Starting My Culinary Career in a new path

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by phillystopchef, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. phillystopchef


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    I Just Like Food
    I'm working in catering right now and I like it, I prep, do hors' dourves, and run parties. I want to be in a test kitchen ultimately in America's Test Kitchen, I also want to do product development of my own product but don't have the money for it.

    The thing is i have lots to learn being that i've only been in the culinary industry for 2 years. I want to be successful in this industry. i want to be realistic and not feel my head. I know it's not going to be given to me and I'm prepared for the hard work and dedication! I want to learn and become great at what i do, if there are any product developers and recipe developers out there i would appreciate the advice on how you made it to where you are? What other career path did you take? how much experience did you have when you started?
  2. thomas rhee

    thomas rhee

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    Professional Chef
    While I don't want to discourage you from the path you are pursuing or have ambitions of pursuing, here is a very short abridged of my experience.

    I started off in fine dining to stages in NYC for the top restaurants at the time to learn techniques and skills as well as building up a nice resume.  Afterwards, I decided to go high volume with restaurants that were still considered somewhat fine dining but nowhere near the best of what NYC has to offer.  Basically, I wanted to go from doing 120 covers per night to 550 covers and it was definitely a good experience and learning experience.  Afterwards, I became curious about catering and banquets which was an entirely different world from ala carte restaurants.  One thing that's great about catering is that it forces you to be at the top of your game in terms of organizational skills.  One thing led to another and I found myself in a position where I was offered the Corporate Executive Chef and Executive R&D Chef positions for a major international chain.

    What I found out from that experience was, although it was a nice cushy job with great benefits, the cons outweighed the pros.  For me, the cons were:

    - Too much traveling.  I was living out of hotels for over half of the year.  Also, when I traveled, it wasn't like I was going on vacation, but rather to check quality control, teach chef's and staff on location as well as a lot of paperwork and email.

    - It was in essence, a dead end job.  It would have been a nice job if I just wanted to build a nice bird's nest and retire but my ambitions were and still are much more.

    - It was a mundane job, very routine.  There were no personal relationships with all the various chefs and cooks.  In essence, those kitchens were really not mine but rather the chef on site.  In retrospect, I spent more time in meetings with the top management staff including the CEO.

    - Creating recipes can be fun but cooking is a very organic process.  Developing recipes for a chain or a food company is every bit of a science as it is an art.  When cooking in a restaurant, a lot of cooking is done using one's senses of taste, feel, smell, sight and even hearing.  When developing recipes that need to be processed by others, it comes down to writing recipes that are idiot proof yet at the same time very exacting.  You also have to bear in mind the cooks who will be reproducing these recipes are not of the 3 or 4 star NY Times restaurant line cooks.  Also, when it comes to recipes that are made for manufacturing purposes, those recipes worked out in your test kitchen does not work the same way when manufacturing.  Those recipes need to be tweaked and re-tweaked dozens of times while samples come back and forth between the processing company and months can go by before the final recipe works out.

    Although I don't regret having gone down that path as it taught me quite a bit, I don't think I would ever go back to the "corporate" world.

    I believe you are still early enough in career that you should be concentrating on learning techniques and honing your cooking skills.  The harder you work and the faster you learn, career choices and paths will unfold and you'll have better options in the future instead of committing to a certain area in the cooking industry early on.  My recommendation for young cooks has always been to find the best kitchen or chef in your area and work your tail off and learn as much as you can from that chef.
  3. tigerwoman


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