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Getting Started without Culinary School

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hello all, I need some advice.


This fall I will be starting my final year of university working towards a degree in a field I don't want to work it.  I have wanted to be a chef since I was very small and after much reflection have come to the realization that I want to switch careers before I get tied to a desk job.  Unfortunately, this revelation came too late for me to transfer to a culinary school and dropping out now would be a waste of money.  I have decided to try to get a job in a kitchen part time for my last year of school (nights and weekends probably) and switch to full time when I graduate; I'll work my way up through the ranks and go to culinary school when I have the money and feel I would benefit from a more structured education.  


I do not make this decision lightly.  I know that the hours are long, the work is hard, and the pay is minimal.  I have some experience working in a kitchen but it is limited and unofficial.  Whenever I'm home I help out at a family friend's restaurant (it's very small) doing almost anything and everything: dish washing, serving, busing, inventory, chopping, and some food prep.  I also spent a summer working in the kitchen of the local homeless shelter for four hours a day, five days a week.  I know its not comparable to the pressures of working in a large professional kitchen, I just say this to show I know what I'm getting myself into.  I do not want to be a chef for the money or the chance for stardom.  I want to be a chef because I love to cook and it makes me happy knowing others enjoy my food.  And I perfectly happy starting out with repetitive, menial tasks.


That being said, I have read up on some of the advice in other parts of the forum and I have a question.  How does one go about getting an entry level job in a kitchen with no formal training? Just as a dish washer or something similar.  I looked into it at the beginning of the year and all positions seem to require either prior experience or attendance at a culinary school.  Should I just go into restaurants and ask someone? What are my chances of actually finding work that way?  And how does one move up in a kitchen from something like a dish washer to being on food prep or a line cook?  


Any advice is welcome and appreciated! 

post #2 of 6

Curious, in what field is your degree? Why did you continue to pursue a college degree when you've known that you "wanted to be a chef since (you were) very small"? How do you propose to pay for your student loans (assuming you've amassed some impressive debt) on a dishwasher's wage?

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

My degree is in International Relations.  I'm going to graduate with little to no student loans because my dad's life insurance payout covers most of my education.  I went to a traditional university because I thought I had to.  Its what was expected of me. It took me too long to realize that. But at least I get to start with nothing, which is many thousand dollars better than most people in my shoes.

post #4 of 6
Switch to business ( International relations was a business class at my Uni). Business is what you need. Money becomes important eventually. Do the extra year or two Im sure they will transfer a lot of credits. Don't take a dishwashing job, your not 15 " working your way up".

What does a degree in " international relations" give you? Politics? Why waste anither 10-20 grand or whatever your planning on wasting just because " dropping iut now would be a waste" . Staying in, knowing it is a waste is a waste. Hopefully you learned something and had some life experience, thats what uni is all about anyway.

Then apply for cook jobs become a Chef, its that simple. Get a job in kitchen now your 1 year ahead then!
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

International Relations is a broad term with many specializations in things like politics, environment, security, human rights, etc.  I have some extra elective credit open next year.  I'll definitely take some business classes.  And look into a part time job as a cook.  But how do I get one without any real prior experience? Should I just go in a talk to a manager? Head Chef? Owner? 

post #6 of 6

In my humble opinion, you can cut a path into the kitchen by strategising a little. For example:


- choose a specific restaurant that you'd like to work in. One that's local, has cuisine you've eaten and enjoy

- knock on the door at around 9am i.e. when the exec/head chef's likely to be in but unlikely to get heavily into preparing for lunch

- be concise with who you are and what you want. Say you've eaten there, like the restaurant, have a passion for food and would like a trial as a prep cook with a view to working one Saturday a week unpaid

- if given a shift, get yourself a knife roll, proper knives, the correct dresswear etc. Be prepared for that day as if you're full time


Compromise is required but please don't compromise your qualification in International Relations. If you're lucky, the chef will throw a shift at you and see how you do. The best outcome all round is that you work a few full shifts and see how you like it while the restaurant has a young, enthusiastic cook who's willing to floret herbs, skim stock and vac packing purées for 18 hours every Saturday. Maybe for free initially and maybe leading to part time paid work. A lot of chefs, however, won't entertain people who want to work just one day a week, free or not. But earn that qualification so you have it to fall back on if you find that cuts, burns and bruised egos aren't worth the hassle!

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