moving from corporate chains to fine dining?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by nomcronomicon, Jun 24, 2014.

  1. nomcronomicon

    nomcronomicon

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    disclaimer: I know this is a little long. Please, someone who has advice to give, read it. 

    Okay everyone. Let me tell you a story.

    Once upon a time there was this corporate kitchen. Big chain of profitable restaurants. They made all the money ever. How? They hired clowns for managers and cooks. Why? so they could pay them a pittance. They found a way to turn their food into a product, and they make sure to keep food costs down by using poor quality ingredients. Despite the overall lack of culinary skill, the lack of standards, and the lack of concern, waste is never an issue because everything costs so little. 

    Sanitation is reprehensible, but to keep costs down and profits up, they encourage the cooks to rush through the cleaning, leaving almost every inch of the line in violation of some or another health regulation.  When equipment deteriorates, they ignore it.

    ....but holy hell they make so much money. It's pretty good for a small few at the top. 

    That restaurant is called The Every Chain and it is owned by the All of Them group. ....see what I did there?

    I've had enough. I've really  had enough. I'm tired of getting laughed at by simpleton coworkers with double-digit I.Qs for being 'slow' because I actually wash and sanitize my station, change over pans, label things -- instead of just throwing hot water on everything. 

    I'm sick of being told 10 minutes is an unacceptable check time average with a screen full of orders, completely frozen proteins and non-stick skillets with gouges all over the cooking surface. Despite all of this,  I still never burn a single dish. Not even the sauce. Not one that I sell to the window. And yet, 10 minutes is unacceptable. All around me, my coworker's constantly have food getting sent back because it's burned, it's too cold, it's made wrong. It's rubbery (let's play the "hey microwave, finish cooking this chicken" game)

    Every time I see someone put a weight on top of a filet I die a little inside. 

    I just. Standards. Don't people care? I care. I get laughed at for caring by my coworkers, and yelled at by my managers for taking too long. Are you kidding? And I don't take long.

    I've also never had a single dish come back. Not one. Nothing. Never. Not exaggerating. Many of my coworkers have a couple plates an hour coming back. They didn't like it, the sauce was burned, steaks overcooked. I can't tell you how many filets I've seen tossed in the garbage. 

    I want to get into fine dining. I wanted to go to medical school, actually. But I can't pay for it. So that's out. I love what I do, I love to cook. It's joyous, expressive, beautiful, stressful, frustrating, delicious,creative, and an awful lot of fun. 

    So I want out of this. I want to get into a more serious kitchen. I did not go to culinary school. Despite being a cook, both line and prep, for nearly 10 years, I have never really been exposed to the caliber of cooking I'd like to be able to do.   I'm wondering if any chefs would hire someone like me; you know, someone who loves the work with passion, someone who isn't afraid to work hard, who can be as dedicated as is needed, and who is always looking to learn more. 

    I worry that my lack of formal culinary training is going to seriously hinder any potential opportunities that could come along. What could I say, if I were lucky enough to get the chance to speak to the executive chef at any number of the fine dining restaurants around here? Are they willing to teach people or am I out of luck?
     
  2. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    There are plenty of chefs looking for people with a great attitude and a hunger for learning. These attributes trump experience every single time in my book.
     
  3. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    I agree with Cheflayne. Go meet the chefs and talk to them. It is not as big a problem as you fear. Your love of cooking will come through. 

    Go find a job you can be happy with. 
     
  4. grande

    grande

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    One of my first KM's said to me, you will use the same skills in every level of kitchen. She also said, i can teach a monkey to cook, but i can't teach character. I've found both these statements to be true... except maybe about the monkey.
    Except at the very highest level, where there is competition for jobs in top restos, there is a severe shortage of skilled people who want to work hard and fast everywhere. You will probably be able to get a job fairly quickly.
     
  5. meatball matt

    meatball matt

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    I started out making pizzas at a little joint that didn't own a single chef knife. It was there that I got my love for cooking. I had the passion to do a good job and was hungry to learn anything and everything, much like you are now. I did a bit of research on my own basic cooking skills, which sounds like you have more than just a basic knowledge of how to cook meats to temp and keep your station clean and sanitized. From there I went to chefs with my hunger and passion. I told them upfront that I had very little experience but I understood how to move fast, take direction, and show up on time every time. I got a line cook position from the very first chef that I spoke to. It was my passion for cooking that came through and helped me land the job. It was my eagerness to learn that helped me rise in the ranks of that kitchen from a green line cook to running the lunch time kitchen by the end of the year.

    I don't have a culinary degree, nor any schooling outside of what I have taken the time to learn on my own, and pester my chefs with questions of every sort. I don't feel that the lack of a formal culinary education has slowed me down at all. I've taken what I've learned and tried to apply that in my everyday work as much as possible. It sounds like you take your cooking seriously, which I do too, and for that alone I think you will do fine.

    I'm now slated to be the Sous Chef of the third restaurant I've worked in and I feel that I have earned that spot. I think you can do the same. You have the drive and the passion. Show that to the Chef and show up for work everyday with your knives, but more importantly your eagerness to learn and a pen and paper in your back pocket for taking notes....lots of notes.

    Good luck to you and pm me if you wish. I think you will do fine. All the Chefs I've ever known are looking for people like you that they can train how they want their staff to cook, and who will put out quality food consistently.
     
  6. nomcronomicon

    nomcronomicon

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    I won't lie. I'm not necessarily the most organized  person. But I genuinely believe it's because the job I have now doesn't even allow for that. I take every opportunity to clean and sanitize my station during down time. I'm also the only cook who doesn't stand around when he has no orders. I've been yelled at by management for cleaning the same spot over and over, wasting time -- actually, I'm trying to get the **slime** out of the **disintegrating gaskets** in our reach-in coolers.

    Am I the fastest cook in our kitchen? Nope.  Am I the neatest? Nope. Is it because I can't be? Nope.  

    I'll tell you what I can't do at my current job -- I can't get my mise en place together. Can't even get enough stock for an hour of dinner service. Pathetic. 

    Here's something I've noticed. It's always someone else's fault. It's always cold food because the servers were too slow; it's always sent back because the customer is wrong, it's always that someone else  didn't do their job. 

    I am the only person in that kitchen that ever says "That's my fault. I apologize. I'll fix it right away".   

    I used to love my job. Well, I was promoted after 2 months. Offered a 2nd promotion 2 months after that, but wasn't available full-time to take it. I loved the idea of being a manager after college, making 50k/year. 

    Last week while raving to my girlfriend after a stressful (read: disappointing) day at work, I said

    I wouldn't eat there, and I wouldn't bring my family there.

    and then it hit me.   

    I don't have the best knife skills, but only because I don't have a lot of practice; I learn fast. Really  fast. If I can't execute things perfectly, it's not good enough.  I believe I could succeed in any kitchen, given the instruction necessary.

    Biggest question:

    In fine dining: I know time is still a factor. Urgency is always a factor. But -- isn't it more important to slow down and do things properly  and perfectly  rather than sacrifice the food quality, appearance, textures etc for speed alone? right?

    Like -- this is a thing, right? Where it's better to see a perfect plate, even if it takes a little longer? 
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2014
  7. grande

    grande

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    There's always room to learn and improve; my motto, after A. J. Leibling, is, "Do it faster than anyone who does it better, and better than anyone who does it faster." In a setting where more attention is required by each plate, you have to work harder and faster while still maintaining precision if you don't want to fall behind. Think high end means slow paced? Think about the extra two or three courses you will be putting on every table.
     
  8. chefross

    chefross

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    When you are a cook  for a corporation chain type place, the emphasis is always on getting the hot food out as fast as possible.

    This mentality is drilled into corporate "manglement" and will never change.

    10 minutes is too long? WTF

    Good cooks that do not understand the corporate mentality are always labeled slow or inefficient.

    It's not you..........

    But, if you are determined to continue on in this industry it would probably be a better idea for you to find a place that does care about the food
     
  9. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    At the peak of our craft are establishments that wed sense of urgency equally with properly  and perfectly.

    These two signs hang in the kitchen of the French Laundry.

      
     
  10. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    I just died a little too from reading this.

    Unfortunately for you this is not your place.   Do get your feet wet in a hotel like the Hilton/Hyatt or country club which has multiple outlets.  This will give you a glimpse of how you can actually care while makiing money.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2014
  11. nomcronomicon

    nomcronomicon

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    Not slow-paced. Absolutely not. If I wanted a slow-paced job, I'd work....oh, //anywhere else//. My main point was basically -- rushing so much that you always sacrifice the quality of the food should never be okay.
     
  12. nomcronomicon

    nomcronomicon

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    The thing is -

    I'm NOT a slow cook. Just slower than the GD slobs I work with. I'm sorry, but four minutes is too fast for raw, frozen chicken to be grilled.

    That's the thing - how many fine dining places cook proteins that haven't been thawed? I usually work saute - or appetizer. I like saute. We make a lot of shrimp.  I just keep staring at my food as it boils instead of sears thinking 

    "just because Mr. and Mrs.Moron waiting for their food won't care, doesn't mean *I* don't care. It matters to me."

    I always wonder. What if the cooks had to personally deliver all the food they made to each table. Would they work harder? I think so. 

    I'm quite confident that if I were able to have thawed proteins and enough stock for a dinner service, I'd be one of the faster cooks. I don't enjoy my job. It makes me unhappy. It sucks the joy out of my life. How can I cook at my best like that?

    I'm going to start looking into other restaurants this week. I guess it would help to figure out what type of food I want to cook. 

    One final thought ---

    How do fine-dining restaurants feel about long hair? Put another, do they expect male culinary staff to be "clean-cut"? because I am not. I've had long hair for 13 years. I'd probably cut it for this  career, though.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2014