Recent culinary school grad, at impasse, looking for insight :)

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by masseurchef, Oct 5, 2018.

  1. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    Hi, been out of culinary school for not too long, but long enough that I should be progressing, but I don't feel like I am, at least not much. Feeling like I'm at an impasse and can't move forward without some help, hoping you can offer some insight.

    1. I've had a string of unsuccessful jobs, I just can't seem to fall into a really good opportunity despite the red hot market for cooks. By good opportunity I mean a job where I feel like I am really learning, progressing, and contributing to something great.

    2. Am I too old? I am close to 40, I know they say it's never too late but perhaps there is another pathway I need to look at considering my age, it really does seem to be a young person's business.

    3. Am I too much of a bureaucrat? I went the university route and excelled academically, but felt drawn to food, so pursued and completed the culinary training, but perhaps I am just not "hands on" enough to really be good in the kitchen.

    4. Is the universe telling me this is just not my thing? I still haven't carved out a path after being out of culinary school for something like 2 years and thinking maybe I should just hang up my apron. I feel like I have a lot to offer but maybe my talents just lie elsewhere.
     
  2. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    1. Define an unsuccessful job.
    2. The world of cooking and foodservice is vast and populated by people of all ages. A young person's business in what way?
    3. How does the term bureaucrat fit in describing your place in foodservice?
    4. Two years after graduating from culinary school in my early twenties I hadn't carved out a path either.
    Mostly because I was in the process of carving one out by working first one place then another. Also reading cookbooks, visiting and observing other restaurants, traveling as much as possible and cooking at home as often as I could.
    5. There is no standard progression, just your own. That depends entirely on you.
     
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  3. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    1. Good point, even "unsuccessful jobs" provide valuable learning experiences; I guess I'm just not feeling like I'm really gaining useful skills as much as I could be. The last chef I worked with was good, but he understood that high turnover is where the money is, so we made a lot of chicken strips and fries. Of course we did lots of other great stuff and I learned some nice recipes, but I didn't feel I was gaining much by throwing frozen chicken in the deep fryer.

    2. I guess I just see a lot of people in their 20s in the business, and most people at my age seem to be running their own thing or at least sous chefs. I do want to run my own thing, but I need to gain experience first, so it's a bit of a conundrum.

    3. By "Bureaucrat" I mean perhaps my personal qualities are such that I'm too much "in my head" and not focused on practical matters enough. It seems you really have to be a lean, mean machine in the kitchen, and I respect that, but maybe it's just not me. But I'm willing to try, and willing to learn how to do it, is that enough?

    4. Thanks, that's good to hear.

    5. Good to hear, it's good to be reminded I can follow my own path, what are some things that I should do if I really want to keep learning and progressing in the food business?
     
  4. someday

    someday

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    What is your culinary goal? You said to own your own place someday? What type of place?

    What made your jobs unsuccessful?

    Where do you live?
     
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  5. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    My culinary goal is to just keep learning, developing and expanding, food is such a huge world and skill development is a never ending process, in terms of running my own thing, I'm thinking a cart / trailer / stall -something small and portable. Probably would do just one thing or few things (but done well) for that small of an operation, ice cream and falafel are 2 ideas that appeal to me. I also am interested in doing a bed & breakfast, and finally, a health retreat that involves yoga, massage and healthy food.

    I consider the jobs unsuccessful because I don't have them anymore! I left, didn't last long, the job wasn't a good fit, was seasonal, wasn't busy enough, was too busy, etc. For example, I was interested in butchery so I got a job that seemed really promising, but it ended up just being a lot of "busy work" like cleaning, packaging product, and ringing customers through the till -but perhaps that is what I needed to learn, that a butcher shop just involves a lot of "busy work"?
     
  6. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Busy work. Exactly that. In every job I have ever had.
    I've stayed in foodservice all my life because I like the atmosphere around food: kitchens, food shows, orchards and farms, meeting people from all walks of life. But the day to day work can be described well as busy work. As a line cook, it is Very busy work made up of multiple small tasks done very quickly but they are often the same tasks done repetitively every day. Things like chopping onions, frenching lamb racks, cleaning and peeling shrimp. In any food service much of the work is mundane things like wrapping and storing and labeling food, wiping down work areas, sweeping and mopping, doing dishes, sidework in front of the house like refilling salt and peppers. Management consists of busy work like inventory, proper ordering, scheduling.
    I suggest, if possible, you find a very large, quality hotel. They will have a restaurant and do banquets and catering and perhaps room service. There you will get the chance to see several kinds of food preparation all at the same time and see the organization that is needed. A country club and a catering operation are good experiences. A good retail market serving fresh food is another good experience. Wherever you go, be curious and observant of everything around you.
    If not at work, then on your own time, make mayonnaise and sauces, bread, beer, jam and jelly, pickled anything, puff pastry and demi-glace. Puff pastry especially requires patience, a good trait to develop in the food business.
    Visit orchards and farms. Go foraging for mushrooms or ramps or wild herbs. If you have never done so, go hunting and fishing with someone of experience. Visit a brewery, vineyard and an industrial food production facility. In short, expose yourself to as much of the world of food as you possibly can. In the process you may discover new paths you wish to take. They will most likely not be the ones you are currently considering.
     
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  7. someday

    someday

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    Ok. My advice would be to get into a scratch kitchen with a good chef and work there for as long as it takes for you to learn everything there is for them to teach you. Then move on to another place and do it again. The food can be any style...fine dining, bistro, street food, breakfast, etc...I would say to pick a style of food that you want to do yourself someday (like if you wanted to open a bistro someday, then work at bistros, if you wanted to open a burrito shop, work in a burrito shop) but you don't seem to have that direction yet.

    Culinary school is a good start, but it doesn't teach you how to cook. It gives you a common vocabulary and a basic understanding of techniques, recipes, etc. But learning to cook, and to be a good cook, you need repetition and time. There is no way to substitute this. You should also work in a place that makes their own food, i.e. doesn't open packets, and has a real, trained and experienced chef to teach you.

    Your butcher shop example is a perfect one. First thing...make sure you know what job you are being hired for before you accept. In a kitchen, make sure you know what station you'll be working, what your hours are, things you will do/learn, etc. Be specific. You probably would have learned a lot about butchering at the butcher shop, but most likely you are expected to put some time in and learn the business/basics/scut work before you are trusted enough to cut (expensive) meat. And once the meat is cut, you need to be able to rotate, store/package, store, put in the case and sell it to customers--hence why you started with doing that.

    I don't ask new cooks to butcher fish or meat...I ask them to peel potatoes. If they treat a potato with respect, peel it, store it, label it, cook it properly, etc, then I know when I do give them a salmon or a strip loin they will treat that with respect too.

    Be ready to pay your dues. Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours.

    You need grit and determination to succeed in this business...if it's only been two years since culinary school and you already think you should give up maybe you should. What do you expect to be doing after only 2 years? You need to make your own luck in this business.
     
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  8. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    Thanks for your awesome reply, it's not that I thought I would be some amazing chef and running my own thing after 2 years, it's just that I thought I should be immersed in an opportunity where I'm really learning something and can see the concrete results in terms of my progress in the kitchen. Just haven't been able to do it. I just got a job at a big stadium, working in the kitchens that serve the highest end seats such as private suites etc. -so definitely not the concession side of things, but actually high quality food. Not just sports but concerts etc. Run by a great chef, union even. Seemed like a great opportunity. So what do they have me doing? Carving meat for the guests. I guess because I have a pretty face they put me out front. Sure, I'm learning a bit carving meat, but it's not the best opportunity to grow, imho.

     
  9. someday

    someday

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    Ok. What made you take the job at the stadium? That wouldn't be my first choice if I was looking for a kitchen to learn and progress in. I'm not disparaging stadiums, or anything like that...they can be fine jobs if you don't mind a lack of creativity and all that. If it is union that can have some benefits and drawbacks as well. You'll likely be paid decent but you also might run into some "territorial" type people who make moving around and promotions hard to come by. But that is just speculation on my part so I may be off base.

    You are basically doing catering (again, nothing wrong with that, no judgement). To me that does not sound like where you want to be.

    What attracted you to the stadium job in the first place? Why didn't/don't you know what job you are being hired to do? Did you talk with the chef about your goals and how you want to learn to be a cook/chef, etc? What did he/she say?

    I think you should seek a restaurant that cooks the style of food you want to learn (again, bisto, fine dining, etc) and start there. I agree with you that carving meat for catering is not a good learning environment. Those type of huge operations are generally run like a machine...you are a cog in the machine, nothing more. But starting at a restaurant on the salad station (where most rookie cooks start) working with a hands on chef presents a clear way to achieve your goals. Start on salad, master the station, then move onto the hot line. Work all the stations. Then quit and go work at another restaurant. Do this a few times.

    It sounds to me like you are picking jobs that are anathema to your goals.
     
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  10. chefross

    chefross

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    Hello and welcome to Chef Talk masseurchef.

    Stop, if you will, for just a moment and consider what it might be like if you weren't 40 but 20 years old with just 2 years of experience under your belt.

    As a Chef I would look at your work and kitchen presence to decide where to put you, if at all.

    Don't allow a string of bad choices stop you from becoming what you want to be.
    Be strong in yourself and your food knowledge. Your career depends on you and you alone.
     
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  11. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    Thank you, these replies are really helping.

     
  12. capricciosa

    capricciosa

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    1. I think the core issue is that you had a certain expectation of the food industry (creating menus, exploring flavor profiles, trips to the local farms/suppliers), but the reality is that the majority of food service work involves repetitive, sometimes menial tasks. Culinary schools are good about doing that in order to entice more customers, as is the food entertainment industry.

    Opportunities like what you're wanting are few and far between, and usually go along with being a restaurant owner (and even then only in select markets) rather than a kitchen chef. I'd say either focus on starting your own place (but have a solid business plan to make money) or consider working abroad. You could also try your hand at writing cookbooks or your own TV show. Find a few college kids majoring in journalism/broadcasting to do the technical stuff. I know plenty who do that kind of thing for free just to get experience, and most colleges with a broadcasting department will let you rent equipment/studio space for pretty cheap.

    2. Only in regards to physicality (heavy-lifting, extreme temperatures, etc). I think your impasse isn't age-related.

    3. Again, I think this is just the difference between your expectations and reality. I don't meant that offensively, but I think culinary schools fill people's heads with all of these grandiose ideas about what it's like to be a chef that are way off-base with reality. Like I said in 1, look for some secondary food jobs, because your goals just don't match up to what most restaurant jobs are like.

    4. It depends on how you define hang up the apron. Is a kitchen job for you? Probably not. Are there opportunities out there for you outside of the kitchen? Certainly. Like I said, I would focus on maybe a public access TV show or something that lets you explore and be creative. I used to work in broadcasting (radio and TV), and I'd be happy to give you some very detailed info if you want to go this route and hopefully make enough money to live on doing so.
     
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  13. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    ah yes, expectations vs. reality. it does leave me wondering though, seeing that a lot of food service work is repetitive, small tasks, "menial" or however you want to put it, how do people progress in the business? There are people out there doing creative, interesting things, how did they get there? Was it just a matter of putting in the time?

     
  14. someday

    someday

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    Honestly I think a lot of this is bad advice.

    You seemingly rail against culinary schools for filling people's heads with "certain expectations" of the food industry...then go on to fill their head with the idea that they should "focus on starting your own place" with less than 2 years industry experience? Is that not basically the same thing that you are warning them that culinary schools are doing? I'm confused. Then you go on to talk about writing cookbooks or having a TV show...again, the very things that are filling culinary school students' heads with ideas/expectations. How is someone supposed to have any authority to write a cookbook or host a TV show with less than 2 years of experience?

    This seems to prove my point above...I mean, we wouldn't want culinary schools filling people's heads with grandiose ideas, just people here on ChefTalk. The stated goals of learning, expanding and developing their skill set is ABSOLUTELY in line with a job at a restaurant. I don't know how you could think otherwise. Getting into a "good" kitchen (quotes because good is relative) is paramount to learning and growing, and will teach one how to cook. I think a restaurant is 100% the place to be.

    Public access TV show??? I'm sorry, what year do you think this is? Who watches public access anymore...if anything, you should be talking about a youtube channel or a twitch.tv stream. Public access is laughable. I honestly didn't even think they still had those.

    The barrier to entry on a twitch or youtube channel has to be much much lower, while the potential viewership is infinitely higher.

    That is to say nothing about how someone who doesn't know how to cook is going to do a cooking show. I mean, I guess Rachel Ray did it so I assume the OP has a pretty good shot.

    In a lot of ways, yes...putting in your time is important. It's like any trade or skill...you have to learn foundational things in order to progress. None of this happens in a vacuum. Kitchens are a great meritocracy, you are either ready at 5:30 for service or you aren't. You either have enough salmon cut or you don't.

    You read a chef's menu and think "oh how creative! What a star!" but what you don't see is the countless hours spent peeling vegetables, making stock, stirring risotto, rolling pasta...butchering fish, meat. Putting away deliveries, rotating stock, cleaning the line, scrubbing the walk in. You don't see the failed dishes (those photos don't make it on Instagram), or the chef who kicked their butts early in their career, who mentored them and taught them how to cook.

    I'm of the opinion that you just need to clearly identify your goals and then proceed. I think starting on salads in a nice, upscale, chef-driven restaurant would do wonders for you.

    As it stands right now, you don't even know what you don't know.
     
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  15. capricciosa

    capricciosa

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    I think you're misunderstanding my TV show theory. Cooking has always been a side-job/backup for me. Half of my career has been in broadcasting. I've seen it done enough times to know it's possible. I never said OP would have millions of viewers or never have to work again.

    Here's the gist of how I've seen it work. Rent some studio space/equipment from a local college with a broadcasting department. My alma mater charges $200 a day. That's $1,000 to rent it for a business week. If you film 2 episodes a day at 22 minutes run-time, you can get a decent 10-episode season filmed in a week. Get some seniors to work on the project for free for experience/senior projects. They can handle the filming/editing. Most seniors would jump at the chance to pupt something like that on their resume. With 10 local sponsors (farms, grocery stores, etc.) to donate the food and $100 each to have their products strategically placed in the production, the entire production of an 8-12 episode season would essentially be free.

    Then, call the program director/traffic director at every PBS affiliate in the country and sell the non-exclusive syndication rights for that particular season for $1,000 (the price is negotiable up or down based on OP's skills at sales, but $1,000 would be the base starting point if I were working on this project for myself). If 10-20 of them buy the rights for the season, that's $10-20K.

    Repeat this every six months, and you now have a job doing what you love that pays about as much as working as a line cook, and could even pay more. Because the time commitment is minimal, (1 week for production, and a few weeks for editing - done for free by someone else), OP could do this and still work a day job.

    It's not a guaranteed X amount of money a year, but I've seen it done enough times to know it can work. The initial time lag could be a few months to a year, so it probably wouldn't pay immediately and the money could be spread out over many months depending on how quickly the OP began marketing the product and how quickly anyone bought it, but I've seen it done.

    Social media/internet followers are more or less irrelevant to this business model. Having an online following could help your sales pitch to the program directors, but you're not selling your product to the masses. You're selling it to individual , independently owned TV stations who franchise out with PBS.

    As far as "authority in the kitchen" to market such a product, you have to consider the target demographic of said TV stations: middle-aged/old women who like watching PBS cooking shows. A culinary diploma and 2 years as a chef might not be enough to impress the gurus running Food Network, but it's sufficient for the target demographic.

     
  16. granola girl

    granola girl

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    I can't believe you just planned out exactly what I really want to do for my kids cooking shows. I even sent a long email to KCET and PBS to have me be the next Mr. Rogers. My background is a credentialed elementary teacher. I used cooking in the classroom as a vehicle to promote learning. It was a great way to get kids engaged in learning. I wish you lived near me and could guide me in the process. I'm in the process of setting up a kids cooking school to shoot some youtube videos since I can't seem to get a network to reply to me. I even sent in a short video of cooking with kids to Food Network as my Who wants to be the next foodnetwork star for session 2. No reply. That was years ago and now I'm still at it. Yet, I believe in my concept enough to forge on.

    As to my reply to OP, you should look at what made you want to go into the food career path? For me, I love to teach. Hence the desire to teach kids cooking classes. But I also love to make people happy with my food. Hence I'm opening a QSR with a brand new concept that will rock the grab and go world. It is funny that I found your post cz I've got the concept but am interviewing/looking for a chef operator. Where do you live?
     
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  17. phaedrus

    phaedrus

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    Hey, use what you got, man. Me, I have a face made for radio.
     
  18. Seoul Food

    Seoul Food

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    I know I'm a little late to this party but here's my 2 cents.

    1. Your expectations going into this field may have been a little unrealistic if you expected to be running a highly rated restaurant/venture with only being out of culinary for two on top of not being in the field previously. It's hard to find jobs that will meet your financial needs plus give you a return with skill acquisition. A lot of places just need to hire a body for the hot line and don't necessarily want or have the time to teach you anything outside of your station duties.

    2. 40 is not really that old for food service. I have cooks in their 50's and 60's right now who are great. The only downside of being older without the experience is you are just that much farther behind someone who has been in it since their 20's but that is something you can overcome.

    3. This kind of ties into #2. If you feel you are getting too old or can't physically do the grind anymore than maybe you should concentrate your efforts on management or R&D or something of that nature. I moved into more of a corporate management focused career path 5 years ago and while I miss always cooking and the night life it has been a better change for me overall.

    4. If this is something you really want to do don't give up after only two years of being out of school. Not many professions are going to put you where you want to be/at the top of your field after only a few years. You need to build that experience and I know it can be frustrating and you will want to give up several more times. The great thing about the food industry is that you can always make lateral shifts too and do something food related that may not be just killing yourself over a range for 12 hours a day. There are a lot of different positions out there you just need to decide what fits best for you.

    Good luck and hope you stick with it.
     
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  19. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Love it, hilarious! :~)