Considering switching to a culinary career

Joined Aug 7, 2011
Hello. I was recently laid off from my job at a construction company and right now I'm figuring out what to do next. I've always loved the idea of learning to cook but haven't actually gotten around to it for a variety of reasons. Apart from occasionally making omelets, pan searing salmon, and making French toast, I don't really cook for myself very often--mostly due to time constraints on weeknights. I typically cook a lot more on the weekend when I had more time.

One option I'm considering is taking a two year culinary program at a community college in downtown Dallas to try and eventually become a chef. Years of watching and enjoying cooking shows like Top Chef and Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares have me thinking this is a very good idea, that I'd have a passion for cooking, and could succeed in a kitchen. I worked fast food and waited tables at Chili's for a few years in high school/college. Long enough to know fast food isn't the way to go, and neither is being in the front of house. At both restaurants (Subway and Taco Bueno), a lot of the ingredients we used were fresh and prepped that day. Certainly not all, but enough to give me an idea of how it would be in a proper kitchen, and I think I can handle it.

I'm 27 years old and from reading the thread here about Anthony Bourdain's book it seems I may be getting a late start, but not as late as some. I've read on a few threads that it's possible to start out as a dishwasher and work your way up through the ranks, but would that be my best bet this late for me? Would the willingness to start out there, plus a desire to start culinary school, get me noticed enough to eventually (sooner rather than later) move up to being a line cook?
Joined Jul 22, 2011
This reminds me of an old coworker of mine.

This guy did construction/carpentry for a long time and started cooking in his mid-to-late twenties to follow his passion. He had worked at another restaurant before working with me. The guy came in, acted humble, and worked his butt off. I have seen few people work that hard, ever. Along with doing forty hours a week of non-stop work in the kitchen, he took 12 hours of culinary classes and hung garage doors for money on the side. So let me reiterate: I have seen few, maybe nobody, work as hard, or drink as much coffee, as that guy. To be honest, I think he might have been a better cook than me, despite working in food for less than half the time that I had. I have no doubt in my mind that he will find some measure of success in restaurants, even after his late start.

Why is that? Because he worked harder than anybody and because he cared a lot about what he did. His girlfriend was also a cook, and after all of the work he did, they'd go cook at home. If he had a doubt about anything he was cooking, he'd come to me or my chef at the time and make sure that it was a hundred percent. So no, it's not too late to start if you're willing to put forth the effort and care about what you do.

Read Bourdain's book. It mirrors my experiences of the kitchen in a lot of ways. It's a good read besides. If you're okay with burning and cutting yourself repeatedly, working harder than anyone else, and then turning around and putting in the double to cover the guy that called in because he's coming down off his speed to hard, despite already being exhausted, and still maintaining intense passion for making good food, all while only making minimum wages, you'll do alright.

If you're completely sure that you want to spend a large chunk of your life cooking, then go ahead with school. It'll help demonstrate to your potential employers that you're serious about what you're doing, and not just some guy who got laid off looking for his next source of income. If not, just try to get a job in a from-scratch kitchen and see for yourself if it's something you want to do. I will warn you, if you can't maintain the desire to perform at the highest level you're capable of, and send out plate after plate of beautiful and well-prepared food no matter how tired you are, you will never be better than a mediocre cook with wages barely above minimum wage.
Joined Aug 9, 2011
I am also considering a culinary career in the future. I'm in my 40's and looking at a career change.  I consider myself a natural homecook and am pretty good if I do say so myself.  However, I have zero commercial experience and know that cooking for a couple of people at a time is no comparison to real pressure.   I'm glad that I found this forum because it seems to give the real scoop on things from real chefs.  At the same time it's pretty depressing.  Overworked, severely underpaid, under-appreciated, hot, stupid co-worker druggies, etc.. Makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to actually work in a busy restaurant.  Anyway, I like to cook and would think that I would like to work in the industry in some capacity.  Possibly a private chef after gaining experience under someone.  It appears that a certificate from a junior college that cost well under 5k could be as valuable as a 40k certificate from an overhyped trade school and that real world experience and networking is the only thing that really matters.  Just voicing what I'm hearing here and there.
Joined Aug 7, 2011
Thanks for the responses. Culinary school is full already for this semester, so I'm going to try and find a scratch kitchen to work in until the spring semester starts. Any advice on finding a scratch kitchen? What's the most tactful way to find out if they actually make everything from scratch? Just call them and be polite?

justin abare hoyt

Yeah, just call and ask. Any from scratch kitchen would be proud to tell you so.

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