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For Those of You Who Love Cooking and Want to Make a Decent Living at it Wihtout Killing Yourself

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

This is more than likely something many of you have never heard:

 

Don't go to culinary school! Huge expenses, debt, and low pay for years is what you will incur. Join the military, preferably the Air Force or Navy as a Services or Mess Specialist. Learn as much as you can about the principals of the kitchen in your 4-6 years in. You will start out for the most part as a prep cook, fry cook, or burger flipper and need to work your way up, of course. Spend at least 4 years in. And don't just learn cooking, but baking too. If the military kitchen doesn't have baking, enroll in courses or teach yourself. Be versatile! Baking requires a lot more strategy and preciseness.

 

Once you are about to separate or retire from the military, go to usajobs.gov and apply for a cook position in the Wage Grade category, usually it's from WG-05 to WG-08. Hourly pay ranges from $15 to $30 an hour depending on where you live and time you've worked, with pay raises increasing at 6 months, then every 1 1/2 years 4 more times until maxed out and dependent on annual raises by then. Avoid those NA cook jobs, which are usually $10 an hour, short order cooking with few benefits.

 

The Wage Grade cooks for the most part work at VA kitchens, military hospitals, or Army and Air Force dining halls. Most of the rest are employed by Department of the Interior for seasonal work. Most hire only those that are already in the civil service or served at least 4 years in the military with an honorable discharge.

 

Most of the time, the cooking will not be anything glamorous, but still a fine deal and you're paid what you're worth, plus benefits, vacation, and retirement.

 

AND, there's another alternative. Working at a remote environment or on a boat for weeks at a time, like a 3 on and 3 off. Alaska and offshore rigs are full of those jobs! Most of your pay comes from overtime. Annual salary usually ranges $50-70K per year. Knew a cook that worked for Crowley Maritime cooking only for 6 people on a tugboat making 70K per year.

 

From what I haven't mentioned here, the sad reality is that the private sector of kitchen work, whether you are a dishwasher or executive chef with decades of experience, is a hard life! Drug and alcohol abuse, low pay, burnout, and high turnover are extremely common.

post #2 of 8

WHile I agree with you about avoiding the debt that goes along with getting a culinary degree the military is not for everyone. And you may get put into a combat zone and again that is not for everyone. As we have said many many times here at ChefTalk you should NOT go to culinary school right out the gate you should work in a restaurant for at least 1 year but preferably more. 

Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
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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)
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post #3 of 8

The Navy changed the title of the mess management specialist (MS) rating to culinary specialist (CS) in 2004. While most Navy CSs serve in ship and shore galleys, there is opportunity to serve in smaller messes, such as the captain's mess or flag mess. A select few serve in the White House mess. The down side is the management of shipboard and shore living quarters.

 

Yes, as @Nicko pointed out, a Navy CS may also serve in a combat zone on-board a ship or on land. Many distinguished themselves in combat, including those that "gave the last full measure of devotion": Chief Commissary Steward Willard J. Reynolds on PT-34 in the defense of the Philippines in April 1942, Cook Third Class Doris Miller in the torpedoing of the USS Liscome Bay in 1943 (Pearl Harbor hero on the USS West Virginia) and Culinary Specialist First Class Regina Clark of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment in Iraq in June 2005.

 

MSCS, US Navy, Retired

post #4 of 8

I can't help but simply shake my head.

The culinary specialists as they are called, do the same tasks as any other cook would do in mass food production situations all across the USA.

I'm curious as to why these people make so much more money than the working class.

Would it have something to do with our over bloated military spending?

 

Combat situations aside, I don't understand this.

post #5 of 8

@Chefross -- @jondstewart was saying you could make $15 to $30 per hour working for the federal government after separation from the service. A Navy CS3 with two years service makes $2122.80 per month base pay or the equivalent of $12.24 per hour for a 40-hour week. It's even less per hour when you consider that they often work longer hours without the benefit of overtime. In the Armed Forces, all service men and women of equal pay grade make the same salary, regardless of your job.

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 


That is very true on base pay. But base pay! Free medical and dental, housing allowance from $400 to $2000 a month depending on where you live and married or not, and some $300 worth of grocery money.

 

I'm not positive, but I think for the most part you make more as a batch or production cook than a line cook.

 

And no, the military is certainly not for everyone! Few join because they want to fight in war or patriotism. But man, I've worked on the outside and it is tough! They'll run you into the ground and pay you as little as possible.

post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by jondstewart View Post

 

 

From what I haven't mentioned here, the sad reality is that the private sector of kitchen work, whether you are a dishwasher or executive chef with decades of experience, is a hard life! Drug and alcohol abuse, low pay, burnout, and high turnover are extremely common.

No experience in cooking for the military--well....14 weeks of cooking for 200 men in the Swiss Army, but that's not the point.

 

Drug and alcohol abuse are very common in every sector, not just the hospitality sector.  However drug and alcohol abuse is extremely rampant in remote lumber camps, mines, oil rigs, etc.  Oh, and if you want to keep your money if you work these places, avoid card games and gambling in general.....

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #8 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by jondstewart View Post
 


That is very true on base pay. But base pay! Free medical and dental, housing allowance from $400 to $2000 a month depending on where you live and married or not, and some $300 worth of grocery money.

 

I'm not positive, but I think for the most part you make more as a batch or production cook than a line cook.

 

And no, the military is certainly not for everyone! Few join because they want to fight in war or patriotism. But man, I've worked on the outside and it is tough! They'll run you into the ground and pay you as little as possible.

@jondstewart 's point is valid. Housing, medical care and meals are provided in military facilities. The services do not give housing and food allowances to everyone, but only to those who are married. For your average single E-3 and E-4 that lives in the barracks and eats in the mess hall, base pay is it.

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