hole and a hole in the blog and the blog down in the valley-o!

Reply
post #21 of 28

Unfortunatly the schools paint visions of sugarplums in the students heads. They will tell you what you want to hear and do anything it takes to enroll you(some even play hard to get in game) . Believe me as a former instructor in culinary schools its all for  the almighty $$$$$.

 

Remember it is not the school, IT IS YOU the school only plays small part.

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 #22 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the continued responses, I still look forward to hearing more from every one

post #23 of 28

Well... 

 

One bit of advice, particularly from my Exec Chef... What you will get from school is a decent foundation and a piece of paper... a very expensive piece of paper. I personally worked my way up the ladder from dishwasher at 14 to prep cook etc. If you are a bit older, the foundation you will get in school is invaluable, knowing basic procedures, knife skills, even some basic accounting with food cost...

 

I have my Bull Sh** in Culinary Arts Management from UNLV... did the degree get me my current job and help me move up the ladder to where I am? No... my prior experience helped me do that... however, in school I did learn a lot more about the business side and the "nerdy" side of things (which I REALLY enjoy and got me the nickname Einstein Jr.) and my passion for Distilled Spirits.

 

Is there low pay? Yes... can you get by? Generally. Do I love what I do and going to work 99% of the time, you sure as hell better believe it. I work 6 days a week, 10-16 hours a day 75% of the year and 4 the other 25% barely getting 40 hours... Can you get by just doing 40 hours and the bare minimum? Yes, I work with plenty of them... but those will be the people that will stay cooks for 10 years... but if they're happy with that, that's all on them... If you're willing to put in the hours and work you can get up the ladder and have fun while doing it along the way

 

Am I politically correct in this case? No... is it what I've seen as the truth, yep.

 

It's not the life for everyone... that much has been seen as we go through our interns who look at what the chefs do and the more dedicated supervisors, CIA and otherwise.

 

Do what makes you happy though, that's all that matters.

post #24 of 28

I can give an honest opinion on this I think. I was going to school for a degree that while useful was not right for me. I stopped going to school a little after and started working more.

 

I felt the same as you, i liked cooking but wanted more so I decided to take the plunge and talked to restaurants and finally a local chef came back to me while i was working another job at a grocery store and asked if I would like to come work.

 

I started as a dishwasher 3 years ago.

 

Since that time I worked my way to doing desserts and salads, then to fry/grill, and finally saute. My former boss sold his stake in the restaurant and has since moved on but we had a big turnover in the kitchen and I now am in charge of ordering, menus, scheduling, costs, cleaning, everything. I still do my normal prep like I did before to get ready for service and I still run the line and scrub the floors when we are done at the end of the night. I've been running the kitchen for 9 months so far. I'm exhausted, but still chugging along.

 

I can have the worst day but when I hear that a customer said their food was awesome or I see someone smile when they eat something everything is a little better.

 

I say take the plunge. You are going to get burned, cut, scarred. You will have days you dread and just absolutely don't look forward too and you will also have those soaring days where everything goes out perfect and smoothly.

At the end of everyday I can genuinely say I like what I do, to me that makes the bad qualities bearable. Not too many professions will leave you with that feeling. Just find the right kitchen with people who care and it will be amazing.

post #25 of 28
Thread Starter 

Here's a quick question:

 

Let's say I get the job, should I have my own knives? If so will a french and a parring knife do me fine and what would be a good knife to start with. I know this is a varied and widely  opinionated topic but surely there must be a decent starters knife. My knife skills are there, getting better, but I still have a long ways to go.

 

Thanks again for all the responses, as always - looking forward to hearing much more

 

Cheers,

 

N

post #26 of 28
I've only had two jobs where you where required to have your own knives. In one the chef issued a knife to those without; if you can't return in acceptable working order at the end of the season, you buy it. So.... no you really don't need them. In fact, as far as my experiences go, most people do not bring their own knives to work. I do and have always said that if you want to use nice, properly maintained tools, bring your own.

There are enough discussions on knives( from every perspective) here to make your head explode. Try searching these if you're interested. 10" chefs and pairing is all you really " need". What I've done is add pieces as necessary as jobs and duty change. Whenever I notice I'm using something a lot and the cash is there to get it, I add it to my case.
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.  - Al E
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.  - Ben Franklin
Reply
post #27 of 28

I started with an 8" chef's knife and a paring. I've since added a 6" utility knife and a cheap Sysco bread knife.

 

The things I use quite a bit that I've also picked up are a pair of long locking tongs,a fish spatula with a handle that doesn't get hot, and a vegetable peeler that feels comfortable.

Those are my absolute basics. It all depends on the job really.

post #28 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodnfoto View Post

Do not, whatever you choose, do not, pick up and run to New York with the idea of getting a job as a commis or line cook as soon as you land.

Take these few facts into account-

1. In the current economy, food service establishments are going out of business right and left. For evidence, go to NY Craigslist and check out the listings of restaurants and equipment for sale and auction.

2. Every 3 months or so, the CIA (1 1/2 hours north of NYC) graduates (AKA spits out) several hundred wannabe chefs who head straight for the city only to find the only jobs available to them start at about $12.00 per hour.

3. NYC (including all 5 boroughs) is still experiencing a significant contraction of employment. Why do you think Columbia grads are spending time in Zucotti Park at the Occupy Wall Street protests? This is happening, most importantly, in the financial services sector. These are the people who eat out at restaurants. When this sector loses 10 jobs, restaurant jobs decline by 50.

 

I applaud your desire to pursue your passion. However, you are 19 and need to gain some perspective on how that passion can be utilized most effectively. To gain perspective, an education is important. Believe me, if memorizing facts and figures is tedious now, you will find that learning and remembering all the formulas you need for food production will be just as tedious. The reality is that once you land a job as a prep or line cook, you will NOT  be "using your creativity" to make diners happy. You will be preparing someone else's recipes and formulations and expected to do it perfectly the same 12 hour day after 12 hour day-all for about 10-12 an hour with no benefits. 

 

The thing is, you cannot know at this point in your life, how a liberal arts education can enrich your life as a chef. The best chefs out there have an expanded view of the world beyond the kitchen and dining room. Read bios of some of the most creative, Dan Barber, Jeremiah Tower, Alice Waters, Marcus Samuelsson, just to pull a few out of my hat. They are educated people who use that education to enrich and give depth to their pursuits in the culinary world. Take it from someone who has been in the business for a while. One of the most boring people you will ever meet is the chef whose only life/work experience is restaurant kitchens and the latest dish they plated. I can't tell you how my eyes glaze over when I have to interview these chowderheads. 

 

There are many, many vocations in the food industry that do not involve cooking in a restaurant kitchen. Check out www.goodfoodjobs.com to get a sense of what some of the others are.

Then, suck it up, enrich your brain in college, cook for all your friends in the meantime, read every cookbook you can get your hands on, work in restaurants during the summer (though try to find one with some kind of unique identity) and then pursue a culinary career. 

 

 

My aged advice: Read foodnfoto's posting again and again and again. It is spot-on !  Based on your posts, it's very clear that you are quite unhappy with where you're at in your life. You have an interest in joining the "glamorous culinary" industry without really knowing anything about it. For very few, very special, extraordinarily talented people, the industry, on some days, is glamorous. For most, it is hard, often heartbreaking/backbreaking labor.  Do your best in school. Take a part time job, if you can get one, at your school's food service consolidated kitchen. See what it's like in a working kitchen. Then, during the summer, look for a kitchen job at a seasonal resort that looks for college student workers with some food service experience. Don't look for a reason to quit school.
 

 

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