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Old 04-04-2008, 10:39 PM   #1
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Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Dartmouth, NS
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Question Career Advice Needed!


Since I was 8 years old I have wanted to become a chef. I love cooking, but even more so I love food in general!! For stupid reasons, I let my parents talk me into going to college and university for totally unrelated subjects. I ended up dropping out in my 4th year and have been working ever since.

I am currently working as a Barista at a coffee shop and will be soon transfering to a kitchen within the same company (I have worked for 9 months in a kitchen before). There is potential for me to become a registered apprentice and learn through years of hands on experience and 6 weeks of schooling each year.

My parents would like to see me go back to college (in their eyes, an apprentice doesn't learn as much!) Personally, I would also like to go back too. I prefer being a student and then putting my skills to use and learning more afterwards rather than learning as I go. I also think that by going to school I am sure to learn what I need to, and as an apprentice there is no gurantee that I will have hands on experience in every aspect.

The problem is... money! Having already been a student, I have bills up the ying yang! If I go back to school I have to commit myself to two years of student loans (if I am even eligible to get them!) and being very poor again. The 3.5 years I was in school full-time, I worked about 30 hours a week on top of that and was drained. I want to get the most out of my education, but I don't know if it's affordable. I live on my own, have my own car, have old bills to pay off... nothing that I can really cut down other than gas since the school is closer than work is. Moving in with my parents isn't an option because of their location.

So, my questions are:

1) Do you think traditional schooling is better than apprenticeship?

2) Is it worth going to school and then becoming an apprentice afterwards so I can learn more and get my Red Seal?

3) Is there a semi-sustainable career with cooking? I know I might not do the same thing forever, but it's nice to know that it's available if I decide to do it forever!

4) Is there room for advancment and exploration in cooking? I would love to learn more than just what is taught in school. I love the history of food, food in cultures, how food relates to society, food politics... not just cooking!

Any advice or comments at all is appreciated! I sort of have an idea of what I want to do, but I need input from seasoned people who know more about the industry than I do. I have an appointment set up next week with the college to talk about the program. All the people I know who are in the industry are young and don't have the experience I need hear from.

Thanks a lot!



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Old 04-04-2008, 11:02 PM   #2
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1) for some people, yes; others, no. It also depends on the industry.
2) from a non-hospitality perspective: Will the apprenticeship be open to you later or is this a golden opportunity? Will returning to college be available to you later? How long have you got before the units you have already completed become "non-current" and you have to re-sit?
3) If you have a basic skill like cooking (to what ever level you take it), there is always a job market available for you. Thing is, it may not be available just where you are, nor to the standard you wish to be classed. But there are a lot of kitchens in the world and a lot of people that have made it their careers and have supported families on the income.
4) again, I'm not in hospitality: Check out this site. There are caterers, chefs, cooks, home cooks, speciality production cooks, etc. I think you will find that there is what you seek if you are prepared for the hard work and dedication to get there.

My family expected me to go to university but I had zero interest in it so I comprimised and went to somewhere more hands on and did accounting. Hated it. Would have been better off going in to a trade and learning hands on. My brother on the other hand is very much a good student, unlike myself. He takes courses still in his profession. I find studying kills my interest for something. You need to decide what sort of person you are and where your interest really lies. Personally if I was serious about the cooking side of things, I would take the apprenticeship. See how it goes, if it doesn't work out, you can still return to college. Just my opinion. Good luck whichever way you go.

Too many restaurants, not enough time...
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:24 AM   #3
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Bilby gives some great insight. As a non professional in cooking let me give you another perspective. Only to help, I hope. Take it for what it is worth.

The folks I have met, even casually on the web, who have gone to cooking school have gotten so much knowledge - it is hard to imagine most folks being able to pick that up without a structured program. And they make you learn things that are tough to learn, basically the business of cooking as well as the art and mechanics of food preparation.

But Auntie, and we aunties have to stick together, you know yourself as a person. You also know the debts and obligations you have.

Me, after a grreat start on a career, decided to do something else. Got into school and went without a dime in my pocket. Am glad I did. It took me a number of years to pay off the loans, but I did it.

Sorry, no advice here. Am just trying to give you a bit of a different perspective.

What is right for you, I cannot answer, wish I could.

Will say it gets harder to go back to school as the years go by and the obligations pile up.

Just another view. Know whatever path you will choose with your ernestness you will do fine.

Good luck and God bless.
Before criticizing a person, walk a mile in his shoes - then you are a mile away and you have his shoes!
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Old 04-05-2008, 06:21 AM   #4
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I am a professional chef. I am presently, and have for many years in many places, an Executive Chef. My personal perspective of the hospitality industry as a whole is that it is one to stay away from.

I got into this industry because I loved cooking/entertaining and I had a talent for it. I went to college for two years, graduated, apprenticed in Toronto's top restaurant and I was set. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off huge.

As a whole, cooking for a living requires long hours for low pay. I as an Executive Chef earn a good salary ($70K Cdn), but I work long hours. If I break the hours I work down and divide my salary over that...it isn't a great hourly wage.

Let me encourage you to think hard about this decision. Long hours on your feet, running, repetitive motion, very hot kitchens, high stress, heavy lifting, multitasking, missing weekend events and holidays...all come with the job.

Think seriously.

If you can go to school, go to school. You can always cook for friends and family.

Believe me...this is the best advice you'll ever get.

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Old 04-05-2008, 06:30 PM   #5
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follow your dreams. i am 70 years old and wish i had followed mine.

if cooking is your passion, go for it. apprentice for awhile , then you will know what to do, go back to school or learn on the job.

whatever feels comfortable for you is the right thing to do. if you find you hate it, you will have learned what works for you.

we can give advice but can't make the decision for you.

babethat is me cheering you on.
"life isn't about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain"
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Old 04-05-2008, 07:53 PM   #6
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Is apprenticing something you might be able to do alongside schooling, even if it were to extend the term of your education? Hands-on experience is very valuable, but so is a structured education. You seem to be weighing one against the other, and you will likely need both.

There is some golden advice above. Long hours, low pay, nights and weekends ... it's hard on a social and family life. It's one thing when you're young and single and building your resume or reputation. It's quite another when your life changes and you want "normal" hours.

But dreams are goals with deadlines, so don't get caught up in worrying about debt. I'd guess 99% of the population has some sort of debt when they graduate. If you are willing to make a car payment, be willing to make a school loan payment. Which is more valuable long term? Easy for me to say, I know ... but I've been there.

Good luck to you!!
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Old 04-05-2008, 11:09 PM   #7
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I am a retired professional chef. I spent 10 yrs as a apprentice to learn the craft
after working at a great many places to git experience I needed I still went back for 4 more years of training from a different chef and I learned all of the ins and outs of quantity cooking as well as upscale dinning. I worked many years in the country club circuit.. First off I had absolutely no training about how to keep my food cost in line I had to learn it the hard way, I could cook the pants off most cooks so I had cooking pretty much down pat. Go back to school and take as much business courses as you can with emphasis on hospitality and restaurant management. Then be prepared to give up your weekends any since of a normal life, because while you are working all of your mates are out having a good time, you will work very long hours and hopefully you will work in a decent place where your treated like a real person, which is not the case in most places. I have retired from the food game, but once a month I go and make cinnamon rolls for abouit 65 senior citizens. and give some advice to there chef
So good luck
Cook with passion or don't cook at all
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Old 04-05-2008, 11:10 PM   #8
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Thanks AMSeccia: I say what I say from personal experience. I am presently facing the delema of working long hours and weekends, or spending time with my children. I am recently divorced and I value my time with my children. Unfortunately, and an Executive Chef, I have to work long hours and weekends. Weekends are the only time I can have my kids come to stay with me until summer break for them. This tears my heart out. I just had a discussion about my hours with my gereral manager and I told him that I'm not prepared to work more that 50 hours per week and that I will need two weekends clear per month for myself. It's either that, or I will be leaving the establishment. I also have my girlfriend who sees me in the morning briefly before she heads to work and then again later in the evening. The best part of everyday is spent at work. She loved the fact that I was a chef when we met, but the life of a chef is difficult as far as schedul goes. I'm lucky because she is understanding and I am happy for that. And I am working to shorten my hours. I once spent a minimum of 65 hours per week as an Executive Chef in Whistler, BC in its top restaurant. I swore that I would never give that kind of time to anyone ever again without being compensated for it. Exchanging time for money has to be worth those kind of hours. At 65 hours per week there is little else left for personal time. Work and sleep is it. Just the other day I had to sleep at work (Inn) in order to be there early in the morning and work another 12 hour day. That was it for me. I have had enough of that. So...as someone who has, and is, leading the life you aspire to, I say sure...dream big and follow those dreams. But I will gladly fill you in on the down side of the hospitality industry so you go in with your eyes open. All the best. Marko
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Old 04-06-2008, 07:25 AM   #9
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I stopped by the local University to check out their hospitality program, specifically the food courses. The adviser tried making $55~70k / year sound good. I said for what? Six 12 to 14 hour days a week? (From what I read here 6 days is optimistic). She says thats not bad for a youngster starting out .... I laughed, that money is just enough to turn someone into a slave.

Things went down hill from there. But then its her job to sell people on this kind of life.

To sort of answer your question, you'll learn more by getting a formal education in a field and working the field concurrently. Really doesn't seem to matter what the field or course of study is. Learn theory in school, put it in pratice in the work place.
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Old 04-06-2008, 07:54 AM   #10
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I admire all of you for being in the food related industries because I always gravitate to the cooking shows and always admire the dedication and passion and whatever it is that attracts you to such a hard life-----I was just curious-----do the restaurants or most, that is, offer any kind of affordable medical coverage at the very least for having to slave in and slave day out?

The only difference between a "cook" and a "Chef" is who cleans up the kitchen.
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