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Old 07-08-2013, 11:56 AM   #1
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How to start my culinary career..

Hey guys so I could really use some personal advice / first hand stories to help me hit the ground running. I have never worked in a kitchen besides a deli for 2 weeks. I am currently 23, I went to school for criminal justice, and currently I have been a graduate for close to a year now. I have bounced from random job to random job in that time. The one thing that has remained constant and if anything grown a stronger passion within me is food and cooking.

I've been telling myself for weeks now that I will go in and talk to some chefs. For some reason I have been hesitant to go into kitchens and apply. For whatever subconscious reason I just haven't done it yet. Does anyone have a suggestion on how I should approach this? Plus I don't know how the application process works, do I cook to show them if I can start as a line cook if I have no experience. Or just start as a dishwasher.

I'd also like to ask you guys for suggestions on books to get that I could read to substitute for going to culinary school. I just ordered "The Professional Chef CIA" because of some members on this forum.

So to sum up everything I'm a little terrified of this new beginning, but I think I have some real talent that just needs the right chef to hone my skills and give me the knowledge needed to develop as a cook.

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Old 07-08-2013, 12:18 PM   #2
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Hi, dc. I went to culinary school for a couple months last year (I had to withdraw for medical reasons). The book we used is called "Culinary Fundamentals" by the American Culinary Federation.

I'm guessing you're hesitating about talking to chefs because you're afraid of rejection That's very common, especially when you're interested in starting something in which you have no experience. So try this: Instead of applying for a job, make an appointment with a chef for an informational interview. When you call, say you're interested in becoming a line cook and want to ask them some questions about how to get started.

Also, think about the type of restaurant where you want to cook. A high-end, fine dining establishment will likely be looking for people who can hit the ground running, i.e., have some experience. Another type of place might be a better place to start. Hope this helps.
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Old 07-08-2013, 12:28 PM   #3
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I always love to see someone with passion for the culinary world. However, it is not always a "pretty" one.

If you have no training or experience in restaurants, you will probably not be considered for a cooking position. My friend's son started as a dishwasher, then was given prep jobs (cutting green beans for 2 hours) in between dish loads. The jobs got more complex as he went along and showed them he was interested. After a year he stopped washing dishes and they started adding some cooking between prep jobs (which were now things like prepping sauces, salads, etc.). This process lets the chefs know how serious and skilled you are. If you don't get fed up with dishes and quit, they will move you up.

Now that won't be the same everywhere, but it gives you an idea. Even if you go to culinary school, you will start at the bottom, but probably won't have to wash dishes .

I would suggest reading all you can, watch culinary shows, cook at home to get practice, but when you apply, be very humble and be prepared to not get your dream cooking job on your first try.

When you have a little cooking experience and are going for "real" cooking jobs, they may have you cook an omelet or something like that, or may even have you work a day/night or two so they can watch you work. You should get paid for this, whether or not you get the job.

I went to culinary school and over the years have had mixed feelings of whether it helped me or not. I have worked in restaurants, catering and even owned my own catering business. When I hired, I always tried to get people who where eager but not necessarily experienced and train them my way.

Hope this helps.
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Old 07-08-2013, 12:31 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GotGarlic View Post

I'm guessing you're hesitating about talking to chefs because you're afraid of rejection That's very common, especially when you're interested in starting something in which you have no experience. So try this: Instead of applying for a job, make an appointment with a chef for an informational interview. When you call, say you're interested in becoming a line cook and want to ask them some questions about how to get started.

Also, think about the type of restaurant where you want to cook. A high-end, fine dining establishment will likely be looking for people who can hit the ground running, i.e., have some experience. Another type of place might be a better place to start. Hope this helps.
I forgot to address these points;however, GG did it beautifully!
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Old 07-08-2013, 12:51 PM   #5
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Hi dc. I'm so happy for you that you are going to follow your passion. I am not a chef, nor have I gone to culinary school. I did want to share with you one experience I had, however. I work for a school district, so I have June and July off of work each year. One year when money was tight, I decided to work those two months. I decided that since I like to cook that I would just see if I could get a job cooking. I got lucky, and a local mom and pop place hired me on the spot with my just telling them that I love to cook. I was a grill cook for those two months, and also learned how to make really good pizza for the lunch crowd. Because it was a small place I did a little of everything. Well, the place got really busy, and it was no longer just the regulars coming in, and they had to hire another cook to help. The boss was so happy, and was coming in to see how I was preparing the food so that she could make sure to get others trained before I went back to my real job. I think that at that time if I was wanting to move up to other places that I could have done it. My foot was well established in the door by that time. What I am saying is that I would suggest that you find a job that you can prove to others what you can do, whatever that job may be, and you will go places. Good luck!
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Old 07-08-2013, 01:26 PM   #6
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A Great Chef knows everything in the kitchen, including how to wash the dishes, clean the grills, etc. He/She knows all the jobs and has the patience to teach others. I guess what I am saying is, don't be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. Or if you get a job doing prep work, be willing to pitch in washing dishes and busing tables.
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Old 07-08-2013, 02:11 PM   #7
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A Great Chef knows everything in the kitchen, including how to wash the dishes, clean the grills, etc. He/She knows all the jobs and has the patience to teach others. I guess what I am saying is, don't be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. Or if you get a job doing prep work, be willing to pitch in washing dishes and busing tables.
What I was trying to say but in too many more words! Thanks, PF
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Old 07-09-2013, 10:15 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GotGarlic View Post
I'm guessing you're hesitating about talking to chefs because you're afraid of rejection That's very common, especially when you're interested in starting something in which you have no experience. So try this: Instead of applying for a job, make an appointment with a chef for an informational interview. When you call, say you're interested in becoming a line cook and want to ask them some questions about how to get started.

Also, think about the type of restaurant where you want to cook. A high-end, fine dining establishment will likely be looking for people who can hit the ground running, i.e., have some experience. Another type of place might be a better place to start. Hope this helps.
That is a great point, that sounds a lot better than the few emails I've sent out where I've told whoever is reading my emails that I have no formal experience just experience from other cooks I know and books I've read and tv shows.

Do you think many chefs will take an appointment with me?
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Old 07-09-2013, 01:22 PM   #9
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I really couldn't say. I'll say this, though: You'll never find out if you don't try Go on, call someone. What's the worst that can happen? They'll say no. Then call someone else. btw, calling is much more personal than emailing, and people usually know it takes more gumption, so they appreciate that.

My first job was cold-calling prospects for my mom who was starting a new business. I was 14. It wasn't easy, but I learned with each call better ways of talking to people. You can only get better with practice, just like with cooking, or anything else. Good luck and let us know how it goes
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Old 07-13-2013, 03:07 PM   #10
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That is a great point, that sounds a lot better than the few emails I've sent out where I've told whoever is reading my emails that I have no formal experience just experience from other cooks I know and books I've read and tv shows.

Do you think many chefs will take an appointment with me?
Any chef worth his/her salt should be prepared to talk to you and advise you but don't bank on it. However, the chef isn't always the hirer and firer and you'd be better off speaking to the restaurant manager.

I tend to agree with those who've advised you to take some professional training before approaching a restaurant.

If you do decide to speak direct to the "horse's mouth", so to speak, don't show up in the middle of lunchtime or dinner service!
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