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Where to start from here?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hello. I am a high school student. I'm still not of legal age, but in about a year I'll be able to work. I want to start off in the food industry, of course. I want to begin at a restaurant that isn't too demanding, but is also realistic...meaning that they cook their food fresh and don't just throw a few pre-packaged things together and call it food. However, where exactly do I start? Do I go to a fast food restaurant? Can I still learn how to prep and cook food properly, or will it mostly be processed, boxed food? Should I go to a diner/casual dining restaurant and start from there?


I also want to work only about 3 to 4 hours on week days (more on weekends) so I have time for homework. Do you think a restaurant owner/chef would be understanding of that?


I've talked to my brother about this. He said that I should work in a restaurant before deciding whether I want to go to culinary school or not. I considered his point and I researched it a little bit.  A lot of chefs said that you can get more experience working in a restaurant for a couple of years than you can going to a culinary school in four years! Is that true?


Thank you. I look forward to your answers!


P.S.: I'm a person who tends to plan and think ahead for the future. I hope that by me saying "in about a year" doesn't throw you off. I just like to plan ahead :).

post #2 of 6

You can find work in restaurants now but your age will limit what equipment you can use. This depends on state laws and federal guidelines. Legal age is a concern only if you were to serve alcohol but your state labor department can help you sort out your options. 

They will also help you with the number of hours you are allowed to work and your employer should  be familiar with those limitations. 

      You should absolutely work in a restaurant before deciding on culinary school. Visit as many restaurants as you can in your area. Pick the fanciest places you can find. They should be the ones doing the most actual cooking. Call to find out when you can stop by to talk directly to the chef in between meal times, never during service hours. If you go in person, your appearance will count. It is a job interview. 

     There are a lot of posts on this Chef Talk about school vs. experience. You should read as many as you can. There are a lot of choices these days for education. Some are six months, some are two years. Some are very expensive. Not all of them are worth the money. 

     In addition to working in a restaurant for real experience, you can also take advantage of the many professional level cookbooks now available. There is plenty of information on this site about which books are recommended so you should read about that as well. . 

YouTube has many videos by chefs and home cooks on how to perform different tasks. Many are worth watching. 

Someone once told me that a person with a good culinary education will learn in five years what someone with just experience will learn in fifteen. I think there is some truth to that but it also depends on where you work. A country club often has higher level cuisine as well as banquets and other special events so there is a rich environment for learning a lot quickly. A fast food place will not show you very much. 

     How much you learn is really dependent on you. If you make the effort to learn as much as you can on your own at work and home, you can learn a lot.   You can also go to school and not pay attention or make much effort and you will have a culinary degree that isn't really worth much. 

post #3 of 6

Chefwriter summed it up nicely. You should definetly get a job in a restaurant, even if it is just washing dishes. I have seen many dishwashers work there way up in a good amount of time and even more  were handed very basic prep tasks when the restaurant was in a pinch. I have worked with a lot of high school students in kitchens. The owners have always been accommodating of their school schedules, unless extracurricular activities got in the way then they had to choose those or their job. I am still a student, so it's hard for me to say if you will get more experience by being at school or by being in the industry, but in my opinion doing both will give you a lot of skills and knowledge. Also, the more experience you have in the restaurant business the more likely you will get a good job after school. If you don't have any experience, you are going to have a hard time. 


To also address your statement: " I want to begin at a restaurant that isn't too demanding, but is also realistic...meaning that they cook their food fresh and don't just throw a few pre-packaged things together and call it food. " I am not sure what your definition of too demanding is, but you can guarantee that any restaurant, fast food or fine dining, is going to carry a good amount of stress. Some people handle this stress well, others just don't. I think one of the best things you can do is get a cooking job and see for yourself how demanding it can be before you sign up for school. 

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 

What I meant by demanding is that it isn't outrageously busy..like a restaurant in downtown Chicago, for example. Of course I want to work in a restaurant that gets plenty of business, but that doesn't get so much that I will be extremely stressed at 16. 

post #5 of 6

Don't get ahead of yourself. You are worried about the results before you have done anything. NO chef is going to let you do any job that requires you to get stressed out or be under pressure at your age. What you will have to worry about is the following. 

1. Show up on time. 

2. Do what the chef tells you. 

3. Do what the chef told you the way the chef told you to do it. 

4.When you have finished doing one job, ask what else you can be doing. 

     The chef may have you wash dishes at first or perhaps peel onions or sweep the floor. He or she wants to see that you do a good, thorough, conscientious job. The chef will expect you to complain for one reason or another. Don't. 

The chef will see if you sweep, peel or wash with concentration and your full attention. When the chef feels you can complete that task well, the chef will give you another simple task. You will keep getting simple tasks until the chef feels you are a dependable, hardworking employee. 

So go find a job in a good quality kitchen, show up and get some experience. Once you witness first hand what a kitchen is like, you can then decide if this is a career for you. 

post #6 of 6

There's also nothing wrong with working in boil-in-a-bag type places until you develop your basic skills. I've never really seen one of these restaurants that didn't do some basic chopping, maybe saute, lots of fryer experience (probably about the only place it'll ever be useful but nothing wrong with that) definitely some ovens (Rational if you're lucky).. Grill even. Fast casual is a good way to get a taste of the industry without necessarily having to make a year commitment in the dish pit of a finer restaurant just to find out you can't handle the pressure of the prep hall, much less the line itself. The best part of fast casual is the volume: you'll develop time management and be able to handle pressure much better than someone who's spent their career turning over 20 seaters.

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