Some thoughts and tips for recent grads...

Discussion in 'After Culinary School' started by masseurchef, Nov 9, 2018.

  1. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    Hi, I wanted to share some thoughts for recent grads that I kind of wish someone had shared with me upon graduating culinary school:

    1. It's totally normal to think you know something after graduating school, I mean, isn't that the whole point? And after working hard at culinary school, you do have a lot of skills and knowledge. It's not that you don't know anything, but if you think you know something, it could prevent you from having the open mind to learn more or different things.

    There are some things that culinary school just can't teach because it only comes with years of practice and experience. And even when you do know something, the fact is that every food service operation has its own unique ways of doing things. Looking back, I realize I thought I already "knew" a lot going into my first restaurant jobs, but that really I know very little, and there's just so much to know and learn. It's not about being hard on yourself, but more about that if you think you know something, it can prevent you from realizing you can always learn more and there is so much to learn, and can prevent you from understanding that every food service operation has its own particular approach.

    2. Culinary school doesn't exist to prepare you for employment in food service, and food service operations don't exist to further your learning.

    You definitely learn a lot of relevant and useful skills and knowledge in culinary school, but the fact is that school has its own imperatives and reasons for existing, and preparing you for employment is not necessarily always one of them. You might have some learning experiences in school that are not applicable to the vast majority of employment opportunities, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. And really, how can school prepare every single person for every single different path in the food world? That would be very difficult. School is school, work is work. Which brings me to the second part of this important point: food service operations operate for their own sake, which is to say their bottom line. They operate for their own reasons, and their demand for labour does not necessarily create the best learning and growth opportunities for workers. The imperative for their bottom line is often to de-skill occupations such that little training is required and low pay can be offered, with easily replaceable labour. What makes sense for the food service operation may be to have you peel carrots for your entire shift, but this is not what necessarily makes sense for your continued learning. Yes you learn a lot on the job, but you probably have to supplement that with your own practice and study if you want to maximize your learning and growth.

    3. So now that we've sorted all that out, it comes time to actually get a job. There's lots of opportunities right? Well yes, but you have to take care to find the one that's right for you. There's lots of questions you have to ask yourself and lots of limitations as well, something as simple as if you have to find work within a limited geographic area with limited opportunities. You don't want just any job, you probably want to grow and learn, and probably also care about what you're attaching your name to. You can develop a sort of reputation based on where you have worked. Here's some warning flags, not necessarily "rules" or always true, but more just to keep in mind:

    -the operation seems to be always hiring, or you have seen the job posting repeatedly; some big operations are "always hiring", but if a place can't find seem to find workers, that would probably indicate a problem with wages and working conditions, or some other issue you would want to stay away from. Yes labour can be in short supply, but there are always lots of people needing work, especially in "low barrier" occupations such as kitchen work, so you really have to ask yourself why an operation can't seem to hold onto workers.

    -the job interview is really short and they hire you; yes management can be super busy and not have time for lengthy interviews, and sometimes management is very good at hiring based on first impressions or gut reactions, but you really have to question why they are so desperate to find workers (as above) that they're not even that concerned with the job interview.

    -the operation has high turnover of workers; as above, if you're working somewhere that seems to have people quitting all the time, you have to ask some questions why.

    -pay attention to some of your first impressions or gut reactions; do the employees and management seem really stressed out or unhappy? Yes kitchen work is high pressure and can be stressful, but don't ignore signs of a really dysfunctional situation.

    -Just because a food service operation is in business doesn't mean it should be in business; places can look really great but that appearance can hide serious problems. A beautiful and calm dining room can have a terribly dysfunctional kitchen and vice versa, for example. A great looking menu may have serious issues with its execution. I once worked for a guy who sounded like an accomplished chef who was doing interesting things. It quickly became apparent he didn't really know his stuff and was running the restaurant more just for his own ego and for business tax write-off purposes. Not the best situation for me.

    -Finally, the best piece of advice, if you've made it this far; please don't hesitate to negotiate your wages or working conditions, they will pay you as little as you let them. Value yourself and your labour.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  2. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Professional Chef
    -Finally, the best piece of advice, if you've made it this far; please don't hesitate to negotiate your wages or working conditions, they will pay you as little as you let them. Value yourself and your labour.

    The only thing about negotiations is, you have to have something the other party wants. When your a recent grad your a bit short on what you could offer.

    I feel a recent grad from culinary school should set goals and not just look for a job. The first 2 or 3 years s/b places to learn and develop their skills. In order to make money in this business you need to be worth a lot to the operation. In my case I needed to realize to make money or even ask for more money I need to be of value to the operation. If I could be replaced by any Joe walking through the door then my negotiating power is nothing.

    When you graduate from school think about where you want to work. Ask other cooks in your area about the opportunities available in the food service they work at. Good Chef run kitchens just don't happen. There is a long record of success and should have a lot of successful stories coming from other cooks working in those kitchen. If you get a lot of info about cooks only lasting 2 to 4 months use that as a red flag. When I hired a cook I looked at it as a two way street. I wanted to help them accomplish their goals while hopefully getting a good employee that's trained and working in my operation for at least a year. Anything over a year was a bonus for me and usually were people that reached their goals and weren't interested in moving up the ladder into becoming Sous or Chef.

    Again have a plan. Don't just expect to walk into a restaurant and everyone bows down waiting for you to show up. In my first Asst Management job in a restaurant the GM told us if we wanted to learn anything it would have to be after our shift. I worked from 5AM to 5PM, if I wanted to learn something it would have to be at the GM's leisure. He would work with a few of us and tell us to come to his office at 8PM for about two hours. That was great but it also made for some long days. It also showed the GM who was open for really moving up in the company and this would be remembered when the time came.

    The people who impressed me over the years were the ones that gave more than they got. They were the people who did their job, didn't Bitch and were always there. These were the people who I went to first when I needed something. These were also the people I went to when promotions and raises were being handed out.

    Being a Chef could be real rewarding, self satisfying and a wonderful career choice. I feel it needs to be approached "Again" with a plan on learning and understanding what your getting into. This isn't an easy choice for a career but it could be rewarding. In the beginning be greedy for knowledge. Look at a position as to what you can get out of it. Be like a sponge, learn and move on when you perfect your skills. The way you get experience is to work for a few good chef run operations with different menus with learning different cooking techniques. This is your time to learn, money isn't a factor. Make sure every restaurant position is the right choice or you'll be wasting your time. In the beginning it isn't about practicing what you know over and over. It's about perfecting new skills and always thinking about your next step up in the ladder.

    I would recommend a new Grad to work in many food services in a relatively short period of time. You'll learn something every place you work. Sometime's you'll learn what not to do, but every lesson is a lesson learned. I learned over the years of what kind of chef I wanted to be but, I also learned from working with other chefs what kind of Chef I didn't want to be.

    I would recommend working after graduating in Fast food/or places like Applebees for a short time. This will give you some basic experience in working a basic front line with fryers/ grills and broilers and also learn to get some speed in those areas. Then try to move into a Hotel that offers catering and multi unit restaurants. Then look for a fine dining restaurant with a menu looks interesting along with a chef with a good reputation. You can't make any money until you have something to offer. Put yourself in a position to offer something.

    The only way to make a decent living in this business is to be a chef that is wanted by many. Your real negotiating power comes when people seek you out. This power comes with past success on your resume. The other would be owning your own and being the Chef/ Owner. The only way you'll get 100% of what you want to accomplish in your own restaurant is by being involved. Work the front line and walk the dining room. You can do both, people want to meet the Chef and it's also important to know your guests. Learn it, love it and be good at it and you will succeed....

    I just wanted to add a few lines to your post. I guess a life's journey and recommendations take a bit of time......ChefBillyB
     
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  3. masseurchef

    masseurchef

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    Recent (1-2 years) culinary school grad, line cook.
    Thanks for contributing to the thread, your perspective is very valuable to a recent grad.
     
  4. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Masseurchef, if any of our advice can steer someone to take better a better path then it was worth the time we spent. I thought what you said was good advice.......Take care....ChefBillyB

    P.S. one of my GM's in the early years told me " Being as cocky as you are, you better be good at what you do"......My answer was, I plan on it. Not being real good in this business isn't acceptable.
     
  5. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    Retired Owner/Operator
    In response to your numbered issues.

    1. Although I never went to culinary school, I have hired, trained and supervised many culinary school graduates. I did not see any difference in aptitude between the culinary school grads and the cooks who learned on the job. Having said that, your real education in the food industry begins with your first real job cooking in a commercial kitchen after culinary school. The first lesson is usually you don't know nearly as much as you thought. This lesson can be harsh for some. Some get over it and get on with learning. Some can't quite cope with the blow to their ego. These are the ones that typically do not last in this business.

    2. That's your second lesson.

    3. Welcome to the food industry. The worst job anyone ever has is typically the one they're in and the best job that ever had was typically their last job. There is no industry where the grass on the other side of that fence is greener than in the food industry. Develop of a list of the foods and cooking styles you want to learn making sure you get all the basics and find jobs that will focus on those foods. In your first 10 years, you should have worked in several restaurants, each focusing on different styles of foods and cooking techniques. Chances are you are not going to complete that list by remaining in one place.

    In 40 years, do you know how many cooks I hired that were born and raised in the city where my restaurant was? 2.

    As for the remainder of your comment, I think you have a good understanding of what's going on. So, I don't think there's any need for me to add to it.

    Good luck. :)
     
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