In the age of TV chefs, the stars of the kitchen have become almost like rock stars. But don’t be fooled: beyond the hype of reality TV, working in a professional kitchen is a tough gig. With that said, being a chef is also undeniably a “hot” job. It can be grueling and stressful – but also exciting and rewarding.
Here’s some advice from a few big-time celebrity chefs on how to break into the industry and climb the ladder. A culinary degree is not necessary – it’s the experience that matters. Here’s some guidance for success, from those who’ve walked the walk. If you’re serious about a culinary career and ready for some hard work, then check out the advice of these culinary stars:
Dan Kluger: James Beard Award-winning chef
“There’s a ton of time, energy and sacrifice that goes into becoming a chef. Without passion and love for cooking, the industry, and all that comes with it, it’s going to be very tough to be happy as most of your time is committed to the food and restaurant before anything else.”
On how long to stay in one kitchen: “As a line cook, a year commitment is what most chefs will ask for. It’s respectful to honor that and beneficial for a cook’s growth as well. I personally think one-and-a-half to two years is smarter, as I like cooks to go through all the seasons more than once, so they can see how the same chef may use the same ingredients a totally different way the next year.” On moving to a big city: “For the most part, a large town such as New York, San Francisco or Chicago would be great. The larger metropolitan areas that are known for food, or even burgeoning food cities such as Portland, are great locations.” Don’t be afraid to relocate to fulfill your dream.
Eric Ripert: winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef
“Start from the bottom and work your way up. It’s important to go to a professional kitchen and train for a time to see if you think you’re a fit for this world. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Be patient and learn your craft. It can take a long time, but it’s worth it if it’s your dream.”
Christina Tosi: Pastry chef and winner of the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef
“Taste. Educate yourself. Hone your skill. Don’t give your opinion unless it’s asked for. Stay Humble. Stay true. Read to learn, read to be inspired. Cook as you read. Apply what you’ve read. Blogs and published works online and in magazines can have just as much takeaway knowledge as a cookbook or a text book. There’s no better learning tool than hands-on experience. Deciding to be a cook in any chef’s kitchen is a commitment not to be taken lightly.” On how long to stay in one kitchen: “Anything less than a year is burning a bridge in restaurant terms. Thinking you’ve learned everything you can within a year in any kitchen is an all-too-common mistake. Time and humility will get you much further in this industry than most anything else.”
Tom Colicchio: Winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef-New York; Top Chef host
“You need to immerse yourself totally in the world of food; everything else takes a back seat. Read everything you can and save money to go out to eat. There’s no substitute for eating and trying different dishes and cuisines.”
Amanda Cohen: StarChefs “Rising Star” award winner and author
“The first few years of working in a professional kitchen are going to shape the rest of your life, so don’t slack.” On cooking school: “I have a hard time recommending that anyone go to cooking school because of the amount of debt you take on. There just aren’t enough jobs that pay a starting cook enough to make a living and pay off student loans. To be a cook, you have to be eating—everywhere, all the time, always different. Reading cookbooks will give you some theory and it’ll expand your horizons, but your central activity needs to be trying new food, and that means actually putting it in your mouth and ingesting it. Not just reading about it.” On how long to stay in one kitchen: “Get on a line in the toughest, busiest kitchen you can. Stay there for a year. By the end of the 12 months you’ll either realize cooking in a professional kitchen isn’t for you, or you’ll be on the way to having an unbeatable technique that will support you for the rest of your life.” On moving to a city: “It doesn’t matter. You need a real kitchen that does real business and you need to stick with it. What you need to do is learn how to work a busy line, and how to keep pushing yourself. First, figure out how to handle the workload, then figure out how to make the food good, then once you’ve got that, figure out how to be consistent. Then, once all that is under your belt, you can figure out how to make it better. Cooking in a professional kitchen will break you down, and it’ll also build you back up again, but you have to be willing to commit to going beyond your comfort zone.”
Learn more about how we can help you achieve a successful culinary career through our unique “earn as you learn” culinary training and job placement services at snapchef.com/becoming-a-snapchef
*Chef quotes were extracted from interviews for the website www.firstwefeast.com