Any advice for an aspiring chef to be?

Joined Apr 19, 2008
Hey guys, I'm planning to enroll @ CIA in new york and was wondering what experiences any of you professionals have to offer or any advice in particular. Please only respond if you have been working in a kitchen for 20+ years and if possible provide examples of both good and bad scenarios you've experienced.

I'm hoping to one day become a head chef in a 2 star kitchen in the future. I have a strong passion for food and am tired of doing the norm. I have OCD to some degree if that helps.

Thanks again.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Well.... 25 years, will that do?

Only one piece of advice:


Anywhere, any kitchen. As you work, you will learn. I a lousy kitchen you will learn the value of good management and good organization. With a lousy Chef you will learn that you can always fool them if you know more than them.

Apply this knowledge........
Joined Apr 19, 2008
lol, 25 years will do. i guess i just want real responses from long time chefs, not new ones. i really appreciate your response. thank you soo much. was it hard at first when you started? is it different then and now? how much so?

if you don't mind, what kind of salary am i looking at in the short term? long term?
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Salary is almost always in step with experience. In most cases no practical work experience=minimum wage. True, there are Union jobs that pay $14/hr for starters, but you won't be getting 40 hrs a week, maybe a shift or two per week.

If you look at almost every job in the world, you will come to the conclusion that it is sales that make the money--production never makes big bucks, and , alas, cooking is production.

This is why it SO important to work in the industry first before you blow 30 or 40 grand for a diploma and find out that it will take you 10 years to pay it back.

You need to talk to employers and Chefs. Most of them will tell you flat out that they are not fazed/impressed by the school you went to; what impresses them ---or doesn't, is watching you work for the first 2 or 3 hours.
It's their labour cost, their call, "Is the guy worth the money I'm paying?".

That being said, paper credentials impresses the heck out of HR people and employers with very little experience in the industry.

The big boys--the national/international hotel chains, the smart boys, and the employers who pay the big bucks will ALWAYS look at what you did last job: What you did, your food and labour costs, your personal limitations, your employer's limitations, and, just as importantly, what you DIDN'T do at your last job.

Is it hard? Pysically, I think a production baker is hard, a caterer is hard, but a line cook is so-so. What cooking will demand from you is stamina. Those who succeed in this biz have incredible stamina.

You need to work to guage for yourself if you have the stamina, if you want to develop it, if you think your financial and personal relationships will allow you to work for a few years at lousy pay.
Joined Aug 7, 2008
"I have OCD to some degree if that helps."

As odd as it may sound I think some of the most successful Chef's I know have OCD to some degree. It may help with the drive and stamina this job takes to get things done.
What has changed over the last 20 years? A few things stick out in my mind.
One is the internet. With a computer or even an iPhone you have a world of information at your finger tips. 20 years ago we wouldn't be communicating this way (ever see a bag phone or hear of prodigy?) and you would not have had instant access to information from other Chef's, recipes, nutrition information etc. with the stroke of a key board.
The other change is media based as well. Food TV. As a result of that numerous cities across the US now have "THE BEST" culinary program in the nation or so many like to claim. The problem with about 99.9% of them is that once you leave that area no one has heard of that school.
There is one MAJOR factor that is frequently over looked in the value of going to the CIA. They have about a LOT of alums. They tend to stick together. So while the paper itself may not impress some a degree from the CIA can open doors that may never be open to you other wise. IMO the CIA is one of the few culinary schools worth going to. Having said that I've had a few CIA grads work for me that were less than useless. A very large percentage never work in the field for more than a year.
I know it's cliche but it's worth repeating. What you get out of any program is partially dependant on what you put into it. Party like a rock star every night and show up to class with a hang over or just skip classes and your throwing your own career and money down the drain. Apply yourself, keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut and it's really not all that hard to get towards the top of the class which can lead to better externships and better careers.
Good and bad. The bad is long enough in my experience to write a book about. I've dealt with gang bangers, A crack head that was strung out and walked in the kitchen through the loading dock during a delivery with a gun, theft, drugs and the list goes on. I've known numerous people that have died in alcohol related accidents and then there's the divorce rate.
The good? Well if you have OCD you get a sense of order and satisfaction from completing numerous tasks every day. If you are good the pay is good and you get to do what you like. There is rarely a dull moment. You get to meet some cool people.
As far as pay goes if you hope to spend a few years working with well known Chefs in some great restaurants you will work for next to nothing. The good news is that you will never go hungry!
If you sink 50k in your education it will be money well spent even if you average a salary of 50k for the first ten years. Those with out that paper typically earn a fair amount less and again lets not forget that with out that degree you may not even be considered for many positions. The real question that will always be an unknown for any one investing in a school or a degree is how much more will you make over your entire career with the degree? ;)
When you graduate be selective about who you work for and how long.

Joined Jan 25, 2010
I don't have 20 years yet but a strong 15 years put in working in various types of kitchens. I have worked the line, done some off site catering jobs, and worked in a large resorts. They all have their pros and cons. My advice to you is to be prepared to work and work hard. Get some thick skin and be ready to listen and to learn from the many mistakes you are bound to make. Understand that weekends will be probably be your longest days, right along with holidays. Remember that shortcuts will be recognized by your chef and if he/she is a good chef will not be tolerated. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work hard to move up. Respect and treat your dishwashers well, don't ever think yourself too good to go back and bust suds with them if need be. Follow and obey your chef, because he/she knows better than you and most chefs I know demand loyalty. If you give them this loyalty he/she will be more than willing to teach you what they know. It is this learning that is invaluable. It is cool that you have a passion for food, but I think one needs more than a passion for food to succeed in this industry. You must have tenacity, stamina, and a strong work ethic, among other things. I strongly suggest you get a job in a kitchen before you shell out money for a degree, to determine if this is truly what you want to do with your life. And if nothing else remember this....when you begin in this field it is not creativity that will get you where you want to be. That must come later, but I truly believe that being a cook is a trade first and foremost. You must learn and master the techniques of cooking before you can even begin to apply creativity to it, and that can take years. Good luck to you
Joined Apr 3, 2008
lol, just 8 years here. Never went to culinary school, never will. What every one else has already said here is true and I can not stress this enough, get a job in a kitchen before you go to a college. You really need to be sure that a kitchen is the place for you. If, after the first 6 months you are still talking about drive and passion to learn new techniques and recipes, you may have what it takes. best of luck.
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