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Old 03-11-2008, 08:29 PM   #1
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Professional Cooking?

This might be off-topic, so I apologize in advance for that, but:

I'm thinking of going into professional cooking. I realize that my first job in a kitchen is most likely going to be "do whatever the chef tells you", and will probably not involve anything close to a stove. But...I love everything to do with food, including peeling vegetables.

My questions are: without chef school, and with only about a year's experience cooking at home, would a restaurant hire me?

If they do, what am I expected to know how to do? I see people chopping and peeling vegetables in seconds, cutting up meat without a second thought, and generally being very competent around a kitchen. I'm good, but I'm not that good. Do people who go into cooking usually have more skill than a home chef?

I've not taken any cooking school, nor do I really intend to, so is that a definite bad thing?

Mike

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Old 03-11-2008, 10:41 PM   #2
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I know that in Canada, it's helpful to have gone and taken a chef course. There is also standardized testing for this as well, with questions on measurements, cooking time, ingredients, etc etc.

Chopping and peeling in seconds takes ALOT of practice and skill - they go that fast because they know they won't chop their fingers off. Work on technique and the fastest way for YOU to chop and peel, and go from there. You will get faster!
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Old 03-11-2008, 11:25 PM   #3
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It really depends on what type of restaurants you apply for. Some restaurants here always have ads in the paper for more cooks, but also have a disclaimer that you need "at least 2 years experience in the field" before they'll even look at your app. That said, I think the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, only wants students applying for college that have experience in the field as well.

There are some restaurants that will hire you. Smaller restaurants, especially Mom-and-Pop type places, might take you on as a prep cook. If you don't mind washing dishes, you can get into a kitchen that way as well.
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Old 03-11-2008, 11:48 PM   #4
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Crono.. I am a retired Executive Chef. I did not go to culinary school. Over the course of 45 yrs. working in ALL kinds of kitchens. I spent the last 35 years as head chef in 8+
hotels, country clubs, Public restaurants, I also owned my own restaurant. In order to get the needed experience I worked some real dogs, and some really nice venues just to get enough experience to work for a master chef for ten yrs as a apprentice later line cook and later up the ladder to Sous Chef of the largest hotel in Iowa. Now all of that being said you can work your way up through the stations in a good restaurant/club
to where you will gain enough experience to eventually get to wear the tall toque of head Chef. It takes a awfully lot of work,patients, and a whole lot of desire and heart to get to the top. Good Luck
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Old 03-12-2008, 01:23 AM   #5
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Well, put it this way ... Bobby Flay started out washing dishes. If you can't get some culinary training, I would at least do some line cooking. It's not as glamorous as it seems, it's hard darned work. But it's fun!
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Old 03-12-2008, 03:05 AM   #6
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Yes, a restaurant will hire you. I don't know about a private one, but a Fridays or a chain will. You'll bounch around as a line cook/prep guy. After a few years of that, then apply for the chef job. After you learn all that stuff, move on to other chain restaurants. Bounce around. After of about 5 or 7 years, a private restaurant will hire you. You might start out again as a line/prep guy, but you'll be more advanced then others. After about another 2 years, then go for Assit.Chef. When you feel you can hold down the fort and take the reins, go for it.

How do I know all this? I have been around this stuff my whole life. My family and friends are all in it. I am happy to say that I learned how to cook by some of the best. One guy was even the private chef to Donald Trump!!
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Old 03-12-2008, 05:11 AM   #7
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Your best bet is to get hired by a dining service...a company that runs the cafes and kitchens in universities or corporate offices. They have big staffs and are almost always ready to hire people without real experience. You'll start at the bottom, but can easily work your way up if you show apptitude and a desire to move forward.

I started this way...
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Old 03-12-2008, 09:25 AM   #8
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wow, awesome insights! I know it might sound crazy, but even the prospect of peeling potatoes sounds awesome to me. I just love working with food, so I don't mind if I start at the bottom.I guess my next step is to start looking for a job. :-) Although I wonder: cooking in a chain (like Montanas or whatever else), do you gain the same experience watching the line cooks? Is it a differernt environment than working in a small, locally owned restaurant?Mike
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Old 03-12-2008, 10:27 AM   #9
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I got lucky. I started out in the front of the house and worked that for 1.5 years then was able to move into the kitchen. I still work for this restaurant, and its been almost 3 years. As far as what experience you get in a chain vs a small restaurant, well, its not so much learning good food as it is learning how to adjust your brain to the pressures of being a line cook. when you have 15 tickets up on the rail that you have to get out and the printer just keeps on printing more and more and more...it gets stressful. learning to deal with that and learning how to organize your brain to get tickets done in the fastest time possible. knowing what to fire, when to fire, and how to pull the ticket together so all the items come out at the same time is universal, and knowing that will help you in any kitchen, large or small, chain or locally owned. good luck to you and dont hesitate to go to school for it if you find you like it. Oh, and once you feel really comfortable in a kitchen, dont be afraid to try and switch jobs to get someplace your uncomfortable. more jobs = more experience.
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Old 03-12-2008, 10:28 AM   #10
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Crono,
You definitely have the right attitude to make it. As a fine dining sous chef, I started exactly how you started, knowing nothing and being willing to do any job in the kitchen, no matter what it was. The key is to be honest that you don't know anything and truly convey your passion for food and the restaurant industry.

I would take a passionate know-nothing newbie over an arrogant know-it-all line cook that I have to un-train before I can actually teach any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

The one piece of advice that I would give you; work for free, even part time, if there is anyway you can do this. I would recommend staging (apprenticing) for at least 6 months to a year. This will allow you to start at the fine dining level as an apprentice and you will learn more faster. Also, once you're in the industry and are a paid cook, it's difficult (but not impossible), to get a line cook position at a fine dining restaurant with no fine dining experience.

Having that fine dining experience will open more doors for you because it's much easier to take a step down in the world of dining then a step up. Be ready for working long hours, nights, weekends and holidays, crazy chefs with short tempers, and you just might find a new career in this fast-moving and exciting industry.

Best of luck on your journey.
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