I need a professional advice for starting a career in culinary

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Joined Nov 21, 2021
Posted this on Reddit firstly, but maybe this is the right place to find real chefs opinions. Not sure where else.
(For those who don't want to read all of this, the main question is at the end as well as suggested answers)
So I wanted to become a professional cook. I've read all the shit on the internet about how bad this profession is. This is stressful, physically hard, not paid enough etc. Yes, I got this, but this is the only professional sphere I'm interested in. I have a source of passive income so money is not a great problem. The problem is I really hate my studies, but I like to cook, especially Italian cuisine. No need to talk me out like everyone does, please.
Firstly, there is no useful culinary education in my country. 99% of pro-cooks I heard of, talked to, read about do not have degrees. Also a great amount of pros are pretty solid about the fact that having our culinary degree is worse than being completely inexperienced. It's easier to teach from scratch than to overteach the soviet garbage poured into your head for 3 years of college.
Secondly, almost nobody wants to have you without any experience, except of fast-food chains, very chip canteens, super-markets.
My first move was to pick a few top pizza-places in my city (one is officially #13 in Europe) and go right there in their restaurants to ask if there is a chance for me to get a job/a training idk. At that moment I had no idea about inner arrangement of restaurants. I thought I could just come in and they would teach me to be a pizzaiyolo. I had no idea you have to become a basic-cook firstly after making food preps for some time and only then you may qulify for a pizza-maker. I just really liked pizza. I studied everything on napoletana pizza dough: techniques, chemical processes with yeast, gluten, water; the right ways to knead, ferment, shape a dough. I was cooking pizza every day for weeks. Ofc there is no way to make the real pizza with a regular electrical oven and no authentic ingredients like 00 flour, sm tomatoes, real wet mozarella etc, but I tried my best and even came out with the greatest result possible for making a pizza with no required equipment. There was really some kind of a fire in my eyes and it is still blazing.
So I picked 3 beast places. 1st ignored me, 2nd told me to **ck off, the chef of the 3rd one invited me for an interview, said "we are a clean organization and we will have to pay you at least the minimum wage, I'll discuss it with the management". He also tried to talk me off in many ways, said this profession will break you, this is so ungrateful and other horrible things. Worth to be said that I could't give him the acknowledgement of the passion for the industry I have. That was my first job-interview, so I was really shy and probably looked stupid, couldn't transfer to him much passion, knowledge and emotions I had. After a whole week of waiting he wrote me "Sorry, we are not ready to give you an offer. We don't have much time to teach people with no experience of a basic cook". That shit really hurt since I have been hoping and waiting for this restaurant for 2 weeks in total!
Then I figured maybe there is no need to go to the best pizza places since a have to become a basic cook first anyway. So just Italian restaurants would be nice.
I called and wrote messages to like 25 great Italian restaurants, went to places, signed some job application lists, had to write my smm experience into boxes, knowing this will go straight into trash bins. The majority of the places just ignored me. Many answer straight 'No'. Many said they'll call me back, then didn't. I also went for a few other interviews, performed much better than in the first one, but no results at the end. There were no chefs ,by the way, interviewing me at those times, just managers.
And finally I came for the enterview with a chef in this not such a big and fancy place, but still Italian, they even had a wood fired oven. And he called me into the kitchen to work for some time to watch what I'm capable of (this 'work' was mentioned before online, I had my changing clothes with me). There was a super small changing room, a very small kitchen as a whole.

I've been shown how to clean onions, clean and chop parsley and things like that, have been explained things like rotation, shown how to store products, there are the places for specific equipment. They were giving me different tasks and I was executing. Then I started noticing there is something weird going on. The staff was swearing, screaming, having fun of stupid jokes, anything but showing passion and interest for the things they are doing. I didn't ask many questions this day, just tried to focus on cutting techniques and absorbing the practical information. They told me to come again another day and then figure out what to do with me.
I came the next day. Not pure food preps this time. Just made a whole pumpkin base from washing raw products to making a puree under the dictation by sous-chef, also helped to make some things in cold and hot lines, was explained how some kitchen appliances work, accident prevention. The stuff was different, much more friendly and 'talky' this time. So here I started asking questions, and it came out they literally have no idea what is behind the things they are doing. The pizzers had no idea what fermentation is, what biga is. I was making a basic Italian sauce and dropped a word 'passata'. The sous-chef was like 'what again?" I was just shocked. I had some questions on recipes as well. Sugar in the sauce? No double cold fermentation? No using starters?
So basically these people are ofc well trained and experienced, agile in movements, accustomed to quick monotonous work by printed recipes on the walls, but totally completely unpassionate. No interest in Italian culture, cuisine's culture, language, no knowledge of scientific theory, basic terminology. They are just physically trained to make things. Many staff-members tried to talk me off this profession of course, they shitted on culinary industry as bad as they could, said they would have switched to anything else if they had a chance.
But most importantly I actually enjoyed doing all this kitchen stuff and getting information, this was so easy-going and enteresting, considering that is a middle-range restaurant with a great load of disadvantages. Especially after those frustrating and depressing studies and work I did before I felt relieved. But it is still a question if they will keep me because I do not have an EXPERIENCE.
Finally. What the heck should I do? Money is not a problem. I just want to develop my skills in this industry. I consider cooking to be a form of art and want to be creative. I'm really passionate about it by all means. But I do not have quick conveyor physical skills.
Not even being attached to the Italian cuisine as I used to be. But being a cool pizzaiyolo is still some sort of a wet dream.
Should I maybe go for foreign education (Le Cordon, Alma, CIA)?
Get my country's shitty education and go for probation in some canteen for experience, then move forward?
Work in some semi-fastfood chain free for beginners to gain experience and then move higher and higher as possible?
Continue approaching high-level restaurants, haunting chefs, emotionally pushing with all this lyrics above on them to become their student on any terms?
Find some sort of courses?
I really don't know what to do in this situation.
But the goal is to work with real professionals with passion and emotional investment in this industry, with people who truly love their profession not hate it, to learn from them.
 
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Joined Nov 27, 2012
if money is really not a problem. Why not ask them to take you for free a couple of weeks? that should at least get your foot into the door. very few people would pass on something like that.

Also not everyone is passionate about work, for most people its just a job. Nothing wrong with that and that's kinda how it works in a lot places. just keep at it.

ps. I agree with the avoid school part.
 
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
There are many ways you can satisfy your passion for food and cooking. Working as a professional cook/chef is merely one of them.

Nevertheless, I would encourage you to work at a few restaurants while you're making up your mind about what's best for you, especially when considering the prospect of an expensive and very singular education in culinary arts. . After a few months to a year or so of of working in a restaurant or two, the experience may refine your goals and provide more focus in terms of how you want to approach this profession. Then again, the experience may convince you this life is not for you.

Going in, you must understand this is not a profession that encourages a happy romantic, social or family life. You'll be working holidays and weekends as they are the busiest times. If you have children or intend to have children one day, know that you will likely miss a lot of recitals, parent-teacher conferences, birthdays, holidays etc.

As for the "creativity", that's going to be limited, especially at first. This will not be the outlet for your creative expression that you're hoping for until you have your own restaurant and can direct how things are done. That's a long road that most never finish.

Everyone who has worked in this career professionally knows a lot of people who have thrown in the towel after many long years, decades even, and are working somewhere else. Those same professionals also know scores of people who are in this profession and miserable because they're too old to start another career. This industry does not need any more disgruntled Sous or Exec. Chefs. :)

This is tight rope that you're about to walk and there is no safety net. I wish I could tell you that a healthy passion for cooking and food is enough but, its not. However, like I said, there are many ways you can satisfy your creative impulses with food. Explore those options. I know a few "foodies" who love to take culinary classes to learn about food, wine, spirits who have never stepped foot in a restaurant as an employee. Some are excellent cooks in their own right and could easily fit in an do well in a restaurant. They satisfy their creative needs through taking those courses and cooking at home for friends and family. A few have started their own home food businesses and are very content and most importantly, happy. I'm not saying this is the right path for you. Only you can decide that. I'm merely showing you there are other options that involve food, cooking and most importantly, provide better opportunities for you to scratch that creative itch than the years you will spend on the line with little to know creative input in the food you prepare.

As for culinary schools, if this turns out to be your choice, do your research first. They are expensive and provide a very focused education that has little to no value outside of the food industry. If you enroll in a culinary school outside of your own country, be sure of two things: 1) the courses are taught in your language. Most culinary schools in Europe offer classes in English and in the language of their country; and 2) learn the language of the host country because you will need it outside of school to carry out routine transactions such as finding a place to live, executing rental agreements, shopping, travel, finding a job etc.

I hope this helps.

Good luck! :)
 
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Joined Dec 23, 2004
Welcome to CT! It might be frustrating now but realize it's a process. At this point you know a lot of "book learning" about dough, technique, etc but you also don't know what you don't know (in the sense of unknown unknowns). There are plenty of cooks that don't have any clue about the chemistry of fermentation that will completely burn you down on the line! Bear in mind that the greatest chefs a few centuries ago didn't know this stuff either! Food science has come a long way. I understand the science of the dough but more than that, I know the feeling of it, the scent. By the way it feels I know when it was made and how to work with it. No matter how much you've read in a book, you'll gain another kind of wisdom if you spent a few months in a pro kitchen.

Even if you go to a good school, you still have to start more or less at the bottom. Not only that the way it is, it's the way it should be. I don't mean this just for "respect" and tradition, but in practical terms if you've never worked in a restaurant you truly are a virgin/nOOb with a ton of things to learn. That is not a bad thing! As you point out, you have no bad habits to unlearn, you're tabula rasa!

There's nothing wrong with going to a good school if you can afford it. I went to traditional college for degrees in business and information security. And while I've basically done nothing but work as a chef the traditional business education has been valuable. The main thing a kitchen makes isn't food, it's money. Yeah, you need to passionate about food but that's missing the point- at a certain level everyone is passionate, the difference is genuine competence at the business end of things. As a line cook that's not your primary role but at the end of the day it's why you come in and do the job. Cooking for the public can be an act of love and an expression of your passion and art...but you can't keep doing it if it doesn't make money.

I'd say you're in an enviable position! Cooking is awesome if you don't care about money!😂 Of course, if you work hard and have some basic "feel" for the job you do pretty well financially once you "make your bones." But if you have passive income and can just do the work on its own terms it could be very rewarding. There's really nothing else I ever seriously wanted to do besides be a chef, and 30 years into it I still love cooking. [NOTE: If you do any reading here you'll see that I'm not cooking right now as I'm on work comp. I took a bad fall at work and needed surgery and am not cleared to return yet.]

If you want to be a cook, stick with it! You might not be able to get your start in your dream restaurant but once you get some experience you'll be much more sought after. I hope you'll stop back periodically and let us know how it's going!
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
The more you love what you do will put everything into perspective. The people who look at it like they are stuck in this profession will always find something to Bitch about. Be good at what you do and good things will happen. The biggest problem I had in this business was keeping good employees. This is what makes it miserable. I was in this Business for 35 Years, I had much many more happy successful times then bad times.... I loved this profession......
 
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