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Newbie needs Wisdom

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hello artists,

How long do you give a prep/lIne cook position before deciding it's not a good fit?

I'm 20. Stumbled upon a random Chef's apprenticeship (it was free, I was looking for work) that guaranteed a job in the industry. Well, I got one. And so far, I dread it. I am uncomfortable every single day. I move unpurposefully, I lack common sense, I ask dumb questions, I'm messy, and I occasionally mess up a recipe. All of this is pointed out to me every single day, and with attitude. I'm in the way, slow, and a toy. A plaything that's frequently mocked, wrongly accused of things I didn't do...and just disrespected. I just cannot handle being such a spectacle on the time. How can I learn by intimidation? I cant. I'm making improvements...and my chef has reminded me that I'm getting better (Bc she doesn't have to talk to me as much).....yet all the criticism isn't worth the miniscule "good job today".

For perspective: I'm a prep cook. I actually (regretfully) don't have much cooking experience...but am inspired by various cooking methods, cookbooks, and cultural/ethnographic roots of cooking . But I find the execution frustrating and never am satisfied with my performance. Needless to say, a prep cook doesn't need to know too much about cooking anyway. Just how to read recipes.

Anyway. Is this environment even worthwhile if 1) I am intimidated and depleted often 2 ) I know that cooking is not something I'm crazy enthusiastic about...? Is it even worth it? I want to get better, I do. But, I don't like what I must go thru to get better. I know I could probably learn the same things thru books...on my own time...without all the unecessary negativity and mistreatment. I'm inspired by books...not by chef's who treat me like scum.

Maybe I am a baby. Maybe I do need to "man up".. but because I'm not obsessed, bc I'm not whipping out food all the time...is it worth my time to work at a place that makes me so wildly uncomfortable...When I could probably just find another kitchen that's more conducive to my learning needs? (Chef's that respect noobs, that are patient, and that are encouraging? ) do these kitchens even exist?

I keep hearing that "you either are or you arent" "you have it or you dont" "it's in your blood or its not"....is this even true? Is it possible to develop a passion for cooking ...by working as a cook? Or must I love it from the start ? As I've told you, I don't cook often at ALL. When I do, it's frustrating bc I suck at It. Ugh help.
post #2 of 9

Im a strong believer that cooking is in the blood. 

But some people have talent and passion for the arts and it goes unnoticed. 

I think its something that has to be discovered and if you got "it", then you will most likely find pleasure in the idustry, and if you don´t then i guess you may just be another employee working for the money. 

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.



Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.


post #3 of 9

Unfortunately intimidation, ridicule, and mocking are just part of this industry. You must have very thick skin to make it as a lot of things that are seen as inappropriate for the workplace in other industries are let slide in kitchens. It isn't for everyone.


If you don't have an extreme passion for cooking, it isn't worth all the frustration of trying to learn from a kitchen. The kitchens with chefs that want to train "noobs" are extremely few and far between. Books will teach you next to nothing that is relevant in industry, and school is just as uncomfortable as any kitchen in terms of people mocking and making fun of each other.


I wish you the best of luck in finding the outlet that you are searching for in making it in this industry

post #4 of 9
I don't want to come off as talking down to you, but, you probably are too slow, messy, etc. That doesn't mean that status won't change. Put things in perpesctive; you've been cooking for a year, the guy next to you, what, five? Ten? Twenty?
People in this business don't learn to sugarcoat things; they deal in black and white. If they eere good at BSung they would be waiters and make more.money.
Watch how they do things, find faster ways to do things. And old trick of mine was to think about my hands and then ask myself if they could move faster. Work cleaner. LEARN everything you can, about everything including sweeping the floor efficiently.
As to you questions, if you want to stay in the business and havent been there a year, dont leave. If you still dont like after a year, then git. With a little experience the next place will be better.
If you think they are rough on you now, wait till you get on the hotline. If you want to stay cooking you need a thicker skin. Sorry kid. How you learn by intimidation is you push yourself harder so they pick on you. At least they arent throwing stuff.
post #5 of 9

The point of your post, to me, wasn't that you said you were slow, dumb, or clumsy, or whatever. Listen, I would say most people (even great chefs) start out in the kitchen being slow, dumb, and clumsy. At one point in his early career, Daniel Bolud was clumsy and slow. So was Thomas Keller. 


I tell this to all the young cooks I meet--it takes time. A year is not really long enough.


Some places are hard to work at. The chef(s) yell, the cooks yell, everyone is angry, everyone is cranky, etc. We put up with it because we believe it makes us better.


The thing in your post that stuck out for me what the fact that you said you weren't super passionate about food. In order to put up with the bad hours, low pay, getting yelled at all the time, being belittled, etc/all, it is necessary to be passionate about food. That is what makes it worthwhile--the belief that you are suffering now for the ultimate gains. Gains in your skills, your resume, your confidence, your cooking ability, your knowledge, etc. 


And it is a grind. If you don't have the passion keeping the light at the end of tunnel lit for you, it will wear you down. 


My advice would be to find something you are passionate about and pursue that. 


If you do end up deciding that what you are passionate about IS FOOD after all, well, you could always look for a new place. In fact, I would explain your current situation to your prospective chef. Just tell him you are a young cook, looking to learn. Tell him that at your current job you are being constantly belittled and yelled at, and it doesn't help you learn . You can accept criticism--just not destructive, demeaning behavior. 


Not every place is like that. This is a new world we live in, one with HR departments and lawsuits, FoodTV and college grads. The type of place you described above is being slowly phased out (IMO). 


The truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, you may need a thicker skin. But, IMO, belittling, intimidation, ridicule and mocking should NEVER be in the vocabulary at a place of professional employment. Sorry, not going to cut it anymore. This isn't the 70's and 80's. I've worked for some hard chefs, in some high end kitchens, but have never felt intimidated, belittled, or mocked. That is an outdated way to run a kitchen. 

post #6 of 9

I'm sorry your apprenticeship is not what you expected it to be.  It is a tough industry, and unfortunately there are some kitchens that are not conducive to learning.  I believe you really have to have a passion for food in order to survive the negativity that exists in some kitchens.  If you really excel as a prep cook and are comfortable with that then that is where you should be...Some of the skills such as time management, organization, and attention to detail are skills that are required for all positions in the kitchen. If you love food and want to learn...get really comfortable in a position on the bottom of the latter.  Don't get thrown into a position your not comfortable with.  You are young,  try another kitchen....Learn everything you can. The chefs that are belittling you and making you feel uncomfortable are outdated to say the least..Don't give up just yet...     

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thank you for all the input, every one of you has been helpful and articulate enough to get my gears going. I feel very welcome here to share my experiences, and thank you for creating such an environment. I noticed how a few of you picked up on the quiet dispassion/unenthusiasm I have for food. I suppose it is possible to ignite a passion for it, but just not in the kitchen I'm at. I get excitd imagining myself: knowing what I'm doing, confident on all the stations...but what I will have to go through to get there? Not worth it. It just seems unecessary. And I imagine being hardened, and possibly just as bitter towards newbies as the rest of them are ...just because I've learned to dislike myself as one anyhow. That's the worst part, being embarrassed of yourself every moment.

Does anyone think it could be a bad cultural fit also? I know "not fitting in" is sort of unspoken of...but commom and pretty ubearable. how am I supposed to talk to people when their idea of fun is hanging out with other chef's , cooking, drinking all day...things i don't do? I don't like sports, don't have drunk stories...and I have passions that extend beyond the kitchen.i just can't even be myself. I can't relax.
post #8 of 9

I think a passion for food is what allows you to keep going when things are rough.  I have never worked in a kitchen that didn't have its issues.  All jobs do for that matter.  I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was 5 and all the other little boys and girls wanted to be doctors, lawyers etc...There is more to being a good cook then being able to work well in the kitchen...There is so much BS  stress and long hours, not to mention temperamental coworkers, the heat and the low wages....If you really want it then stick it out.  It's worth it and just remember...you won't be the new kid on the block for long.  Even though they may give you a hard time eventually you will earn some grudging respect if only for your willingness to learn and your tough skin.  Good luck and hang in there.

post #9 of 9
I got into this business by chance, and stayed because i liked the work. Food came later; once i started to see how good it cold be vs. how... ordinary it could be. And you don't have to be an alchoholic to stay in kitchens. They sound like a-yoles anyway.If you wanna keep the job you gotta jump the hoops, otherwise....
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