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Not chef material?

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

I had a frustrating experience at work yesterday, and I’m seeking any advice you can offer.

 

Background: I’ve been working in kitchens for 10 years, never went to culinary school, started as a dishwasher. I work hard, I love what I do, I’ve been a favorite (or so I’ve been told) at several of my cooking jobs, but thus far haven’t advanced to management/chef, although that is my ultimate goal. I am reticent in person and am working on my leadership skills in order to move up; so far, I have blamed my career stagnation more on my quiet personality than on my work ethic, skills, or passion.

 

I’ve been at my current job for 8 months. It’s a highly-acclaimed restaurant that I had long aspired to work at. I took a demotion in order to work here: I got put on garde manger (I have worked every station in other restaurants). I made it clear from the beginning that I would like to move up the line, with assurances that this could happen with good work skills and dedication. Throughout my tenure here, I have received almost uniformly positive feedback from my superiors (with a few minor criticisms that I corrected immediately after they were called to my attention: prep methods and such, although in my defense I was sometimes given inconsistent instruction). My contributions extend beyond the line: I have suggested more efficient methods of prep and organization, and proposed new dishes which have worked their way onto the menu. I had a 6-month review that was mostly positive, and during which I reiterated my desire to learn additional stations; the chef agreed this would happen soon. The sole negative criticism was my tendency to be a bit disorganized, although the chef conceded I've improved in this regard.

 

A few weeks passed after my review and I was still on garde manger. I brought it up with my chef, he responded that he would train me soon. Didn't happen. Last night, the sous sat down with me and said that he and the chef agreed that I’m not ready to move up the line because I’m not proficient at garde manger. No issues with ticket times or plating, but he mentioned a few prep mistakes I’d made (I broke a sauce, for example). I told him that I wished these issues had been brought to my attention before, particularly at the review. However, another cook who started at the same time I did has since advanced on the line, and I have seen him make similar mistakes to the ones I have (forgetting things in the oven, burning things, etc).

 

I guess I see 2 possibilities:
1) I really am not ready to move past garde manger. This is worst-case scenario. If I’m really unworthy of progressing past salads and rillettes after all this time, should I accept that cooking is not my calling? I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It is my passion, but I’m wondering if I’ve hit a plateau and should just give up. It tears me apart to think that I’ve devoted my life to this only to find out I’m mediocre and will probably never make it as a chef.
or 2) My employers need me to stay on garde manger because no one else is willing to work this station. A friend suggested that I’m *too* good and that employers need hard workers in low positions, because there are few of us. I’m not saying this to deflect responsibility; when someone gives me a criticism I am more than willing to listen, but in this case what I was told last night doesn’t sync with what I’ve been told during previous months.

 

Thoughts? Is it possible they’re jerking me around because they know I really wanted to work here and I won’t complain? Or am I in denial: should I accept their criticism at face value and redouble my efforts? At what point do you admit you’re no good at what you’re most passionate about and throw in the towel? Should I start applying to law schools?

 

This got long, thanks for listening.

post #2 of 27

In my opinion, it seems you suffer from a lack of self-confidence. As you said, you've been in kitchens for 10 years, worked other stations etc. etc. and yet you're still working salads. The problem lay in that equation right there (10yrs exp) + (work ethic) - (culinary degree) = Salad maker. Does THAT make sense to YOU? lol. As far as moving up in an established restaurant that has a good reputation, I would simply say it's difficult unless you are willing to do some major ass kissing. Move on brother.

post #3 of 27

It depends.  Is it Robuchon or Perkins?

post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 

mrGlacier: you’re right, I’m not terribly confident, but being told I’m not good enough isn’t helping the situation. I’m also not willing to kiss ass, so perhaps this is my problem.

 

kuan: well, it’s not quite Robuchon, but as I said, it is among the most highly-regarded restaurants in my mid-sized city. Which is why I was willing to take a position on the salad station, as I am of the belief that it’s better to work at a lower position in an excellent restaurant than lead the line at a so-so one. Still, I think I’m more than ready to progress past garde manger.

post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiChef View Post
 

 but being told I’m not good enough isn’t helping the situation.

There is a huge difference between being told "not good enough" and being told "not ready". Relax a bit and don't let your perceptions, of their perceptions of you, run amok.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiChef View Post
 

I guess I see 2 possibilities:
1) I really am not ready to move past garde manger. This is worst-case scenario. If I’m really unworthy of progressing past salads and rillettes after all this time, should I accept that cooking is not my calling? I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It is my passion, but I’m wondering if I’ve hit a plateau and should just give up. It tears me apart to think that I’ve devoted my life to this only to find out I’m mediocre and will probably never make it as a chef.
or 2) My employers need me to stay on garde manger because no one else is willing to work this station. A friend suggested that I’m *too* good and that employers need hard workers in low positions, because there are few of us. I’m not saying this to deflect responsibility; when someone gives me a criticism I am more than willing to listen, but in this case what I was told last night doesn’t sync with what I’ve been told during previous months.

 

There is a third possibility to also consider:

3) Their evaluation of you, your work, your progress, and your potential is based too heavily upon surface perceptions of the persona you project as opposed to results achieved.

 

I know this scenario all to well because like you I would probably be described as reticent.

 

A reticent unruffled persona has been a double edged sword over my career. I am not suggesting changing your personality, there is no good reason to modify a quality foundation. I merely wish to relate how surface perceptions have played out in the past for me.

 

At one of my very first restaurant jobs I started as a busboy and progressed up the ranks to assistant manager. A couple of years into the job, I was sitting around with owner relaxing one evening. He confided in me that when I first started he never thought I would make it. It appeared this poor child had one speed and that was sloow with no sense of urgency. He decided to take a more in depth look at my work before letting me go. To his surprise he discovered that not only was I getting the job done, I was doing it faster than anyone else, I just didn't look like it while doing it.

 

You possibly have been typecast by management. This has the potential to be changed with work. From what I have read in your posts so far, you would be a keeper in my brigade. Detach and do an honest self appraisal from a third party view.

 

One last bit, eliminate this train of thought

Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiChef View Post

If I’m really unworthy of progressing past salads and rillettes after all this time, should I accept that cooking is not my calling? I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It is my passion, but I’m wondering if I’ve hit a plateau and should just give up. It tears me apart to think that I’ve devoted my life to this only to find out I’m mediocre and will probably never make it as a chef.
 

from your universe. There isn't enough time in life to waste it collecting garbage.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #6 of 27

I disagree with the whole "not ready" concept. I get the fact that the executive chef or other superiors have a say so in whether or not you should progress, but it seems to me he's not getting specifics just a general "Well, we're not feeling it with you." If THAT is the case, red flags start to pop up in my head. The guy has 10 years experience. I believe that the chefs are sending mixed messages. Seems a bit tit-for-tat. But as I said above, I think a lack of self-confidence plays into this equation majorly. So to the Original Poster: What exactly is your experience? Is just dish for 9 years and then 1 year of Salads? Do you have more experience? 

post #7 of 27
Thread Starter 

Cheflayne: Thank you for your astute comments, this is very helpful. I do agree their perception of me is what’s off. I believe in myself but feel they are grossly underestimating my capabilities. A couple of points:
My chef telling me I’m “not ready” is essentially the same as telling me I’m not good enough, imo, at my level of experience. If it's true I'm not ready to move past garde manger, there's something off with my skills.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cheflayne View Post

 

One last bit, eliminate this train of thought from your universe. There isn't enough time in life to waste it collecting garbage.

I wasn't saying this to be negative, rather I was trying to give an honest self-appraisal. Clearly not every line cook will rise to the level of chef.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by mrGlacier View Post
 

So to the Original Poster: What exactly is your experience? Is just dish for 9 years and then 1 year of Salads? Do you have more experience? 

No, I did not spend much time as a dishwasher, about 2 months, then was moved to prep, then pantry. I’ve worked every station at restaurants of varying quality: an Italian family restaurant, a local bistro-concept chain, a high-end organic restaurant, a couple of small wine bars, and a hotel banquet kitchen.

post #8 of 27
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone for your input. I did have a talk with the head chef yesterday in which I detailed my accomplishments and, I felt, made a strong case for why I should be allowed to advance on the line. He listened patiently and then stood his ground, told me I still had room for improvement. I said again, I wasn’t sure exactly how I could improve, I’ve done everything they’ve asked me and more. So. I demonstrated confidence, and now... not sure what the next step is. Unless I’m missing something, they are clearly unappreciative of my assets, for reasons that remain unclear.

post #9 of 27
You demonstrated confidence by telling the Chef they are wrong. Sorry to say, it doesnt metter what you think you should learn or do. They want you to make salads, enjoy making salads and be ready when the time comes for nother task.

Dont argue. You could be on the chopping block from the perception im getting. Really, you make salad and get paid. Its your job, like it or lump it, seems your lumping it.

10 years experience does that mean your 24 yes old and arguing with the Chefs about your talent being wasted on them? Most dishwashers start at age 15ish in my area. I dunno, my advice, relax a bit or switch industries while you can.
post #10 of 27

I agree with what Cheflayne said.

      I think I would look for another job. While no one can really understand your situation because we are not there, it sounds like this just isn't your playground. I suspect your capabilities are fine. It's just that for whatever reason the chef is happy with who is doing what and you will not be going anywhere. 

     As for your self assessment, take a closer look at what the chef and others do. Is there anything they do so remarkably difficult you could not do it if necessary? The chef gave you no specific answer when you asked how to improve. That tells me there isn't one. He can't or won't say what is really going on so you now know it has nothing to do with you, 

    This is not to say you can't learn more or that you know enough. Just that you aren't going anywhere in this kitchen. 

The world of food is enormous and the variety in restaurants equally large. Well run high end/badly run high end, well run middle of the road/badly run middle of the road, great pizza/bad pizza. 

In any restaurant you can only learn what they have on the menu and the habits and behaviors they practice. Certainly some activities and techniques will be true in all restaurants but there comes a time when you have learned all you can at a particular place and it is time to go. 

     Self assessment is a funny thing. I also have a problem with it because I always focus on what I don't know and am always hoping the next place I work will be somewhere I will learn all there is to know. I never end up learning what I thought I should have but neglect to remember all I did learn. After three, five or ten jobs, I keep wondering when I will get that great job where I will learn it all and continue to think, "Someday I will work in a place where I will learn how to cook and run a kitchen." In reality, I passed that point a long time ago by collecting different lessons from every place I worked and have only recently realized that i think this way because I love the learning part. 

     Have someone go over your resume and help you highlight your history. I suspect you know quite a lot and are more than ready to be in a more responsible position but somewhere else. 

post #11 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chefboyOG View Post
Really, you make salad and get paid. Its your job, like it or lump it, seems your lumping it.

Are you suggesting I shouldn't have ambition? I've been working hard towards my goal of being a chef for a long time, while cheerfully doing my job. At present I'm just having a crisis of faith.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefboyOG View Post

10 years experience does that mean your 24 yes old and arguing with the Chefs about your talent being wasted on them? Most dishwashers start at age 15ish in my area. I dunno, my advice, relax a bit or switch industries while you can.

No, I'm 35. I worked FOH for a number of years and went to college for an unrelated degree. I realized I loved restaurant work, loved the BOH even more, and decided to pursue it as a career. So yeah, I got a bit of a late start in the kitchen, although in all my years I've never met a 15-year-old line cook. I'm not rudely arguing with the chefs, I'm being respectful and advocating for myself. I know this is frowned upon in some kitchens, but where I am feedback is valued and encouraged, so that's what I'm doing.

post #12 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiChef View Post

Are you suggesting I shouldn't have ambition?

No. I am certainly not.


I've been working hard towards my goal of being a chef for a long time, while cheerfully doing my job. At present I'm just having a crisis of faith.

Just

No, I'm 35. I worked FOH for a number of years and went to college for an unrelated degree. I realized I loved restaurant work, loved the BOH even more, and decided to pursue it as a career. So yeah, I got a bit of a late start in the kitchen, although in all my years I've never met a 15-year-old line cook. I'm not rudely arguing with the chefs, I'm being respectful and advocating for myself. I know this is frowned upon in some kitchens, but where I am feedback is valued and encouraged, so that's what I'm doing.
You asked. My two cents is free.

Thanks for answering my questions I can understand your position a bit more, I truly hope you get over your crisis soon; tomorrow is a new day. Good luck to you in that regard, nothing worse than questioning your entire career.

May I ask what your unrelated degree is?

You just may not be needed at the other station yet. Your day will come. Maybe. If you have patience, aptitude, and work ethic. Patience is key word here.

I said dishwashers start at age 15 not line cook. Twist your bosses words like that and you may be kicking your own arse out the door. Apprentice cooks in many countries start in their teens.
post #13 of 27

It's generally illegal for a 15 year old to cook in the US.  There are lots of thing a kid that young can't do by law (operate a slicer, etc).  To the OP, you're probably not doing anything wrong.  This is something I see all the time in restaurants.  Garde mange is often the starting place and no one wants to "get stuck there" for long.  But the kitchen always needs someone on garde mange- if not you then Chef has to train someone else.  A smart Chef/manager is always developing staff but they don't do it just to do it.  You want satisfaction and career development but he just wants his salads to come out quickly and correctly.

 

Ten years is long enough that you're almost certainly good in the kitchen.  Maybe you'll "get your shot" at your current job but you may have to leave and look for some place where your skills and goals line up with the requirements of the job.

 

I'd say in the mean time keep kicking ass at your job and politely keep a bug in your chef's ear about moving up and out to another station.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chefboyOG View Post


May I ask what your unrelated degree is?

English.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefboyOG View Post

I said dishwashers start at age 15 not line cook. Twist your bosses words like that and you may be kicking your own arse out the door. Apprentice cooks in many countries start in their teens.

I am not twisting your words; as I said above, I was a dishwasher for 2 months, then moved on to prep and pantry. So, if I had been a dishwasher at age 15 (as was your initial assumption) I would also have been a cook 2 months later at 15. Oh, never mind, this is getting tedious.

post #15 of 27
Seems your English degree is winning this online conversation but not the one in the Chefs office. I

Try to keep your head up. If as you said this is a good restaurant then maybe it will pay off working garde manger there. Perceptions are key. Over think it.
post #16 of 27

LOOK AROUND try and find a place that IN YOUR OPINION appreciates your work effort, and your ambition, I am sure there are plenty around. Good Luck to you

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #17 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiChef View Post
 

Are you suggesting I shouldn't have ambition? I've been working hard towards my goal of being a chef for a long time, while cheerfully doing my job. At present I'm just having a crisis of faith.

No, I'm 35. I worked FOH for a number of years and went to college for an unrelated degree. I realized I loved restaurant work, loved the BOH even more, and decided to pursue it as a career. So yeah, I got a bit of a late start in the kitchen, although in all my years I've never met a 15-year-old line cook. I'm not rudely arguing with the chefs, I'm being respectful and advocating for myself. I know this is frowned upon in some kitchens, but where I am feedback is valued and encouraged, so that's what I'm doing.

And the shoe drops. Your 35. Hate to say it, but would a chef want to invest in a 35 year old? or a 25 year old? Just saying. Sounds to me they view you as a "lifer." That is, an older cook who got bypassed as the years have gone for whatever reason, and being 35 you have issues. That's not my opinion, but I'd bet it's your boss.

post #18 of 27

How long have the other cooks worked there for? If they've been around for years they are entrenched in the circle of trust with the chef.

It may be that with your experience you are better than the last few people who have come and gone at your position and your chef is "stalling" you at that position for as long as he can because it's one less thing for him to worry about. You may be much more steady and reliable then someone off the street. 

 

If you want to stay:  

I would try to pick the brain of other people around you about how to operate there station and keep notes handy for when you get your chance. 

 

If you want to leave:

I would start to think of other qualities you are looking for out of a chef if you decide to chance jobs. Also when you are checking ad's online or in the paper you might want to skip the ones you see repeatedly popping up as they could have high turnover. 

post #19 of 27

Keep your head up. Whenever you are in doubt screw it, do your best, work your smartest and hardest, and go home in peace knowing you did your best and acted in good faith. You do that long enough someone somewhere will notice. 

post #20 of 27

yeah you have to put the foot down if you want to progress. Be aggressive.

post #21 of 27
Can you spell @#%& phoneticly please?
post #22 of 27

Mod stepping in here.  Please be respectful.  Even though this is a pro chef forum there is no reason to perpetuate the myth that chefs are foulmouthed egotistical OCD ADHD primadonnas.

post #23 of 27

Couple of comments....

 

wait until you have been there a year before you look to move up. Also...if this position does not work out it will look better on a resume that you staid a year.

 

hang out with the line cooks and learn as much as you can. Ask them if they will let you try preparing a dish for yourself "just to have some fun" Lean the menu and preparation before you ask again.... They will see you are interested  you have something on your side to offer.

post #24 of 27
WOW.
post #25 of 27

I will have to agree more with the people here that are saying to keep your head up, keep at it and try to proof to the Chef that you are not just another cook but are Chef material.

 

Over the decades I have trained many cooks to become Chefs and I have let many cooks go because they acted like Chefs but actually were nowhere close to the standard that was needed.

 

I think it was a good decision to talk to your Chef and stand your ground.

I know - never argue with Chef :) but to be honest, I actually respected those guys more that came to me (in private) and challenged a decision or stood their grounds than those, that just "moused" around the whole time.

Never EVER challenge your Chef in the open though :)

 

10 years of experience - that is a good start. Being 35, no crime there.

I think one of the bigger things is, as cheflayne pointed out is, that if you are a quiet person that speaks more through their work, it can be challenging for management to really see your potential and as in every kitchen in the world, mistakes will always outshine good work because that is seen immediately.

 

Suggestion from my side:

Be a little bit more vocal, take charge here and there (minor situations, don't want to be stepping on anyone's toes just yet) and definitely give it another 6 months before you hang up that apron. You sound like someone who loves cooking, who lives and breathes kitchen and therefore it would be a real shame if you converted to a tie wearing office person :)

post #26 of 27

I'm sure you are good enough. Personally if I were you I would look for another job it doesn't seem as if your employers want to promote you for some reason. Sometimes it just comes down to politics. Certain people get preferred if they are kissing a**.

In my last job nothing I did was right for my head chef. In the end I realised she just didn't like me so I left. I think you should do the same it doesn't seem like you are getting the respect you deserve.

post #27 of 27
I don't have a lot of experience, and I am just starting out, but from simply a working viewpoint, I agree with this comment.
There are some people out there, that just want it easy, and they just don't give a rats ass about your dreams. Move on and start again.
I always wanted to be a cook, but I had a family and obligations, kids ect.they are all grown now, so I am starting again. I'm not dying before I do something I love. Unfortunately, my work ethic and attitude were taken advantage of, because days off to my chef were more important than teaching and mentoring me. I was nobody and new nothing... He left me alone to do banquets all by myself and also in his resturant as a short order cook...With only 3 months working in a kitchen..ever. No schooling either. Everything was fine until I had one bad day in the kitchen. The front was not working with the back, orders got confused ect. I was absolutely not ready for this , but he made me anyways. He wanted a day off.
See what I mean?
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