or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Line Cook in Need of Career Advice
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Line Cook in Need of Career Advice

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

First off, thank you to anyone for taking the time to read this and respond.

 

I am in a little bit of a pickle and I am trying to take that "next step" in my career. I'm 23 years old and have been cooking for the last 3 years. I started cooking at a fairly well known whole hog barbecue restaurant here in North Carolina that would regularly do upwards of 600 to 700 covers a night. It was an awesome first kitchen job, in my opinion, because even though there wasn't much "actual" line cooking, it taught me to work fast, quick, and clean. I learned basic knife skills and eventually how to saute and grill. Nothing super fancy or intensive but I spent a year there and enjoyed my experience.

 

After that, I moved down to New Orleans on a whim in order to further pursue cooking. I lucked out and ended up working for a really great Chef in an awesome restaurant. My first actual fine dining job and I learned so much in that time, as far as improving my knife skills, how to actually cook vegetables, stocks, different proteins, pastas. Everything from scratch, focused on good, local produce that's available in Louisiana & with a menu that was printed daily - so I got to see a lot of different plate ups and work with different ingredients. I started working garde mange and eventually ended up working all the stations in the kitchen. I worked there for most of 2011 and I owe that Chef a lot. He had confidence in my abilities when I didn't. I honestly believe it is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans today and it has been recognized in 2012 by the local paper (Times Picayune) as a top 10 restaurant in the city.

 

2012 is when things went a little wrong.

 

My Chef in New Orleans partnered up with a newly opened hotel downtown on Canal St. - and was in charge of all the food for the hotel as well as a new restaurant within the hotel. The original focus was a more upscale, tasting menu only restaurant that focused on Southern cuisine (a passion of mine). It was an extremely educational experience for me - my first time helping open a restaurant, seeing menu development, and working in a hotel. The kitchen staff was awesome from bottom to top there and in my opinion, we were cooking some of the best food in the city. But there were a lot of problems as well. The restaurant opening kept being pushed back because of construction issues and it was poorly promoted. The location proved to be a problem as well, the dining room was extremely odd and open to the rest of the hotel lobby and the hotel was extremely poorly managed. We weren't doing very much business and just losing money left and right. After 4 months my Chef decided to break his lease with the hotel and close the restaurant.

 

I got a job shortly after with another very nice restaurant in New Orleans, serving the same level of food, but after 2 months my lease was up in New Orleans and I felt like it was a bit of a toxic environment for me. New Orleans can be a hard city to live in, especially if you're young and have no family or support group there.

 

I had the opportunity to move out to Southern California and I took it, thinking it would be a nice change of pace. Palm trees, sea breeze, fresh seafood etc.

 

It was a frustrating experience. I ended up working in 3 different restaurants during the 6 months I was out there. The majority of the time, working two jobs just in order to get the hours I wanted and to keep my head above water financially. Things just didn't work out for me - from the first job, an upscale French restaurant charging $40-50 a plate where there was constant shoemaking (I saw cooks pick dropped proteins off the floor at least 5 times) and they treated their kitchen like shit, including illegal pay practices like not paying overtime. The second was a more casual gastropub that focused on Southern food, where there were no reservations and on a slow night, we'd do 200 covers. The third was a more upscale, Asian influenced California restaurant, where after a month of working the Chef told me he wasn't even on speaking terms with the owner, and that they had got an eviction notice from their landlord and were going to be closing by the end of the year.

 

I decided the West Coast wasn't for me and have just moved back home to North Carolina. But my resume is kind of a mess right now, because of all the moving around I've done - and I understand why a lot of Chefs would see that as a huge red flag. I don't regret any of my decisions - I'm young and I have and will continue to make mistakes, and it's helped me focus on what I want to do as a cook. This is a career thing for me and so getting to see all those different kitchens has been very educational to me.

 

But right now I want to make a long term commitment and spend at LEAST a year in the next kitchen I work in, and I want to cook the absolute best food possible. At the same time, I want to work in restaurant that is very connected to its surrounding area and community. I had some initial hesitation when I first started working fine dining, because growing up I'd never had multi-course meals or anything of that sort, and the pricing seemed outrageous to me. That's changed now, and I honestly believe it is the best environment to grow as a cook, as far as technical skills, ingredients, good habits, attention to detail etc.

 

To give you an idea of the places that I'm interested in working in - my two dream jobs at the moment would be at the Fearrington House here in North Carolina or at Blackberry Farms in Tenn. I've never been to culinary school and with only 3 years of cooking experience, I realize I am drastically underqualified to work at places like that. I also realize that there is massive room for improvement in me as far as being a cook. There is so much that I want to get better at. I want to be faster, cleaner, more precise as a line cook, I want to learn more about butchering - of all sorts -, handling fish, making pasta. I'd love to learn how to bake bread and I'd even like to work pastry for a little while, in order to help me improve as a line cook.

 

I'm hungry and I love to work and I love doing this. I'm not stupid - I didn't get into cooking for the money, and I would genuinely work at restaurants of that caliber for free - but I'm not sure they'd accept someone without schooling for an internship. I'm just not sure how to proceed. I'm confident I could find work in local kitchens serving some very good food, but like I said, I want to cook the very best food possible and push myself - and I want to make a long term commitment and not keep f'ing short timing.

 

So yeah, long rant I know, but I appreciate any sort of career advice.

post #2 of 13

Question:  If you already knew all that and could open your own restaurant next week, what type would it be?  What would you serve?

post #3 of 13
First things first update yor resume and make a cover letter ask the next employer to take you in as an apprentice and go to school part-time. You are young and able to do it. hopefully you can afford a little schooling. Work your ass off when you are young go to school. ?......:-)call your apprenticeship board in you city have fun....
post #4 of 13

Type up your resume and head over to Fearington House. Talk to the chef. Let him decide whether or not you have the experience he needs. 

Sounds to me like you have the right attitude. If you don't give it a chance you will never know. If you've read other threads here, you will know that number of years does not necessarily equal greatness. Tell the chef what you have told us, but with less words of course.

You should make out fine.

And for what it's worth, you moved where you did to gain a different perspective. No harm in that. That's what you do when young.

Be positive. 

post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Raibeaux View Post

Question:  If you already knew all that and could open your own restaurant next week, what type would it be?  What would you serve?

 

An interesting question - and one that I've put some thought in. Part of the reason for me moving down to New Orleans was to figure out if I actually want to do something like that. I'm very much an "all or nothing" type person, and in my opinion, there's no real point spending the prime years of your life cooking professionally if you don't plan on being a chef. While I think it's a long, long ways off - the main appeal of being a chef/owner would be independence. I.E, the freedom to cook what you want, with the cooks you want, and provide the service you want. Of course you are never exactly free or independent when you own a business, but that's the idea.

 

I'm a big fan of the Joe Beef cookbook/restaurant (although I've never eaten there, to be honest). I like their outlook on the restaurant business and food in general. Not to say I want to serve French or Quebecois food - but I respect that they serve the food they want and are very much connected with their local tradition/culture and cuisine.

 

I hate to use generic terms, but I honestly want to do nothing but line cook for the next few years, and would not think of opening my own restaurant within the next 10. But some things I would like to do:

 

- Provide a warm, inviting interior and service. That's most important overall to me. I enjoy fine dining a lot as far as the food in concerned, but honestly, as far as my background goes, even at some of the places I've worked at - I feel very uncomfortable and out of place at a lot of the "finer" restaurants. It's a fine line to walk but I would like to have a restaurant where all types feel welcomed. Not a "jacket only" type place. One of my biggest pet peeves is working at a restaurant where servers come back to the kitchen and start complaining about how uneducated or stupid certain guests are because they might not know of certain ingredients or how to pronounce different dishes. That 'ish wouldn't fly with me. Not only are they paying their bills but they're keeping all of us in business

 

- I'm a big fan of market driven cuisine/menu's in general, because it keeps it interesting for the kitchen, servers and guests. But it's a fine line to walk as well. I know from first hand experience it can really suck not knowing two of your dishes an hour before service - and it can affect the quality of food as well - so I would maybe aim for a bimonthly menu to reflect local changes in produce with daily App. or Entree specials as well to keep it interesting. I wouldn't want any entrees over $30 on my menu and probably would max out on $12 or $13 for appetizers. The food would have a very much Southern basis but I would have no issues incorporating different ingredients or techniques from other cuisines. Basically whatever keeps me and my staff engaged and excited about the food - that is most important. I wouldn't want anybody cooking in my restaurant that isn't absolutely 100% excited with what they're doing.

 

I'd like to have a 3 course lunch option as well as a 5 course dinner option (with wine pairings)

 

I'd have no issue using sous vide - I feel there are a lot of good uses in the kitchen. But in my opinion a lot of people take it too far. I've seen folks break down a whole suckling pig and circulate the different parts. That makes no damn sense to me and makes me want to cry. I've worked at places where they circulate scrambled eggs. Again, WTF? For long braises like duck confit or pork belly, I think circulator are wonderful. I would be against circulating any proteins where it wasn't necessary - I.E. the use of tranny/meat glue. I'd like to cook all proteins from raw whenever possible.

 

- Bread is very important to me. I love bread and I think it's crucial in a restaurant. Starting out with good bread can make or break a good meal in my opinion. I'd like to have house made bread served warm to every single table if possible.

 

- A strong bar program. Not so much for cocktails but as far as craft beers and a good wine list. I don't really know anything about wine and that's something I want to learn more about, but it's obviously extremely important for a restaurant - not just for sales #'s but atmosphere/experience wise as well.

 

- I'd like to have a certain portion of the dining room for walk-in's only. Maybe communal tables? The idea of a no reservation restaurant is appealing to me but can be a nightmare when it comes down to a busy service.


Edited by NorthCack - 1/21/13 at 8:32pm
post #6 of 13
I might be going into left field here but have you thought of serving? Working out front to gain more knowledge on that part of the restaurant. (I.e. Wine parrings, costumer flows, restaurant flows.) Why I say this is because you can make a lot of money very quickly as a server. And learn a lot too. Then maybe find yourself in college for cooking?
post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by arugula View Post

I might be going into left field here but have you thought of serving? Working out front to gain more knowledge on that part of the restaurant. (I.e. Wine parrings, costumer flows, restaurant flows.) Why I say this is because you can make a lot of money very quickly as a server. And learn a lot too. Then maybe find yourself in college for cooking?


Thank you for the reply.

 

I do agree you can learn a lot about restaurants in the FOH that you don't necessarily pick up when you're in the kitchen. But I'm a cook through and through. I don't deal well with small talk or really people in general. I got started in fast food working registers and honestly, dealing with people stresses me out and tires me more than a 16 hour shift in a kitchen. I get off on the rush of service and love to work with my hands and always be busy. It would be informative but I would not make the greatest server for sure.

 

I'm living rent free now that I'm back home so I'm not particularly strapped for cash.

 

On the issue of the school - I am not the world's best student. I dropped out of High School when I was 16 and while I have my GED, getting into any college would be a serious struggle for me. Not to say the culinary school is useless, but personally I would rather learn on the job. The biggest bonus of attending culinary school would be the connections/externships.

post #8 of 13

The culinary school I went to offers a certificate program for Sous Chef, it's just a few classes, and the school doesn't discriminate against GED's, they even offer GED programs. It's all the way in Upstate NY though, so I'm not sure if you're willing to relocate. Also, school isn't a necessity in this field, you can learn on the job, but you have to be willing, which sounds like you are. 

 

I feel you dude about your work experience... 2011 was the worst year for employment for me. I lost my job in March, and bounced around restaurants the entire year, wound up giving my accountant 15 W-2's (he hated me!). What the heck was I going to put on my resume for that year?! I had to be very clever if I didn't want employers thinking I was unreliable. In 2012 I had two jobs, and today in 2013, I've relocated to Boston, struggling to find work (I have 10 years line work experience, 2 degrees, and I'm trying to make the jump from line cook to Sous Chef... tough trick).

 

The best thing to do about your experience is during the interview or in you cover letter, write or say a brief statement about how you took advantage of your youth by traveling and experiencing different restaurants and cuisine styles, you are just trying to find your niche. Learn to take your negatives and weaknesses, and turn them into opportunities, strengths, and positives. Like for me, I'm telling employers that although I do not have much Sous Chef experience, my education, passion, and work ethic allow them to mold me into the Sous Chef they want. (Not to mention they can pay me a little less)

 

Good Luck in your adventures! :-)

post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sara57 View Post

The culinary school I went to offers a certificate program for Sous Chef,...

I would like to see the curriculum for that certificate!

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

I would like to see the curriculum for that certificate!

here's the link, I apologize it is for "Assistant Chef" not "Sous Chef," but I'm assuming it's the same. http://www.sunysccc.edu/academic/courses/programs/prog31.html

 

Also, I noticed you were a personal chef, how did you get into that line of work? I would love to get into that line of work, and am interested in learning how. Have you heard of the culinstas?

post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

I would like to see the curriculum for that certificate!

 

My thoughts exactly, seems like a very mis-leading "program" 

post #12 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sara57 View Post
...Also, I noticed you were a personal chef, how did you get into that line of work? I would love to get into that line of work, and am interested in learning how....

See your PM

 

BTW, IMHO, chef, and the variations are titles, similar to manager, vice president, etc., and have little relationship to technical competency. One does not gain a title by education, one gains a title from others as a result of demonstrated ability.

 

A good example: a personal chef is a cook who runs a business that serves multiple clients by cooking in their homes to meet their individual wants and needs and includes far more than culinary skills including sales, customer service, marketing, advertising, accounting, etc.


Edited by PeteMcCracken - 2/1/13 at 4:34pm
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sara57 View Post

here's the link, I apologize it is for "Assistant Chef" not "Sous Chef," but I'm assuming it's the same. http://www.sunysccc.edu/academic/courses/programs/prog31.html

 

Also, I noticed you were a personal chef, how did you get into that line of work? I would love to get into that line of work, and am interested in learning how. Have you heard of the culinstas?

Have you been pounding the ground in Boston? there's tons of Sous jobs out there right now, as well as some Junior Sous Chef jobs in the area, as well.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Professional Chefs
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Line Cook in Need of Career Advice