Career change; my plan, a few observations and a request for feedback from other students and culina

Joined Aug 14, 2011
Hello everyone I'm 45 and I have decided to follow my lifelong dream and train to become a cook. I posted a long rambling intro. in the welcome forum last night should you care to look. I won't repeat all that falderal again.

I am in a pretty good position to make this change. I have already enjoyed a successful career in human resource management and I have reasonable savings to draw on in order to make the transition. I don't mind working for newbie wages because I have financial resources to bolster my income that younger people usually do not have. I just want to be in the culinary industry, just want to be in the show. Should things go completely pear-shaped I still have a viable career to go back to (although that prospect horrifies me). If I had to I could see myself working part-time as a baker and finding the odd consulting contract to help keep my OD skills sharp. My preference of course is to leave that world behind, but it is the fall back option for me.

I have read a lot of prior topics here on the subject of the ups and downs of this industry. I've read of the negatives such as long hours, poor pay, lack of respect, and difficulty advancing. I have also read glowing testimonials from professionals who despite the down sides of this industry, love their jobs because they love to cook more than anything. I fall into that group. Assuming I had enough private means to support myself indefinitely I would willingly work for nothing just for the joy of cooking and being part of the team in a working, profitable kitchen. Actually I'd probably be running my own business. I have not ruled out that possibility down the road either.

Despite the stress so many here talk about, I thrive on constantly shifting priorities, deadlines, and working together with other people towards a common goal. And I like keeping busy. If there is one thing I absolutely cannot stand it is to be bored. it is that creeping sense of ennui with my existing career that has led me to this place in my life. I just cannot face going into an office much longer, dealing with the BS politics that come with every government job, the lack of intellectual stimulation, the feeling that I've done it all two or three times now, and above all that feeling that I am no longer making a difference, no longer helping but just putting in time now.

I've decided to start off in the direction of baking and pastry. A little introspection tells me that if I had to pick a route, culinary or pastry arts I'd pick the latter. My earliest passion for baking came from my grandmother and it is passion for baking and decorating that stirs me most. I also think that baking is my longest and strongest suit, to borrow from the language of contract bridge. All things being equal I think that I'd prefer to work with dough and pastry and fondant over working on a hot kitchen production line all day. Somehow pastry just seems more... peaceful. If I decide to I can always study the culinary side anyway. More likely is that I will gain some experience in baking and pastry then perhaps take some culinary management courses.

On this board there is a frequent debate over formal credentials versus practical experience. I can see an argument for both. In most offices you want a mix of both among your employees. I don't know what the average exec. chef wants, but I suspect that at the end of the day the employee who performs best to maximize profit and meet the operation's deadlines will be the winner, in other words fast and consistent quality. To me that speaks not only of experience but of a good work ethic, good organizational skills, and good attitude.

For formal training I have examined the curriculum of a number of private institutions, with tuition ranging from 7 to over 18 thousand dollars for just the baking and pastry arts side. In some cases the institution is recognized by the BC Industry Training Authority, sometimes not. For my needs I think that Vancouver Community College offers me the best bang for my buck. Their ten month Baking and Pastry Arts - Advanced Baking Specialty will give me the fundamentals, correct bad habits I picked up as an amateur, hone skills that I already possess, and give me at least a piece of paper to hold up to an employer, in addition to my passion, good work ethic, and desire to be a team player. At my age I don't see how I can get my foot on the employment ladder without some formal credentials. The VCC course gives me apprentice credit as well as a credential, something that a popular private culinary institute in Vancouver does not offer, even with their tuition more than three times that of VCC's!

Assuming I get my foot on the bottom rung of the ladder my first goal will be to complete my apprentice work and qualify to challenge the Red Seal. By then I will have thousands of hours of experience and that cert. can only help me find a job that pays better than the bottom rung I will start on.

So having said all this I eagerly welcome any feedback that other students, or working professionals can offer. Have I said anything that is just wrong, or crazy, or have I forgotten an important data point? I gratefully welcome any guidance that you could provide.

Thanks for reading!

Joined Sep 19, 2010

Do you have an idea of where you want to land after school?  I know you would like to work as a pastry cook, but do you want to work in a restaurant, an institution (schools, retirement homes...etc), be a Personal Chef or work in the catering field.  When I was going to school, some of my fellow class mates didn't have any idea and are still looking for work. 

Please don't take this the wrong way, but jobs will not be easy to find because of your age.  A lot of employers will wonder if you can last the 8,9,10 hours on your feet, lifting heavy (20KG or more) items and keep up the pace in the kitchen.

That being said, you probably have a strong work ethic and can deal with stress and situations better than a kid out of high school.  I think that will help you will school and with the job hunt.

I know others on this forum mentioned about staging at a place to see if you would like to work in this industry and before you lay any money down on some education.  I personally think it's a great idea.

Good Luck with the career change.
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