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Old 10-22-2007, 05:57 PM   #1
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A day in the life of a Chef

Could you all give me a "day in the life" of a Chef? I mean an honest working day, no "fluff" or exaggerations please. I'm really considering starting a new career when I retire and I'd like to know what I'm getting into.

Thanks!

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Old 10-22-2007, 06:18 PM   #2
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To hard to sum it up in 1 day, everyday is different.

Early to rise, late to bed. Cooking is just the tip of the iceberg.

Managing people can be like babysitting sometimes, dealing with crabby guests is always fun, the hours are long and demanding, kiss weekends and holidays good bye. If you smoke already, you will smoke more, same with drinking.

Never ending sense of urgency...be prepared to bust your hump and spend LONG hours standing.

I could go on and on, but I know others will chime in. If you have NEVER worked in a professional kitchen/restaurant though, don't think it is all fufu and glamorous. It is NOT like the food network. It can be a hard, demanding environment, and not everyone is cut out for it.

Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. It is what I know, and more importantly, what I LOVE to do.
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Old 10-22-2007, 07:53 PM   #3
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Remember this..sleeping and eating are overrated. It's amazing how little sleep and sustenance you can survive on.

You get to work and find out who called out for the day. Then you have to rearrange the rest of the staff to cover the empty spot(s). Since we serve three meals a day, my lead cook and the grill cook work on breakfast while I begin soups and sauces. From there I assign tasks including entrees, sides, and we also prep for the next couple of days, as well. I like to be at least three days ahead. Afternoons, in addition to work the dinner meal, we roast meats, and I bake.

During the evening meal, more prep is handled for the next few days.

While we're working on the upcoming meal, we are also always working on something for the next couple of days.
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Old 10-22-2007, 09:55 PM   #4
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Oh God where do I start?Its a rough hard job alot of stress and timelines.Many fast paced hours in a hot kitchen.You will work with alot of jerks,slackers and the worst the totally arrogant one that thinks he knows everything.If someone quits or doesn't show up you hafto do their job also.I have worked in some places so intense with the adrenaline is so high I would get a stomach ache for at least 10 minutes after I got off work.It takes a driven personality to do it.Dont get me wrong it can be really fun at times.You get off work sweaty and sticky and feeling like crap.You better be pretty good to make any kind of decent wage and benefits usually are not included.
You need to read a book by Anthony Bourdain called Kitchen Confidential it will clue you in if just a little bit.
Im not trying to discourage you but just letting you know what you could be in for.By the way Im a female so its not just a guy job.
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Old 10-22-2007, 10:09 PM   #5
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Well, the thing is, unless you know someone or you own your own place, you’ll never enter a place as a chef anyway. With good credentials, you can hope for Sous Chef, but most often, you start as dishwasher. Do it well, and work you’re way up. The high turn-over rate in those positions is noticed and recognized by management. If you last, you get considered. Be vocal about a desire to cook and work up to it.

Even with a “degree” you’ll not get better than a sous chef in a reputable place. It’s a cut-throat business that appreciates longevity…..but only barely. Time and experience is a huge factor!
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Old 10-22-2007, 10:19 PM   #6
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OMG ya'll, I just finished reading Kitchen Confidential today and it was a blast! I know nothing about restaurants (and very little about cooking) but that book answered a lot of questions I'd had. Also, made me really respect the people who prepare my food when I go out to eat. Talk about a demanding and thankless profession!!! I bow to all of you who pull this off ever - much less on a daily basis.
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Old 10-23-2007, 12:57 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by keltin View Post
Well, the thing is, unless you know someone or you own your own place, you’ll never enter a place as a chef anyway. With good credentials, you can hope for Sous Chef, but most often, you start as dishwasher. Do it well, and work you’re way up. The high turn-over rate in those positions is noticed and recognized by management. If you last, you get considered. Be vocal about a desire to cook and work up to it.

Even with a “degree” you’ll not get better than a sous chef in a reputable place. It’s a cut-throat business that appreciates longevity…..but only barely. Time and experience is a huge factor!
No Keltin... even with a "degree" you will start as a LINE COOK. $8 to $12 an hour, depending upon the city and the benevolence of your employer.

IMHO, no one who is contemplating a career in a professional kitchen should quit their day job without having worked -- or at least trailed -- in one. No, you will likely NOT be cooking, but will be washing dishes. Still, you will get an excellent vantage point from which to see what life there would be like.

There is nothing -- and I emphasize NOTHING! remotely glamorous going on in a restaurant kitchen at any hour of any day.

Those of us who do or have done it for any length of time are driven so to do. There are many enjoyable careers that are less demanding.

The Food Network has glamorized this business to such an extent that thousands have taken second mortgages on their homes to attend culinary school, only to find out much later the job was nothing like they envisioned. There is a reason why the CIA requires all entering students to have at least 6 months professional kitchen experience. They don't want to waste your money and their time.
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Old 10-23-2007, 02:06 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChefJune View Post
No Keltin... even with a "degree" you will start as a LINE COOK. $8 to $12 an hour, depending upon the city and the benevolence of your employer.

IMHO, no one who is contemplating a career in a professional kitchen should quit their day job without having worked -- or at least trailed -- in one. No, you will likely NOT be cooking, but will be washing dishes. Still, you will get an excellent vantage point from which to see what life there would be like.

There is nothing -- and I emphasize NOTHING! remotely glamorous going on in a restaurant kitchen at any hour of any day.

Those of us who do or have done it for any length of time are driven so to do. There are many enjoyable careers that are less demanding.

The Food Network has glamorized this business to such an extent that thousands have taken second mortgages on their homes to attend culinary school, only to find out much later the job was nothing like they envisioned. There is a reason why the CIA requires all entering students to have at least 6 months professional kitchen experience. They don't want to waste your money and their time.


Quoted For Truth. 100%

Mad Karma to ChefJune!

I must say, from a professional standpoint, I do NOT like what the food network has done. I have been inundated with young people(or old), filling out applications ad wanting work because "it looks cool" or "I have been watching food tv and like to cook"...it is hard for me to not sit them down and tell them they are into it for the wrong reasons.

Passion comes from within, not because it would be "cool" to do.

And for the record, I hate when I am somewhere and I happen to be in my whites, all of the sudden it is like"oh, how do I do this/that" and "Emeril, this/that"or the other thing....STOP IT! It is hard to convey to them that from a professional standpoint, there are like maybe 1 or 2 Chefs on there worth talking about, and 'ol Emeril is NOT one of them.

The best chefs, you never hear of really on TV cause they are busy...WORKING.

just my $.02. Sorry bout the mini-rant
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Old 10-23-2007, 03:55 AM   #9
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TATTRAT how I agree with you. In my experience there are so few who actually have the "calling". My days as chef were filled with assistant know it alls,who in essence knew nothing. When passion is involved on a professional level, there is no time clock.If it's necessary to work an hour more, it should be done without moaning and groaning.

When I left from my job 10 years ago they brought in one of these known Chefs to take my place. They payed him 3x what I had been payed but everyday my exboss was calling up for MY recipes. Go figure!!!!
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Old 10-23-2007, 07:47 AM   #10
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" Could you all give me a "day in the life" of a Chef? I mean an honest working day, no "fluff" or exaggerations please. "

I'm not a Chef, but my sweetie is. When I'm there in November, (Thusrday to Tuesday)here is the schedule so far. This will be a typical week for him.

7:am, get up, get to the Inn, prep breakfast. When done, get the off site catering luncheon for 100 ready and into the vans. Prep lunch. Prep for private wine dinner. (The inn is closed for dinner that night) Check supplies and place orders. Should be home by 10pm.

Next day do it all again, except the off site luncheon. Do breakfast, lunch and supper, including Chef Tastings. Also prep for Saturday's on site wedding, and Sunday's something or other they have booked. Should be home by 10 or 11.

Next day do it all again, breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper. Check what needs to be prepped for the week. Should be home by 10.

Next day, back to do breakfast for room guests. Hopefully, we'll have the rest of the day off.

Somewhere in there he needs to do menus for upcoming functions, finalize his New Year's Eve menu, and make sure that Thanksgiving is on track. Work clothes will need to be laundered, and we'll have to go grocery shopping for us.

Next day I leave for home. And I call this a holiday!!
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Old 10-23-2007, 08:56 AM   #11
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It depends on where they are cooking. Line chef, gourmet chef, grill chef--
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Old 10-23-2007, 09:29 AM   #12
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And for the record, I hate when I am somewhere and I happen to be in my whites, all of the sudden it is like"oh, how do I do this/that" and "Emeril, this/that"or the other thing....STOP IT! It is hard to convey to them that from a professional standpoint, there are like maybe 1 or 2 Chefs on there worth talking about, and 'ol Emeril is NOT one of them.

The best chefs, you never hear of really on TV cause they are busy...WORKING.

just my $.02. Sorry bout the mini-rant
no problem with the mini-rant, Tatrat! we all get that! However, the Emeril we see on TV is not the Emeril his employees see in his restaurant. Granted that the days he is filming, he is in none of his restaurants, but on those days, he is taping nearly around the clock. And when he isn't taping, he IS in his kitchen, most often in New Orleans, but also checking on his operations in all the cities.

I had the good fortune to meet and cook with him back before he became a "SuperChef," and he is kind, talented, self-effacing. His employees love working for him, as I understand. (I know several folks who are part of his "empire.") He realizes how fortunate he is to have had so much of this world's goods come his way. He comes from a blue-collar, hard-working family in New Bedford, MA. No silver spoon in his mouth!
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Old 10-23-2007, 09:33 AM   #13
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Well I don't that I could say it would be harder than being a cop, but by no means is it an easy job. If you have no cooking experience you'll start out as a dish washer or prep cook most likely. If you have no professional cooking experience, you'll find out that everything you think you know about cooking is wrong.

There's a very small chance that your employer will be in desperate need of help and you'll go directly to being a line cook. If you have no experience with this, prepare for lots of very hot and very stressful work. Everything you think you know is wrong, and even if it isn't, most chefs like things done a certain way, and unless it's THEIR way, your way is wrong. The chef, and the other cooks, will make no small notice of it either. Prepare to get **** talked all day long until you can hold you own in whatever kitchen you choose. As a group, cooks lean towards being a generally crude and unruly bunch. They won't think twice about sparing your feelings. If you're fat they'll tell you so. If you're dumb they'll definitely tell you so. If you're not dumb they'll you that you are anyways. They'll tell you about what they did with your mother or your wife last night. Just remember not to take it personally, because it's not meant to be personal. It's just meant to see how tough you are.
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Old 10-23-2007, 09:51 AM   #14
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I only ever worked in institutional kitchens in the Army, but I can tell you one thing, you will be on your feet for at least 10 hours straight. That may not sound so bad now, but once you start doing it, your feet will not be happy. That's the easy part.

I recently finished Kitchen Confidential and felt fortunate not to have worked in an actual restaurant. The Army is certainly high stress, but at least we cooked all of our food at once and put it on a serving line. I can't imagine trying to get a bunch of degenerates like I worked with to coordinate multiple orders to go out. The closest thing I ever experienced to that was working the omlette grill on the serving line taking individual orders, and that was the most dreaded job of all Army cooks I knew.
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Old 10-23-2007, 12:26 PM   #15
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Lots of good comments, both good and bad, about the industry.

I'll add a couple of things that I've experienced that haven't already been said.

First, it really depends on what type of kitchen you get hired into. Most folks think a regular sit-down restaurant is the only kitchen that cooks. Not so. You also have cafeteria/buffet places, where you cook large quantities, hold it hot, take it out as needed, or cook a dish that serves X number of people, and take it out as needed. Institutional cafeterias, like schools, where you prep food, hold it hot, and send it out. None, if any, variations to the food. High-dollar places with lots of fancy ingredients, complex presentations, snooty concierge, etc. Low-cost places, like diners, with short-order cooks that don't prep "fancy" food, but turn out tasty, time-honored meals. Major hotels that have a huge kitchen, bigger than most houses, which turns out food for 2 - 3 restaurants, the pool, room service, etc. That kind of kitchen never closes, so get ready for third-shift cooking for the 2 am last-call rush.

I happen to work in a country club. Most of our money comes in from catering parties, like weddings, and such. The line, for the a la carte menu, runs a food cost anywhere from 50 - 60%, which in a normal restaurant, is unheard of. Not only that, but we're a lot SLOWER paced than normal restaurants. We know that we're going to do X amount of business in a month, with most of the business coming towards the end of the member's "billing period", in which they realize they need to use up their "minimum" from their food billing. The last weekend of the month is always busier than the start of the month. Since it's primarily a golf club, we also have to work around the golf schedule, tourneys, the Pro Shop blowing the siren in inclement weather, etc. You can go from completely dead, no tickets for a couple hours, to a window full of orders, scrambling to cook a bunch of food because they all got rang in at the same time, and your working around is cluttered up with the stuff you were prepping for tomorrow's party.

County club cooking is a little different from most restaurants. Since we run a higher food cost than most places, we can, and are expected, to serve more of the "haute cuisine" type fancy foods, while we have to balance that with the fact that the bulk of the membership are older folks, set in their ways, who grew up eating country cooking, and don't want all that fancy stuff anyway.

Not only that, but because of the way that country clubs are organized, most members are what we call "resident stockholders", and actually own a piece of the club. As a result, what they say, goes. The only way we can actually tell them "no" on a request is if we're out-of-stock on that item.

There is also the "ego-tripping" aspect. The membership all knows each other, are rather competitive, and like to one-up each other. One of the members, years ago, liked his dinner salad made a certain way. It became rather popular, and the Chef put that salad on the menu with the member's name on it. Well, guess what? The member's wife became so insanely jealous that she made her husband, who was president of the board at that time, tell the Chef to put a sandwich on the menu with her name on it. Guess what? Only two people ever ordered it, this lady, and one of her close friends. Half the time, they ordered a different sandwich anyway.

One of the other folks mentioned about "kissing goodbye to weekends and holidays". This is absolutely true. Also, expect to give up your nights, as well. We work when most folks are off from work. I made peace with that aspect of the industry years ago, but, it does create a bit of strife in the family. The only holidays I get to spend with my family are Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July (our busiest day of the year, 1,000 people usually), Monday holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc., we have to work. Normally, we're closed on Monday's, but we have a Bank President on the board, and he likes to play golf and eat dinner on any given excuse of a holiday that closes his bank.

You don't get to talk to the folks that eat your food much, unless they call you our to the table (usually reserved for Chef's). I get to talk to the members every now and then, as I'm one of the cooks that can work action stations for parties (saute, carving, omelettes, etc.), as well as a relief cook for the Halfway House on the golf course.

I'm not complaining about what I do. I love to cook. I take pride in what I produce. I know that folks like what I cook, from what feedback I do get, both from employees and members. I know my Chef appreciates me. He asks for my input on specials and new menu ideas. I got a sandwich put on the menu last Spring, and it's still there, and selling nice and steadily. I've had some specials put on the menu, with good results. My Chef knows he can ask me to make something, out-of-the-blue, and usually on short notice, and I can produce what he wants.

IMHO, like many other people, if you want to get into this industry, do so because you love to cook for other people, not because of the "celebrity chef" thing.
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Old 10-23-2007, 12:34 PM   #16
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Very well said, Allen!
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Old 10-23-2007, 12:49 PM   #17
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" Next day I leave for home. And I call this a holiday!!
sorry....my post will be a little off topic...

Oh, Lorraine, you're gonna have to get that boy up to Canada! Then when he holidays, you can holiday with him and enjoy all those meals together! ......I dunno.....maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder.......
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Old 12-18-2007, 03:09 PM   #18
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Allen hit the nail on the head, and I can relate the country club thing.

If you want to cook for a living, wash dishes somewhere first... it will give you an inkling of what you're getting into (minus the stress part, but you can watch the stress from a safe distance and decide if it's for you).

And about holidays... remember, you're biggest demand is when the rest of the working world isn't.
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