As the culinary industry becomes more popular in our culture and communities, it has begun the process of opening the kitchen door for the world to peer inside and go behind the scenes. In addition to creating a greater appreciation for food and the chefs that create gourmet meals, this process has also created an intense interest in the profession from all over, with multitudes now considering a career in culinary. I was recently asked by Admitopia.com to give my advice as a business owner, Certified Executive Chef, and James Beard award nominee to aspiring chefs. To give an understanding of the profession itself and the many aspects and fields within the diverse culinary industry it is important to note, as no two chefs are created equal, neither are the concentrations which one may pursue. However, some general things are true of all chefs.
• Education is key. Like any other industry, not all chefs need a degree but all aspiring chefs need as great of an understanding of food as humanly possible. A great chef never stops learning and honing their skills. The greater a chef’s wheelhouse, the more opportunities for different avenues within the profession. It is important for a chef to know how to properly prepare food but, more importantly, how to pair ingredients, the history of a dish and its origins, the proper use of all tools available in the kitchen and how to budget cost and time to the penny and second. In addition, it is paramount for a chef to perfect the art of multitasking and to respect the brigade of the kitchen as much as they respect their surrounding community and regional cuisine.
• Work ethic and patience. As a chef, you will work impossible hours, 14-20 hour days, and nearly every holiday and weekend. This is true of a pastry chef, sous chef, line cook, production chef, personal chef, caterer or banquet chef, and chef consultant. Shortly after my abrupt move up the ladder, I became sous chef of the best restaurant in town. I got this job after working many years in this establishment for little pay or sometimes without pay as a dishwasher, line cook, and prep cook all the while watching, listening, and learning from my executive and fellow sous chefs. In my free time, I would, and still to this day, read and research as much culinary texts as I could get my hands on, cooking and experimenting on my own. Months after accepting this position I was offered a job as banquet sous chef of the best hotel one town over. I held both jobs working 20 hour days, 7 days per week for nearly two years. I was 21 years old and wanted as much experience as I possibly could get, sacrificing sleep and a social life. Even on my days, off which were few and far between, I worked with my chefs developing new techniques, working with purveyors, and honing my skills. I eventually left both of these jobs in search of one at the most highly rated restaurants in the world where I would again work my way up tirelessly to the top of the hoch cuisine ladder before ultimately beginning my company Bon Vivant Culinary.
• Humility and Purpose. It is important when you are starting out, to humble yourself and remember you are building bridges you do not ever want to burn. You will also need get in with the best establishment or chef you possibly can even if that means offering to work for free or little pay. No chef of any note has ever jumped into the industry in search of great riches. Although that’s not to say you cannot make money, it should always be your first, second, and third goal to make great food. In the beginning, you will fail much more than you succeed and the best response from your chef is silence and a clean plate from your guests. In the time of the first restaurants and before public houses when chefs worked for large and wealthy families, chefs would accept apprentices for several years before they were allowed to be charged with more responsibility. With culinary you must understand, no matter who you are or what your credentials, you will always start at the bottom until you have proven yourself worthy of more and more responsibility and creativity.
Be patient and diligent as a career in culinary is a marriage to the culinary industry, a marathon and not a race. Culinary school will teach you. But your chefs, a strong passion and positive attitude, personal research, extremely hard work, and a dedication to accepting only the best will be the education you need to propel a job into a career in the culinary industry.
What is a chef really? A chef is a craftsman, facilitator, artist, chemist, businessman, manager, designer, and engineer. A chef is a COO, CEO, and CFO all in one. A chef is highly respectful of his peers, product, and guests. A chef never accepts anything but the best ingredients, end product, and staff but can also work with very little. A chef must be humble, passionate, driven, and capable of focusing on a million things at once. To be a chef is to work with grace in one of the most challenging industries in existence. A chef, at the highest level, lives with the pressure of a brain surgeon and yet produces a consistent product no matter what the circumstances, all the while attempting to push the boundaries of cuisine. A chef is very meticulous and scrutinizing and honest with themselves and others. The drive and ability to create beautiful art that nourishes, brings joy, and people together is unlike anything else in the world. You will, as a chef, work alongside of the hardest working people and make connections that will never be broken. As a chef, you will be there for every momentous occasion in a person’s life, give them something exciting, and truly feed them on many levels. It is a lifestyle not for the faint of heart but like anything worth working hard for, the payoff is well worth the effort.
Executive Chef/ Owner
Bon Vivant Culinary LLC