Career Changing? Read This.

Discussion in 'General Culinary School Discussions' started by nicko, Apr 20, 2003.

  1. nicko

    nicko Founder of Cheftalk.com Staff Member

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    If you are thinking of or on the road to changing your present career to becoming a professional chef please take some time and read the online journal of Logan Worley on ChefTalk.com. Logan did the career change and went to Johnson & Wales culinary school and kept an online journal of the entire experience while attending culinary school. His entire journal is online at ChefTalk.com under the culinary student journal.

    A Day In The Life of An American Culinary Student
     
  2. nickhand

    nickhand

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    Ok about the fork in the career path. Where is the back parts of it? Thier is more too it but i cant find the rest of it. Thanks for the help
     
  3. shaolin bushido

    shaolin bushido

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    Wow, that was very considerate of him to record that. What a resource for anyone interested in becoming a chef! I didn't read it all, because it's 0330 but I skimmed it and the reality of it all does make you consider whether you want to go through it or not ... in my case, I'm excited and goose-bumped right now at the prospect of tackling a new, interesting challenge and getting out of the law enforcement/corrections rut-grave I feel I'm in now.

    Thanks to the Chef and Chef talk for displaying that thread for us.
     
  4. laprise

    laprise

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    Wow, that's great!

    It almost makes me want to start all over again:)

    The number one adive I give highschool students when I speak, is simply to try to work in a restaurant for a few days. Sometimes, people find out that loving to cook or being good at making pies is not necessarely the best reason to become a chef or pastry chef.

    Logan's paper is a must read if you are set for your new career...
     
  5. chefc81

    chefc81

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    I hear ya'! I get gooseumbs just thinking about cooking and reading things about it! It's calling us!

    Have a great day!

    ~~ChefC81~~
     
  6. kittycat

    kittycat

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    I am a home cook considering culinary school. I have been reading on these forums that one really should work in or observe a restaurant before even applying. Considering that working in a commercial kitchen is a completely different ballgame than thinking in teaspoons and cups at home, what could I possibly offer to do in a kitchen? (I am in graudate school for an unrelated subject and on-campus dining includes delis, fast food, a full service restuarant and a faculty dining room.) I have no food service or waitressing experience whatsoever. My chopping is slow and not up to the standards of a professional kitchen. I am hesitant to ask because a restaurant is a busy business and I don't want to slow anyone down (or look like an idiot!). Has anyone had the experience of starting from square one? The food service department seems to encourage applications.
     
  7. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Greetings to all,
    Here are a couple of personal thoughts for all you. Definitely go work at a restaurant first. Get a feel or a taste for a commercial restaurant operation. As stated above, you may not like it. But also understand that not all food operations are created equal! I have worked for really good chefs and I have also worked for chefs that were not even good cooks! I recommend a family style restaurant where they actually still prepare food from scratch. You will always be able to learn how to thaw and brown pre-prepared items! The salad department would be a good place or really just about anywhere, including the dish room. All you have to do is get your foot in the door and believe in yourself!

    Understand that most restaurants have a set menu and once you get your mind wrapped around the fact that most items are repetitive in nature. You will always have to prep for the same five salads EVERY DAY. You have to make sure you have enough of every ingredient for every dish on the set menu EVERY DAY. Even in a cafeteria most items are on a cycle. Every Wednesday is Meatloaf, WooHoo! Your supervisor will want you to show some speed. If you have to scrub fifty pounds of potatoes, do it as quickly as you can and still clean them to the standard that they expect. Ask questions or for a demonstration. Whoever your supervisor is will show you their technique for doing the task as quickly as they can. Your speed will pick up through repetition. You will get the hang of doing this fairly quickly, I hope. Trust me, after you crack a couple cases of eggs, you will be faster than when you first started!

    When working in a kitchen, keep your eyes and ears open. Just because you may start in the salad area doesn’t mean you can’t listen to discussions about what they are going to do with the fresh Swordfish they just got in for today’s special. You just have to keep working!

    I would highly recommend working in a restaurant before attending a culinary school. This will give you a filter for certain topics. I worked in Restaurants for three years before school. When the teacher was talking about possible job opportunities they covered the full gamut. What they DIDN’T say was that there really isn’t that many true Saucier or Garde Manger positions available. Some of my fellow students didn’t believe me when I said that there are precious few of those jobs around.

    OK, I’m rambling….

    Last thoughts; I believe that the preparation of food is about 80% science and 20% inspiration and heart. Focus on the technique and not the recipe. Learn why things happen, like why the potato salad tasted great yesterday and seems flat today. Hmm.. better learn about the properties of salt and what effects it has on various food items. Osmosis maybe?
     
  8. chef cary

    chef cary

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    Hi, All!

    I was in the medical field for the last 24 years. (I'm 42). In January, I jumped in with both feet into a Culinary Apprenticeship program.

    I've ALWAYS wanted to cook for a living. Way back then, my family said I had to do something "worthwhile", and apparently they didn't think cooking was it!.

    I have to tell you - I'm having the time of my life!!!!!

    I'm working in a professional kitchen right now, in a homestyle restaurant. It's not what I want to do with my life, but it's kitchen experience.

    I'd never even stepped into the kitchen of a restaurant before this past May. The first time in the kitchen was after I was already hired. It helped that I was a student. I wasn't taken seriously by any of the other cooks - in fact, they resented me because I was going to school for a trade that they'd been working at for 5+ years. "It wasn't fair", they told me. I simply told them that they were more than welcome to go to school, too, if they wanted.

    I really did have a deep inner desire to do this. And now - I'm being paid to "play" in the kitchen! Oh, please don't think that as simplistic or derogatory - quite the contrary. I am doing what I LOVE, what I have a passion for - and though it's hard work, it IS fun. Constantly and consistently.

    I know, I know.... you'll say the honeymoon period will be over someday and I'll crash. All I can say is - I don't think so, because there is SO much to learn, and I am living my dream. I refuse to stay in a job where I'm not happy, and I'll keep learning and growing until I find what I want again.

    I'll be the first one to tell any prospective cooks - GO FOR IT! Don't regret waiting, like I did. Though, to be honest - I do appreciate it SO much more now.

    Cary in OHio
    Culinary student
     
  9. beanie

    beanie

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    Cary, I am going through a similar situation.
    People are saying, I'm too old, to stick with what I've got.
    Yet you're ten years older than me.
    And like you, I have an inner desire to do this.
    I simply want more.
    And I realise it's not going to be smooth sailing.
    And I don't care that I can't currently chop parsley at 235kph.
    But I want to learn.
    Thank you. I so needed to read this.
     
  10. beagle65

    beagle65

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    I have just jumped on board and am starting to read through the threads especially those centered around starting off and going to school and/or getting kitchen experience. I know that when I think and talk about the challange of learning the work I get pretty darn excited. I can tell you that I am ready for the big change and have held off for 3 years while my wife completed Law School.
     
  11. quine

    quine

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    Hi!

    Posted a little note in the intro forum. Might as well say hello here as this fits me to a T...

    Have I ever worked in a restaurant? No.

    Have I cooked for lots of people? Well sometimes... I've catered and help cater a few weddings, worked the kitchen of a ski lodge some weekends many years back (family style very simple menu). But most of the cooking I've done was for two or four or maybe a few more. I've been doing it for over 30 years. Meats, vegies, casseroles, soups, sauces, barbq, pan-sear, bake, steam, sautee, etc. I've always enjoyed cooking, at least as an amateur!

    So when I got divorced a little over a year ago, and then my company announced a forced early-retirement buyout, I decided to take my money, abandon my 24 year career in information services, and put myself through a nice new chef-owned culinary school called "The Professional Culinary Institute" (PCI) near San Jose California...

    It's a 5 and a half month program. I start Jan 16. Following school is an 8 week externship. After that who knows. My inclination is to look for high end restaurant work. I want to make food from scratch whether its sauces, soups, salads, or entres I'm actually doing. I don't know how realistic that is. I don't mind starting in prep or any other place in the kitchen, but I'd like to work someplace high-end. Again I don't know if that's a realistic expectation, but I'm sure going to try...

    Otherwise, I don't really know what I'll end up liking best in the industry. I'll keep an open mind through school and let opportunities present themselves, try to be alert to them, learn as much as I can, read as much as I can -- I've read some Escoffier and I'm reading about the restaurant industry now, a 1992 book called "Restaurants that Work" (Martin Dorf) a case study of 8 successful restaurants cause I want to understand the business (though I have no intention at this point of owning a restaurant), and I did read Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"... That book scared the **** out of me, but not enough to dissuade me from my madness!

    More later... Yes I'll start a blog here of someplace... I'll share my experience, at school and following.. I want to see where I pop up a year from Jan 16! Where ever it is, it's going to be interesting...

    Good night for now... More later.

    Matthew
     
  12. lynscal

    lynscal

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    WOW, you go Cary. I am in similar place 47 and starting culinary school tomorrow after over 30 years in my successful career. Cooking is my passion and I am so excited. Thanks for your post, very encouraging!!

    lyn
     
  13. coffeelover

    coffeelover

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    Wow, it's nice to know I'm not to only who has gone through this. I just got out of high school and I finally decided to become a chef. Through all of high school I wanted to be an actress and I really had the stuff for it, but, I think, two days after I graduated I changed my mind and I spent most of this year confused about what I should do until my parents suggested I try becoming a chef. I've always loved to cook and I'm really good at it. So, this fall, I'm starting school and I feel so great to finally have direction again!
     
  14. quine

    quine

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    So where are you going to go? How long a program is it, and what are you going to do between now and then?

    I've started now... It's fast, frenetic, and a lot of fun... But it's hard work too, and a little like the army. I hope you will take to it...
     
  15. benrias

    benrias

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    I read the journal a few years ago and it made a big impression on me to get that kitchen experience BEFORE going to culinary school. I am now finally in a position to attempt to change careers and I am trying to get the experience.

    It's nice to read these posts. They give me encouragment to keep trying to get into a kitchen somewhere. Now that I have made the decision to change careers, I am starting to get discouraged by the number of places that just DON'T WANT me there.

    At one place, I couldn't even get past the hostess when I asked to speak with the chef. I explained to her that I was looking to get kitchen experience, and she immediately turned the situation into a "oh, he is just here to apply for a job even though we aren't advertising any openings."

    But then when she saw my resume, she was almost appalled that I would even THINK about working in a restaurant and wouldn't let it go. "Wha? Why do you want to work here? Wha? I just don't get it. I guess I can hand this to the chef but...wha? What do you wanna do THAT for? Wha?" (and yes, I restructured my resume to emphasize my kitchen skills).

    I know of a few places where I could probably get in, but I am trying to stay away from pre-fabbed food places or "unwrap and cook" restaurants. there are a lot more of those out there than I ever really noticed. But now that I am looking, I now realize the stark proportion of pre-fab vs. scratch made places.

    And, thanks to Logan's journal, I am even considering baking and pastery--something I had not even considered before. Being just a little bit older like Logan, his descriptions of the physical strain on your body and knees opened my eyes a little more to the reality of kitchen life.

    I am taking all his insights to heart and weighing all options. Here's my delayed thanks for your journal Logan!:smiles:
     
  16. neci-ized

    neci-ized

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    I too was a career changer, nor am I a spring chicken. After retiring from the military I went back to college full time at New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.
    They have great programs both Culinary and Baking and Pastry. I see you read the journal that recomended cooking exp first..If you have it great but I had very limited as well as a good many students here and have no problems keeping up.
    I am finishing my B.A in Culinary arts next month and have never regreted the choice I made! Check it out, dont worry if you have little exp, somtimes that can be a benefit as you dont have bad habits to break!
     
  17. chef_trainee

    chef_trainee

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    I do have one piece of advice for anyone going in to culinary school for the first time. Get a part time job, anywhere from 10-15 hours a week. I went through school without a job. I ended in the top 5, so I am confident in my skills. I also did a lot of volunteer work. But a job will help you with use your skills in a live kitchen, and it will help when it comes time to do you externship.
    I wish you all good luck in school, and never give up. And always remember one thing, My chef must love me, cause he is always yelling my name.
     
  18. rosieobloom

    rosieobloom

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    Hello everybody,
    I was just wondering how to find a good community college for culinary arts in Sacramento. I am a baker with some hot line skills. They have several different cooking schools listed. I would like to tie up any lose ends on the hot line end (such as butter sauces, hollandaise, etc and learn how to cut and prepare meats and fish. Any responses would be appreciated.
     
  19. gosselil

    gosselil

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    It's nice to see so many corporate refugees opting for this route as well. After 15 years of working in offices, I decided last Fall to leave the desk and the computer screen behind for the kitchen. I had taken a series of "Serious Foodie" classes at a local private professional culinary school in town and fell in love with the craft and discipline. I enrolled for the Professional 15-week Diploma last January and graduated in April. It certainly was an experience of a lifetime. Definitely pushed me to the limits and I'm thrilled I made it through (came in second in my class of 23). Not bad for a 45-year old...:suprise:

    I now work for a catering company and I only hope at this point, to be honest, I will be able to make a living out of it. Jobs are plentiful in my town, but salaries unfortunately are very low in this field.

    Anybody have any advice on this subject?
     
  20. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Greetings all,

    As I read the entries from just out of High school to career jumping a “little” after school. One thing applies across the board. There is no replacement for knowledge and experience! The harder you work NOW; the better off you will be in the long term.

    rosieobloom, stay late or come in early to learn from someone that is really good at those Butter sauces and learn how they do them to include how to save those sauces if they start to head south on you! Same for seafood and meats, find the teacher in your operation and take advantage. An experienced chef will appreciate you seeking him/her out for advice since it strokes their ego! The more time you invest now the greater your “value” to another employer.

    When I was a culinary student and the meat Lab at school was not scheduled to be complete until after I graduated, I went to a local butcher shop to learn. The butcher told me his wife and his daughters ran the front and he and his sons ran the back and he didn’t need any help. I said I would work for free. He said, “OK then!” That very first day I learned to dismantle a side of beef and did a LOT of Beef tenderloin cleaning and portion cutting! At the end of the day he sent me home with about $80 worth of various meat, mostly Tenderloin tips, and I went back each Saturday for a couple of months to my “No pay” job and went home with meat! Working there also exposed me to networking with the various customers and clients. Since it isn’t always what you know, but who you know, this is a valuable commodity! I got a letter of recommendation too!

    Lesson- at least consider working at another place or coming in on your own time to get that knowledge in exchange for your time. You can never have too much knowledge or friends and connections in this business.

    I know gosselil, you are already concerned about the financial aspects, but the more time and effort you invest now the better off you will be. If you were to go to the local employer that offers the best salaries in town and flatter them by saying, “I am just starting in the business and I heard you are the best restaurant in town. I would love to learn and would work for free one night a week just to see how things SHOULD be done!” That may very well lead to employment there once they see your attitude and hard work!

    I got hired on at a Marriott that was not even hiring at the time with this technique. I ended up being the swingman and working wherever they needed me. On any given night I would work the hot line for one of the three restaurants, the other I worked in the Banquet Dept, next night etc. Because of my hard work, I ended up on the corporate team that opened the J.W. Marriott in DC. The corporate Chef, that opens all new Marriott’s, asked me to join his team if I ever wanted to leave the military. This was not because I was some Super Chef with all the knowledge in the world; it was because he saw how much of a motivated hard worker I was! (He was surprised how quickly I did those 1,000 Canapés with attention to detail and quick hands!)

    Employers are always looking for hard working, dependable, motivated staff!