Convincing Chefs/Owners

Joined Feb 2, 2002
Here's my situation. I was a software engineer for about 20 years. (Always wanted to be a cook/chef but was always talked out of it.)

The company I was working for closed down in November of last year. I've always been a believer that "when one door closes, another opens" so have been trying to pursue the career I always wanted (cooking).

All of my previous posts here have been responded to by either "... why would you want to become a cook. most are trying to get out..." or "...try working somewhere first to make sure..."

Here's my problem. Although many of the restaurants in my area are looking for new help (and some have even advertised "will train"), all that I have talked to so far have said that they are afraid that after training me, I would leave as soon as I could get a "real job" again. Many have even said that they can tell that I have the work ethic that they desire but just see me as a risk for jumping too soon.

How would you in the industry suggest that I convince them that I am serious and want to make this career change? I believe I really want to do this but just can't find a place to take me serious yet.




Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Offer them a non-compete agreement to start on the date of your hire and run, say, 5 years, or whatever the two of you can negotiate on. Or sign a contract for a set period of time detailing the experience they will supply you with while you commit to a certain time of guaranteed labor.

Joined Aug 7, 2001
can you work for free for a little while? Get another part time job until they believe you, then switch to paid?
I work for free because I want to learn, and it works well for both of sides, I learn, they get free help. Offer a little risk on your side, give them a chance to see you mean it at little or no risk to them. They know I'm not intending to really work there full time at this point, so that is a difference there.

Not a great answer, but it worked for me. If you have savings you can live on for a month while you do this, it might be the foot in the door.



Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
I would be leary of signing a contract for just a cook position, and I would never, ever (even as a chef) sign a non-compete clause. I have refused at my last job and still got hired.

I always give a verbal agreement to hang out for a minimum of 1 year. This usually seems to placate chefs and owners, but since it is just a verbal arrangement you are free to leave if things get bad. This usually works for me, and shows the chef that you are willing to hang for awhile. Most chefs understand that cooks tend to bounce around, to get as much experience from as many different chefs as possible. Try it and see what happens.


Joined Apr 6, 2001
I concur with SlaveGirl, if possible offer to stage (work for free). This will get your foot in the door. Once the chef sees how dedicated and hardworking you are, it can transition into a full time position.

Good luck! And let us know how you do.
Joined Jan 1, 2001
Guys, Guys, Please do not encourage people (especially those who are inexperienced in food service) to offer to work for free!!! Although many restaurant chefs and owners would love to improve labor costs by using unpaid labor--it is illegal in the US!!!! The Labor Dept. equates it to slave labor and endentured servitude. The trouble people get into comes if one of these so called "trailers" is injured or does something that injures another worker. Workman's compensation and liability insurance does not cover the injuries of unpaid labor! Owners face HUGE governmental fines, not to mention lawsuits! It's a legal nightmare for everyone involved since no one is protected! Even unpaid internships are overseen by contracts for set periods of time with agreed upon hours, duties and compensation.
The food service industry gets away with this kind of stuff all the time, though I cannot understand why.
Joel, I know you are in a tricky position-you would like to see if this industry is right for you before committing to an expensive culinary program. Remember, though, that it takes about 3 months to really get the hang of how a professional kitchen works and find an effective place for yourself within it. That's 3 months of pay a chef has to shell out just to find out if you can be any good for his team-even in the most lowly of prep-cook positions. Try to identify what skills you already have that will prove invaluable to the chef-can you wash and dry 5 20-lb. cases of lettuce and microgreens in 20 minutes without bruising any? Can you make 5 gallons of really good chicken stock? Are you good at sharpening knives? Can you organize and rotate 40 cases of a produce order in 20 minutes and have it take up as little space as possible in a walk-in? Are you fluent in Spanish? Identify whatever makes you particularly useful to the kitchen crew and sell that to the chef. They see wide-eyed cooking enthusiasts everyday.
You need to be able to take not just the heat of the kitchen--it's the grease on the floor, the onion fumes, broken gallons of mayonnaise and 6 foot high stacks of dirty, burned, sticky, greasy sheet pans. And all of it with glee.
Joined Aug 9, 2000
They get away with these things because of lobbying groups like The National Restaurant association have lawmakers in their pockets and the workers namely us are seen as uneducated trash by society.
Joined Aug 7, 2001
I paid for my own insurance....but then I'm crazy like that. Perfectly legal, I have a W-2 even though I'm not getting paid. Worked out fine. But I was willing to shell out get my foot in the door.

Joined Jul 28, 2001
I'm usually the one who posts to negate the negetivity toward the industry. The horror stories are to warn you of hard work and long hours. The walls built between employees and employers I assume are based upon personal experiences. There are a lot of good houses to work in out there. There are a lot of bad too. In my own experience, I have come across more legally operating businesses than illegal. The free work thing exists in mostly all professions and is worse in Medical,Law, Media etc.
If this is something you really want to do, Then keep knocking on doors until you get something. There is no reason for contracts or thing like that, the risk is always there for employers that you may leave. Some times you have to be creative. Find out when the owner there. Tell him you are going dine there everyday untill he gives you a shot in the kitchen. Just kidding, but something like that. We had someone who was in every day for a cookie asking me if I had filled the position untill I finally broke and gave her work. She was a great asset to our business for 1 1/2 yrs. and left for bigger and better things.
Good luck to you Joel.
Joined Mar 22, 2002
Hey Joel -
I'm a career changer, to pastry, not savory chefdom here in Massachusetts. I've been facing some of the same issues, plus a little bit of age discrimination. I learn something with each interview, on how to answer concerns and present myself. I joined a couple of professional organizations to make contacts and learn about the industry - and this forum is a wonderful place to learn, listen, get advice.
Do you want to work in a restaurant or a hotel? I took an apprenticeship to actually have some skills and recipes, but have you thought of culinary school? Cambridge School seems to place it's students out - and you can work, too. BU? I don't know much about it's culinary program, but I love the $10 seminars and food with Ana Sortun and Jim BEcker, etc. - and I read the job board to see who's looking for students.
Sorry to ramble, but if I can help in any way, give me a shout.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
So Joel,

Convince me,

Why should I hire a 20 year software enginer who wants to take a chance, over someone with tangible experience, whi has gone to school or paid there dues.

To your statement in your post about some asking you why you would ever want to get into our biz, Nights off, paid vacations, weekends home with the wife and kids, new years eve, xmas, easter, mothers day, valentines day, st patties day ETC, home with whom ever. Do you like that idea? willing to give it up?

Joel, your probably a great guy, you've just caught me on a bad night, but...i'm getting tired of everyone who thinks they can cook, and has work ethic thinks they can can hack the real world of the kitchen.
Behind the opinions expressed to you by some chefs you've talked to is also a sense of community and shared blood, sweat and tears that got them where they are today.

Sorry Joel, crappy day
Joined Jan 5, 2001
There seems to be a perception by many culinary professionals, that if you are a non-culinary professional, you are raking in the dough and enjoying a life of leisure on your evenings, weekends and holidays. I've seen this here and on too many other threads. Maybe it's time to tune out this lovely hollywood image and see what kind of life these people really lead. I was once a business consultant. I studied hard to get there, with my own money. Paying dues? If I had to figure out my hourly income, you guys in the kitchen have all beat me. Weekends? Few and far between. If someone is trying to get out of their profession to get into the kitchen, believe me, they already know what they'll be missing; for the most part, you don't need to teach them about hard work.We really need to respect and support each other in this community.

Sorry CC, it's not you. I just see too much of this going on and I had to say something. It's even taught in culinary schools to despise the very people who make your career choice possible.

"i'm getting tired of everyone who thinks they can cook, and has work ethic thinks they can can hack the real world of the kitchen."

..That goes for all professions. Frankly I think that someone who has had a previous career in another field, and is giving up so much to pursue their passion, whether it be in the kitchen or elsewhere, has a much better chance of succeeding than someone who has been in the same career path since adolescence.

Solidarity is one thing. Elitism is another. And it comes in all shapes and sizes.

My nickel's worth.
Joined Mar 21, 2002
<<i'm getting tired of everyone who thinks they can cook, and has work ethic thinks they can can hack the real world of the kitchen.>>

Heh, I wonder every day if I can hack it. Two things I do know is that I'll never give up and I'll never stop getting done what I have to get done. Right now that means going to work 2 hours early and leaving an hour late unpaid.

From my own experience I've noticed that a die hard attitude about work and a real interest in everything going on in the kitchen has more than paid off. The sous chef notices it every day, the other line cooks know that I'm always giving 110%.

Joel, give it your all. Show true enthusiasm when talking to Chefs, tell them you'll gurantee a set amount of time working there. I promised the current place I am working at a year and at least a three month notice.

Hope this helps and good luck.

Joined Jul 31, 2000
Dear Anneke and Matt,

I understand your point very well, I do take a little offence to the “Elitism”perception of me. I don’t associate that word with my career.

You know guy’s , if you do a search in the culinary students forum, as well as others you will see how often I lent my support to students and career changers.

Anneke, You and Chefteldanielle come to mind as I enjoyed following your schooling from it’s first day to congratulating you upon your graduation.

Note every young culinary student that graduates culinary school is a lost soul, many have a deep desire to succeed, and yes many are lacking what it takes to truly “hack” it in the real world.

I do not have mis conceptions about people outside of our industry making money hand over fist, nor do I think we are the only proffesion that’s has a work ethic. There are a lot of culinary proffesinals out of work these days due to many obvious factors.
I would love to see people who have spent there lives and money to get a shot at jobs as there open. Don’t you think they deserve the first bid on a job?

If I wanted to change careers to lets say a engineer, because I loved the whole concept of that profession and tried to get work in that field, and I had to compete with someone with experience whom should the employeer hire? I don’t know, maybe the one with experience.

You know I finished my post by saying I was having a “crappy” day
This happens in all industrys.

Joel, if you decide to “go for it” do your best.
If I offended you,Anneke and Matt, that was not my intention
But I was having a “crappy” day
“mid life career crisis dudeJ “
Joined Jul 28, 2001
Your'e entitled to a crappy day!!! I think I had one once:D

You didn't say anything offensive. Just one thing though, I don't think Joel will be up against an experienced hire. He seems to be going for entry level or (will train) positions. Don't take this the wrong way but sometimes I prefer to hire someone with little or no experience to train. In baking sometimes the experienced people are very set in their ways and know how to shortcut everything and preform when you're there and go back to their ways when you're not.
You know its much better to vent here ,then in your kitchen.
Good luck to Joel and us all!
I think things are going to get a little worse before it gets better.
Joined Feb 6, 2002
Sorry for sticking my nose in but I just had to add my two cents to this discussion.

I started office work at the age of 15. I went everywhere and tried everything but no one wanted to hire a "kid". I wanted to be a photographer so I went to one of the stock photography companies and gophered. (Took me a week of constantly showing up and asking the HR lady if they were hiring) Gophering is kinda like working for free or at a very reduce wage. After trying me out for a month I got hired! (I think I got hired so the HR lady wouldn't have to see me darkening her door again) So what if I was given the lowest job on the totem pole (photo copier duty. ick!) and I was only getting paid 4 bucks an hour. I got in. I stayed for 4 years and when I left to be a legal assistant I was one of the Senior Secretaries.

As for career changer....Im one of those too. I switched from 10 years of office work to kitchen. Left an Executive Assistant position for cookies and cakes. Before the Exec Asst position I was Asst. Supervisor at a Pharmaceutical co. (the Exec Asst. position was closer to home and kids and paid more) It is no different to me since when I worked office...I never got a vacation, I worked 17 hours a day most times, never took a lunch break (anyone ever do the cookies in the bottom drawer thing?) I had a second job after work and on the weekends doing legal coding. I dont remember ever calling in sick either...except that once when I passed out on the job. I got seriously burnt out doing that stuff. The kitchen is much easier for me.

If you want it bad enough...GO GET IT! Stick your foot in every door until someone notices. A recruiter once gave me some great advice....."It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil" If they see how determined you are and think that "hey Id like that kind of committment in my place" Im sure you will get something soon. You don't really have to convice anyone. If you give off a sense that "Im the best person for this job" they will believe it too.

Sorry to go on and on. That's just my two cents.

Joined Jan 5, 2001
I'm sorry CC, truly. Llike I said, it's not you. You know that I adore you! I guess I was just having a crappy day too.

I'm just frustrated by a couple of co-workers who insinuate that I'm a "little rich girl" or worse, a "kept woman" just because they are jealous that chef notices me because I do a better job than they do.

My rant was directed at them, not at you. You are absolutely right: you have always supported us students and career-changers, and you have no idea how it helped me.

Joined Sep 21, 2001
I think if someone has an interest and the opportunity to try something new- go for it! You never know until you try. Understand that the chances of you reaching your goal will be more than likely against you, but that is true in all professions. I would love to be a software engineer on some days- I'll get an idea for a little program and ask one of my tech buddies about it and quickly am told why it can't be done, or will be shown the myriad ways that it is alrealy done much easier by people who REALLY work in the industry. I have an interest in computers- but the reality is that I can't even work the "smilies" on ChefTalk....But hey! At least I am out here trying......
Joined Mar 21, 2002
Heh, no worries CC...I wasn't offended in the least...just posting a rambling observation of mine really.

In fact I agree with you that just because you have a good work ethic it doesn't equate to being good in a kitchen. Which is why I said even though I put 110% into the job I still wonder if I can hack it.

Joined Mar 2, 2002
I think the age discrimination thing is a big hurdle - not just in restaurant and not just for career changers (although I think it is especially challenging for them). My boyfriend (who is in his 40's)got laid off a couple of years ago after 15 years at the same company as a mechanical engineer. He took the time off to go back to school and complete his masters in engineering (think cooking is hard? Try doing some of that math!). Despite his impressive resume, he has had a very difficult time getting interviews - even though he hasn't switched fields. He's thinking of giving up and going into real estate (not nearly the level of age discrimination there). His son, who is an engineering major, will likely go directly into an entry level position upon graduating. I think that's what many companies are most comfortable with - entry level positions going to who they see as "age appropriate" for entry level. They aren't supposed to be that way, and maybe it is an unconcious thing, but it does go on. I suppose even more so for those who are changing careers midlife.

I doubt it is an insurmountable hurdle, though. Joel, if it were me, I would do something like offer to be a dishwasher for the 1st month or so. That is really a hard job! I did that once when I applied at a restaurant where they seemed to think I might be to "girly" to hack it in the kitchen. Or maybe you could try to get with a small business, possibly family owned or new. The place I own is small, and it is important that my employees be able to fit into a variety of roles. I have found that it is sometimes easier to train a less experienced individual to do things in our unique way than someone who is totally used to a more traditional brigade system. And, as where honesty and trust are important everywhere, it is imperative that I be able to really trust and rely on each and everyone of my employees. Your age could actually work to your benefit there. People might tend to perceive you as "more mature" and therefore more dependable, etc. I'd talk that up. Also, do you know anyone who works in a kitchen or owns a restaurant? Networking works in this field, too.

One of my best employees (who had no restaurant experience when he started) is a computer wiz. He's always making me these cool programs that help with inventory or weekly reports. What a nice perk for me! :)

Good luck!

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