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I am inching my way into the kitchen, and I need some serious advice....

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

I am in need of some desperate direction for what to do with my future.


I graduated from college in Maryland with a degree in English. I quickly moved out to a small town in North Idaho, where I began cooking in an organic food co*op. This is nothing like a line, though I understood this slowly. I realized I wanted to actively pursue cooking after 5 or so months working at this place which is basically like a glorified cafeteria (we put out soups, and a "hot bar" throughout the day.)

I asked around about becoming a stage. My location does not offer me much as there are only about 4 really nice restaurants in the area, but I started about a month ago doing one shift a week at a place in my town. I really love it, and it is offering me some great advice, and experience. However, I fear it is only preparing me for that particular kitchen, and to be honest I haven't had too much one on one time with the head chef. I am grateful that they allow me to come help for that shift, and I bust my ass to try and stand out. With all that being said, I am moving to Chicago in August where I believe things will really kick into overdrive, but this is where I start to get shaky. 


I know that I do not have intense experience, so what do I do? I am seriously hindered by my location. Once I get to Chicago, what is my first step toward truly experiencing the cooking world, and how do I prepare myself to work on a line? There are a lot of jobs and fantastic restaurants in that area. How do I even get a second glance? I didn't attend culinary school, I have limited stage experience, and I'm 24 (is that old in this world?)


Any and all advice would be amazing. I would be grateful for any tips, and if any Chicago chefs know somewhere to look... any direction that would be fantastic. I know these are loaded questions and this is a lot to look at, but anything at all is better than nothing. 


Thank you Chefs,


post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 

Also, I apologize if this is in the wrong thread... I was not sure where to post that sort of inquiry. 

post #3 of 9
Lie about your experience. There's a philosophy in the restaurant industry. Fake it until
You make it. But make it right everytime. Most restaurants have such a high turnover that names get forgotten. I've been in the kitchen for 12 years and see it all the time. Eventually you'll find a chef that continues your education.
post #4 of 9

In my opinion, lying about your experience is extremely, horribly bad advice. You're setting yourself up for failure. When you go down in flames on a station because the chef thought you'd be able to handle it based on your false statement, he or she will know something's up. Might even get you fired.

Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
post #5 of 9

Is your moving date to Chicago flexible? It sounds like you have a potential "in" at a place right now where you can gain some real experience. Why not stay the course at this place, move up, learn, hopefully get a good reference, and then move. Things can happen fast in a kitchen, all it takes is one person to quit and before you know it you're no longer washing dishes you're plating desserts, and then you're working the cold line, then someone needs a day off and you're on a hot station, etc. etc. Might be one shift a week right now, but before you know it you could be on the hot side full time. Learn and read as much as you can about the techniques they use in the kitchen, they can all be applied to other situations outside of this one kitchen. If they're making a stock for instance, don't just take note of the ingredients and their methods but follow up why they use those specific methods, what are they trying to accomplish by doing it their way?

post #6 of 9

Never, ever lie about your experience. There is no need to and along with your experience you are building a reputation. 

You should take advantage of the internet before getting to Chicago. Research where the top restaurants are. They will have menus and contact information on their web sites. Pick a few whose menus are ones you would like to learn.  Write a brief, positive, professional letter to the chef or owner stating who you are and what you are interested in, when you will be arriving in Chicago and that you will be stopping by to see them. 

Mail it early enough to allow a reply before your Chicago arrival. You may or may not get a reply before you leave. It may be by phone, email or post. When you get to Chicago, visit the restaurants. Introduce yourself. Visit all of the ones you wrote to so you can see if the place matches your expectations. Bring your resume. Be prepared for rejection. Be prepared to begin work immediately. 

24 is not too old. That idea stems from the european apprenticeships that used to begin at 13 or 14. No one in the US expects you to have much experience at 18 unless your relatives had a restaurant. So your age should not be a concern. 

You do not prepare yourself to work a line station. The chef you work for prepares you. You listen, work hard and do what you are told. 

Don't expect the chef to take you under his or her wing. They will be aware of your activities regardless. Learn all you can while there. 

The culinary/foodservice world is vast, including private clubs, fine dining, institutional settings and much, much more. You may go in directions you did not see coming. Don't worry too much. As the years pass, you will begin to realize how far you have come and understand how little you know relative to what there is to know. But you are just beginning and the most important step you have already taken. You have consciously decided you enjoy working in kitchens. Enjoy the rest of the journey. 

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much for these quick responses. I feel like I have stepped into an entire new universe, and with that comes a great deal of confusion. 


I have to leave for Chicago by August. Recently, I learned that a cook from the restaurant may have a sous chef job along the coast of Oregon which could potentially leave a spot for me on grill station. I'm not entirely sure of that, and it seems like a stretch. 


I was wondering if anyone could list some essential books I should read while I'm in my current town. 


Thank you all again.



post #8 of 9

Fake it till you make it. Probably the best advice. I know its intimidating lying about experiance and you think to yourself "What if on my first day they will ask to make a beurre blanc or blanch some vegs!" 


Heres your advantage! No matter if you have been line cooking for 1 year or 20 years when you start a new place they will train you how they do things, exactly how they want down to how you place the chicken on the grill or the sprig of parsley on the plate. If asked to do something you have never done, just say hey ive never done this! Restaurants are so different that is very common even for a seasoned cook. I have been cooking for 5 years and the place I am at now is the first place I have cooked Seabass and Filets for service. The other places simply just did not offer those choices so I simply have never done it before then. No one questioned my ability or experience as a cook. 

post #9 of 9

Honesty works best. Here in town it's so small thst everyone seems to know everyone. Lie about working at a MGM/Mirage property can screw you for hire at ALL their properties. Same goes for Caesar's Entertainment, Station Casinos, etc..


With that being said, ou can start in a learning kitchen (say the EDR) and move to room service before htting a restaurant as prep/relief line cook. From there is master cook in the same kitchen or banquets. Chef Tournant is around the corner from there. All this can be done in 3-4 years. I'v seen it happen. Now if you thnk that it's too long to go from limited experience to essentially sous chef in 4 years...

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