Advice needed - work before Culinary School

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Joined Sep 20, 2001
Hi...I was looking for some advice. I am seriously considering a career change - possibly going to culinary school for a new career in cooking.

To aid in my decision, I'm taking rec classes at the school at which I would like to attend (lots of fun...!), doing a lot of reading (books like Making of a Chef), reading everything on this website, etc.

One thing I would like to do before I completely decide is get in a kitchen. Either a p/t job, or even trail if possible. The issue is, while I have cooking experience in terms of home cooking (I know how to handle a knife, etc), and have had a couple of classes, I don't have any restaurant experience.

Besides luck and begging, are there ways to approach a restaurant and apply for a position? Do I ask to speak with the Chef (or is there someone else that does hiring...?)? Do I simply explain my situation and see what he/she says?

Anything anyone can say to help me would be MUCH appreciated!!!

Thanks!!!

- cjssjc
 
3,853
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Joined May 26, 2001
Dear cjssjc (hey, that's a palindrome! What does it stand for?),

It's a great idea for you to try to get some "real-world" experience before you drop a ton of money on school! That way you can see what it's really like, and decide whether or not it really is for you. In fact, some schools (I think CIA for one) require that you have some experience before you can be accepted.

One way you can go about it is to go to the restaurants in your area that you like, and ask to talk to the chef (make sure you don't go during service, though!). Explain that you have no experience and want to get some, and that you are willing to do anything. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you can afford to work for free (that is called a "stage"), or need to get paid (in which case it will probably be minimum-wage). Be upfront about that. One of the most important things is that you go to places you like, because you'll be more likely to see stuff that you want to learn to do. If one place can't/won't take you, keep trying. A lot of people have actually started their careers that way.

Although it won't get you into a restaurant kitchen, another tactic you can take is to volunteer at an institutional kitchen, such as a local soup kitchen or other feeding program. Remember that there are lots and lots of cooking jobs in other kinds of places, not just restaurants. At this kind of place, you'll still get some good experience, and do some good as well.

Finally, talk to the placement people at the school. Maybe they can help you locate a position.

Whatever you do, don't be shy about it. There are many people who want to help you, both here and in the industry. Keep the faith, and keep reading, studying, and learning! And keep in touch!
 
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Joined Sep 20, 2001
Suzanne -

Thanks for the great advice. I didn't think of the soup kitchen option - I like that.

I'll keep you posted!!!
- cjssjc

PS - cjssjc is just some letters I picked, that's all!!!
 
24
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Joined Nov 16, 2001
Absolutely get some experience before you pay for school. I am a student right now after having been in the business for 5 years. Many of my classmates are career changers and are being BURIED due to the lack of knowing what "real" cooking is like. They have all the passion, but many have dropped out before they got past the inital tidal wave of information you get once you step behind a stove. It isn't all that hard, but they felt overwhelmed. You have to understand that cooking professionally is all practice practice practice. Nobody is good at it the first few weeks, even months.. keep at it.. I have the worst knife skills in the world but evey 6 weeks we are tested and I keep improving... how? PRACTICE. Good luck and I hope you join this awesome world.:chef:
 
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Joined Sep 20, 2001
Hi Thirteendog. Thanks for the advice....I know I have to get into a kitchen.

I actually did apply to school, and I will start in the spring. But I do have some time to back out if the work experience scares me!

I don't think it will, though. I've worked in an office in corporate america long enough to appreciate a day of good hard work, instead of the soulless office that I deal with everyday. :)

Thanks, again.
- cjssjc
 
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Joined Nov 16, 2001
may I ask which school?? I attend Le Cordon Bleu at Scottsdale Culinary Institute and I love it so far. In fact, I am helping our executive chef hold a demonstration tonight, school has many more opportunities than just classes, so make sure you can find time to do 'extra' stuff, you get to learn more.. WHEE!
 
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Joined Sep 20, 2001
ICE...used to be Peter Kumps. From what I understand, they too have volunteer opportunities, which I plan on taking advantage of as much as possible. I can't wait!
 
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Joined Sep 20, 2001
Hi. I also forgot to ask in my original post - once I go out and try to get some p/t or stage work - what do I need in terms of "stuff"? Do I need to get clothes, or does a restaurant usually supply them? Do I bring my own knives? What else do I need? Does it all depend on the restaurant?

Thanks!!!
 
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Joined Nov 16, 2001
yeah, it totally depends on where... i'd say that any place someone just starting out will want to work will provide you w/ knives. Everybody shares them, most places 'rent' knives that get rotated by sharpened ones every two weeks or so by the knife sharpening company they work with. As far as uniforms go.. some places don't care what you wear as long as it's decent and clean. Other places ask for a specific kind of shirt or may even have you buy a uniform from them or a uniform store. They'd tell you all that at the interview or orientation. I've never really had to bring my knives to work w/ me except when I was a chef for a fraternity house. They didn't have any real knives in thier kitchen so I lugged mine in every day. :bounce:
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
cjssjc, I would recommend purchasing a good set of knives and a carrying case. Most serious cooks will invest and many places require you have them. Usually the ones provided, if provided, are stamped blades and kind of junky.

You may want to check with your local ACF chapter and see if they offer an apprenticeship program, that way you can learn and get paid at the same time, then go on to the higher dollar schools once your feet are wet. You have many options in this field.
 
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Joined Nov 16, 2001
johnpaul has a point there... just don't go buying the big expensive cadillacs until you've gotten comfortable using professional grade knives and then you'll know what fits your hand and your technique best.
 

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