#1 You’ll Never Have Another Holiday Off again—Ever!
When others are enjoying themselves during the holidays or after work, most often times you’re int eh kitchen making their holiday all the more enjoyable. More and more restaurants are open for Thanksgiving, meaning families can come together and be thankful you and your crew are doing the cooking. Reservations for some restaurants can triple during the weeks around Christmas, meaning you’ll probably be working plenty of overtime and it all culminates with New Year’s Eve Dinner, when people are paying top-dollar and expect everything to be 100% perfect.
#2 You’ll Experience Stress and Conflict at Work
We’d like to say restaurant professionals abide by the same code of conduct corporate America does but who are we kidding—they don’t!
In the often high-stress environment of the professional kitchen, chefs sometimes snap at one another or someone has a meltdown. While it doesn’t happen as much as reality TV would have us believe, it does happen and you’ve got to have some thick skin and the ability to put emotions aside to work in this environment.
On the upside, chefs and cooks are often great at defusing stress and humor is usually their antidote. If there are sharp words, you’ll find most pros don’t hold grudges. A verbal smack down on Tuesday is old news by Wednesday.
Yup, an ample amount of stress is par for the course when you’re cooking at the professional level. The reason for it has everything to do with high expectations and time crunch. Everyone on the line has prepare the dishes under their charge quickly, efficiently and to above standard. This also includes making last minute changes due to guests’ dietary restrictions or allergies.
#3 The Pay is Less Than Great, Especially When You’re Starting Out
Contrary to what some people erroneously think, being a chef is less about the degree you hold and much more about your experience and connections. Your culinary arts education is just the very beginning. After that, you will probably start at the very bottom of the totem pole and won’t make a whole lot of money either! Treat this time as a necessary part of your education (which it is). Stay focused and optimistic knowing the time you’re putting in now will reap dividends in the future.
#4 Boring, Repetitive Work is Par for the Course, Especially When You’re a Newbie
Along with not making the big bucks, expect that all the not-so-fun, not-so-creative stuff like peeling hundreds of potatoes, sectioning meats and even doing the dishes, is stuff you’ll be doing when you’re starting out. Why? Well you’re proving you are willing and able to do any and everything to help the crew achieve the objective of a successful evening. A good kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine. As an aspiring Chef de Cuisine you need to know how to do everything better than anyone on the crew and that training begins the moment you start working.
#5 You’ll Have to Kiss A_s, Be #2 and Eat Crow
To be honest, some chefs have had to do more of this than others. One’s personality, experiences and just plain dumb luck have lots to do with who you call boss or “Chef!” If you have the privilege of working for a member of the old guard, consider yourself a lieutenant in their army. If you’re working with a younger chef of the new school, sure they’ll ask for your opinion here and there but you’re still a lieutenant.
Should you work your way up to become the chef’s #2, remember this is exactly where you want to, need to be in order to be the head honcho. Consider yourself very lucky when the chef starts entrusting you with certain responsibilities. Since we all learn by doing, the more time you spend with #1, the more you’re bound to learn. If the chef really likes you, they’ll probably start trying to remake you into a Mini-Me version of themselves. See this opportunity for what it is. Shut-up and learn how to do things their way. Innovation in the culinary arts is born from experience, so even if you end up doing things differently, never forget that their way is their way for a reason. Learn what that reason is!
The Top Five Reasons to Choose the Culinary Business
#1 You’re a Natural
If you’re a natural, you’re going to like, no love, the work. Don’t ask why. There really is no reason for this other than there’s probably something really, really wrong with you.
For the right people, all the hard work, sweat and stress is well worth it at the end of the day. It’s gratifying unlike anything else. The only way you know if you’re part of this rare breed is to get in and see for yourself. You’ll know when you’re wearing the same goofy, tired smile.
You Really, Really Love to Cook, Eat and Create
This goes beyond wanting to try out new recipes at home, this is a driving ambition and an inner voice that tells you you gotta do it.
You Can Make Lots of Money
Don’t pick a career in the culinary arts as a way to get rich. There are easier ways of doing that. But if you have talent, passion, vision and great people on your crew, you can achieve a great deal in a relatively short period of time.
The Perks are Great
No, not the best health insurance or 401K but reservations at the hottest new restaurant, private tastings, bottles of wine and tickets to the opera or the World Series are just a few common perks enjoyed by many chefs. When you enter the world of professional cooking you’re part of a very select club and they do take care of one another (and they tip well too).
The Community is Like No Other!
There’s a very strong sense of camaraderie amongst people in the industry and that’s probably the best, if not the second best reason to become part of it. Even across the globe, chefs often forge great friendships with one another and are a source of one another’s inspiration. People hang out, they cook together and they laugh. Nearly all chefs have a strong social side. This career has a social dimension to it that tends to be pretty creative and collaborative, making for rewarding friendships that can make one’s life truly rich.