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school, life, etc...

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Hello Everyone,

I am writing this today to 1) introduce my self/ situation and 2) get a few things off my chest.

I spent a better part of yesterday reading many of the strings on this site. I came away mostly impressed as there are many friendly and helpful people here. My overall impression of the professionals here is, however, negative. I seems that you want to deter people from entering your profession. I am not sure why, but I wish I understood it. Yes, I understand that there are a lot of people out there that want to be a chef simply because they LOVE Food TV. (While I do like the network, there is nothing that I watch religiously. I simply love food and cooking.) People like that are probably doomed from the beginning as they have an idealistic view of the world you live and work in. I am not (yet) a member of your community. I am a customer service professional that longs to do something for a living that I love, cook.

I read strings yesterday about the debate of school vs. experience and the attitudes of those graduating from school towards their co-workers without a culinary degree or certificate. Trust me when I say that I understand the frustration of those that have been busting thier a**es for years only to lose out a job to someone ONLY because they have a piece of paper that you do not have. However, I can't fault someone just because they went to school. Kudos to them. I wish I had done it.

I have been working for nearly 16 years in the customer service industry. I started at the bottom and have had entry level positions all the way up to management positions. I do have some college, however I do not have a degree. I am currently in a situation that I will be losing my job in less than 2 months. The contract the company I work for has is ending and they have not, as yet, identified a new position for me. I have been sending out resumes and interviewing since the beginning of the year, mostly to be told that it will be hard for me to compete because I do not have a degree. I have more experience than most of the applicants, probably combined, but since I do not have that paper, I am out of luck.

I am burned out, tired of the field I work in, and have been wanting to leave it for years, however I am doing it for the time being simply because I have to. The money OK and I have a family to support. Around here there really isn't much to choose from, unless I want to wash dishes or bus tables for $5/hour. My wife, the love of my life, my raison d'etre, is my support, my rock. She KNOWS that I want to go to cooking school, but unfortunately there are none here. I had actually looked at a school in Minneapolis/ St Paul before we moved here to be closer to her 2 girls. I had planned to attend, but then we moved (2 yrs ago). We made a deal that as soon as the youngest graduates HS (2 more years) I would attend the school of my choice.

My desire has not diminished, only thrived. I have researched and read and cooked and longed to move to a bigger city, which I am determinded to do. I have decided to attend an LCB school (probably Western Culinary Institute in Portland,,,we love the area and want to get out of the midwest). I toured their facility in MN and was impressed. I got to meet a couple of instructors, toured the facility (with my wife) while classes were in session and was welcomed with opens arms. I was in heaven, this is what I was meant to do. I liked the organization, and the program. It has since been changed to be longer and even more intensive. 18 mos, and somewhere around 108 credit hours,,,lots to learn in that time, but I am ready.

Yes, I understand that there is a long, hard road ahead of me, but that is fine with me. I am not afraid to learn, or pay my dues. I have done it before in a different industry. I know I can do it again. I am not operating under the delusion that I am going to be a star, or on television, making a 6 figure income or working 9-5. I am simply tired of working at something that I hate. I hate getting up in the morning KNOWING I will be watching the clock. I HATE getting up in the morning knowing that day after day will be more of the same, boring work. Now, I know you're thinking, well get ready for more of the same, because that is what being a chef is like. Actually, when you break it down, almost ALL jobs are like that. Yes, I understand that. One thing you may not realize, however, is that for the first time I will be doing something I love for a living. Bring it on. Bring on the crappy hours, the long nights, the abusive bosses, the pain, the cranky co-workers etc....I have done it before, I can do it again.

People graduate, take a job and the next thing you know, get used to the money. I didn't go to college right away. I worked for a couple years,,,THEN went to college, and hated it. I then went back to work and have been working full time ever since. You start making some money, have good benefits and the next thing you know, there you are doing a job that you hate and wondering where it will take you (probably nowhere).

The bottom line is everyone should have the opportunity to do something they love for a living. Sometimes it takes some of us longer to realize what that should be. Just because I want to go to school to learn a new craft does not mean that I expect anything more than anyone else. I simply want to have the best possible foundation for my new career, something I regret not doing the first time around.

I want to be a Chef, period.
If you love something, set it free. If it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it.
If you love something, set it free. If it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it.
post #2 of 6
Welcome to the board wadely you seem to have a good head on your shoulders. Don't mind our grumpy posts towards culinary newbies sometimes we just get jaded after the thousanth kid with stars i their eyes wanting to be Emeril lol...
post #3 of 6

I did the career switch too. If I manage to stick it out and become the chef, I will fill my kitchen with people like you. I like your attitude!

You mentioned you will have some free time - so to speak- in a couple of months. Why don't you apply for a job in a local restaurant just to get the hang of it? maybe a couple nights a week until you get back on your feet? At least this way you'll know for sure...

It's difficult for us switchers. We feel ready for the industry, but the industry is not allways ready for us. We deal with some pretty hard nosed individuals who have been cooking since they were teenagers. Their way of thinking, behaving, debating, getting things done, are very different from what we have become used to in our previous professions, and the adjustment can be rough.

I've had to resist the urge to walk out, use my chef knife for more definitive conflict solutions, blow the human rights whistle, you name it. But that said, I wouldn't go back to my old job for a million bucks. (well, maybe for 9 or 10)

If this is where you feel you belong, then this is what you must do. You WILL find lots of support here, starting with me. Good on you for pursuing this, and best of luck to you!

Oh, and my respects to your wife. I can attest to the immense relief and comfort one gets from a supporting spouse...
post #4 of 6
Hi wadely,

As I'm just a culinary student myself, I can't give you and definitive answers to your question about the animosity toward culinary students, but I do have a theory. I think that many student, unintentionally or not, may come off a little bit overconfident and holier than thou after finishing their schooling and entering the real world. Their heads are freshly filled with precise, rigid methods that they've memorized for their classes and chef instructors, and they may balk at doing it any way but the "correct" way. But when you walk into a chef's kitchen, he or she doesn't want to hear, "This isn't how we do it in school.". He or she doesn't want to sense a cockiness about you that might make you difficult to work with, and he or she doesn't want someone with 95% theoretical knowledge waltzing in and expecting to not pay their dues or get a free ride. A culinary education can help you accelerate your rise through the kitchen ranks, but chances are you'll have to start off at the bottom just like everyone else. Maybe from dishes, to prep, to pantry, etc. This is *not* a bad thing. If you want this, and I mean really want it, you won't have a problem washing dishes for a while. If you show a good work ethic and a positive attitude, chances are they won't waste you in the sink for very long.

My advice, for whatever it's worth, is to purpuse the culinary education. Work your *** off in classes. Really learn your lessons. And pursue work while in school in a kitchen. Show up in uniform with a filled out application and ask to speak to the chef. Be humble, honest, self-depricating, and eloquent. Let them know that you know how little you know and that you want to learn more under them. Let them know that you're not afraid to *work* for it. Let them know that prep would be great because you want to hone your knife skills. If you can spare a shift or two, offer to work for free. This reinforces the fact that you're willing to do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door, and just happens to be a requirement at my school. The chef will get to "try" you before he buys you, and all you have to do is really impress him. Make him want you in his kitchen.

That's the tack I'm taking, anyway. Good luck!
post #5 of 6
Hi, Wadely. I'm one of those grumpy, discouraging professionals. :lol:

I came to cooking from other careers -- many, many others -- via formal school training. I went to school because I figured that at my age when I wanted to make the switch (mid-40s), no one would hire me. I did very well in school (= I learned A LOT and worked very hard); I got an externship in a top restaurant; I worked in quite a few very good places, progressing from garde-manger to grill and saute and tournant, with a side trip into pastry. I worked alongside people who had no formal training, right up to CIA graduates.

After a while, I switched to managing the kitchen for a food manufacturer. No one there had any training at all. When I hired, I looked most for ATTITUDE. Do people want to work hard? Do they want to learn? Can they get along with others? Skills can always be learned or relearned. It really doesn't matter to me whether people went to school or not.

A lot of schools make the suggestible ones believe that they are entitled, which is flat out wrong. That upon graduation, they will be "chefs." Nonsense. Getting to be a chef takes many years of hard work in the kitchen, of study, of doing all kinds of things outside the kitchen (managing, financial stuff). So you see, when people say, "I want to go to school to become a chef," that's when some of us want to set them straight.

Just to finish my own story for you: after several years, I realized that I did NOT want to put up with the crappy hours, with having people who could be my kids (even grandkids!) yell at me because they didn't know how to manage, with working for owners who hadn't a clue how to run any kind of business, let alone a restaurant. I still cook, I still work with food, and I will until I die. But not in a restaurant-cooking environment. I hope you have a chance to explore all the other possibilities in this huge, fascinating industry. All the best.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks to all..

Thank for all of your replies. Hopefully I have not given the impression that I am at odds with all of you culinary professionals out there. Nothing could be further from the truth. Believe it or not, I envy you. Doing something you truly love to do for a living is an enviable position.

Thanks to Holydive, Anneke, Echo & Suzanne, I appreciate your comments.

There are a couple of good restaurants in town, one of which has a chef that studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. That restaurant and one other are two of my targets. I plan try to get some sort of work there to get my foot in the door and do whatever I can to learn as much as possible.

Also (Suzanne's reply reminded me of this) once I finish school and get some experience, there is really no limit to where you can go with this field. I have extensive supervisory/ management experience, so who knows? Perhaps one day I may make the same sort of move that Suzanne, made. However, one thing is for certain, once I begin, I will remain in the industry until they pry my cold, dead hands from my knife.

If you love something, set it free. If it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it.
If you love something, set it free. If it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it.
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