How can we help?

Joined Jul 31, 2000
Every few months I see an incredible amount of people asking about changing careers to hospitality/Food service/restuarant ETC.

Although it can become redundent answering the same question 25 times a year , I feel compelled to help.

What are the top 5 reasons you career changers what to enter the world of cooking?
What specificly can we offer you?

I need the help from this community to support this thread
Joined Jan 5, 2001
1. Love of food ("let me count the ways..")
2. The need to do what brings us the most satisfaction in life
3. Feelin' a little crazy
4. The knowledge that I can sustain myself through my studies and early/leaner years
5. The support of my spouse
6. Vision.

Regarding the 'how can we help' question, CC you help a lot, as does Wendy and all of you who have been in the industry for a while, and who can paint a REALISTIC portrait of what goes on in your world. It can be a frustrating journey at times, especially when trying to decide wether or not to take the plunge. Thank God I have overcome that hurdle! But this is where vision comes in. It might be interesting for our Cheftalk mentors to talk about their own vision (and that which may have obstructed theirs).
Joined Jul 24, 2001
This is serious discussion and very interesting.

I have been there 6 years ago when I decided that I wanted to become a cook.
I ve been working since the age of 17 when my father and I had our first dissagreement about what shall I do in MY life...
So I started working for years (about 8 years ) while I was studying, in restaurants practically everywhere in the world, always in the kitchen. I was a second rate assistant, washing dishes at the beginning and afterwards since I showed a "talent" and althought I love food preparation I ended up in pastries...Funny because I do not eat pastries , only in special occasions.
Maybe this was a signal that I didn't have any future in the business that I ignored!
I mentioned the above to show that I didn't have any illusions about the profession of the Cook.

After obtaining my second degree I decided to enroll a culinary school.
I wanted to become a cook and if possible a Chef for the following reasons.

I though and I still believe that being a chef is something very creative.
Also by your creations you spread joy in other people. I wanted BADLY to see joy in other people eyes after tasting MY food!

The culinary Arts are about Civilization and since I have studied civilization I thought that this was the best field to show off my abilities!

Last but not least it was my ego! I felt that being a chef would let my Ego grow as much as I really wanted but I didn't dare in another profession.

Let's be honest , in our days Chefs are VIPs! Think about a Chef who has studied Law! ... This was my image then and I was partialy wrong.
I had four reasons but very strong ones!

But things came different in life after graduating the school and for reasons that doesn't matter here I just couldn't work in the kitchen on a regular basis.
Kitchen is hard and need strength not only physical but mental and psychological as well.

I have to tell you though what dissapointed me most in the professional kitchen: The lack of manners, the shoutings and above all the lack of deep knowledge and the fact that most of the times I was feelling that the Captain of our ship was inadequate to cope with the difficulties of a sudden storm!
The majority of "Chefs" cannot pass a blackbox test... Sorry for being umpleasant but this is my point of view.

Maybe it's just me that I need to have blind trust to people I work with!
I have to admit that participating in this Forum " I met" educated professionals who have humor , kindness and knowledge, so maybe it was just me who couldn't have a clear picture while I was sweating over a dough, being shouted for nothing!
On the other hand I have met people that let's say just make me smile with sympathy...very superficial situations and cases!

What people expect by professionals when they are asking their opinion?

IF they have already enrolled the culinary school , all they need is encouragment. I think people when they are in there they cannot tolerate critisism, they need ENCOURAGMENT, somebody to tell them that they made the right choice , I think that this is human.

Its been some years now and I think that I can watch things from a distance.

I think that if professional in this Forum what to help people ( I won't mention names , it's cape chef and mbrown and momoreg for sure, but there are many many more) all they have to do is just be there and be themselves!
People have intuition and deep in their heart they can tell if someone is worth trusty. Just their presence gives a good example to other people!



Tossed by the waves but never sinks.
Joined Oct 12, 1999
Hello everybody! I am not a career changer yet , simply because I have been in this field since I first started working. I do agree that there are alot of career changers coming into this field. I find that working in the kitchen you have to have a certain discipline and gradual understanding of the daily processes you have to engage in. I have seen alot of cooks come and go in the place I have worked. And in a sence I was assuming that maybe they had a certain vision of what a cook does, but were introduced, as they continued to work, to other aspect of the job that they did not favor. And my personal attitude towards the same job situations, was in a positive mode. I would constantly think to myself "I have a desire to be sucessful in this field, so I need to do what ever is generaly required in order to make my career goal a reality." I haven't given up yet!, and sofar, I don't plan on giving up either ....."I can do it!, you can do it!, we can do it!" .....I say that alot too!:chef:
Joined Mar 6, 2001
I want to encourage and inspire 'newbies' because I adore being a pastry chef, but I think it's totally wrong to 'cheerlead' people into a false sense of the realities of this business. I understand people come here looking for help and reasurance. People e-mail me asking for help desiding. I REALLY REALLY take that seriously!

Yes there are wonderful chefs out there, but that's not the MAJORITY. The majority of the head chefs out there are not mentally equiped to lead people. Many of them reached thier position because they were the last one standing when all the quiting and firing happens. MANY, many of them are so driven by their own ego that it's hard for anyone else to find air in their kitchens.

Everyone wants to be a star. I do, you bet! But the reality is I have a better change getting struck by lightening and so will all the 'newbies'.

I don't want to be nice to you, I want you to get pissed off. I'm a female in a MALE dominated industry where I'm certain the girls work twice as hard as MOST (but not all) the guys and are passed over for the head chef position ALWAYS. Even when in a position of leadership their tons of small minded males that really honestly can't handle taking dirrections from a female. It's a dog eat dog enviroment! I hate that fact!

I try to rise above it, I try to inspire and lead in spight of my frustrations. But it's hard, **** hard.

I'm not a complete moron, I think if I had the chance when I was younger I could have entered almost (almost) any other career. Over the holidays I will sit next to my 'well to do' brother-in-law who will leacture me that "you know, theres alot easier ways to make a living". Although he means well, it deeply saddens me. I'm certain I'm every bit as bright as him, and I'm certain god gave me a gift (of artistic ability), yet he's right (and I don't fight back).
I still hold on...........yes, I'm a dreamer, too.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Thats perfectly put!!!

and it's true, many of the woman chefs I have worked with over the years have to fight twice as hard for the same recongnition as there male peer.
Many male chefs carry a huge ego around,but it is really because they are intimidated or feel insecure.

Joined Feb 17, 2001
It's the food. That is the biggest reason I am changing careers now. I don't necessarily want the stardom of being a world-class chef (although that might be nice:D ), but it is mostly about the food itself. I just one day realized that being a customer or being an admired home cook wasn't good enough anymore. I want to see good food, touch it, taste it, smell it, work with it every day. I realize that the kitchen is a hard, brutal place to work and I don't even know yet if I am cut out for it, but I do know that if I don't at least give this a try now, I will forever regret it. I also know that I can end up in a different part of this industry altogether, and that will still be better than what I am doing now, which has absolutely zero connection to the food industry.

What you guys can to do help is just continue to be here listening to us and asking our questions, being honest about the realities of this lifestyle, and encouraging us. I have loved hearing all of your stories about the frustrations and excitements of this career, and I want in even more.

Joined Sep 20, 2001
I'll be starting school in the Spring, and your sentiments are mine exactly. Very well stated.

Also, working in an office stinks. :)

- cjssjc
Joined Mar 6, 2001
cjssjc, "working in an office stinks" yes so does standing on your feet in a small space for 10 hours straight, in a 90 degree plus kitchen with sweet running in your eyes while your handling thin sheets of chocolate and the guy standing next to you washing dishes doesn't have CLUE what deordant or a toothbrush are!

A chair, air conditioning and no unbelievably foul oder is like a vacation. The chance to drive thru a hamburger joint for lunch on my lap, total freedom! Being able to ask for a personal day or a sick day off is a mind blowing luxury.

Sorry but it's true...

Sorry I'll stop getting off track.
Joined May 26, 2001
It made me so sad to read Wendy's posts -- not because she's wrong -- (she's right to be mad and tired and bitter -- but because I know exactly how she feels. She has touched on so many important issues:
-- the inhumanity of the working conditions;
-- the hostility women face (not that men don't, but believe me, we DO face more that lingers longer);
-- the "reward systems" that no one with the slightest intelligence can figure out, because they have nothing to do with brains, or aptitude, or any "normal" kind of merit;
-- the BIG differences between chefs who succeed because they lead and inspire, and those who succeed because they just plain outlast the competition;
and more -- that rarely if ever get discussed in the culinary schools. IT IS OUR DUTY TO MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GIVE UP THEIR LIVES TO THIS INDUSTRY KNOW ABOUT ALL THAT.

. To go back to the original question raised by Cape Chef, my reasons are:
1. Of all the other "careers" I've had, this is the only one that uses EVERY part of my brain: I need math, languages, interpersonal skills, planning, organization, the ability to teach, creativity, all 5 of my senses -- just about every thing I've learned (and enjoyed);
2. There is always something new to learn, whether it is a new ingredient, technique, flavor combination, person I might never meet otherwise, culture ... the list is endless;
3. If we really get it right, we can make people happy at the same time we feel a sense of real accomplishment.
4. I get to stick my hands in the middle of piles of gooey stuff and squish squish squish and PLAY WITH MY FOOD!!!!!!!

Seriously, this is a roller-coaster business in so many ways, and it's a relief to find others to commune with about it. Keep the faith, all!!!!
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Suzanne and W.Debord, I wish I had the same command of the written word you to have.

Your posts are so powerful and carry incredible merit.
I was thinking of the sweat running down my brow as wendy put it. Using all five of our sences, what other proffesion can offer that?

Something very key to this thread that took in a different direction but should be addressed first is "How can we help eachother?)

You know what they have to love yourself before you can love another.

being a male chef for just over 20 years I have probably seen and heard it all. believe me there is a lot of bull**** that goes on in kitchens and there are also kitchens that are like theater and just ausome to be a part of. But the fact is that 75% percent (I'm guessing) of the male population in the back of the house still lives in the prehistoric age (sp?) when it comes to dealing with there female counter part, That is very sad because so much negitive energy is wasted and so much positive energy is lost.

If male chefs can deflate there chests for a moment and "LISTEN" to what is being said..they may be hope.
when I read some of the previous posts I see 3 things that make up for very powerful packages
1) Education
2) Passion
3) willingness
what more can someone ask for in a person or employee.

There are some very bright people on these forums doing some wondeful things, We should not judge by gender,but embrace as peers
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Again some truth (at least as I see it), I come here because I can comunicate with many other wonderful chefs. I reach out everywhere I go in every kitchen I enter. I seek a community with people who are like me. I haven't found this at any job. Head chefs are offended when you talk food with them, they love to lecture, but they rarely open themselfs up to really talk about food (you all know why) and take in from others.

Reading posts at this site is like watching foodtv, this is a fantasy look into our profession. At the most you'll meet one or two people in a big kitchen who you can talk food with and share your passion. Co-workers are almost always there just for the pay check. This is all they know, their unhappy with the hours and conditions but they stay, because this IS all they know.

I can talk about gender differences but as I start to age I fear what discrimination I'll face with that issue too. At forty you begin to be the oldest one in the kitchen. There's a few people out there at 50 but only in a head chef/pastry chef positions. No one notices this? Where do we dissapear to?

The senior workers in many industrys are driven out but in the food biz, we dissapear much younger more quitely too so it seems.

How can we help each other? I beat this subject into the ground as often as I can. I really believe that nothing will ever get better until we work more standard work weeks. I can show you management site that straight out list 50 hours in a min. for head chefs, period. The live style is the hardest thing, wages would be next down my list.

If we could just be able to ask for a day off and recieve that occasionally (after weeks of pushing thru the busy season) that would raise your enthusism. To be able to attend some important personal events in your families life would make a huge difference in attitute for me. Being able to schedule a doctors apt. and make it with-out rescheduling multi. times....

Sometimes I feel so isolated from the rest of the world. I miss everything important. I work every holiday and rush to be with family then rush to get home, then rush to wake up to rush to work.

I can't comprehend why a 40 hour week isn't a possiblity. Hire more workers and spread out the hours. It only covers their position better....Heck they complain about paying OT, THEN STAFF THE PLACE!

The upside, their is one too! I think Suzanne covered it perfectly.
Joined Dec 8, 1999
While I agree with some points that have been brought up here, I can't help but say that some are nonsense (to me, anyways). I don't think that a blanket statement that the majority of chefs are not emotionally equipped to lead their staffs to be even close to the truth. Sure, there are some losers out there, but if one person has had the bad luck to work for lots of them, that doesn't mean it's a truth. As far as women working harder than most of the men: BULL!! I would say the same to someone stating that men work harder than women. As long as anybody (men and women both) has an attitude that one or the other is better, nothing will be equal, ever. If your career has bred frustration and bitterness, then I have only one suggestion: please don't spread it.
Joined May 26, 2001
Sorry Greg, but not only are most chefs unequipped to lead, most managers in every field are unequipped. Oh, they may have the technical skills -- that's what got them up there in the first place. But no one has made sure that they know the human side of managing people. Remember, whatever work is being done, it is PEOPLE for the most part who do it (robots excepted) and PEOPLE who manage them. Remember the Peter Principle: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." (Laurence Peter, 1969)

As for the gender issue: you have some truth, but little understanding. No one said anything about being "better." But that is best left for another time.

Joy and fulfillment are part of our life; frustration and bitterness are, too; get used to their expression. That's what we're trying to tell you.
Joined Nov 16, 2001
I just read this whole thread and I must say I am impressed.
I am a female cook who is currently in culinary school after 4 years of working in the business. I must tell you I have a LOT of career changers and kids just out of high school (REALLY) in my class. They have a vision of ideal working conditions and they all think this school will guarantee them a great job after we graduate. Many of them don't even want to work in restaraunts or catering or any real kitchen setting. They want to be food critics, food stylists, all those types of jobs that involve food, but not the grueling back of the house type stuff. I honestly belive they are setting themselves up for a huge dissapointment. I have tried to listen to their complaints about cleanup, the instructors, the facilities, etc, etc. It makes me crazy to see people spending 30 grand on something they have no prior knowledge of other than watching TV. I keep telling them they will not get those jobs without SOME actual work in the kitchens. They think I'm full of beans and I just say that because all I want to be is a chef. I don't want to own a restaraunt, I don't want to work for Emeril Lagasse, I don't want to sit in some sterile enviornment talking about food. I want the heat, the stress, the thrill, the rush, the weeds, the great days when everyone comes together, the food blowing people's minds.
Am I crazy? You bet, but I know what I am in for and I want more.
I wish I could find a way to help these misguided souls. I have tried to tell them what it's really like in this biz and they dismiss me, saying I'm trying to scare them or that I'm being superior because I have experience and they don't. SO I let them go along with this dream they have. I know some of them will do well out there, and some won't. It seems to me that all I can do is focus on my own stuff and then tear it up in the real world after graduation.
Joined Jan 5, 2001
What a great attitude ThirteenDog, I wish there were more of you out there. When I start my business I hope to staff my kitchen with people like you who believe as I do that it's about getting dirty and enjoying the thrill of the creation.

To get back to some of the concerns rightfully expressed above: I now understand what the reality is and I always prepare for the worse, no matter where I go. I think women like Wendy have perhaps been pioneers, allowing the next generation to have a slightly eastier time in the industry. (thanks sista!)

I've pretty much always been the only woman in the kitchen where I've worked. Maybe it's my personality but I find that I haven't really been discriminated upon. Although working part-time, I can't really assess what my possibilities for advancement are. Being a woman for me has been a blessing; I have a kind of 'ring of protection' if you will. The boys respect me, and they know that I understand everything that comes out of their mouths, no matter how crude. Executive chefs are especially respectful. From a business perspective, they want to show off the fact that they have women in the kitchen. They seem to believe that it gives them a cachet of modernity. It's getting pretty trendy to be a chick! :rolleyes:

On the other hand, I count my blessings every day. I know how hard it can be for some women. I believe this is one of the reasons why it is so important to pick your first job carefully. Aim for prestige and distinction. I'm not saying there aren't any misogynists in four star restaurants, but it does gives you options in the future. Not to mention that it's pretty easy to get in if you have a grasp of the basics.

One thing I really like about Cheftalk is that it usually takes a while to determine a member's gender. Sadly since Mr Bond came along, that has changed and from what I've been reading on other threads, it has caused a few problems(sorry Jamesy, I know you meant well) . My point is that this anonymity has allowed many of us to be heard without being judged or be percieved to be expressing opinions that seem tainted.

As a woman mentally working on her business plan every day, I pay very close attention to what Wendy has to say, and also what Greg and Suzanne and the others have said also. There are changes that need to made in this industry, and it's up to us to do it. It's easier to start on the right foot than to make changes later. That's why I listen carefully. There are some gross inefficiencies going on, and kichen staffs accross the world are paying for everything from the chefs' managerial inexperience to their deceit. There are good managers/exec.chefs out there and I don't hear enough of those stories on cheftalk. Good business practices should be heard. They should occupy much more space on this site.

In closing I just wanted to point out something that made me chuckle (un rire jaune). Wendy's last post (re: hours, inability to hold a doctor's appointment etc) reminds me of my common complaints when I was a consultant. If I were to convert my salary to an hourly rate, I was making next to nothing! So you see? The same problems carry over in so many other industries; it's sad really. But despite everything, like Suzanne said, at least now I get to play with my food! And that my friends, is everything!
Joined Mar 6, 2001
How do we help? Is there anything we all can agree on, that would be helpful for wanttobes?
Joined Nov 5, 2001
Hi all,

Here is a genuine Want-to-Be's point of view:

This thread started out as a questions: how can we help? and whereas some may think this strayed off the subject slightly, I think it is right on! This is what I wanted to hear about, this is what I "hoped" to find more information about when digging into the subject, and it would not have happened without the people that make up this forum. The fact that you are taking us/everyone seriously and being very open about good and bad parts of this profession is something I could never read about in a cookery book or see on any cookery program on TV, and unless I in my boring office job coincedentally fell over this page, I would not have had any other chance to learn what I have learned in this forum.

After reading this I have also gained a new appreciation for my office job, the benefits and the quietness, however this is not enough for me anymore and a change has to come.

I know once my decision has been made I will go for it 100%, but before I make such a commitment I want to know as much about it as possible. I have one other option for education open, and will look at this option with the same critical mind.

On another occasion, when I had to make a similar decision I went to a chinese restaurant with a friend and talked things through. Ironically the message in my fortune cookie said:
"know what you want, or you'll have to like what you get".

I would go for the "know what you want"-part any time. And thanks to all of you who are letting us wannabees peek into your world from a safe distance, I belive that you are passing on knowledge and preparation for anyone entering this business. You are making us aware of all aspects you can think of as important, and I find this discussion more encouraging than discouraging. Maybe in the end this way of educating the newcomers may result in more of the "right" people entering the profession.

So to answer your question: How can we help? You just have!

Thank you all very much!

H. (a 25 year old female carreer changer)
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Thanks Helgendasz for the response.

I don't want to sound like a bitter person, I'm not. I also don't want to battle over words written and not written, with my friends here.

(I'm a little confused why more people aren't participating in this thread?) I don't want to monpololize the conversation either, but it looks like I have and here I continue....

What I am: frustrated....actually I should have written that as FRUSTRATED!!! HURT to some extent, SAD REALLY SAD that things haven't improved since the time I accidentally entered this bus. 20 some years ago.

My family having owned a bakery that turned into a catering business supports me by telling me how crazy this business is, "why don't you get a easier job and make more money?" (I got that yesterday for the millionth time). My best freind just finished a 2 year degree to be a medical tech. Her starting pay is $20.00 per hour. She's found out that the temps. in the business make $30.00 per hour and she's going that way now.

I think long and hard about these words.

My husband is so happy I'm not working right now. He told me how depresed/bored he was being alone every weekend while I was working.

I turned 40 this summer. Funny thing is I'm just like everyone else, I TOO am having a mid-life crisis (I never thought I'd go there, that's what happens to everyone else). I see my life as half over and the best half is yet to come. SO I want to make my life worth living (if that makes sense?)!! Although I can't picture myself retiring ever (I'd be too bored) I still have to prepare finacially incase of illness I can't run wrecklessly into another wrong job.

I'd like to follow everyones advice and get out of the kitchen to make easier money, have weekends and holidays off, I really wish that was in me. But I keep do I lead the rest of my life so I have no regrets? How do I make my life forfilling for me?

Truth is I really truely love being a pastry chef. Unlike my spouse who lives for vacation. I would be just as happy vacationing working in a bakery than any other "fun" thing I can think of. There isn't anything I'd rather be doing. My husband thinks I'm crazy to bring my work home and study all night in cookbooks, rack my head for ideas for work. I don't see it as work, the cookbooks are my novels my brain food, coming up with new ideas is a creative outlet.

So the "trick" for me now is to find that "happy place" in my career path. Clue my family in on the fact that I can't leave this business. I'd love to make them all happy. But it wouldn't make me happy and I need (or want) to be selffish, after all this is MY LIFE.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make sense of an industry that makes little sense (in my head at least). So I speak up, I try to make a tiny wave (I wish I had the power to rock the boat and throw some people in the bus. over board into some cold water, but I can't). I guess in the end some will see me as a bitter old lady...I hope you'll see that I tried to make some small thing better for someone else (that's my goal).

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