Note: Becoming a Chef Begins With Entry-Level Cooking
I would compare entry-level cook positions to a jacked up merry-go-round that spins at reckless speeds. Cooks are constantly coming and going. After a few swirls, the lazy and uninspired hop off, creating new openings for the new enthusiastic culinary rockstars-to-be. Every so often, there will be one who will remain on this intense merry-go-round. In fact, for some strange reason, they will even seem to appear as if they are enjoying it. They are a rare species that are driven by passions most will never understand. For the most part, though, there are always seats opening up. Those who show persistence and a desire to learn are always welcome to take a ride. These two traits are among the most desirable qualities a chef wishes his cooks to have and though he will rarely say it, deep down he is secretly optimistic that you might just be one of those maniacs who live for this type of ride. This ride has proven to not be for everyone. Before embarking on such a journey, I highly recommend asking yourself a very important question….
Do you really want to be a chef?
Think very carefully before you answer this question. Did you know that the employees of Wendy’s across the street from Penn Station on 34th Street receive higher wages than the entry level cooks receive at the three-Michelin-starred Jean Georges located in Columbus Circle in the Trump Tower?
That’s a tough pill to swallow, huh? Please allow me to enlighten you even more. Do you know how hard it is to be an entry level cook in a reputable restaurant? The first rounds of cooks at Jean Georges begin their shifts at 6 a.m. Yes, you read that correct – a.m.
“What’s that – you worked the dinner service last night and didn’t clock out until 12 a.m.? You then took the subway downtown to Penn Station, waited for your line on the Long Island Railroad to run, rode the train for an hour, walked a 1/2 mile to where your car was parked, and did not make it home until 2:30 a.m.? Slept from 2:45 to 3:52 you say? That’s unfortunate. Be here when your told to be here, do what we tell you to do properly, (“I’m only going to show you one time – it’s not f***king rocket science & I do not have time to babysit you”) make a mistake and you will hear about it, make enough mistakes and you’ll be gone and be grateful you have the opportunity to learn in such a prestigious kitchen. If you are not grateful, we will have somebody here by tomorrow who is.”
A Culinary Degree Doesn’t Make You a Chef
If there is one thing that people need to know about culinary schools, it’s this; culinary schools do not produce chefs.
The tools culinary school equip aspiring chefs with are the fundamental, technical basics that allow graduates to obtain entry-level positions in reputable restaurants where they can then begin their true training. If nothing else, it arms entry level cooks with the basic knowledge needed to safeguard themselves from getting thrown out of a professional kitchen within their first two minutes of arriving.
Learning to Cook Happens in the Kitchen
There is only one place to learn how to cook – a kitchen. You can read every cookbook ever written by culinary masters and complete limitless YouTube tutorials on various techniques, yet still be nowhere near well equipped to be a chef.
You have to spend hours tending to a consommé only to have your raft collapse and burn at the bottom. You have to over season your sauce right before you are supposed to serve your dish and be placed in the position of having to choose to either serve this plate of salt or figure out a solution. You have to overcook, undercook, cut yourself, burn yourself, slip, sweat, freeze in the walk-in while searching for that one ingredient, screw everything up and put everything back together.
There are no “ropes” to learn – only mountains to climb.