Becoming a Chef - The Pros and Cons
In the early 1990's I remember watching "Iron Chef" on the Japanese
Network in San Francisco before it got English subtitles. Then came The
Food Channel with its wall-to-wall stuff for all us foodies, making TV
stars of Aaron Brown, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay. Zoom across time to
the present where we can view the crowning of "The Next Food Network
Star" and watch Gordon Ramsay shaft chefs on several different channels.
We are immersed in the cachet of Chefdom.
I noticed that there are ads for various culinary academies everywhere on
television, but what nobody wants to talk about is the real Pros and Cons
of working in a honest-to-goodness-professional kitchen.
1. It's fun! Why? Because adrenalin is pouring through your system as you
work, the same way as when you play sports or perform on the stage.
Adrenalin is Nature's own high!
From the minute your shift begins you are racing to get the job done. If
you begin at 7:00am for an 11:00am opening, then the preparation has to
be finished before the doors open. Once the orders start coming in, the
race is on to get every order out within the time allotted. All good
restaurants these days have computerized systems to measure your
productivity, and racing the clock is fun.
2. It allows us to fulfill our innate need to nurture others, to show our
love by feeding them.
Some of us just love to cook for others. I'm one of those people. I get
such pleasure from preparing something, serving it, and watching the
faces of the diners to see their appreciation. Just LOVE it!
3. There is usually work to be found in a commercial kitchen.
No matter how small the town, you can usually find work, thus, you will
always have a livelihood.
1. It's the hardest job around.
Working in a professional kitchen is not for the weak of body or mind.
The labor is intense and no matter what, you have to be able to lift and
stretch, mop and clean. "CLEAN AS YOU GO" is the motto of all trained
Culinarians, and that means every minute of every shift, every surface in
At the end of the shift, a deep fat fryer full of hot oil has to be
transported and dumped in the appropriate place, and YOU have to do it.
The walls behind the fryers have to sparkle, as do the floors and counter
Let's say, for example, that you're working the Pantry Station. All of
the greens must be washed and prepared, along with all the dressings. If
you're lucky, your kitchen has a prep cook to help you. If you're not,
then it's all up to you.
All of your garnishes have to be cut to spec, as well as all tomatoes,
avocados, carrots and any other vegetables or meats that go on your
salads. If you also handle desserts, then those have to be prepped as
And on top of everything else, productivity is measured. When the ticket
comes out of the machine at your station, the clock starts ticking. When
you place the order on the pass-through, you stamp the ticket. It is
somebody's job to take all the tickets and grade you on your times. The
next day before your shift begins, there will be a meeting to reveal
whether or not you came up to par on your speed. Whew!
2. You can cut and burn almost any part of your body.
No worries. The tips of your fingers you slice off grow back and your
knees only get stronger from having to bend down to get things out of the
reach-in refrigerators, and all burns heal.
3. The pay is universally LOW.
I worked at a wonderful, popular white-tablecloth restaurant in downtown
Los Angeles for a year earning $8.00 an hour, but paying for parking,
tools, and uniforms ate up most of my wages. I also worked at a famous
boutique restaurant in Mendocino, CA for $7.50 and hour.
Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray: these are the stars in culinary
spectrum, but the rest of us can never expect earnings like that, no
matter how good we are at what we do. If you don't write a cookbook or
get on television, there is very little chance of your earning anything
other than minimum wage, for all your skills.
Being a chef is hard work, the hardest; but it was the most fun I ever
had offstage. I still miss it.