Moving from corporate chain stores to a real restaurant.

Joined Aug 21, 2010
I posted this as part of my introduction, but it didn't receive many replies. I thought maybe if I asked the question directly to the board I might get some advice.

So first some background. I am 34 and have been cooking all my life. I have never been to culinary school and due to my location in the middle of nowhere I have been limited to chain restaurants for the most part. Just like anybody else working my way up from dish to prep, fry, flat-top. broil then expo. I've been a kitchen manager a couple of times but due to some family obligations have dropped down to a basic line cook now. I am hoping with tax check this year to move to a bigger city in order to further my career.

I'm wondering if I am going to be able to transfer the skills I have now to a more professional kitchen. Should I be looking into going to culinary school or at least taking some classes? In the last few years I have worked with a few different cooks who have either taken food arts classes or have worked for companies like Aramark, and I wouldn't say they are bad cooks, but I believe I could outshine them in any kitchen environment.

So what do you folks think? Is it all about experience and training in certain environments and types of cuisine?
Joined Aug 6, 2010
There are generally a few major differences between corporate and privately owned. In a corporate rest. alot of things are premade i.e soups made from mix and things like that. Most private places are scratch kitchens so there will be more prep but you'll actually learn something. In a corporate place the management isn't always the best. Private, if you suck you get fired because your losing the company money. This means you'll generally have better management. The same things applies to the staff. Hours are usually better in a private place. Instead of a bunch of 4 hour shifts, you generally get longer shifts and a day or two off. Personally, I started in a family owned rest. and went to corporate and found myself to be pretty dissappointed. I would say you should be able to transfer a lot of your skills, just don't be elaborate in your resume. Be clear in ehat you do and don't know, and tell them you are very open to learning. Take it slow, take notes, and within a couple weeks you will be very confident that you can do the job. Good luck! 
Joined Feb 13, 2008
The type of changes you'll actually see depend lot on the particular restaurant and the line position you're assigned.  There's a huge disparity in the way places are organized -- even places of similar size cooking similar food of similar quality for similar prices.

No to cooking school, not worth the time or money in your case. 

Always yes to some cooking classes. You want to find something reasonably priced, with an interesting topic, and enough of a professional, technique orientation that it's not a singles group or watching the teacher work through a couple of recipes and then everyone has lunch.

Your ordinary cooking skills, like grill, sear and saute in a hot pan, and knife prep will translate well.  If your pan skills could use improvement, work on them.  If you don't know the classic sticks and dice, learn them and practice. 

Be aware that whatever you already know will be subject to change as soon as you hit the line in a new place.

It's become something of a hobby-horse for me since I started hanging out at Chef Talk, but it's still true.  If you don't know how to sharpen a knife -- and I mean actually sharpen it really well, not bang it on a steel -- learn. 

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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Should make the transition fine.

One of the best "tricks" I've learned is to get a copy of the menu a week or so prior to starting and get theat menu imprinted in your brain.

Then break down the menu into meats, starches, cold, sauces, soups.  Then break it down into basic ingredients: Chix brst for one item, chix legs for another, tenderloin for one item, tips for another, etc.  Armed with this knowledge you should be familiar with the flow of the place when you first walk in the door.

You'll probably will find that the Chef has a tremendous amount of freedom when ordering supplies:  If it's berry season, the kitchen is choked with berries, if a mushroom picker shows up at the door, you've got a couple of mushroom specials on the menu.  Also, you'll probably be breaking down more larger cuts of meat into portions.

As BDL says, school at this stage is a not good value for your money.  Spend your time and money on books and "good" courses.
Joined Aug 21, 2009
While I haven't the years of experience as BDL and foodpump do, I do agree with them both.  You will do well in a private place as you've learned the basics working for chains.  I've worked private and corporate and currently I'm working corporate.  The hours work for me and I can spend time with my family in the evenings as we're just a breakfast and lunch place. One day I would like to have my own place but that has to wait until the kids are out of high school so I have a few years left on that.

I'm in the same boat when it comes to school.. I'm toying with the idea of it but I think in the end BDL's suggestion of books and good courses would do much better for me as well. 
Joined Jun 30, 2010
The most important aspects of being a line cook you already have, speed, communication, cleanliness etc, the rest is just technique which you should be able to pick up pretty easy.  It's just food after all.  Just do some research and try to get in with a good chef.  (S)He'll show you all you need to know.  Might have to take a pay cut though, make sure you can handle it.  Foodpumps advice is great, that way you really hit the ground running.
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