No BS Advice On Becoming A Professional Cook

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Joined Apr 13, 2018
Hey, guys

I'll start by explaining my situation and I appreciate any legitimate advice I can get. I have had a lot of trouble over the years deciding what kind of career is right for me. I was committed to climbing the ranks in a machine shop and once I pushed for my work ethic to be beyond everybody else I knew, for better or worse it opened a world of opportunity for me. I already had a hard time deciding what I was going to do before I committed myself to the machine shop, but as a manager there I was seeing the raw numbers of how much of an impact I was making and I thought if I apply this to a job I like, I'd probably be pretty successful.

So, long story short, I eventually took an interest in cooking after I made jagerschnitzel one night. I had no idea food could be that good! It threw me into a frenzy and I was cooking almost every night. I was cooking anything from obscure asian dishes to French. I was experimenting with anything and everything all the time. I became a better cook than my wife in a matter of months. I had never been so turned on by something in my life. I decided I could never get into the industry and manage my family at the same time, let alone find an actual chef that cooked actual food in the area who would be willing to teach me. So, I tossed the idea.

Now, it's just clawing at me in the back of my mind. I like working under stress, I like chaos, I like working fast but I can't get over the idea that the hours are going to put a huge dent in me seeing my kids grow up. I can do what I can do make sure I spend real quality time with them the little that I do, but that's all assuming I could learn at the hands of a truly exceptional chef.

So, this is where the "no BS" part comes in. I don't mean to come off as a jerk, but I know for a fact that almost everyone exaggerates about how much they work. Especially hard working people. Hard working people in every industry exaggerate about how many hours they put in all the freaking time. Chef's are no exception, I'm sure. So, what's it really like to learn to cook real quality food, like French classical? What does family and life balance? I think the loudest and most opinionated (reddit) who talk about how terrible the industry is probably hate their job and they just yell at their kids on their days off and say "this job has ruined my family".

No doubt it's a huge challenge, no doubt the hours are hard and the pressure is real, I'm not saying that at all. But, I really would like to hear some sound advice from some accomplished chefs out there who say how they do it and I'd like to avoid the people who bring dark clouds with their advice to boost their image. I'm not sure if I want to do this, after reading all the horror stories, but horror stories are also the only ones people like to write. Thanks, everyone.
 
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
What exactly is your question? What do you want advice about? You provided no information other than you want advice from chef's who like their job.

You want to try and be a cook for a living?
 
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
Hi Milona and welcome to CT.

If you thinking about getting into fine dining, that takes a lot of work and commitment, as I am sure you know. Even with culinary school, you are on roughly a 7-10 year track before you know enough to run a kitchen. That's 7-10 years of 70-80 hour weeks with no holidays, no weekends and crappy pay. This life and raising a family do not work well together. There is a reason why professional chefs have one of the highest divorce rates in the professional world.

At the end of the day, you really shouldn't be basing such an important decision on opinions solicited in an online forum. This is a decision that you should be making with your wife and both of you should be gathering information together so both of you can go into this with your eyes wide open.

If you were single without children, I would say have at it....full steam ahead. But, you have kids and kids need a father.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide. If there is anything else or if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask. :)
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
In many ways I started my career feeling the same way you do now. A good feeling of accomplishment working with food and getting good results. In my case I was a High Voltage Tech for General Electric on the East Coast. Twenty five years old, good money, Condo, two cars and vacations. I bought a one way ticket to Hawaii and started my career as a catering Steward in 1978. After years of working my way through 25 restaurants I ventured out on my own and started a Food service Management company, Vending company in two states and a Catering company.
In my case I structured my business to fit the area I had my home and family. If I was willing to relocate I feel I could have been one of the best chefs in the PNW. I felt I needed to go this path in order to maximize my creative juices, my/family happiness and family stability. To make a long story short, I couldn't open a Classical French restaurant in my area.

I feel if a Chef is working long hours and complaining about it, it's their fault. I worked long hours in many restaurants over the years. In many cases it's the Chef's fault for not hiring good people and delegating responsibility. Many Chefs feel they're the only ones who can do things 100% the way they s/b done. The problem in most restaurants is your working with cooks that don't share your passion. Almost everyone who works in a kitchen does so because they can't do anything else. They could quit and walk down the street and get another job. I think thats where the real frustration comes into the equation. If it wasn't for the lack of quality employees I wouldn't have a thing to Bitch about in this business.

You mentioned you love Chaos, I do too, but it has to be controlled chaos. I would have people ask me how can I be so calm in the middle of a crazy food service and five parties going on at the sometime. The reason was I was prepared for everything and anything to happen. This kind of experience doesn't happen over night. It takes years of training and putting yourself in a position to learn the most you can about what you need to do to succeed.

For me, this was the only business I could pick to get the feeling I needed to feel a sense of 100% daily accomplishment. The business was me, the success of the business was because of my ideas, The quality of the food was because of my vision. This is what I set our for, this is what made me feel good.

My path wasn't easy, but it was the only way I knew. I'm not sure I would recommend my path to anyone else. I can only say it worked for me. Like I said the only downfall in this business is finding quality employees.
If I had it to do it over again I would do as much as I could to make it a food business with less employees. I would try to make it more of a one man band without making it a crazy amount of hours. I don't care what anyone says, aching Feet, Back and being tired from working long hours isn't a good formula for happiness.

I love this business, what could be a negative to someone else may not be the same for me. I think everyones story is different. Like I said, complaining about long hours should happen. If someone does, then get out of the business. These types of Chefs are "Doers" not managers. A Chef is more than a cook, they manage their time and everyone else's......I hope this helps......ChefBillyB
 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
Now, it's just clawing at me in the back of my mind. I like working under stress, I like chaos, I like working fast but I can't get over the idea that the hours are going to put a huge dent in me seeing my kids grow up. I can do what I can do make sure I spend real quality time with them the little that I do, but that's all assuming I could learn at the hands of a truly exceptional chef....So, what's it really like to learn to cook real quality food, like French classical?

So, what's it really like to learn to cook real quality food, like French classical?...assuming I could learn at the hands of a truly exceptional chef

This usually entails working dinner service, which includes weekends and holidays; because that is when most "dining" occurs. What hours are your kids at home?
 
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Joined Oct 31, 2012
A no BS answer? You've already decided everyone exaggerates. So listen to Cheflayne and the others. What time of day did you expect to be committing yourself to learning the trade? The most likely route, as everyone points out, is dinner, weekends and holidays, the same times you currently enjoy with your family. Most likely lunch would be a part of it too.
So give this a little more thought. Let's say most restaurants serve dinner is from 5-9. So you wouldn't arrive at work at 4:30 and leave at 9:30. As an hourly employee, you do at least an eight hour shift so you arrive at about 3 and leave at about 11pm, if everything goes well.
As a salaried employee, the chef gets there as early as possible to make sure to order the products (milk, produce, meats, breads, etc. etc.), make sure the products are in stored correctly, the employees are getting hired or showing up, the preparations are being completed on time, handle various issues and problems that occur daily.
The truly exceptional chef you hope to work for is the one down the street who does the job. He isn't on TV or granting lots of interviews. He's working hard as many hours as it takes to get and keep the restaurant in order and putting out great food and service every single day the restaurant is open. As many restaurants are open 6 and 7 days a week, the chef is there for many of those hours, every week, every weekend, every holiday, every special occasion.
Cooking at home is GREAT. I love cooking for friends and family every chance I get. I completely understand why you are enjoying your recent epiphany about your love for cooking. So if you want to learn classic French cuisine, there are numerous great cookbooks by Great chefs and plenty of YouTube videos to show you all the techniques you could ever want to learn. You can learn everything you want to know just by that. Cooking at home can involve all the flair and talent a great chef possesses.
Learning to cook is not the same as learning to work in a restaurant. Chef means Chief of the Kitchen, the person in charge. That great chef is Great not because he is a talented, creative genius with food. He's a great chef because he makes the restaurant run like a well oiled machine, labor management, food cost, maintenance, public relations, financial management and much more. A great chef is very busy with many things, not all directly related to food.
Having said all that, I suggest you find a dinner restaurant near you and talk to the chef about working two or three nights a week. Work a few shifts and see how you feel about it. Just remember, doing the dishes is part of the bargain.
 
175
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Joined Feb 8, 2015
Hey, guys

I'll start by explaining my situation and I appreciate any legitimate advice I can get. I have had a lot of trouble over the years deciding what kind of career is right for me. I was committed to climbing the ranks in a machine shop and once I pushed for my work ethic to be beyond everybody else I knew, for better or worse it opened a world of opportunity for me. I already had a hard time deciding what I was going to do before I committed myself to the machine shop, but as a manager there I was seeing the raw numbers of how much of an impact I was making and I thought if I apply this to a job I like, I'd probably be pretty successful.

So, long story short, I eventually took an interest in cooking after I made jagerschnitzel one night. I had no idea food could be that good! It threw me into a frenzy and I was cooking almost every night. I was cooking anything from obscure asian dishes to French. I was experimenting with anything and everything all the time. I became a better cook than my wife in a matter of months. I had never been so turned on by something in my life. I decided I could never get into the industry and manage my family at the same time, let alone find an actual chef that cooked actual food in the area who would be willing to teach me. So, I tossed the idea.

Now, it's just clawing at me in the back of my mind. I like working under stress, I like chaos, I like working fast but I can't get over the idea that the hours are going to put a huge dent in me seeing my kids grow up. I can do what I can do make sure I spend real quality time with them the little that I do, but that's all assuming I could learn at the hands of a truly exceptional chef.

So, this is where the "no BS" part comes in. I don't mean to come off as a jerk, but I know for a fact that almost everyone exaggerates about how much they work. Especially hard working people. Hard working people in every industry exaggerate about how many hours they put in all the freaking time. Chef's are no exception, I'm sure. So, what's it really like to learn to cook real quality food, like French classical? What does family and life balance? I think the loudest and most opinionated (reddit) who talk about how terrible the industry is probably hate their job and they just yell at their kids on their days off and say "this job has ruined my family".

No doubt it's a huge challenge, no doubt the hours are hard and the pressure is real, I'm not saying that at all. But, I really would like to hear some sound advice from some accomplished chefs out there who say how they do it and I'd like to avoid the people who bring dark clouds with their advice to boost their image. I'm not sure if I want to do this, after reading all the horror stories, but horror stories are also the only ones people like to write. Thanks, everyone.

always another job
Do you have a plan B? Odds are against your favor but that is what makes life fun. Go for it, if you lose there is
 

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