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What does a typical day look like as a Chef? What may be some negative things that I might come across choosing to be a Chef? Would I be able to make a living off of being a Chef only and not having to really struggle?

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I am 16 considering doing advanced training from Job Corps in San Francisco after I get my 2 years done in the Hawaii Job Corps Waimanalo (Oahu). Then maybe either come back to Hawai'i or some where on the mainland. I would like to become a chef.

#chef #cooking #culinary-arts #business #travel

Here is a sample schedule for a typical day in the life of a chef. Late Morning: Preparations Begin. For the average head or executive cook working full-time in a restaurant, the day doesn’t begin until around 11 a.m. The exception, of course, is those restaurants where breakfast is the highlight or focus of the day. alanna H.
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Lesley’s Answer

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A close family member of mine is a Professional Pastry Chef. He graduated about 10 years ago from the Culinary Institute of America. I have VERY GOOD second-hand knowledge of what it is like to be a chef in the industry. Many of the answers to your questions depend on what environment you are working in. There are independent restaurants, banquets, hotels, country clubs, fast food restaurants, high-volume food production, etc. Having credentials such as a culinary degree (Associates Degree in Occupational Studies) does indeed get you noticed on a resume. However, no formal degree is required to do the job. Many top chefs are willing to train cooks if you are willing to put in the hours. All the environments listed above are very fast-paced. You have to be able to work quickly and efficiently. A dinner rush can get even the best of chefs feeling like they are a lost ball in high weeds! I would recommend working in the industry for at least 3-6 months before investing in a culinary degree. This will help you decide if you really want to be in the field. Culinary school alone is not the best way to figure out if you want a long-term career as a chef as it is a very controlled environment - even at a top-notch school like the CIA. The Culinary Institute of America requires 6 months in the industry to gain admissions. Culinary school can be very expensive but can put you on a fast-track. If you are considering this, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for scholarships.
The reality is that you will work long days standing on your feet for hours at a time with no breaks. His typical day now is 10-14 hours, 5 days per week. He has had some positions where he was in the kitchen 16 hours at a stretch. In one fine-dining establishment, it was typical that you would work 8 hours, clock out, and then work another 6-8 hours off the clock. Illegal as heck. But, young cooks and were willing to do this to get the experience. They knew if they didn't do it that there was someone else who was willing, and they would gladly take your spot. This is the stuff that is taboo to talk about in the industry. You can expect to have at least one day off per week. If you are working at a large chain hotel you can expect to have more corporate structure in place. This will probably allow you to have two days off per week and 8-10 hour shifts during the slow season. The kitchen culture is an "interesting" one. They are built of strong camaraderie that withstands a lot of ribbing and sarcasm and the language can be strong. A word of advice: Stay away from any environment where the 21+-year-old employees are allowed to drink heavily at the bar after hours.
The pay starts out low (around $15-$17 in SanFrancisco and about $10 an hour in Florida, around $14-$15 in Boston) for cooks. Even after graduating from the CIA, this family member made near minimum wage at a very nice, fine-dining establishment. It was rough for a while. After two years as a cook, he became an Assistant Chef, and then finally a Chef about two years after that. His first chef gig earned him an annual salary of $35,000 in Florida. He moved two years later to the northeast and earned $ 55K. He worked at an independent restaurant and had very long hours - a budding workaholic. Work-life balance is essential for long-term survival anywhere. This can be very difficult in the restaurant industry. It is very possible to earn a good living. Especially if you are the chef-owner of the restaurant. The risks are high but the financial rewards can be just as high, too. Large corporate environments offer good benefits with a lot of support and a hierarchy of command that is sometimes missing in the small, independent restaurants. You won't have a lot of time for a second job.
Think about what type of environment you want to work in and do your homework. Check out Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, Washington. Research their business model and in particular how they treat their chefs. It is very interesting and worth the research. It is my opinion that more restaurants should be run this way. A lot of chefs are promoted because they are good at their craft and not necessarily good at managing people. Find a place to work that values the people. The craft will follow if there is talent.
Protect your intellectual property. Recipes are your intellectual property. Read the fine print in an employment contract and make sure that you are justly compensated for recipes and menu development when the time comes. Consulting can be a lucrative side job once you are established but ALWAYS read the fine print. Don't let someone steal your intellectual property or get away with not justly compensating you for creativity.
Market yourself well. Create your own website and Instagram pages where you can post photos and leave a positive digital footprint and protect your digital reputation. You can purchase your own .com for a small annual fee. You'll want to create a portfolio of your work as you progress. Directing someone to your website or Instagram page makes this easy. This will help when you apply for your first chef job.
After only 10 years in the business, and at the top of his game (he even received THE call from The Food Network), the chef in my family has decided on a career change. Burnout is real. The work can be very rewarding and grueling all at the same time. He is going back to school to earn a degree in Computer Engineering. He starts classes in January. It's quite the departure.....

Lesley recommends the following next steps:

  • Work in the industry for 6 months
  • Consider attending a top culinary school such as the CIA. There is one in Northern California.
  • Research the best environment for you and apply. If you get rejected, keep applying!
  • Create the work-life balance early for yourself. Chefs sometimes compete for who works the hardest. It's okay to be runner-up!
  • Protect your intellectual property and you progress as a chef. And market yourself well.
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Karl’s Answer

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Hi Irina,
Lesley's answer is terrific. I would only add that now is the time to reach out to as many chef's and kitchen workers you can to get their thoughts. When you visit a restaurant when its really slow, chat up the wait staff, let them know you're student in training and would love to say hello to the chef's if they have a moment. 10 may say they're too busy, but a few may offer to talk to you. And keep pushing your instructors to help you meet people in the business. Network and be willing to work really hard!
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Michael’s Answer

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You can make a very good living being a Chef.
My advice is get a job in a kitchen first before jumping in. You really need to love this business to commit to it, otherwise you'll be miserable.
The hours are long, the work is demanding and you'll find you are working when your friends are playing. Even being a Chef means you serve others. That's what we do.
It's very rewarding to make someone's dining experience special. But serving is what we ALL do in this business.
Go get a job. You'll know soon. If this is your passion!
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