I feel like I try harder, and succeed less...


christian holmes

Hey guys,

Please forgive me if I sound a little whiny. I realize the culinary world doesn't typically support weakness, but I could really use some commiseration and advice.

I'm a culinary student at the California Culinary Academy. I am only in Foundations 2, which is essentially still quite a basic class. We are cooking duchess potatoes, carrots vichy, and a basic sauteed vegetable dish for our practical on Monday.

The thing is, though I tend to be outgoing and, typically, fairly confident, I have lately been feeling quite insecure and demoralized. On the last few practicals, though I prepared quite a bit, my time management was so poor that I ended up rushing the actual cooking of my perfectly organized and mise-en-placed dishes and presenting a poor dish because of it.

The thing is, it seems that my classmates who screw around in class, text during the chef's demos, and seem to totally lack and passion for cooking, are doing better than I am. Maybe I'm just projecting this idea, but it really seems as though they're presenting better food than I am.

I am not saying they aren't talented people who have their own value, but I do feel demoralized and overwhelmed when I'm still prepping and other people have already plated two of their dishes. I know it takes experience to learn kitchen time management, but I feel like I'm working so hard and getting nowhere.

Anyways. Again, sorry for the whine. My main question is:

Is this a feeling that sounds familiar to anyone else here? And if so (or even if not) do you have any words of wisdom for me? Anything I could do on the weekends and off-hours to better prepare myself? I'm willing to put in the time, I just don't know what will help.

Thank you all so much,



Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
The fact that you recognize this will make you a better cook in the end.  Like everything else, you can try and visualize what you want to do.  The more detail the better. Even better yet, once your mise is done, do a walk through with a list of exactly what you are going to do with with the actual timing listed.

We all get down sometimes and it is mainly because we fail to meet some expectation that either you set for yourself, someone sets for you, or what you imagine that someone sets for you.  Enjoy the small victories and do your best before, during, and after.
Joined May 5, 2010
Dear Christian Holmes...don't dwell on the negative. Without being rude and condescending it may appear that you are an emotional person that just might over think things. Reality is not always as we see them.

Here's an idea you can try at home.

Duplicate a class while at home.

Give yourself a time restraint.

Take something you learned while in class and re-create it within that time line and take note of where in the process you fail.

You say you have everything ready as far as Mise en Place, but lack the time management part in getting it ready for service.

Work on that part.

See where the improvement need to be.

Some items may take longer to saute/bake/broil....etc

Take that into consideration when planning.

Also know that those that chat or text while in class are the ones that will not be around in the final classes.

Suck it up cupcake......
Joined Apr 3, 2010

I don't want you to take this in a negative way. I taught cooking in NY for years and found that some students have what I call ''In the hands". Normally the ones who faired better scholasticly were not as good or proficient as the others in the culinary classes. I had one fellow who was great at pastry(he, later on in years  became pastry chef at The Plaza in NY., but grade and cooking . wise he was bad.  We all can't be good at everything. I love electrical and plumbing work and can usually fix everything  ,  but I can't do woodwork or paint correctly. You figure it . Possibly the culinary field is not your forte, you are most likely great at something else

.In any event don;t be discouraged.
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
If I read through your post, I see the one word that's the problem:  Time management.  

Everyone has different ways of dealing with this, kitchen timers, stop watches, mentally allowing yourself certain time frames for certain tasks.  

Multi-tasking is the name of the game with cooking.

Hope this helps

christian holmes


Thank you so much for taking the time to add your thoughts. I really appreciate it, and every one of the responses has been helpful to me.

Chefross - The issue I keep having when trying to practice the dishes at home is that many of the ingredients we use are too expensive to purchase on a student budget (especially after having paid for the academy). Obviously this is not the case with all the dishes, and I suppose I could just substitute out something that is less expensive just to get the movement down in my head. Do you think this would hurt me in the long run though?

I have also been told that memorizing the recipes is really helpful when it comes to time management. Does anyone have any tips or a process to quickly memorize many different recipes?

chefedb - Thank you for your honest opinion. I feel that in many ways I do lack the temperament that one seems to need in a professional kitchen. I am quite "sensitive" if you will, and it throws me off when people get upset at each other, even if I have nothing to do with it. I am guessing that where I ultimately end up will be somewhere slower paced and different, as I am known around school for my "extreme from scratch" cooking, making everything by hand and out of the most basic ingredients possible.

The good thing is, when I look back in each day, I can see how far I have come and that I have learned at least something, and that comforts me somewhat.=

foodpump - The idea of using timers has been interesting me for a while. Do you use a timer? Or did you? Any advice on basic timer technique? Should I aim to use just one? Or should I have various ones for each dish?

Thank you all so much again.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
Don't memorize recipes. Learn them, the how and why they work. The sequence, the pattern, the structure, etc. I can learn a song on piano, but that doesn't make me a pianist. Practice at home with ingredients that you can afford. It doesn't have to be the same recipes that you are doing at school, just keep it in the same format as to time constraints, etc. What you are practicing and ingraining is working skills. Mis en place, prioritizing, knife cuts, plating, structures, patterns , sequences. Don't worry about what other people are doing. You are not at school for them. Any time spent looking at them is time wasted that you could have spent looking at you. Be the best you that you can be.
Joined Sep 18, 2008
...Don't worry about what other people are doing. You are not at school for them. Any time spent looking at them is time wasted that you could have spent looking at you. Be the best you that you can be.
Remember, there are only two types of people in class with you, the ones that are looking at you for guidance (looking at them will not help you) and the ones who have figured it out and are already improvising (they will confuse you), so concentrate on what you are doing!
Joined Aug 21, 2009
You have been given some very good advice in this thread.  I can just add that I do use timers at times just so I don't forget some poached eggs and accidentally over cook them (and yes I have done that.. .I have made poached eggs that bounce like bouncing balls because I forgot them in the rush and when I went back to them.. OOPS)  Do your best to be the best you can be and you will find your way. 
Joined Oct 10, 2005
With a timer, what you do is, say, dice an onion at home.  Now time it, it takes you, say, 2 minutes.  O.K., now get it down to 90 seconds , onions are cheap and you can always use diced onions at home.  So you know now that dicing an onion will take you about a minute.

Same thing for say, boning out a chicken, or due to budget contstraints,  turkey drumsticks, or chicken thighs

Now at school you know you can "budget" a minute for dicing an onion.  You can use a timer if you want at school, but at school you should be thinking about multi-tasking:  While you're dicing, what's in the pot?  In the oven? Resting, cooling, thawing? Reserve the timer for "warning", what's in the oven or what's on the stove that needs to be taken out.

hope this helps 
Joined Feb 17, 2010
Christian, some good advice here, one other thing no one has touched on is, did you have any practical kitchen experience before you started at CCA?

This may be one factor why some of your class mates are texting, screwing off etc and seem to be ready for service.

I attended CCA in 1980 straight out of high school, very little cooking knowledge and no skills. I had a tough time. This was pre internet, cell phones, texting, google, food chat rooms and the like. We had the text books that were issued and that was about it. I did end up passing production & gm with no problems, but barley passed pastry, and today baking is just not my thing.

If I could do it over, I would have had a couple years kitchen experience before attending, and that's what I tell anyone that asks me about school.

I got a job in the city at a very small place during my second quarter, It was chef owned, the guy said he would let me apprentice with him , but that lasted about two weeks... the guy ended up in jail!

Then I got a job in Berkeley at a small french bistro. The chef was European trained and the sous was a recent grad at CCA and top of the class  .

I was learning more at work and also getting paid. This helped me immensely.

Then there is the question of what type of food do you want to do when your through with schooling? , banquets, catering, corperate TGI Mc Funster type places, fine dining? You will find your niche. I migrated to large banquet type setting and off site catering. This was where I felt most comfortable and where I excelled.

And as others have said, you need to learn to multi task and do it well. Know all the stations on the line and how long things take to cook, how each cook works the station and adjust to that. You need to be able to work like a well oiled machine. I know your not grtting this type of line experience at school. One person heating the pan, someone else adding the protien, someone else seasoning, plating etc..

AS far as timers, use the timers on the ovens to remind you of something that may need checking, only used timers on the line at one place, for rack of lamb, had it down to a science, had multiple timers that had 3-4 times running....Now that was multi tasking, could have 10-12 at a time in the oven, and trying to keep the rotation correct.

Good luck!
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I think your problem is, your great in practice but lousy in the game. What you need to do is relax and get your confidence up a bit so your brain isn't running a mile a minute. What I do with my Chefs is, I try to project a feeling of calm and confidence. Working in a busy kitchen takes calm people working at a fast Organized pace, I would call it "Controlled Chaos"............When your at home at night, get the demo organized in your mind and go through all the moves in your head. The next morning do the same thing in the kitchen, with the confidence of knowing you have the knowledge to do it and be successful....................Take care....................ChefBillyB
Joined Jul 28, 2001

I have to throw in 1 cents ... I personally feel that timing is the most important thing while working in a kitchen. Actually most anything you do in life.

I have mentored  many students. I realized timing is not something you can teach. The timing has to be brought out and has to be behind the focus. You cannot focus on timing. The

timing has to be a part of the thought process. Does that make any sense?

 Start mentally timing everything you do in the day. ex: how long will it take to get this shopping done, to have breakfast, clean the kitchen etc.. I also feel a production list is absolutely necessary when starting out. Multi tasking is a new word for me but if you pick up a peeler to peel something,  peel everything else that needs to be peeled.

DON'T compare yourself with others!!  When I'm interviewing for interns, I have them spin a cake. The last thing I'm looking for is the best looking cake. I'm looking at how they organize,

adapt to the kitchen, recquire help from others etc. The tweeking comes with experience.

Just a thought from an old fart ;-D

Joined Jan 23, 2011
Dude, We Have The Same Feeling Right Now... But For Now As A Student We Just Need To Trust To Our Selves. Give Your Best Shot, and If We Failed. We Learn. :D

Good Luck To Us Dude!
Joined Jan 24, 2011
Hi,I know exactly what you are talking about as I have been through the same thing.I manage to shut out whatever distracts me in class now and focus on doing the best I can at whatever we're making that day...Try not to feel you have to compete, as this will ruin the enjoyment of the creative learning process.People used to think it was a joke when I asked questions when I didn't understand something,but I thought to hell with them,,I've paid good money to do this and I want to get as much out of it as I can.I'm halfway through now and gaining confidence because I took the time to learn thoroughly,I agree,the culinary industry can be tough,but knowledge is power!
Joined May 22, 2010
Sit down.

write down every single thing you have to do in your class to pull it off.

now assign a time frame for each and every task.

You should end up with something like:

8:00 AM: Collect potware

8:10 AM: review recipes

8:15 AM: start potatoes


as your day progresses, adjust your actual times.

If the potatoes for Duchesse should be drying by 8:45, and you don't get them drained and drying until 9:00? Write it down. if you gave yourself 3 minutes to prep your carrots and it takes 6? Write it down. At the end of the day, you'll have an idea of where your time is going, where you overestimated and where you underestimated.

WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING you need to do in your day. Gathering rags, having a smoke break, going to the washroom. You are losing time somewhere. This will help you see where you're at.

If you are given 4 hours... use four hours. Do not rush to be done in 3. Time enough for that when you get out in the real world... right now, it's about learning how to organize yourself.
Joined Jan 4, 2011
Christian, it looks as though you've got a lot of helpers on your side, maybe I can join in and help too. First off, don't concern yourself with anyone else but you. (I know somebody already said that.) Don't worry so much about time and speed at the expense of being correct. Don't mince an onion extra fast but really sloppy with irregular cuts. However long it takes you, get it right instead of having to do it over. Speed will come with practice. Cutting off a finger will ruin your day. I've seen good chefs make large-print copies of recipes and tape them on the walls in front of younger/newer guys so they wouldn't make mistakes. When I first asked about this I was told that if it's right there in front of you, you can check your work and stuff doesn't come back. My pass is loaded with pics of finished products. If it doesn't look like the pic, don't send it out. Timers are great. You can get really nice digital timers at any teacher's store for <$2 each; even less if you buy a bunch. I clip mine on my coat. They also have magnets, so you can stick them where they are timing. My boss laughs at me for using timers, but I don't get yelled at for burning up orders. Kid, you're in school to learn, you're not there to be good already. Oh yeah, by-the-way ..... stop working hard, start working smart. I don't know about, and I can't speak for anyone else, but in my kitchen I won't yell at you for being 1-2 minutes slow, but I get really unpleasant when orders come back. Good luck and enjoy school.
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Joined Aug 26, 2010
I've not been to culinary school, so I can't pretend to know exactly what you're going through.  Having said that, I have worked in a few kitchens.  It is also my belief that no matter what it is that you get trained to do, there's the classroom version and the real-world version.  You're getting some really good information in class, but the instructor is teaching you the "school" way.  This means you're expected to do things a certain way.  I suspect that since you really fault time-management as being the biggest issue, perhaps you're focusing on the "basics" of working in an orderly fashion instead of looking at the "big picture" and breaking it into the component parts.  I would suggest you record "Chopped" from Food Network.  You can skip the basic premise of the show (what they're cooking out of the ingredients) and focus on their work processes.  You can decide what you think your skill level is (do you think you could take the ingredient basket and make something out of it, or would you simply listen to the contestant and make the dish they come up with?) and take it from there.  An example is "they gave us duck and I immediately think to sear it", and the contestant tosses a skillet on the heat before going to get the other ingredients. 

Walk through making a hamburger.  In my mind, assuming a stocked kitchen and the meat is sitting in front of me on the line, the cooking device is the first thing to hit (grill, griddle, skillet, etc).  You can't cook on a cold grill.  Turn it on, make sure it's on, and leave it be.  Now, go grab a bowl, any ingredients you want to use to make the "burger" patty itself.  Mix up the patty ingredients, form it, and get it on the heat.  Now, go grab the bun and any toppings.  When you get back, check the meat and toss the bun on to toast.  Start prepping your toppings (obviously, if bacon was one of your toppings, you're in trouble because it should be cooking, but you knew when you put your patty on the grill what the toppings would be, so you would have adjusted already).  Slice your tomato, peel off some lettuce, etc.  Get your bun, top it, grab your patty, and voila, you're done.  The "school" method would probably have you go grab everything out of the pantry that you needed for the whole dish, prep everything, then start cooking.  The problem is that you're standing there watching the meat cook.  You're wasting time when you could be multi-tasking.  I believe that if you try a multi-tasking approach, your time management skills will improve. 

christian holmes

I don't know how to start, other than to say that you are all incredible. Thank you all so much for taking the time to give me such incredible advice. I wish I could repay each and every one of you for the gifts of wisdom you've given me. I know I sound corny, but just know that as this young culinary student is walking around the kitchen at school every day, your words are recycling in my head, and giving me strength.

After the many helpful responses and suggestions, I went back to school today (Monday) and had my practical. I nailed the first dish (the first full-points I've ever earned on a dish) carrots vichy, and did pretty well on the rest as well (ended up with 35/40 points, the best score I have gotten on a practical). I realize it is a small victory, but it meant the world to me to see improvement. It seems that a common pattern in culinary school, possibly the culinary world as a whole, is a long period of working hard, without noticing much improvement, and then having a feeling of plateau and achievement (like today) for a short time, in which you notice that you have improved all of a sudden. Does this sound familiar?

What I did differently today, in large part due to the advice I had been given, was try to relax, focus on myself, and actually, seemingly counterintuitively, focused on perfection in my dishes. I realize that makes me sound like I previously had low standards, but that was not the case. It was more that I was very focused on rushing through, and not on the quality of the dishes. For instance, this time I recut my carrots three times because I didn't like the sizing of the cuts I made at first. This is something I never would have done before, as I was too concerned with plating and moving on. My theory for why this helped was that I was much more focused on the precision of every step of the process for each dish, which helped my perspective and understanding of the entire process and where I fit into it time-wise. In addition, each time I completed a part of the process well (i.e. found perfect flawlessly sized cuts on my board) I got a confidence boost and relaxed a bit more, clearing my mind to think. But this is just a theory.

I feel PrairieChef spoke specifically to this saying I should use all the time I had. I was one of the last people to finish today, but I was finishing calm, collected, and with an understanding of exactly how much time I had left and how much I needed.

gobblygook - Your words were specifically very helpful. Your advice gives a good perspective and breakdown of the process of learning a trade through a school. Your guess at the difference between the real word method and classroom method are dead-on. Often times I am looking around and trying to do things in step with my classmates, thinking that as long as I do what they do I am alright and keeping up. But I cannot account for whatever they might have on the stove, in the back of their mind, or whether they actually know any better than me. I am really hearing that I need to stop comparing myself to them. And I'm on my way to doing that and becoming more secure in myself.

Mummuh - I have people in my class that are like that, asking questions that I subconsciously was too fearful to ask. From the beginning I have been grateful for them rather than laughed, because their questions benefit everyone. You are brave. Thanks :)

PeteMckraken - Thank you for your wisdom. I told my girlfriend what you said about there being two kinds of people in class, and we both agreed it is a good thing for me to repeat to myself when I become insecure in the kitchen.

chefbuba - I resonate very much with your description of your education and journey. It encourages me to hear how your life has turned out, and reminds me that there are many areas of the culinary industry besides busting my ass in a restaurant. Thank you.

To everyone else, you all have impacted me this weekend. It was a tough one for me, as I felt so disheartened. I now feel hopeful. This community blows my mind. I am floored by the amount of support available to someone like me, and all I feel is gratitude. Thanks everyone. I would love to continue this discussion, if anyone has anything else to add. I am sure I am not through the storm by any means.

Joined Feb 26, 2007
Hey Christian, Really well done on your prac. - you should be proud :)

Sometimes you've just gotta break a task down.  Ok got my mise en place ready, I need to do this first.  That's done.  Next task -. done. And so forth.  As people have said, don't focus on others, focus on what you need to accomplish.

I don't cook now for a job, but I try and break my day down whether I'm doing office work or house chores.  I make a list, and the joy of the day is getting all (or sometimes, most) of the tasks crossed out.  It's there in front of you, and you can knock them down one by one.   Don't look at the entire task.  There are steps involved, so take it step by step.  Works well for me, particularly as I'm a bit of a perfectionist, it ensures that it is done thoroughly.  I've learnt to live with that aspect of my behaviour.  My 19 y.o. daughter is the same, and we have to remind each other of this at times.  Stress retreats then.

P.S.  Remember to breathe :)

P.P.S.  And you are allowed to smile......

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