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im 53 and unemployed . love cooking and decided to go to college next september to study a 2 year certificate in culinary arts. is it too late?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

hello im unemployed and im 53 years old. now i have work in bars and restaurants for years but it was front of house. i have always loveed cookng and i have seen chefs at work. so i know the drill., i know what to expect but that doesent deter me at all.

 anyhow i have applied for a 2 year certificate course in culinary arts at a very good college. 

i am wondering if anyone could advise me whether im too old at 53 to be wanting to become a chef? is it too late? do you think i will find work as a commis chef at my age when i finish? 


i am physchically fit and look young for my age. i have always had a passion for food. been unemployed for so long has made me decide the best thing to do is try to retrain or go back to college to do something else. therefore i decided to try and accomplish my dream of persuing a career as a chef


just want to know what you people in professional chef world think of my decision? is there any of you in the same situation as me? or have any of you started a career in culinary arts at such an age. 

by the way im irish and live in ireland. 

post #2 of 23

Oh wow where do I even begin? In a nutshell my answer is : DO NOT DO IT!


Starting at that age is going to be a big hindrance. You will not come out of culinary school ready to contribute in a kitchen, you'll be somewhat prepared for an entry level prep position at a very meager pay, starting at age 55 by the way. It takes most people about 4-6 years after school to become a sous chef (you'll be at or over 60 years old by this point) and being a sous is grueling and tiresome work if you have the tenacity to even reach that point (most don't). Oh an sous chefs don't make much either, most not even enough to live on. I don't know what your financial situation is but being a cook/chef is a young person's game not only because of the physical and mental grind but because of the financial aspect as well. People in their early to late 20's dominate the cooking game because they still have the ability or are willing to live on $12 an hour but many leave when they want a chance at a regular life such as a spouse, a home, kids etc. and living on a cook's wage simply isn't practical.


I really strongly suggest you look more deeply into the compensation, lifestyle and work conditions of the industry before applying to culinary school. If it's your dream to cook I suggest doing it non-professionally.

post #3 of 23

Noel, 55 is the new 40! I think if you found a Chef to apprentice under it would be a wonderful way to learn. I started my business at 47 but, I had worked in 25 restaurants up until that time. There are a lot of restaurants that would love to have what you have to offer after your trained. I think at your age owners would look at you as a mature figure in the kitchen that would keep everything on an even keel. I do feel that you would be wasting your time in school. I wish there was a fast track to getting past the bullshit and into a better position in the kitchen. The food service business is a business of passion. If you have this passion in your later years in life you could work until your bones tell you to stop........The best and welcome to Cheftalk..........Chef Bill

post #4 of 23
Thread Starter 

a big hindrance??? im 53 not 73 . haha thaniks. well i dont think so

post #5 of 23

I think it would be better if you first got a job in the industry.

post #6 of 23

You are probably too old. 

What are your goals? Do you just want to cook on the line or do you want to run your own kitchen someday? 


It's going to be hard for the first couple years out of school. I'm not just talking physically, I mean mentally. You are going to suck. You will be too slow. You will get yelled at/belittled (probably). The other cooks will probably make fun of you. If you are lucky they will make fun of you to your face, if not they will do it behind your back. You will get kicked off the line, shoved out of the way. 


Are you OK taking orders from a 20-something chef or cook? 


You might have trouble finding a job. People won't expect you to last long. 


Do you have a family? Kids? Wife/Husband? Are you used to seeing them regularly? 


Are you used to being spoken to with dignity and respect? Do you value a corporate HR department and paid sick leave? 


Are you OK getting paid crap money for the rest of your working life?

post #7 of 23

Here's a good long read about starting out at the mid century mark.


I'm with someday and linecook, this is a young persons game. Knowing what I know, there is no way in hell that I would start out in this business at 53. You will be collecting ssi by time you have put in enough time to get a good sous job.

post #8 of 23

  "The Chosen one the boy may be, but never-the-less! Great danger I fear in his training...":smoking: Yoda to Obi-wan on Anakin being too old.


Sorry I'm a geek like that...


  But seriously, where do these scales put someone like me if my goal is to become a private chef. I"m 29 with 3 years B.O.H., preceded by 7 years F.O.H. having worked for the Brennan's, Rick Gratia's and Emeril Lagasse's restaurant groups for more than half of those 7 years. Noel stated he is a career service industry worker, not an outsider. Career waiters KNOW food knowledge and preparation techniques. Sure waitresses can pull tips with there looks; I never made an extra dime by my looks or kissing ass but from what I soaked in on the craft that is culinary art. I say go for it, I'm doing it and loving it. I might have made more as a waiter yeah, but money does not make one rich.

Edited by NewOrleansCookJ - 2/12/16 at 6:32am
post #9 of 23

Here is the deal I have a degree in pastry arts it was a 2 year degree . When i went to school my goals were to learn ice carving and how to decorate wedding cakes . I did 1 wedding cake the whole time i was in school i assisted with ice jobs but never carved because of insurance things with the school and students and chainsaws . So the two things i am most passionate about I never did much of in school. I leared a but load of all kinds of pastry stuff that I could have cared less about . Did that education serve me well yes it got me job, and it got me recognition, I had alot of fun . Heres the deal you dont need a degree to work in food save your money and get an internship for min wage and learn under a chef who will take you on. I was in school for pastry was I really there for breads , and cakes and such no want to carve ice and do sugar sculpture I would have been been better served at art school and taken a baking class . 

You said you worked front of the house are you aware at any age you can easily make 30-90 K per year as a bartender get good as a bartender and i know of a bartender at a gold club who makes 110,000 a year is he good he is the best ! consider this because it sounds like you have skills you can make money doing other stuff with. Here is my suggestion as a person who has been around the block for a long time I'm 41 i have been at this since I was 14 . Work for 6 months to a year for a chef who will take you under his wing and teach you what you need to know . Maybe you start as a salad cook then move to prep cook then move to line cook ect.. learn the field and see if its what you want before dropping 25-60 K on an education you might not really use . You will probably be paid min wage . and over your career with or with out an education you might only on average get paid 20-35K per year at 60 hours a week . can you stand being on your feet from 11 am till 1 am 6 days a week. do you like swearing, dirty jokes, pranks, drugs, alcoholics, racism, sexism, and hate these are all parts of 90% of the places I have worked , usually workers over 48 cant stand this stuff its a regular occurrence. and its how its delt with is they turn a blind eye to it. and you still have to deal with it . or leave . foodservice in the back of the house is a huge different world than from of the house its hot did I say Its hot its hot !!! You work shoulder to shoulder tithe the same people day in and day out . This can be good , this can be bad. Is the exc chef a good one or and axxxxxe they are all good in an interview . Id say work for a chef for a while and then think about school . So many people when i was at school dropped out my program started with 52 people on october 1998 on june 2000 there was 12 of us left in the program and this was at school not even in the full time work force yet give your self some time and get a job and see if you like it and after that if you like it go to school if not become a bartender in an expensive restaurant and make 30-90 a year .

post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 

ok thanks for the comments i forgot to add two important points.. i have worked before as a commis chef for over 2 and half years so i already did start at the bottom but in ireland having no certification makes it very difficult to find work. also this course is free of charge. and my plan is go eventualy aftre 2 years in a kitchen to go out on my own

post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 

i have worked in kitchens before i just want to get the papers so that i can go out and work on my own. that way i will qualify for a grant to set up my own business?

post #12 of 23
Thread Starter 

ok thanks for the comments . negative as they were. you all said the truth and said it how it is. i appreciate and respect that. i have decided i probably be better to change my course choices. i was a bar and restaurant manager before. i shall try and do an upskill course . in restaurant management. its only for 3 months and i have done the practical work for nearly 25 yeaars. just find it hard to find a job. but the college here has an excellent reference in placing students in work. and alot of them older than myself. so thank you everybody. it has made me decide that perhaps back of house is not a good idea at my age . so i shall remain in front of house . lol. besides i know i'd be earning a much more decent wage . thanks again

post #13 of 23

If you have worked as a commis and you know and you like it then I'd say go for it.  I'm not sure about the certification part but if it's what you love then do it.

post #14 of 23

I hope you are still coming back to see replies to your post. No one seems to have asked the obvious question. Why were you unemployed for so long? 

As for your age, I don't think that matters if you don't let it but I wouldn't assume the only job you can get is as a commis. What kind of kitchen work are you interested in? 

Working a restaurant line isn't the only option. There are plenty of cooking jobs in schools, corporate parks, retirement homes and many others where you can work.

Are you familiar with basic cooking techniques or are you going to school to learn the basics? 

At any rate, before making any final decision, think about what you will regret in ten years. Someone once said, in our old age, we don't regret what we did, we regret what we didn't do. 

If cooking professionally is that important to you, find a way. 

post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 

i gave up the industry back in 2012 to return home and help out with my brother who was ill with cancer. now i am free to persue my career. and want to get back in the work force again. i did work for 2 years as a prep chef and commis chef . in a hotel. i dont plan in going back into hotels. i was thinking along the lines of industrial catering. hospitals. schools . self employment etc. the 2 year course is free . no costs involved.  i would learn the basics yes but also how to manage a kitchen. do the books. various european and asian dishes , proper use of knives etc. most of this i already know. my only problem is i do not have qualifications. and i would need a certificate in culinary arts if i wanted to work in a a school, nursing home or private catering. you  dont really need certification to work in a hotel or certain restaurants. but i dont plan to go down that line

no your right a commis chef is not the only type of job left open to me after college. there is chef management in an industrial or school catering environment because i already hold a restaurant management qualification. like i said i worked in front of house. so i am actually half way there

post #16 of 23

     If the two year course is free, by all means take it. Taking care of your sick brother is an excellent reason to be out of work and nothing to worry about. So far I see no reason in anything you posted to stop you from doing what you want. Do a bit of networking/asking around to see what jobs you can get to work around your school schedule. 

I think in the right environment you may find your age to be a benefit. As you'll read in many posts here, many employers just want someone reliable and hard working with a positive attitude. Your work history may count for more than you realize. 

    If at all possible, get an informational interview with a human resource director. In looking for work, you may find yourself overqualified for jobs you apply for but no one may tell you that outright. And you could be underestimating your value. Get some input as to how to apply your experience to applying for the right job.  They may also assume you are looking for a higher pay rate than you actually are. The interview with the HR director can illuminate where to focus your job search energies and provide tips on how to present yourself. 

     Formatting your resume correctly is a part of this. The "proper"formatting for resumes seems to change with the wind direction. So get some up to date info on what to include and how to present it. 

Fwiw, I'm the same age and while employed, have the same problems with job hunting. I hate the process of looking for work.  So I'm writing this and will be taking my own advice. 

post #17 of 23

What about taking the 12 week course at Ballymaloe or somewhere like that feasable or affordable for you?Would the completion of that give you the qualifications you're looking for? 

post #18 of 23

The fact that we could talk you out of it shows that it probably wasn't a good path for you. 


Like I said, I think it all depends on your goals. I don't personally think that taking a 2 year course and working for 2 years in a kitchen qualifies you very well for running a kitchen. If your goal is catering or institutional food service (where the hours are typically shorter or at least more regular, 9-5 and 2 days off a week, etc) that changes it a bit. 


You also didn't mention the 2 year program was free--that does change things a bit. You won't be investing thousands of dollars that you will struggle to pay back for a LONG time. 


You also didn't mention your previous experience as a commis--that will tell you what it is like. 


Also remember, that if you enjoy cooking you can do it part time (as a caterer, etc) or in your spare time at home, while you pay the bills doing front of house work. 


I re-read my previous post and it comes off a little harsher than I thought. I just wouldn't want to see someone invest so much not knowing what they were getting into. 

post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 

 yes well the idea of going into hotels and up market restaurants would be a turn off for me after those comments ?? lol but  i was talking to freinds last night and als was at the colllege yesterday discussing my options and they have suggested i just go ahead and do it?? because i do have experience and it is free. yes i did not mention my previous experience and background and that the course is free of charge. actually i would be getting an allowance while on the course and a student card which gives me good reductions on travel, work clothing.. and other stuff that students get in this country. 

i probably should of given it more thought imto my earliar comment and mentoned what my previous experience was and the course itself. sorry. i jsut went in there and all that poured out of my head.  

i probably should of also said that it would not be hotels that im gearing towards? its more industrial catering. and yes it would be mainly part time. or full time depending on the contract etc.

this 2 year course doesent just cover cooking food but also costing and control. stock taking. accounting, computers. leadership skills. im not really looking to become a  head chef. ..more of a catering manager. in catering. although i know with the course you do have to spend 3 months as a commis in a hotel or restaurant setting as a commis as part of the course. this we do at the end of first year. but they organise that and would pick the right institution for you. im not too worried about that. lol it will be an experience for me. 

i also have an idea of going into self employment. but that willl need alot of capital here in Ireland. 

sorry i should of said all this earliar. you see im not a complete novice. but thank you for your comments. 

post #20 of 23

Noelf, It looks like you have all your ducks in a row. I'm sure that everything will turn out fine, I wish you the best. I don't know what small type food services you have in Ireland. I'm in the Pacific Northwest in America. In Portland, Oregon they have a lot of portable food available. Food trucks, Carts set in pods offering 1000's of different kinds of food. This is a great way to get into something fast and reasonable. Portland happens to have a real acceptance for these kinds of food offerings. Needless to say Portland is a free and open kind of place. I wouldn't try this in a traditional part of the country. You know have to be a Chef to be a good cook. If you have a few food  items your good at this type operation could fit you well. This type operation would also allow you to own your operation and set your own hours. The people who own these also cater out of them. If you need more info let me know. Google Portland Oregon Food cart pods. If your interested you could start the process when going to school......Top of the Day to you me boy!


post #21 of 23
Thread Starter 

thank you for the advice and yes i will be go ahead and do the 2 year certificate in culinary arts. for one thing i am on benefits. the course is free and i will be able to purchase a student travel card. get uniforms and knives at half price. will get excellent job contacts and better training.

ballymaloe would cost me too much and it would not cover areas of chef/kitchen management, menu costings . leadership skills etc. dont get me wrong ballymaloe is a brilliant college but i could not afford it. 

i have a plan. and it will work better with the 2 year certificate course. and who knows i might even stay in college and just do the honours degree go into teaching? who knows? 

i should of mentioned that i worked for 2 years as a commis chef before and then i was in my late 40's and no problem to me lol. 

i know i can do it. i love cooking. i know what the industry is like.  i have worked in it since i was 16. ok that was mostly in the bar and the restaurant but i know what i am letting myself in for?? 

i appreciate and respect all of your comments and thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

i shall keep you all updated every 3 months . for example the interviews for the course are in may. if im sucessful i will begin the course in september 2016

i may not ever become a head chef but that doesent bother me? but i will become a chef manager or catering manager in industrial catering or hospitals etc.  or maybe i might enjoy education and go the whole hog and do a degree/ masters in culinary arts. its only another 2/3 years. and get into teacing . look we dont know where we will be tomorrow. we could get knocked down by a drunk in a car. so i just take each day as it comes. i just wanted to see what you.. the professionals thought of my idea and i appreciate your comments. 

but if i can prove that age is but a number???  im in excellent health and already have experience as a bar and restaurant manager. so why not the kitchen now lol. 

ok i shall keep you guys posted. :) 

post #22 of 23

Go for it.  The kitchen is a tough place for any age.  A majority of the young cooks I see just don't have the work ethic to be a good cook.  It's a hard job. If you're emploayble someone will hire you. Catering or a corpoate job, Compass group, Aramark or Sodexho might be right for you.  Working 8-4 with weekends and holidays off woud be nice,  I think some of the more negative commenters were thinking you would jump right into a restaurant kitchen banging out 300 covers a night.  That's hard for anybody.  There's a thousand option out there foor cooks.  Find what's best for you.  Good luck!

post #23 of 23

It's so true!  Depending on the market there's always a place for a good cook.  I'm the chef of a restaurant in a town of 5000 in western MN and I will tell you my best line cook here would have been washing dishes at my last gig.  There's just no culinary talent to be had here, at all.  If someone needs a skill I have to teach it to them, no matter how simple.  No one here had ever heard of blanching vegetables, they have no idea how to cook pasta, they can't temp burgers let alone steaks.  In this market I'd hire an 80 year old if s/he knew how to cook a sirloin to temp.

"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
"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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