HELP ME! ...should I become a chef?

Joined Feb 11, 2006
So, hello everyone.  I need some feedback on something I'm questioning in my life.  This might be a bit lengthy of a post, so please don't get angry.  I really need to get this off my chest.

Ok, so you see it all starts with this simple fact....I LOVE FOOD! I don't mean the way most people do, how they love to eat and enjoy a good meal.  I mean like I turn into a total nerd whenever I talk about food. I totally get off talking about how the citric acid in ceviche cooks the seafood, how proteins break down depending upon how you cook them, how yield formulas determine how much of an ingredient you need to purchase vs how much you have to cook with after prep.  Things like this all make me a happy little geek boy.

It may sound strange that I am even pondering this decision still, after thinking about this for 15 years.  I can't even walk into Williams & Sonoma without nearly having an orgasm.  I could say I have a fetish for kitchen gadgets.  I actually scold my friends over using the wrong spatula for certain jobs in my kitchen.  I actually have no formal training at all in cooking, yet I do things all the time that my friends say a chef would do.

For an example, I can actually look at a list of ingredients and understand how each ingredient actually interacts with the other in the dish.  I can virtually taste each in my mouth and know how the recipe would taste if I left out each ingredient.  I can easily alter a recipe in my head to get the same flavor without an ingredient. I can just look in the kitchen of anyones house and grab ingredients and toss them together for a great meal, when they had no idea they had such a great meal sitting in their cupboards and fridge.

I can actually go to a restaurant and eat a meal a couple of times, go back to my own kitchen and reverse engineer the dish after a couple of tries.  I can plate dishes at home in restaurant style that look gorgeous, yet have never taking any classes on plating a dish.

I can make just about anything I want in a kitchen by recipe, but frequently do not need to look at the recipe more than the first couple times I make it.  I can just skim a recipe briefly for something I have never made and then make a brand new recipe in my head thats similar but completely different and get something very yummy.

I can do all of the above things but theres more to it. I have had various jobs in my life (IT Supervisor, Admin Assistant, Sales) but not one of them compares to how happy I am working at a restaurant.  I love talking to people about food and teaching them, talking to them about flavor profiles and pairings.  I love teaching people how to cook, or about a new style of food.

All my friends know without a doubt I am the one you trust to find a new good restaurant.

I can analyze, and do everywhere I go, a restaurant based on service, decor, menu, and atmosphere far more critically than any critic ever could, and just seem to naturally  understand how a restaurant functions instinctually. I frequently can tell when I go out to eat when there's a problem in the kitchen, or when some key person is out for the day, or if the restaurant is just a bad restaurant, even if its my first time there. (I usually ask at the end of my meal about these hunches and they are right time and time again).

I worked briefly as a restaurant manager too once, and the management aspects of a restaurant fascinate me and make me just as geeked out as the cooking itself does.  I love making sure everything is getting sanitized, making sure we're not over prepping or underprepping, making sure the stock levels are optimum so we dont run out of anything, and finding new ways to make the place run smoothly.

I can't help but to feel like food is in my blood and I have actually bounced back and forth about the idea of being a chef for more than 15 years.  It was even my first choice of career before I went into computers, and then clerical work.  Nothing ever satisfies me like working in a restaurant, and as if that wasn't bad enough I have dreamed of owning a restaurant since I was like 12.

I believe that food is the most powerful substance on Earth.  You can listen to music, but it only goes into your ears.  You can look at a piece of art, but it only enters your eyes into your mind.  Food, however, food enters the body in so many ways.  You see it, smell it, hear it sizzle, touch it, taste it. It actually becomes a part of your body. More than that food is universal.  It defines entire civilizations of people, nations and regions.

Wars have been fought over spices and trade routes for food goods. The Romans actually paid their soldiers with salt. Religions call for people to not eat certain foods, and some foods are only eaten to celebrate great occasions.  Most of all we must all eat to survive, and so food in not only an art and a science, but also strangely a spiritual thing.  It connects all of us, and all of us define our lives through the people we love (all of whom we usually share food with).

I don't really know for sure if it's the right path for me in my life, and I am at a crossroads of career change currently.  I've  dreamt of it for years, and the Food Network is like my porn channel.  It's in my blood and I know that nothing makes me more passionate and happy.

Now I know most of you are probably sitting thinking I must be loony if I don't see that it's obvious, but actually going to culinary school and getting trained as a chef and a restaurant manager ( I would do both since I want to own my own place) scares me.  It's kinda like what happens if you fail at the one thing you've always REALLY been good at.

So, what I am asking here is based on how you hear me talk about my relationship with food, do you think I should go for it or not?

Needing Help,

Joined Aug 21, 2004
Originally Posted by MasTequila  

It's kinda like what happens if you fail at the one thing you've always REALLY been good at.
What does happen? Does the world end? What happens if you never try the one thing you've always REALLY been good at?
Joined Oct 28, 2008
I say take the plunge and do it. Just be aware of all the things that accompany working in a professional kitchen.
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Joined May 20, 2009
How would that failure manifest itself?

Failure would be not to grasp or even be aware of the concepts you have demonstrated as being familiar to you. These are pretty much top end skills developed through experience.

Culinary school is most helpful as an entry level option to get your ducks in a row before entering a working kitchen where consistent production under stress is the driving force. You will have to at least learn about what it takes to get the food out the door before the above skill set would be useful to you or your owner. Your unlikely to walk in the door and get a 'Chef' position and so your Chef will only call on those skills when it suits him, take those opportunities but don't push them.

My point is, in your case, 15 yrs puts you on the clock in this business so skip culinary school, learn the management skills on your own time and get in the trenches. That bit you can't circumvent...otherwise your just another 'stylist'. Most Chefs in here are ambivalent about schooling anyway but I've never heard any of them say you can get to the top of the hill without wading through the 's***' in the valley.

You don't have to be a stellar line cook but you will have to have done it for the respect of your crew and ultimately, I suspect, for your self-confidence. You do, however, have to make the's short and regrets are constant.....jump!
Joined Sep 18, 2008
IMHO, culinary school will NOT "train you to be a chef", a passable "line cook" probably.

Once you add a "working knowledge" of:
  • business management
  • accounting
  • personnel management
  • marketing
  • fundamentals of business law
  • fundamentals of business finance
you "might" have the opportunity to work as a "chef".

Of course, remember, once you achieve that "status", your "in the kitchen" time will probably be minuscule as you will be spending a majority of your time on the above list of activities.

Why not go for it, what is the worst that can happen?


in my experience, Culinary School does train you to be a Chef... all that office work you will get to learn in Culinary School if you choose to. most Chef's that work their way up are great in the kitchen, then all of a sudden they are stuck in an office all day... big transition and Culinary School can prepare you for that.

Culinary School should improve your cooking skills, but it wont guarantee that you will be a good cook... that is up to you.

if you love it so much, then you should do it... but you need to be stronger to survive in a kitchen. if it took you 15 years to think about it and you still need to go on a forum to ask total strangers if you should do it, then maybe you shouldn't. i decided i wanted to cook professionally, so i hunted down a school and i applied right away. if you fear failure, then maybe its not for you. Many great Chef's fail spectacularly before making it big.
Joined Aug 6, 2010
Big thing to consider... Being a Chef is all well and good, but getting there is a B****. I've been a line cook for over 6years. It's hot, sweaty, and you bust your butt for unappreciative crap bags until someone realizes you have a clue, and then maybe you get somewhere. Loving food is awesome... understanding it is great, going to school is wonderful..... But if you don't like back breaking work day in and out then it's not a good idea. And don't start at management. Learn what it's like to be the shit on the shoe so you will be more considerate of your employees when the time comes. 
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