Originally Posted by jchornsey
Jake - Yeah, I had read some of the other threads, but everything I found was "I'm in High School and looking for a college.', etc. I did take a look at those two links, by the way. VERY informative and really have made me think this through a lot more.
Is that a pipe dream, or is that a fairly realistic expectation?
I don't usually post personal info publicly on any forum, but here goes. I don't know how much you know, so if I repeat things you already know, sorry.
I'm older than you, and also considered a career change into food service. My wife went to the Cordon Bleu in London, and we both consider ourselves handy in the kitchen. My background is in design, and have been involved in designing restaurants and hospitality (hotels, resorts), I love food and it's preparation and have been doing it seriously for over 12 years, so going into the culinary world seemed like a natural fit.
I knew a guy at our farmers market woked in a Tom Colicchio restaurant as a line cook, and asked him if he could get me in the door. He did, and I staged there for free for three weeks. I gave them 10 hours the first day (most of it watching the line work), and then worked between 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I learned a lot. However, what made the biggest impression to me was that it's a young man's profession. All of them spent at minimum three years before getting on the line to actually cook, let alone become the exec chef or the guy calling out the orders and running the kitchen. I was the oldest person there, and the head chef was 34. They all worked 10-12 hours a day, and those two links I posted pretty much summed up my experience. It is very, very hard work, with no free time, for a small return on investment. If I were 30 I'd give it a go, but I realized that the dream of owning and running a restaurant for profit was at minimum 5-7 years away, if I could find investors, and I don't even know the business side of it. I can't afford that and don't know if my body can take it. I really admire guys that do it for a living.
Many of them went to culinary school, some did not, but every one of them emphasized that hard work and determination is what gets you through to the next level. Guys would spend 2 years as a prep cook before even getting an opportunity to get on the line, and culinary school grads usually put in 6 months to a year before getting a shot - although they start right away on the garde manger station (salads, cold apps, etc.). You pick up knowledge and put it in your bag of tricks along the way.
I started doing really simple things, but toward the end they let me do more extensive prep because of my knowledge and knife skill level (I took one guy by surprise when I sliced the tops of baby fennel into paper thin garnishes)- and asking the right questions. Like "how much color do you want on this roux?" Also, remembering ingredients when they rattle them off to you, and seasoning something to their liking. Everyday I was given more complex tasks. Maybe it was because I was relatively fast with my knife.
In the end, if you study like hell and think like a chef in your own kitchen(which is totally different than a commercial kitchen), based on my experience, you could probably skip culinary school, but you'd have to home school yourself in traditional techniques while working as a prep cook and listen and learn hard and fast while there. Try emailing restaurants, stopping by kitchens after lunch and before dinner service, and ask to speak to the chef in charge if you can stage. If you listen, work hard, and take direction well, they might offer you a job.
Also, If you are financially stable, and have no need to save for retirement or have kids to put through college, then by all means, go for it. Unless you have some kind of safety net, I'd think long and hard about it.
And by the way, I live in NYC, and am telling you things I've repeated to myself for over a month since I interned at the kitchen.
Sorry for the long post.