Mid-Life Career Change

Joined Mar 4, 2002

I seem to be in good company here. I am 31, married with one small child, and am closing my fine-art printing studio in order to attend the California School for Culinary Arts in Pasadena. I have been running a 40yr. old company for eight years. I have a number of questions for the group, please contribute to my peace of mind.

1. I was impressed by CSCA, but have heard differing opinions regarding the quality of the school as told to me by 2nd and 3rd parties. Any opinions?

2. Having been self-employed and understanding all the facets of small business; working hard for long hours does not scare me at all. Nor does working for low pay. Am I missing anything for working in the food industry? I have had spotty cash flow, no benefits, days nights and weekends work, can I expect worse?

3. I love the creative aspects of cooking, moreso than in creating art for fine artists. Every party at my house is a cuisine experiment. So far no poisonings, and lots of calls for when the next party will be. Again, am I missing something?

4. My doubts stem from a disbelief that I could actually get paid for what I love to do, and would do all day if I had the chance to stay at home. The reason I am attending a Cordon Bleu program is to loearn a whole lot really fast. (Like how to chop fast without adding fingernails to the menu.) Am I crazy for spending so much money?

I would love an e-mail or post from some of those who have made cuisine their life after having had a different career. My family is behind me, joyfully, and that always makes a difference. I can't help but feel trepidation.

Thanks in advance...Jason
Joined Aug 9, 2000
Low pay how about no pay.....working 60 hours and getting paid for 40.. And as far as the creativity it is not as people think it is you do what the owners let you do. Contrary to what the food network leads people to believe not everyone is cooking like Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter the overwhelming majority of the industry is mid-scale restaurants. Do not get me wrong I love to cook but what the schools tell you is kind of a candy coated version of the truth....
Joined May 26, 2001
This is not meant to scare you away, but there are some ideas I would like to get across to you. I just want to respond to your points #2 and #3:
#2: unless you are in charge of the establishment where you're cooking (which you should not expect right out of school), knowing how to run a business will not help you as a professional cook. In fact, if anything, you may get even more frustrated by seeing all the "bad" business practices that can go on even in the best places. The foodservice industry is unfortunately a world unto itself -- one that has barely made it into the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

also #2: having been self-employed does not prepare you for the craziness and egos you will encounter from your bosses and colleagues. The military system is alive and well in the kitchen, and the only correct answer, far too often, is "Yes, Chef!" A cook cannot have an ego.

#3: there is little or no creativity in the everyday professional kitchen for the people who do the actual work. You do the same recipes the same way, and plate them the same way, day after day after day. Only the top few actually get to be creative. It up to us working stiffs to be consistent, because that's what the customers expect.

Try not to take a romantic view of this industry.

By all means, read all the posts here; you'll have a lot of questions answered that you don't even know yet to ask. (Gee, I think I said that to someone else recently...)
Joined Feb 11, 2002
Right on, Suzanne!

I would also like to add that it's important to have your family's support and blessings because you won't be seeing very much of them either...
Also know average line cook wage (at least in L.A) is $8.50 per hr. - can you
live on that? Most of my guys have 2 jobs to support themselves and family -
They do a morning/lunch shift, maybe have an hour or two in the aft. and then do dinner till at least midnite somewhere else. That's 5-6 days a week...

Just more stuff to think about.

Joined Mar 13, 2002
I don't want to discourage you in any way, but when starting out in the kitchen your first job may be peeling carrots or chopping lettuce. After a while you may think to yourself,"What the **** am I doing?" This may sound silly, but prove to the chef that you are the best carrot peeler and lettuce chopper he/she has ever hired. No complaining either, chef's hate that. You will find yourself moving up quicker than those people who complain.

I also want to say that kitchen work is physically tough. A lot of times after work all you want to do is sleep. When you start out you do a lot of grind work that wears you out. To a twenty year old this is no problem, for someone who is 31 this may be a little tougher. I just turned 30 and I find that I am less and less willing to crank out orders on the line. Fortunaltely I am a sous and get to make the young guys take care of the grind work while I do the more "creative" work and managing. It may be another 5 years before you get a position of authority where you can actually do a little office work and menu planning(this can be a huge bonus when you've been on your feet all day)

I hope you take some of these things into consideration and I hope I didn't come across as too negative, good luck.
Joined Jan 26, 2001
One of the reasons I did not pursue the restaurant route is the long hours with little or no pay or recognition. After doing research and joining a professional organization I went to personal chef school in NM and launched my own business cooking for couples and families with occasional catering on the side. The rewards are tremendous. Creativity on a daily basis followed by immediate feedback and word of mouth advertising. I further enhanced my love of cooking by teaching natural foods cooking. I had the opportunity to teach 100 chefs in Texas how to cook tofu and natural foods. The result is that hundreds of clients are now enjoying recipes I created across the country and I receive daily emails with the feedback and requests for more recipes. The demand for vegetarian and natural foods is greater now more than ever. Also, the demand for personal chefs has never been stronger as people cut back on eating out. Whatever you decide try to specialize rather than be a generalist. School is great, but the desire and passion are really the overriding factors in and good chef's success. I truly love what I do each and every day. And the fact that I am nourishing people not just feeding them is especially rewarding. Good luck.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Now that everyone has painted such a rosy;) picture of our business, let me give you my two cents worth. First off, all these people are very right. Don't believe the hype!! This is not a glamorous job. It consists of long hot hours, in a very stressful environment, often times with some guy (in your case possibily even a younger guy) screaming at you from the moment you walk in to the moment you leave, telling you that you are a shoemaker (the most dreaded putdown in this industry) and that you will never be any good. After a few years the chef may allow to contribute a dish or 2 to the menu, but remember one of the golden rules "If you walk into the chef's office with an idea, you leave with his."

On the other hand, there is nothing like this job. It is an adrenialine rush to the max. If you get into a good kitchen you will experience a comraderier (sorry my spelling s***s) that you can't experience anywhere else. We lived by the rule "live fast-live hard" (of course I was only 23 at the time), and it was truly one of the funnest times of my life! Now that I am older, I have settled down quiet a bit, but I still love this career! And as you move up the ranks there are sacrifices to be made. Now, I have lots of creative freedom, within bounds, but I miss getting on the line, and busting through "the weeds" with the guys.

At least you are realistic about hours and pay, which is a step above many other career changers how think that just because they were making $50,000 now, they should be as a new. rookie cook. My only suggestion (one I suggest to many career changers) is to work in a restaurant first, before you spend all that money to go to school. A love of cooking, and throwing parties does not neccessarily translate into a love of the restaurant business. Try it out first, see if it is for, and if it is not, then you are better off enjoying those wonderful parties of yours. Believe me, it is very easy to get very bitter about this career.
Joined Apr 27, 2002
I just wanted to chime in on your career change.

I changed careers myself in 1996 at the age of 32, with a wife and 3yr. old daughter. I quit an engineering job that paid well but I hated. I went back to cooking in restaurants and never looked back. I had worked in the industry before from 1982-1985.

The key is to find what you truely love to do. For me that is cooking.

After my "change", I worked in a steak house for a while to see if I would enjoy cooking again. I did. And decided to get a degree in culinary arts. I went to Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC.
Culinary school was a great experience. I learned a lot, not only about cooking, but about myself as well.

It helped me figure out what I wanted to accomplish when I finished school.

For me after graduation, I worked for J&W for a year. And then moved back home to Delaware. I continued to work as a line cook to gain more experience. After a few years I learned of the Personal Chef industry. I've been a personal chef now since Nov. 2000. Full time since Oct. 2001. It is a great way to make a living. I cook different food everyday. It's not all work and no play like the restaurant industry.

A typical day for me is....

Up at 6:30, walk my daughter to school, pack up my equipment,
shop for the food I'll prepare that day. Arrive at my clients house by 10:00, cook, package the foods for freezing. Clean up and go home. most days I'm home by 3:30. Plenty of time for family time.

If you are serious about your passion for food. I think you should follow your dream. You can check out the United States Personal Chef Association at www.uspca.com.

Good luck!

Chef Tom
Joined Feb 6, 2002
Id like to join the USPCA (United States Personal Chef Association) but Id have to take the home study course ....which is the only way I could do it with 3 little kids right now. The courses are given at the USPCI (United States Personal Chef Institute). Here are some links with all the info so you don't have to search the site.

USPCI Programs and Classes

Information on Personal Chef Certification

USPCA Membership Information

For me personally, Id rather go the way of the personal chef, build up a clientele, perfect a handful of fabulous recipes, find my style and then, only then, will I think about opening a place of my own. But that's just me. :D I can't really add anymore since everyone has said almost everything you should possibly know before jumping in.

My philosophy is this:

Ive already worked for 4 bucks an hour, not gotten paid for overtime, no vacations, worked weekends and holidays, worked 2 jobs, had no creative input, followed other peoples game plans and hardly saw my family already. And this wasn't even working at a restaurant. So I really see no difference except that Im actually happy now. That's what's important right?!
Joined Mar 4, 2002
Just wanted to thank you all. School starts tomorrow, and I can't wait. Thanks to the website, this is a great resource I hope to continue to use in my future career.


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