or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Culinary Students › Choosing A Culinary School › I am a Software Engineer wanting to be a chef
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

I am a Software Engineer wanting to be a chef

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I live in San Francisco and earn a six figure salary but, I am not happy with my job. I just do it for the money. I love cooking and I know being a chef will make me happy despite the lower income. I have been researching on the internet and have come across the names of some good schools like ALMA, Le Cordon Bleu etc.

 

I have also come to know that culinary schools in Europe are way better than the ones in the States. Hence, I am in a dilemma, whether to save some money first, quit my job and move to Europe to pursue my dream or to stay in the States, attend a school part time and get a degree. Maybe you good people out there can help me with reviews on good schools **in and out of the USA.** I am also open to hear about culinary schools in Asia. Anywhere in the world, where they are good career opportunities post-graduation.

 

Taking this step is a bit scary for me, but I absolutely want to do this.

 

CJ

post #2 of 14

I was a chef and wanted to be a software engineer so right back at you @cbalawat :lol:

 

Seriously I started out at a young age in family restaurants and worked for years busing tables, cooking, prepping, attending  Culinary Institute of America - Hyde Park, working in Europe then leaving it to get a degree in computer information systems. I hope you can handle some tough questions but you said "Cooking makes me happy" not working in a professional kitchen. It may seem like I am playing a semantics game but it is a big difference man. So my questions for you are:

 

  1. Have you worked in a professional environment before? If you have not then you need to get a part time job at a restaurant in San Francisco and see what the life is all about. Do not go to school until you have had at least 6 months (I recommend a year) of working in a professional kitchen with an excellent chef.
  2. Are you married? Kids? Because the kitchen life will seriously affect this and many chefs to be don't fully understand this till they are 5+ years into it and they don't get to have dinner with their families in the evening go to their kids baseball games. 
  3. Why do you say European schools are better than US. First let me just tell you school is not a requirement to go into this field. Second CJ I honestly can say I don't think there are many schools that can compete with the Culinary Institute of America. SO I don't agree with you on that point. What I will say is Europe has a better apprenticeship program where they start young high school kids off cooking. They start by washing pots, then prepping then cooking and it is a 3 year ordeal. Most culinary schools even the ones in Europe like Le Cordon blue want to get you in and get you out. And they are expensive.
  4. Have you considered taking a sabbatical from your job, 3-6 months and going and cooking say in Paris at the Le Cordon Bleu their program is a 6 month program. Culinary school can be a great experience but it is not (i repeat it is NOT) the real world. Taking time off from your desk job might give you a fresh perspective on what you want to do. Being in the same field as you I know all too well how boring desk/computer jobs can become.

 

I will leave you with one last thought. Almost 80% of the kids I went to culinary school with ended up dropping out of the cooking field and getting a more stable work with better pay and benefits. I highly recommend you work in the field for a bit before you just chuck it all because your tired of your current job. 

Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 

hey Nicko, Thanks for getting back to me with such an elaborate answer. to answer your questions:

 

1. I have never worked at a restaurant before, All the cooking that I have done till now is at home.

2. No I am not married. I am 24 years old with little to no obligations. When you say that I won't be able to spend time with my family, that makes me think twice. Family is very important to me, and i would not want my career eating up my family time..

4. I posted this same question on reddit.com/chefit and i got similar replies. here's the link to the post if you are interested.

      http://www.reddit.com/r/Chefit/comments/20gr0p/i_am_a_software_engineer_wanting_to_become_a_chef/

 

Most of your answers coincide with the replies on reddit. And you being a former chef, I will respect your opinion and brood over which road to take. I will apply to a part-time job as a busboy or a dishwasher and understand how a professional kitchen works. thanks again for taking the time to write a reply for me.

 

 

CJ

post #4 of 14

Nicko pretty much nailed it. Great advice and questions.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cbalawat View Post
 

I love cooking and I know being a chef will make me happy despite the lower income.

Being a chef will not make you happy. Being a chef will not make you unhappy. Being happy is an inside job.

 

Many times loving something and then turning into something that you have to do will kill the love affair.

 

Stay with your desk job, but get a second job in a restaurant kitchen. Get your feet wet before burning bridges then you will be able to make a more informed decision.

 

Having a second job can be brutal, but if you love going into your second job and the tiredness dissipates while you are there, then you might be making the right choice.

 

I had been working in the industry for 10 years before I went to culinary school. While at school I worked a second job which pretty much convinced me that I had indeed found a home and would be a lifer.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
post #5 of 14

Get a part time job in food service. se if you like it. Meanwhile stick with what you have its in more demand. In a few years Chiles, olive garde red lobster type places will dominate and they dont need chefs. Or chef scientist in commissaries will be used.

CHEFED
Reply
CHEFED
Reply
post #6 of 14

Perhaps my career's been the closest to the OP's situation.  I was in U studying computer science and during the work placements (which were uninspiring in terms of preparing me for a life in the industry) I found myself thinking more and more about a career in the restaurant industry.  By third year I figured that I needed to make the switch so I waited until I graduated, hung around in the town where I went to school and started looking for work.

 

Of course, I had the same doubts as to whether or not I'd be able to handle the physical nature of the work and the fact that I'd have to be paying my dues for quite a long time so I ended up pursuing my master's just in case the kitchen thing didn't pan out.  In retrospect I should've used that time to move to a bigger city and really go for the restaurants I wanted to learn from but at least now I can tell people that I have a graduate degree in a completely unrelated field of study...

 

It's been 8 and a half years since I've stepped foot in a kitchen washing dishes, I'm used to the hours, used to the nature of the work and I'm satisfied running a kitchen that allows me to be creative.  I never once contemplated going back (not that my knowledge would be particularly useful now) and I never once seriously considered giving up.  Perhaps it was because I would've seen myself as a failure if I did, but regardless of my motivation I managed to do it.

 

Going to culinary school is like going to university, you'll learn a lot of interesting things you may not learn at all the places you work, but on the other hand it's time you could spend gaining real experience and furthering your career in an industry that does not take kindly to age and is focused on (relative) youth.

"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
Reply
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
Reply
post #7 of 14

@Blueicus Awesome post, that pretty much says it all. You wanted to become a chef because you loved the kitchen, running a restaurant, being creative. So many people going into because they "love to cook" and cooking is a small slice of the pie when you talk about being a chef and running a restaurant. As for what you said about going to culinary school I completely agree. 

 

@cbalawat since you are single with no children I would recommend you try it. You have nothing to lose and many people make the restaurant life work for themselves and their family. 

 

@cheflayne Man you went to school after 10 years of being in the field? Did it really make that much of a difference for you at that point? I am not saying that you are wrong I am just curious what pushed you after all that time to go to school? Where did you end up going to school?

Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nicko View Post
 

@cheflayne Man you went to school after 10 years of being in the field? Did it really make that much of a difference for you at that point? I am not saying that you are wrong I am just curious what pushed you after all that time to go to school? Where did you end up going to school?

I was a fourth year architecture student when I decided that it wasn't quite the major for me. I decided to take a break from school until I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to go backpacking in the Rocky Mountain National Park and took a job as dishwasher for room and board.

 

That first job turned into 10 years real quick. They were spent predominately in the FOH even though I started as a dishwasher, From that position, I moved into prep cook. After that I became a busser, then a waiter, then an assistant manager, then manager, and then back to waiter again, with some various stints filling in in the kitchen along the way. One night the chef slipped in the snow on the back stairs of the restaurant and hurt his back. The owner was trying to figure out what to do when I (being cocky and arrogant) offered that I had been around restaurants long enough that if the chef would sit at the end of the line and talk me through it, I could get us through the night and that is what we did.

 

From that rather dubious start, I morphed into a full time kitchen person and actually wound up as sous chef. I discovered that this (cooking) was what I really liked. This was my passion.

 

I knew the chef there could only teach me so much and I was burning with the desire to learn as much as I could and that is what prompted the decision to attend culinary school. I wanted exposure to a lot of different techniques, styles, and cuisines in a short amount of time because most restaurants back then rarely changed their menus if at all.

 

The year was 1983 and the only two culinary schools that I knew of at that time were the CIA in New York and the CCA in San Francisco. I chose the CCA because I felt their program was a little less stodgy and they didn't require an externship as part of the curriculum. Instead of going on an externship, you could stay at school and take electives. I had already been in the business for 10 years so I didn't want to spend money (tuition) learning how to work in a restaurant.

 

When I applied the school got 300 applications, but they were only accepting 100. Fortunately for me, I was one of the 100 accepted. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at school and got exactly what I was looking for and haven't looked back since.

 

What a wild crazy ride!

 

The story of how I wound up back as a waiter after being a manager is another one for the books. Stranger than fiction without a doubt. Without a doubt, a chef is what I was meant to be.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by cheflayne View Post
...
Stranger than fiction without a doubt. Without a doubt, a chef is what I was meant to be.

Indeed!  More true words I've not heard!

----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

Reply

----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

Reply
post #10 of 14

@cheflayne California Culinary Academy is no longer right? It was absorbed by the Le Cordon Bleu? http://www.chefs.edu/San-Francisco

Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Bacon (I made)
(26 photos)
Reply
post #11 of 14

Yes that is correct. When I went it was a privately owned school started by Danielle Carlisle. I'll leave it at that

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Reply
post #12 of 14

Get a part time job working in a kitchen at some place that will hire you. You'll prob have to work nights and weekends. See what you think. 

 

Just pound the pavement until you find a place. I would start at the top and work your way down. Maybe start off washing dishes, if you'd like. I think you may be underestimating how little money you will make. You will make like a quarter of what you make now...if not less. That is by far the worst part...working so hard for so little money. If you can stomach that, then you can make it. 

post #13 of 14

good luck my brother

post #14 of 14

You could instead make lots of money at a desk job and eat at the world's best restaurants. A high-level manager of BP, who obviously had a lot of money, ate in every single 3-star Michelin Star restaurant in Europe for a year. With money I'd take short cooking courses run by renowned chefs and in interesting locations like Tuscany. I'd also go on guided tours around the world that cater for food lovers. There are more ways to enjoy food and cooking than working in a professional kitchen. If you work in a professional kitchen full-time you're unlikely to do these things because you won't earn enough to be able to afford it, you'll want to get away from food in your spare time, and you won't have enough spare time anyway.

 

Cooking is my favourite hobby. When I worked a dishwasher, with all meals provided free every day, I lost my interest in food because I no longer had a need to even think of it since my whole day revolved around food anyway. The chefs themselves would go to fast food places because they were tired of eating the same food in the restaurant. Now I no longer work in hospitality and again cooking's my favourite hobby :)

 

I also worked as a bartender to have fun making drinks. Instead, I was stressed all the time because of how hard you have to work to get the drinks out, to push customers to buy more drinks to satisfy management, to clean, preparation (like juicing large buckets of oranges), and all for little pay. I had fun meeting interesting customers and learning new drinks, but that wasn't what the job was about and I didn't last long.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Choosing A Culinary School
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Culinary Students › Choosing A Culinary School › I am a Software Engineer wanting to be a chef