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Old 10-25-2009, 10:30 PM   #1
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Career advice please (for a newbie)

Hi everyone, new at this board. I have a question for you guys, hopefully you can help. I'm currently enrolled in a computer science program that I just don't have my heart in. I've always loved cooking and have decided to work as a cook. I've applied to a culinary school an am waiting to hear back from them. What are your thoughts on culinary programs? If I decide against going there, how does one get a decent cooking job without the education? Thanks.

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Old 10-26-2009, 09:25 AM   #2
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You start working in a kitchen and work your way up through the brigade...
I went to cooking school last year, decided against going back to finish this year because after working in a restaurant as a prep cook, the first semester, I discovered that I can't really stand on my feet that long on concrete. The people at the school were incredibly rude as well. It was a community college culinary arts program that was located in a small town. The instructors had no teaching experience and used sarcasm and bullying as their primary teaching strategies... it's a new program that has promise, but the folks running it had no clue how to teach, how to meet their students' needs, how to work with a variety of learners. They may have lots of "real world" experience, but their overall rudeness really ruined it for me. They have enough stupid 18 year olds willing to put up with their BS to make the program loook successful on paper.
I would recommend that you work in a kitchen somewhere, then determine what part of the hospitality operation really appeals to you the most. Lots of cooking jobs are tough, hard work, that don't offer much financial reward until you've built up experience and expertise.
Depending on your age, and your willingness to travel, many culinary schools offer placement services. Check out their track record on placing graduates in jobs.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:54 AM   #3
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don't know where you are located or what program you have applied for, but a culoinary education should give you the skill and knowledge level to get a job and move up as positions open. (It does not give you the right to tell the chef he is a loon and that you know more than he does, even if you do and he is.)
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Old 10-26-2009, 11:03 AM   #4
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Thanks for the advice. I've been reading the eggbeater blog by Shuna fish Lydon and her advice for finding a career in cooking. She did not go to culinary school, but worked her way up in the field. With culinary school costing upwards of 7 grand per quarter, I'm not entirely sure what the right path would be. I already have a bit of loans hanging over my head from my college education so far, so I'm uncertain whether I want to head to the school.

I suppose my main concern is the quality of job one can expect by having no experience as opposed to the quality of job one may expect with a culinary education. Any advice?
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Old 10-26-2009, 11:10 AM   #5
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I have a friend , who's daughter went to culinary school and now she cannot find a job as a chef. And I know a guy who started as a diswaher in the kitchen and now he is working as a chef there. it is hard to tell. I agree that trying out in the kitchen might give a better idea if this is something you want to do for living. The one thing for sure, unless you make it big, I mean, really big, like Emrill or RR and a like you are not going to be swiming in money, you'd be making simple living, if that. And if that the case you better really love what you are doing, because cooking is a hard, hard work. Much harder than a programer.
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Old 10-26-2009, 12:06 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brejchamon View Post
Hi everyone, new at this board. I have a question for you guys, hopefully you can help. I'm currently enrolled in a computer science program that I just don't have my heart in. I've always loved cooking and have decided to work as a cook. I've applied to a culinary school an am waiting to hear back from them. What are your thoughts on culinary programs? If I decide against going there, how does one get a decent cooking job without the education? Thanks.
Many (most legitimate programs) culinary schools will not accept you without at least six months of kitchen experience. This could be dishwashing, but before they take your money and commit to educating you, they want to know that you have a clue what you are getting into.

Cooking professionally is about as close to home cooking as Swimming the English Channel or the Hudson River is to taking a bath. Seriously, kitchen work is hard, hot and requires LOOOONG hours. 60 hour weeks are "ordinary," and 80 hour weeks are not at all uncommon. The glamorous looking tv chef positions are only for a teensy percentage of chefs working in the US today.

So if you are serious about becoming a chef, you should first go get a job in a professional kitchen and become familiar with what the job you are interested in really entails.
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Old 10-26-2009, 12:08 PM   #7
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Quote:
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I suppose my main concern is the quality of job one can expect by having no experience as opposed to the quality of job one may expect with a culinary education. Any advice?
Without a culinary education you can expect to start at minimum wage. WITH a culinary degree, you can expect to start between $8 and $10 per hour, depending upon your market.

The odds are better for you just working your way up.
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Old 10-26-2009, 12:11 PM   #8
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Quote:
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...

Cooking professionally is about as close to home cooking as Swimming the English Channel or the Hudson River is to taking a bath...


Awesome comparacing.
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Old 10-27-2009, 12:39 AM   #9
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Many (most legitimate programs) culinary schools will not accept you without at least six months of kitchen experience. This could be dishwashing, but before they take your money and commit to educating you, they want to know that you have a clue what you are getting into.
Think they will take 6 years working in fast food restaurant, working my way up from a crew person when I was 15 to a minor managerial position within 3 months, to one of the all around shift managers within the next year and forward?

I've had my fair share of 12 hour days, uncooperative crew, irate customers, delayed and incorrect orders.
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:15 AM   #10
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If you've already applied to their school, then I would think you have already talked to the folks there and know the answer to your question.
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Old 10-31-2009, 06:30 AM   #11
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Yes of course you can but you have to work hard and long to have a good position. Where as if you have a Culinary certificate then it will be easier for you to reach that position. Your pay scale will also be higher. Why don't you join online culinary programs. Online programs are so flexible that you can also continue your computer course along with it. For getting Top culinary school browse here - CulinarySchoolsU.com
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Old 10-31-2009, 05:52 PM   #12
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Home cooking and cooking in a restaurant are 2 different animals. Hmmm amar001 is pushing an online culinary website. Any place I have worked did not hire staff based on certificates. It was experience and promoting from within the ranks whenever possible.
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Old 10-31-2009, 08:15 PM   #13
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My advise to you, is don't get your career advise from an internet form. Talk to a career councilor in the field of study you want to pursue. If it's culinary, talk to a culinary college staff member who has a varied career background.
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Old 10-31-2009, 09:03 PM   #14
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I was a CS major in college and I worked catering gigs on weekends. I now tes software for a bank and started my own side catering business. Pro cooking full time is hot dirty work with long hours. Stick with computers or something else but unless you really have a passion for it I would not go into food full time and not the restaurant business.
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Old 11-10-2009, 11:46 AM   #15
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My two cents -
I have read all of the comments and many have brought out several good issues. I have been in the business for many years. I have worked for outstanding Chefs, finished my Apprenticeship through the Department of Labor, attended several Culinary Schools (from Johnson and wale, Both Campuses of the CIA and others) and have worked at various types of restaurants/clubs etc. Currently I work as an Executive Chef, but also teach as an adjunct Professor. I have worked for and with many fine Chefs some of which graduated from culinary schools and some who have not. If you are serious about entering this field I highly recommend taking at least classes at a culinary school to start (sanitation/nutrition/ professional cooking 101 etc). At the same time find a Chef who is willing to take you on so you can learn on the job. A culinary degree will help you land a job, but keeping it depends on many things especially having a strong work ethic and be flexible.

I know there was talk about pay and you know that really depends on the part of the country you reside. Plus the pay really varies depending on what type of restaurant you find yourself working at.

I will say that starting out the hours can seem "unreal", I still work 12 hour days. Most kitchens are noisy, hot, and extremely fast paced. But the days fly by because you stay so busy.
If I can answer any more of your questions please leave me a note.
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Old 11-10-2009, 06:57 PM   #16
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For the record, CS is no longer an option. I've ruled it out as a possible career choice.

I've picked up a few books, most notably Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, Steve Lerach's Fried, and Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice. With this eye-witness recounts of restaurant life, I'm still very enthusiastic about a career in the business. I've nearly finished the process of transferring to a culinary school for a Culinary Arts associate's degree. I should be starting classes the second week of January.

Mark (should I call you Chef?), thanks for the informative response. In my eyes, the best thing about culinary school is the networking available to students. For instance, the school that I plan to attend is in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. As part of one of the classes, students and instructors visit some of local restaurants to taste the food and meet the chefs.
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Old 11-11-2009, 11:09 AM   #17
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Anytime...

You don't need to call me Chef, thats all I hear for 12 hours a day.

One great thing about our field is that most Chefs are very open to helping others. Most of us were mentored by Chefs who really pushed the fact that we need to train the future Chefs who come after us.

I know its not always the case, but we don't allow our cooks, apprentices or students fail because it reflects poorly on us, plus I know in some professions there may be an attitude of "the only way to learn is to make mistakes", while mistakes will happen occasionally, its up to the Chef to prevent them so our guests receive the best food possible and hopefully will come back to dine with us again.

I love being a member of the local Chefs Association, and most cities/towns probably have at least one. They are a fantastic resource to have. First what a great place to network, learn about new/upcoming trends, meet local vendors, and also its hard for some people outside of our field to truly understand what our industry is all about, so talking to others in the field can help you overcome possible problems or situations they may have already dealt with. I know you have a Chefs Association in Minneapolis, because your chapter is in in the Centeral Region of the Amercian Culinary Federation (ACF).

It's also great that you are collecting books from Chefs that you can use to learn more about the field. There are many great ones out there such as "Kitchen Sessions" by Charlie Trotter, "The French Laundry" by Thomas Keller and "the Soul of a Chef" by Michael Ruhlman.


If I can be of any assistance please don't hesitate.
Best of Luck!
Mark
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Old 11-11-2009, 09:28 PM   #18
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doesn't mean you go to culinary school you can work as a chef, most restaurant are looking for experienced and of course a referral from some one they knew.. it takes a proper connection, a little guts and skills. my niece studied a degree in medical technology but loves to cook. what she did was practice baking every free time and sold them on a friend's store. now she got a catering service in the partnership of a friend. they are making it big time. really, it depends on how you carry the situation you are in.
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Old 11-11-2009, 10:29 PM   #19
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To become a Chef yes you need experience. Alot of people think upon graduation that they are instantly a Chef (some do get hired directly out of school as a Tournant Chef or possibly a Sous Chef), but thats not always the case. You still have to work your way up the ladder. If you are starting at a restaurant as a line or prep cook they do want you to have your knife skills and a good understanding of HACCP and strong sanitation knowledge, but beyond that Restaurants and Personal Catering companies are run differently and I have worked for both. Alot of catering companies are started by people who just love to cook/bake and can design whatever menu and recipes they would like. At a restaurant there are alot of other concerns that come into play that catering companies don't have to deal with based on the customer demographics they are looking at.

Just remember that a culinary degree gets you the job, your skill level and strong work ethic helps you keep it. Every job is different and what the interviewer is looking for is different. There isn't any set way to get a job although certain people may believe that. When I hire a student, apprentice, cook or Chef I use a different method depending on what position I need to fill at the time. For a position as a Chef I look for experience in different cuisines, different venue types and annual sales numbers. For a Cook I look for line experience and for a student or an apprentice I look for motivation and drive on their part.

I suggest meeting personally with other culinary students or Chefs to get a good feel for what you may expect near you.
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Old 11-12-2009, 02:19 PM   #20
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Yeah, I don't expect to become Chef immediately following school, not even sous. I expect to gain the basic skills necessary to efficiently work in a kitchen and to then work my way up the ladder.

Mark, how would you recommend connecting with Chefs outside of the classroom? I was thinking of looking into the local Culinary Federation chapter and going from there. It's also been recommended to me that I go to restaurants that I like or that I would want to work and speak with the chef or a manager personally during the slow afternoon hours. If a person in my shoes came to you, Mark, in this manner in your restaurant, how would that go?
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