Help me figure out what to do

Joined Mar 1, 2017
First, there is no rule that says you must go to culinary school in order to be a good chef. I never went to culinary school and I ran my own successful restaurant for many, many years. I was trained by an extraordinary chef who also did not go to culinary school. I'm not saying that culinary school is bad or worthless, but, you are asking for opinions and here is mine.

Culinary school is a very specialized and expensive education that will only benefit you in the food service industry and no where else. So, if you decide one day that a life in this business is not for you, your Culinary Arts degree will be worthless in your efforts to break into a career away from food and cooking.

On the other hand, a Culinary Arts degree can open doors for you in this business that would otherwise be closed if you did not have the degree. Some employers such as hotels, resorts, cruise ships, some restaurants etc, will often require the degree. However, many do not. For my part, I would hire a cook that had 10 years experience and no degree before a cook with no experience and a Culinary Arts degree. But, that's just me. However, I am sure that I was not alone in that practice.

Here is the reality. According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average lifespan of a career in the food service industry is 18 months. This career also has the lowest median salary and highest number of employees working at minimum wage and without benefits. I don't mean to paint a grim picture here, but, the reality of the matter is a life in this profession can be grim. Its a hard life. Period. Professional chefs have one of the highest divorce and substance abuse rates in the professional world. There are just as many trained chefs selling shoes and life insurance as there are chefs actually working in this business.

With all of this said, before you make the leap into culinary school, take a few moments and ask yourself if you are suffering from a case of "the grass is greener syndrome." From where I'm standing based on what you've said, it would appear that you have become disenfranchised with your current schooling and that could be making the prospect of a career in this industry seem a bit more shiny than it really is.

My advice to you is finish whatever degree program you have started and afterwards, give culinary school some consideration. Culinary school will still be there when you graduate. That way, if you decide one day when you are in your 40's that a career in this business is not for you, you have some insurance and the education to move into another career.

Good luck! :)


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
I say go for it but build yourself a safety net first. If you think cooks are poorly paid, pastry cooks get paid even less. My advice is to find the best hotel and resort, with an actual pastry department, and start apprenticing there. It's not likely you will get into the pastry department but you may be able to convince the chef to let you start prepping salads and fruit.
Joined Feb 18, 2009
No I'm not even done with undergrad and my grades suck. I had some mental health issues. At one point in time was full blown schizophrenic. I need to figure out how to learn ayizen and how to do master's in Caribbean folklore. There is just soooooo much to read. I set up a pretty rigorous project for myself in terms of African and Caribbean literature studies, anthro theories and ethnographies, and western occult and philosophic studies. On top of that one day I hope to immerse into world of Haitian vodun and the music and folklore.

So I'm always looking for a way out of what I view as an impossible task.
Joined Oct 9, 2008

Okay. Reality is, there aren't any jobs in anthropology to speak of, and if I'm completely bluntly honest, a fair number of potential employers would look askance at a newly-minted PhD as, well, let's say "non-young" as you will/would be when you finish the degree. I know the European markets less well than the US, but Caribbean stuff is not one of those hotly-established fields in which every department sort of has to have someone. Occult material of any kind still raises a lot of red flags in the US academy; while it's getting much more accepted over the last 15-20 years in Europe, it's even less accepted in the US now than it was then.

So to make a long story short, I doubt that a straight-up academic career is in the cards for you anyway. If you were absolutely gung-ho and desperately wanted to get that degree come hell or high water, and you were sitting across from me at a conference asking my advice, I'd say you should go for it. But otherwise, I think you should definitely be thinking about other options. Since it doesn't sound as though you're loving that semi-career semi-path anyway, I'd say bail out.

Next question: when to bail?

A BA is a very useful credential in just about every job situation in the US or UK; Austria, I don't know, but I doubt if a BA would ever be unhelpful. An MA is usually a good thing, but an academic MA is principally of value when looking for white-collar jobs. A PhD is almost always a bad thing, unless it's in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), or in some very specific profession in which the PhD in a particular discipline is specifically wanted. That's rarely the case with anthropology, apart from the academic professions, on which see above. So my conclusion is: finish your BA, complete an MA after that if it's cheap and/or you're feeling inspired and/or you can do it very quickly (some MAs are essentially the same as a BA plus a 60-page thesis). Then stop.

Next question: should you go into cooking?

Everything you've been told and (I hope) have read about the profession here on ChefTalk is valuable and important. It doesn't pay well, it's hard work, pastry is particularly bad, etc. I would guess that pastry is a better thing to be doing in Austria, what with its very long tradition of serious pastry-making, but I don't know that for certain.

So is it for you?

I can't answer that. Nobody can. But what I can say with some confidence is this:

If you are currently wavering between only two options -- pastry/cooking OR academia/anthropology -- then you should cook. It may not pay well, but you're likely to get paid. If you hate the business, it's only going to take a few years to figure that out, and you can look for something else (and your cooking skills will always serve you in life). Neither of those things is true with the academic-anthropology career path.

Final note: I know more than practically anyone you're ever likely to meet about the possibilities of doing occult/anthro-type research in traditional academia. If you want more specific information and advice, PM me.

Good luck!
Joined Feb 18, 2009
I would do cooking if I could still do the Haitian vodun thing one day. I play the conga and my dream is to learn Haitian rhythms, not saying I can't do that as a hobby if I'm in a city with a lot of open minded vodun type folks.

I have actually collected a lot of ethnographies and studies on haiti and trinidad, there is more available for haiti, there are also economic and political analysis that convinces me we should all "CARE" more about African and Caribbean things, that sort of reading; historic economic political analysis is great too.

Are you into Marx or jung? I want to get heavily into both these guys, and Jung especially was big on folklore, comparative religion, mythology, astrology, ancient texts, hermetcism etc.

Academically I would want to be trained by a religion dept to study obeah in Trinidad or ifa there, as well as vodou in haiti, the fact I can't speak French or Creole complicates things, which wouldn't be a problem for trinidad.

As far as cooking goes, I really want to get trained to make the austrian pastries I love.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Your guru is wrong.

You need to find out for yourself if the kitchen is for you, BEFORE you invest any money in culinary school.

The only way to find this out is to get yourself in a kitchen— any kitchen, any job and work for a bit.

What your guru doesn’t know is that culinary school is no substitute for work experience.

If you enter culinary school with “0” work experience, you will graduate with “0” work experience ( unless you start to work p/t during school...) and this fact is not lost on potential employers— they don’t want to explain to the newbie what a 1/9 th insert is, or that you have to turn the mixer off before shifting gears.

The pay sucks, the benefits are non existent, the hours are unsociable, the customers demanding and uncaring. Only you can decide if this is the career you want, and you can only make an intelligent decision after you’ve dipped your toes in the water.

Hope this helps...

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