Have you ever thought about entering the culinary field? Does watching the Food Network make you want to walk into your boss’s office the next day and pull a Kevin Spacey a la “American Beauty”? Maybe you are a high school student who enjoys cooking but haven’t a clue about what goes on behind those mysterious closed doors? Fear not, I am here to explain some very choice details about this grueling profession that most television chefs won’t even begin to tell you.
My journey started 17 glorious years ago when I bombed out of my 2nd year of university only to have my folks explain to me that I better figure out what to do with my life. I always enjoyed cooking and had spent a memorable summer cooking in the murky depths of the basement of a golf course (burgers and such) and had a friend that had recently finished cooking school in Toronto. Well, with both of my parents giving me the stink eye and no time on my side, I quickly applied to George Brown College in Toronto and pursued my now chosen field.
Was this a wise decision on my part? Yes. Did I enjoy myself at cooking school? Yes. Was it at all what a “real” kitchen was like? NO! My first piece of advice to you if you are thinking about the cooking world is to check out a real, live working kitchen. Don’t be afraid to contact the Chef (please, don’t call between service hours though) and tell them what you are thinking of doing. Most chefs would happily have you tag along for service and this my friends will open your naive eyes to the dark and shady world that most cooks live in. We are a motley crew of people who live off of caffeine and bits of bread with butter and often minimal amounts of sleep. Once you spend some time in real kitchen, re-asses and then take the next step of applying to a cooking school.
Second piece of advice; don’t go for the most expensive school you can find. I went to a community college that was amazing and we have NSCC here in Nova Scotia that is starting to have a very good reputation for churning out some great cooks. Just because there is a hefty price tag or a popular name attached to the school doesn’t necessarily make it any better. I have worked with many cooks that have come out of some top schools and they didn’t even know how to use a knife.
Third piece of advice; just because you recently graduated from school, this does not make you an instant “Chef”. Years upon years are required before you can even think about stepping onto the hot line or being a Sous Chef. Be respectful. Mouth shut, eyes open was the motto my first Chef always said. For the first 3 years, I never spoke to my Chef unless he or she spoke to me. God forbid I would back talk to them, unless I wanted to get fired or even worse, smacked with a pair of kitchen tongs!
Last piece of advice; don’t call in sick unless you are on your death bed. How many times has my phone rang at 6am only have a cook tell me that he’s “broken his back, but will be at work first thing Monday morning!”. Come on. And how many Grandparents do you have? I once had a cook that had over a dozen, and of course they all passed away before or after a very choice party. Be honest. Ask for a personal day and most Chefs will understand.
All I can say to sum this up is to take the time to do some homework on this field before jumping in with both feet. It is by far the most un-glamorous, smelly, hard job a person could have but at the end of the day it’s all worth it! If this is the path you want to pursue, enjoy every step.
More Feisty Posts:
Tags: George Brown