So You Want To Be A Chef

October 4, 2012 86 Comments

So You Want To Be A Chef

So you Think You Want To Go To Culinary School To Become A Chef

By Mark R. Vogel, Food Writer, Chef, PHD

Chefs often question, warn, or even outright discourage individuals from seeking to join their ranks. I believe this emanates from the people frustrated with their dead-end, cubicle-trapped jobs, plopped on their Sunday couches watching Emeril “bam” his way through a couple dishes, and saying to themselves: “I could do that.”

These amateur cooks naively believe that there is a correlation between preparing homemade or TV Cooking Postersmeals and the professional kitchen. Worse yet, they may have stars in their eyes.

My friend Claudia who teaches culinary journalism, often comments about how the pupils in her class “all think they’re gonna be the next Ruth Reichl.”

I don’t think it’s these individuals’ dreams per se that ruffle the feathers of culinary professionals. Rather, I believe it is their lack of appreciation for the incredible amount of difficulty that lies ahead to even come within sight, if ever, of such aspirations.

Even people with no goals of stardom, who just wish to cook professionally, may lack an appreciation for the disparity between their home kitchen and the real world.

I am not here to discourage anybody. I am simply going to give you the naked truth. You decide what to do with it. Forget being a celebrity chef for the moment. If you just simply aspire to be a professional chef, expect years of working 50+ hours a week, nights, weekends and holidays, for limited pay, in high stress situations.

Attending Cooking School

Still not discouraged? OK, let’s start at the beginning.

Should you attend culinary school?   Well, it’s not absolutely necessary.

Experience is the ultimate teacher. But education coupled with experience is even better. But here’s another point of contention with professional chefs. They abhor people fresh out of school who think they know it all.

Learning about a dish and making it once or twice in school is nothing compared to the person who’s done it 400 times. Although there’s a cerebral component, learning how to cook requires the acquisition of numerous physical skills.

These skills can only be successfully achieved from repeatedly performing them. Schooling will give you a good platform from which to begin, and make you more hirable. But it is only the start.

What Happens Next?

Next, you won’t go from school to behind the line making entrees. Oh no. You will do more than your share of “scut work” first.

Forget your homemade meatloaf and potatoes. Think standing on your feet for hours on end filling raviolis, cleaning artichokes, peeling boxes of asparagus, gutting 50 lobsters, etc., and being expected to perform these monotonous, mechanistic chores with assembly line speed and accuracy.

Next you’ll probably move up to the garde manger, (gahrd mahn-ZHAY), i.e., composing appetizers, soups, salads, shrimp cocktails and other cold preparations.

How long you remain here depends on the restaurant and your skills. Eventually, if all goes well, you will be groomed for working the line, i.e., cooking the main items.

Some restaurants divvy up the line positions by the type of cooking, (the sauté cook, the grill cook, etc.), or by the type of food, (the meat cook, the fish cook, etc.)

Even though being a line cook is more prestigious, the hours remain grueling and you are under even more pressure to get the food out. Line cooks can work non-stop for hours during the height of service with no chance for even a bathroom break.

If you’re good you’ll eventually become a sous chef. This is the second in command, right under the executive chef.

The hours are still long, you’ll still sweat your you-know-what off working the line, and now you have the added responsibility of policing everyone else in the kitchen. Of course this position brings more prestige and money.

A sous chef’s ultimate goal is to become an executive chef. Hard work, better than average ability, and sometimes a little bit of luck are all needed to reach that plateau.

Sometimes the executive chef is also the owner, the ultimate goal in chefdom: owning your own restaurant. But always remember, no matter where you are on the totem pole in the restaurant business, it is never a nine to five proposition. It is your life.

Of course there are other culinary occupations. There are cooking school teachers, food stylists, caterers, and restaurant consultants to name a few.

But inevitably, these people have spent years paying their dues in front of hot stoves when everybody else was out having fun or being with their family. Or you could become, HA, a food writer.

You probably have a better chance of ending up on the Food Network than being able to support yourself, (let alone a family), by food writing alone. At the risk of sounding discouraging, the stars in people’s eyes are ultimately the result of being beat over the head with reality.



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Last modified on Thu 12 December 2019 3:46 pm

Comments (86)

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  1. Nadia ali says:

    Hi.. I m nadia from pakistan… I want to b a chef… I hv so much interest in cooking n baking.. Hv lots of different ideas of cooking… What should i do????

    • lynn says:

      dear nadia, if you read the article and this sounds like something you want to do for a living and your like me (never cooked a dish outside my house until i went to school) i recommend a culinary school to get the basics along with making you more hireable for employers (because they see your not just a mom at home making meals shown on the food network programs) and work your way up and never get discouraged, if to be a sous chef is your life goal, like any other goal it going to be touch but keep at it eventually you will be proud of your acomplishments. From a hopeful line chef

    • Sahar ALi says:

      it’s simple get admission in Diploma of hospitality and be a chef and gain more experience

  2. toni grant says:

    hi my name is toni grant and i loveing cooking thats why i want to be a chef im in high school now im in 11 th but ya can u tell me how it is all about

  3. Tashanna Smith says:

    hi my name is Tashanna Smith,am the age of 19 and i lived in Jamaica. My greatest fantasy is cooking its apart my everyday life. Am now looking forward to attend a art school to enlarge my skill. I want to tell me what can i do to always keeping it going?

  4. Hannah Alves says:

    This helped me in my project for school

  5. Casey Hanks says:

    Aloha from Hawaii Chef Mark!
    My name is Casey Hanks, I just have to say this is spot on and I’m definitely one of the self taught types who is fed up with the idealistic culinary grad who knows not, after several years of schooling and thousands of $, what they’ve actually gotten in to. I really have to say I’d love to see an culinary education system geared a little more towards what service industry employees are actually going to be doing. I hire people based on experience first, recommendations second, and finally by their willingness to learn no matter how experienced. It doesn’t matter what a resume looks like, it’s all about what hits the plate!

    Feel free to contact me or my restaurant just follow the link below and you’ll find our contact info.

    Mahalo for your time,
    Executive Dishwasher
    Casey Hanks

  6. Khumbulani says:

    I want to be a chef but I’m poor my parents can’t afford it

  7. Sam says:

    I like your website I always wanted to be a chef

  8. Roy Young says:

    my name is Roy Young and I live in Ipswich; Australia. I am 16yr of age and just finishing off my High School Education as a yr12. I agree with your comment a hundred percent, cooking to me is a passion, its never been about the money or stars and or even about the Chefs that I could work under. I love being able to know what I brought to the table is me and is something I can be happy about. Learning new techniques, methods of cooking, recipes, ideas of designing, to me are all things I love doing and most times, I choose to sleep late even when school is tomorrow cause I want to learn as much as I can. Cooking is absolute desire! Knowing that what the customer will see, taste, and experience on a plate is me to my core.

  9. Justin says:

    I think this article is focusing on everything negative. There were no words of encouragement for someone to follow their dreams. True, its hard work, very hard work, but guess what, some people are actually good at working for what they want.

    • Louise says:

      It is because there are more cons than pros when working in the kitchen, but yes if you love do then you forget all the cons

    • Shan says:

      He’s focusing on the negatives because that’s what it’s like ! ! I’m an Executive Chef (7 years) and I wouldn’t want to work in my kitchen. There are a million duties that have to completed everyday. Ordering, stock control, rotation, staff admin, mise en place, cleaning, repair and maintenance, prep sheets, etc etc etc. You repeat those duties sometimes three times a day. It’s hot, dangerous and incredibly stressful. I hate most of my job but I love it at the same time. I know it doesn’t make sense but that’s the way it is. When a server walks up to the hot pass and shouts “Table 63, customer says best T-Bone ever!”. That is why we cook!

    • dmp says:

      it’s what people like to call a reality check: yes, it may be your passion, yes you may be living in your fantasy world but you know what, being a chef is more than just being laid back in your kitchen at home making your family a meal. Without hard work practice, experience, and driven effort, you aren’t going to achieve anything. You’ve got to know that about any profession in the real world.
      The people who are good at working for what they want wont feel discouraged by reading this article, they wont even ‘feel’ anything. It has nothing to do with emotions. They will take it as a challenge, and they will accept the challenge and push every so much harder to succeed. People who are good at working for what they want will thank this man for clarifying his job, for giving his words of wisdom, for warning them to come prepared.
      Sugar coating everything may make you ‘feel’ good, but quite frankly, it doesn’t solve any problems. It’s a form of deception, cheap, useless deception that makes too many kids these days grow up and feel betrayed about not knowing how the real world ACTUALLY is, about not being warned so they couldn’t prepare themselves.

  10. Maravel M. Aviles says:

    I want to be a chef ,what kind of course K will get?
    It is culinary?

  11. Eric Bastiaanse says:

    Hello my name is Eric bastiaanse and I want to be come the best chef ever so much and badly possibly in the world. I am thirty years old still living with my parents and from since i was born till now i always want to the best chef ever possibly in the world. There are two problems one is being I have no money of paying for to become a chef much less for school. And two how would I become a chef and where to go. In fact there’s a third problem…the third problem is I’m thirty years old and I no idea what to do when I am not trying become a chef as far as where do I stay when I am not in school becoming a chef. Other than owning 12 restaurants its hard to explain what my goals because I have lot of them to conquer to make my them come true. Culinary is my passion and my mission in life what do I do? There is one other dream that I want to be but like I said culinary is my passion an mission in life I am and will be at home in the culinary field. I want to learn every technique possible and creat/design ideas even recipes. While in the mean time when its all said amd done i hope i get to further mission and my passion in life when i am done with school. What do I do?

    • Louise says:

      Why dont you apply in the kitchen, maybe a food runner or sort? Earn money there and while you’re doing your job try to observe what they do in the kitchen you wont just be earning money for school but you are also learning

      • Line-Dawg says:

        Agreed Louise.
        I’ve been a line cook for 13 years. This gentleman needs to start at the very basic. What worries me, sir, if I may be frank is you are 30 and have no foundation whatsoever. If you want to own a franchise go to school for business administration.
        To get noticed in this industry you must be efficient, fast, intuitive, creative, cool under pressure, professional always, and above all simply a Yes Man.
        Good luck to you sir.

        • Kestrel says:

          Agreed. He wants to be “the best chef ever” and claims it is his true soul’s calling and fervent, bestest wish ever but hasn’t made any attempts at making that dream come true. If you desire more than anything to be the best chef ever (oh, boy), you’d be happy to be starting out in an Olive Garden or an Outback. You have to DO something, not just dream and think about owning a dozen restaurants. Research, find a mentor and put your feet in a darn kitchen someplace. This is hard. No ifs, ands or buts: it is more challenging than pretty much anything you’ve done before -short of surviving cancer and raising triplets.
          I believe that this is an excellent example of what this article was about: calling something a vocation and picturing the sweetest moments without understanding the work in between. Unfortunately, restaurants have welcome mats and you need to cross one first. Good luck.

  12. jasmine says:

    I’m 16 .. I’m ending high school soon and I don’t know what the heck I wanna do with my life!!! ..and that’s ok for now I like law and I’m thinking about the military(probably not) but I know I love cooking.. I love to make food and It makes me so happy… I know I’d be happy in life making food for people no matterhow much work I’d have to do!!!!!! But I’m really confused and I need guidence to my culinary goals..

    • Louise says:

      Do what you love!!!! Im half chinese and my family would always tell me that holding a ballpen is the easiest job and easiest way to earn money (meaning doing business) anyway if you dont love what you do then why do it at all right?

  13. Roxie gould says:

    I have a following from family to co-workers. My idea,s are to satisfy all pallets. I cook with love and taste.

    Roxie Gould 53 and loving it!

  14. manu says:


    thank you,

  15. George says:

    Hi guy,id like to ask for a sponcer for attending a cullinary school im passionate about cooking and learning more things from people with experience

  16. kenneth says:

    I want to be a chef but I don’t have money to pay my fees

    • Louise says:

      Scholarships 🙂

      • Johnny says:

        What if your 25, male from Indiana, originally from South Carolina. Have all those southern recipes, what is my best option at the moment. I don’t want to be a celebrity, I am an artist when it comes to food. I want to make people go wow.

        • Line-Dawg says:

          Move out of Indiana. I moved best thing I ever did. In southern MS now leaving true southern/Cajun dishes.

      • Lalit Gandhi says:

        I want a little help…..I am an eng.last year student..but I don’t want do job as an engineer… as its not my interest…. even I cant join my father’s business.. bcoz I want to stand at my on step with out my father’s help…working in the kitchen n doing work in kitchen makes me feel happy…. I want to become a professional chef in a 5 star hotels….. my age is 21.. what should I do for becoming an executive chef….. how much I can earn in this field.. I belongs India… which college should I join for becoming a chef so that I could work in 5-star hotels n resorts…… as I don’t have any kind of experience in this field of cooking….please help me its a very precious time for me to take some steps after engineering… because its my age of earning…. I can not be late to my decision

        • Putri Wahyuni Hamran says:

          Yeeeaah, we’re just the same! My name is Putri Wahyuni from Indonesia, age 17. I really want to be a chef too. I’ve dig so many information about Le Cordon Bleu, but now I realize, I can’t go for it because I don’t have money(even with scholarship)! My father is just a teacher (will be retire next year), my mother is just a housewife. Now, I am planning to go to a university and take business and management programme, and I hope I can stand a big bakery and become a chef after graduate. But my mother and my siblings really want(and force) me to work at office or bank. I won’t! I have no passion for it. I hate being an employee, it makes me feel like my life is much more worse than hell.
          So, what should I do?

    • chef says:

      I’ve had 24 when I spent all my money to travel… in different country, I started as dishwasher… 2 years after a lot of hardwork and long shifts I became a headchef. Don’t put excuses on money, I mean, if you really love it, start today finding one way.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    All I want to do is cook wether it’s Pastrys to Meantloaf I love food and I am passionate about it. I’m not bothered about being a famous chef or trying to be like someone thats not what it’s about foe me. I would like to please people and cook. My mum doesn’t think much of it and says i need to rethink but i love it and really want to cook. Is there anything you could say to help me? im 16 very soon and dont have much money. i want to learn from aothers to improve i love cooking so much.

    • Louise says:

      Try reading wayne gisslen cooking professional book. Learn the basics. And cook a delicious meal and serve it to your mom. Maybe then she will change her mind. Lol

      When i told my family that i want to study culinary they did not believe me, they never saw me cooking, i grew up having maids to cook meals for me. But when i told them i was really passionate about being a chef i researched the basic on the internet taught myself how to cook and learned a few recipes then i made them lunch and dinner for months and proving to them how dedicated i am and eventually they changed their minds and sent me to culinary school. 🙂

    • Chris says:

      Read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, then come to grip with the fact that this book is a really good picture of life in the kitchen. That’s why all the famous chefs loved the book, they connected with it.

  18. Sholap says:

    I love to cook but I’m sad that I can’t start my future as a chef yet I’m only 13 and I’m doing job reserch in school but I cook amazingly

    • Line-Dawg says:

      Learn all that you can until legal age to work. Practice in your home. Prepare meals for the family. Ask for honest critiques and learn from them. When you can legally work, apply in dietary department of hospital or nursing home. You will learn about nutrition and mass cooking. By the time you graduate, you will a prime hire for a restaurant. Show your creativity when they run specials. Ask for honest critiques. Learn from them. Become fast, and efficient, remain curious, stay professional and you will excel. Good luck ma’am.

  19. Katter says:

    For all your wanna be chefs out there you need to know there is a massive difference from cooking at home and cooking in a restaurant. As stated: long hours (most chefs have no breaks, and hardly anytime to eat their lunch!!), you will be pushed past your limits, you will want to cry and give up. But that’s all part of the journey. No one understands alot of the sacrifices you make as a chef. Christmas, valentines day, mother Father’s Day, birthdays, funerals weekends your working. Dedicated chefs are often misunderstood by their family, friends lovers. Getting time off in your work is sometimes like pulling teeth. Your loved ones will get pissed off at you. You most likely will be emotional, want to be left alone, and you won’t want to bloody cook on your day off. No one will understand the amount of work you put in. Nor will they f-cking care. A lot of people work Monday to Friday 9-5 with hours of lunch breaks and hours of standing around wasting time. A chefs work isn’t like this. And as they say a chefs work is never done.

    But being a chef could be the most important thing you do in your life, I know i grew up a lot fast. I expanded my love for food. And I started to understand what hard work means. It’s rewarding knowing all your hard work has paid off. It’s rewarding working 14 hours.Straight for someone to say they enjoyed the meal you prepared.

    All the best you wanna be chefs!

  20. Breanna Breland says:

    I am currently in a vocational school for culinary arts, I live in Mississippi, what would be the best school here to get my degree in pastry arts?

    • Louise says:

      I know this one school in new york with toba garrett trying looking it up on google 🙂

    • Chris says:

      DO NOT GO TO CULINARY SCHOOL!!! Move to New Orleans or a big city and begin to work in restaurants. Do this as soon as possible. Then you will know if this is what you really what to do.

      • Wibur says:

        I agree with this advice! I went to one term of culinary school to learn all the basics and culinary terms so I didn’t look like a complete noob in the kitchen and had some basic knife skills. The books were a good investment as well. I got my food handlers certification and good references from my teachers, and that was enough to get me in at a good caterer in New Orleans, which is a great starting point for on the job training. After doing that for a year, moved on from low pressure environment to the higher pressure restaurant kitchen… learned a lot more in a shorter amount of time… and got paid for it!

  21. Mmathapelo says:

    I’m 17 yrs old I’m a girl I’m so passionate with cooking being a chef is my dream and I like creating my own menu and I’m willing to learn about cooking but unfortunateley I don’t have money to further my studies after high school

    • Louise says:

      Try applying for a scholarship 🙂

    • Chris says:


      Get a job at the busiest/best restaurant or bakery in town. That is going to do you the best amount of good. They must have good product/recipes to learn from and if they have been open for a long time will be able to show you a bunch of kitchen lingo and tricks of the trade.

    • amandeep singh says:

      hello I’m a chef.. you want to be apply for industrial training any five star hotel. then after 6 month hotel will provide you a job..

  22. Louise says:


    I am Louise,

    I even though i graduated from a culinary school and yes there are a lot of these graduates who think they are better than everyone else! Book wise maybe they (so they say) but i still do believe in experience. Books are just book, its written to help people learn the basics but experience, especially the worst ones teaches a person how to do and deal with things.

    I am working as a cook (i don’t call myself a chef, not even if it will be 5 or 10 years from now) because you just can’t be a chef just because you graduate from a culinary school and have 10 years of experience in my opinion it does not work like that, you have to make achievements and prove to everyone that you’re good at your job. You beed to have passion and love.

    This is how a kitchen works
    You wake up early
    Do your preps
    Cook foods perfectly (attractive and delicious)
    You always have to be oragnize and neat
    You need to work fast
    You don’t have time to eat or sit down
    You don’t have the time to even look at your phone
    You work at least 60-100 hours a week
    You don’t earn that much
    You don’t have the time to go out with your friebds or visit your family
    You work during weekends and holidays
    You’re lucky to have a day off
    You just don’t cook food but you also have to clean the kitchen
    You can eat when you taste your food (tasting is eating)
    And the list goes on

    The pro’s for being in the kitchen
    If you’re really passionate about being a chef
    You can make anything you want
    You will learn new things everyday
    You will be able to eat good delicious foods
    You will be creative
    You will time management
    You will be more disciplined
    You will learn to follow rules
    You will learn to plan things
    You can make something with less than 5 ingredients
    And so on

    There are probably more cons than pro’s but if you really love what you are doing hen you will have the best thing in life 🙂

    This is just what i know and what i experience 🙂

    By the way you need to have a lot lot lot of patience, you need to control your temper and learn to work with other people. Some may give s**ts but younjust have to take it in and be professional. And do better.

    • Chris says:

      I like the fact you touched on cleaning the kitchen. No one ever talks about the grueling mess that is cleaning out the grill, filtering the oil, scrubbing the floors, taking out the trash, empting the linen basket, washing the walk in, sanitizing the knives, etc.

  23. Ashley says:

    I am just wanting some advice. I cook at home and for friends and family, at one point in time I owned a Home cooking/BBQ restaurant, which I had to close to go into the famiiliy business. Cooking is still a passion but not one I will be able to pursue beyond cooking/culinary school. I have an opportunity to take 3 months off and I would like to go to culinary school. Do you know of cooking/culinary schools that offer a 3 month program?

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Hi Ashley, I would look for community colleges and adult post eduction programs. You may also find some commercial companies like Viking that offer longer programs. It would also help to know where you are located so I can do a little research.

  24. Kev says:

    A foodie is someone who thinks they are important because they eat the food.
    A chef is someone who thinks they are important because they cook the food.
    A food warrior is someone who knows the food is important regardless of who is eating or cooking it.

    You wanna be a food warrior? Go to a grocery store, go to the processed food isles, and figure out how to make what is in those boxes and bags using the basic ingredients: flour, water, milk, sugar, meat, salt…not maltodextren or HFCS. Learn how to make everything from scratch.

    Learn the flavors of individual ingredients by tasting them individually.
    Learn the difference between boiling, pan frying, baking, deep frying, and brazing and now different ingredients react under different cooking conditions.
    Learn what cooking temperatures do what. Learn what foods are best at what temperature under different preparation techniques.
    Learn to document what you do and reference so you don’t remake the same mistakes.


    Learn and practice knife skills. Sharpening, cleaning, storing, chopping, peeling, slicing, dicing, and other cutting terms and definitions.

    Steal every recipe you like, master it, and put your own spin on it. Do this until you are good enough to impress yourself, then see what other people think.

    Always, always seek feedback. You wont like everything you cook, but someone will. I hate fish, but people love it when i cook it for them.

  25. Chef Scott says:

    So you want to be a Chef?
    Chef Life:
    You, like much of America have spent countless hours drooling on your couch watching Top Chef Challenges and various Food Network Programs. Felt your stomach growl while looking through Instagram, or other social media sites depicting what your friends are eating. Maybe you’ve been inspired? Maybe you tried to re-create these masterpieces in your own home kitchen stadium? Maybe you’ve been inspired to enroll in culinary school, or embark on your own culinary adventure. Maybe you want to be a chef? Before you shut down your desktop and hit record on your DVR, maybe you should think about it; Do you like to cook? Do you want to Cook? Do you want to be a chef?
    Ahh… now you’re ready. So you’ve finished your basic culinary school program; you’re ready to be a chef. You’ve spent weeks learning recipes, techniques, tools, kitchen function and terms to make you a successful chef. You’re culinary school has given you the background to go forth into the world and open that restaurant of your dreams. What they forgot to mention, (if you haven’t figured out by your second post-schooling interview) is you are now upwards of $40,000 in debt, you have a degree-which gets you an interview, but does nothing for your wages. Your Culinary School counselors forgot to mention in orientation that once you graduate you will not be guaranteed any sort of salary. In fact you’ll be lucky to get into a kitchen. In a profession that looks for experience, it’s hard to get your foot in the door.
    So you’re one of the lucky ones to get a job and keep it during you’re externship, or you’ve staged for a week and earned a spot in the kitchen. Your school’s career center left off the fine print from the Career Center bulletin board that mentioned the average starting wages are equivalent to that of an In N Out Fry Cook. You’ve got a knife set alone probably worth more than your car, you’ve mastered basic French cuisine, you can julliene or brunoise a bell pepper to perfect specifications – and all your getting offered is $10 an hour? Consider yourself lucky.
    For the next 3-6 months depending on your drive and will power; you probably will not need any skills you learned in school. The warm enriching educational atmosphere in which you were allowed 6 hours to perfect and re-season Duck A L’orange before presenting to Chef is no longer existent. Instead, prepare yourself for 8 hours of vegetables, fruits, produce. Cleaning, washing, chopping, and preparing everything for someone else to actually cook. You’ve barely begun to pick up your knife before the Sous Chef stands breathing away over neck yelling at you that your standing incorrectly, or your station is not organized enough, or your not cutting correctly. You think to yourself…. “ But I haven’t even begun to touch anything, what the fuck are you saying”…. But you know better, so all you say is “ Yes Chef.” Be prepared to be the grunt and butt of all that goes wrong in the kitchen. If something is broken, you probably did it. If something is stored incorrectly, you probably did it. If someone told you to do something, and you did that… another Chef will tell you it’s wrong. Whether it was you or not, you are the scapegoat until you prove otherwise. Your chef may ask you…“ You went to culinary…. Haha, how much did that cost, you should probably ask for a refund.” Or my personal favorite; “ When was the last time you opened your culinary school handbook, that’s page 1, page one bullshit. You want to work in my kitchen?”. And again you respond; Yes Chef. Say goodbye to a social life. Learn Spanish. Erase your memory of what a weekend is, not to mention vacations-because even you were lucky enough to get two days off in a row you’re unlikely to be able to afford it working in a kitchen.
    So you’ve gotten this far. A few years down the road, and now your actually cooking. Maybe you’ve moved on, worked three or four different places, or maybe moved up with the same restaurant. Maybe you’ve lost your jack ass nickname and other cooks refer to you by your last name, maybe you’ve even picked up a little Spanish? Maybe you’ve even gone out with them and had a beer? Either way now your friends and family think you’re a chef. But you know, we know- You are far from it. You’re no longer making ten dollars an hour, but fortunate enough to get that big promotion to line cook, or garde manger cook, and you’re up to a whooping $12.50 an hour. You still have yet to make one loan repayment because had you done that- well then you wouldn’t have any extra to put gas in your car to even get work today. But you still want to be a chef eh?
    You still want to be a chef- The other half of what your Culinary School Advisors forgot to mention…
    You will probably work 50+ hours a week. Sometimes 18 or more hours a day. You will rarely get days off, when you do you will most likely spend that time answering phone calls from your work about problems in the kitchen. You know the shelves, walk in refrigerators, freezers, and product so well you can see it all right in front of you even 100 miles away. But you’re still getting those calls on your “day off”. Chef, where’s the eggs?-they ask you. “ The eggs, seriously you asshole. On my day off? The eggs are in the same f–king place they’ve been for the last 6 months, the same f–king place they were when I used 12 dozen to make that hollandaise sauce for that brunch of 150 yesterday at 6am, when I left the night before at 2am. You’re calling me for f–king eggs?” But they still can’t find it. So you say… “look behind the creamer”. Then as if they were completely astonished you knew it was there he responds “Oh sh-t, it was right there, sorry chef. “bye”. So you still want to be a chef?

    If you do, here’s a typical day for Chef.You want to get in the office early and get things done, but first you stop by the walk ins. The temperature on the refrigerator is reading 52 degrees; pause-if you did not see a problem here- immediately stop reading and open to page f–king one of your culinary school handbook, or quit now. But before tossing anything, you slowly open bags, and peel back layers of pvc plastic film to decipher what sort of science project has been growing inside overnight. You manage to salvage 1/3 of the product inside the walk in, and now begin to make your phone calls to get that fridge repaired, and while just realize you’ve not got $200 in beef that you can’t serve to guests- looks like tacos for family meal. You finally get into your office an hour later- review your emails, respond to customer issues, go to meetings, review your weeks satisfaction scores, respond to emails, answer voice messages, go prepare your order guides, take a quick inventory, then go make a cup of coffee before sitting back in front of your computer again all before 11am. You have been at work since 7am; you are a chef, but you have yet to cook one thing let alone even open your knife bag. You’ve got your orders prepared, you attempt to phone in orders, but now you begin to receive phone calls of the cooks who are “sick” this week, or have to pick their kids up from school, or another excuse they deem valid for not reporting to work this week. Once you’ve settled all that you can finally call in your orders. But not before comparing costs from three different vendors to save $.35 cents on a gallon of milk, or watching the rising produce costs as the temperature in central California drops and brings romaine lettuce at 7 year high. All the while your prep cooks are knocking on the door with questions about the prep list you left for them. “ What size chicken breast did you want me to use Chef?” . Sometimes you wonder if they do this sh-t purposely or that lazy they don’t read. No, your culinary school did not prepare you for this. Tired? Good, you just now placed your orders and it’s hardly 1:30pm. You’re weekly menus are made, orders have been placed all within restricted vendor time frames, you’ve got three more disturbances from things that could have been answered by f–king reading material, and you finally understand where your old Chef came up with the Page 1 culinary handbook; and it’s now 3pm. You’ve tasted 7 or 8 different sauces or dressings by now, but haven’t actually eaten one thing. You’ve broken down two beef tenderloins, the same way you did last week to show the prep cook how to do it, skinned 4 fillets of salmon, cursed 6 more times at overcooked items, yelled more salt, make your pans hotter, less oil, don’t over cook that sh-t, at least 15 times- and now you’re ready to go back to your office chair. Tired yet? Good.
    You’re ready to look at the days leftover product and create specials. You want to get out in the kitchen to supervise the prep cooks. You want to cook. You want to create. You want to live, taste, be creative, imaginative, and have fun. You want to open your knife roll and start chopping away, remembering why you got into this business in the first place. But you’re not ready yet.
    You go through your desk and organize invoices that have to be paid. You process invoices and payments, and send them to accounting, you create next week’s schedule because god forbid your cooks have only 9days instead of 10 days to think of reason why they can’t come in. You go to another meeting. You review special events, print out recipes, grab a handful of plastic spoons and taste everything. But you have still yet to eat. It is 7:00pm. Tired? Good. So you want to be a chef?
    The kitchen is empty, office hours are over, and you’re left just the way your day started. By yourself in the kitchen. But now, all your work is done. You go to the stereo and put on some music. You go in the walk in, find some scallops, grab some butter and begin to clarify it. Find a nice bag of organic greens. Poke around in the low boys, scour the dry storage, and finally come up with tonight’s dish that will become tomorrow’s special. You perfectly sear the scallops in clarified butter, seasoned to perfection- where the crisp golden brown crust perfectly complements the delicate meat trapped inside. You artfully arrange those scallops on a chiffanaude of fresh greens, carefully slicing as to not bruise the tender lettuce. You’ve created a citrus masterpiece to lightly drizzle on top. You take one bite, and are immediately reminded why you love your job. You get cleaned up, grab a cookie or some other dessert on your way out, turn off the lights, locked the door, and drive home to do it all over again tomorrow. You are a chef.

  26. Daryl says:

    To anyone who has not work day in there life in kitchen you don’t know what are getting self into.every body think that working a kitchen is all fun and games what do I say to that ha ha!!!it’s hard work when you get busy you got fast and ready.I work in a very busy casino the crew I work with we put out 800 to a 1000 meal in 8 hours in everything is made to order.To anyone who wants to work in restaurants kitchen good luck.

  27. Christopher says:

    You don’t want to do anything in food!!! Run!!! I’ve been a Chef for 17 years. And yes, a real chef at a Relais & Châteaux. Let me ask you a question…. Do you like your family? Weekends? Holidays? good benefits? maybe retirement? life? If you do, throw it all away- Sorry to be so negative but its all true. I’m now in the process of a career change and nobody wants to talk to me because food is all I know. I wish someone would have given me this advice or just told me the other side of it. Don’t put yourself through what I am 17 years later. Cook at Home!!!

  28. IainM123 says:

    hi im iain from glasgow, really good advice. has worked for me so far!! after college i wana go become top chef like you!

  29. Elena Cocione says:

    Hi my name is Elena. I am from California and I am 12. I have loved cooking and baking for years and I want to become a chef. I really want to cook and bake for my job because it gives me joy and pleasure to cook and I want to spend my life doing what I like to do.

  30. John says:

    Have been working as a sushi chef for 10+ years and a French chef for 2+ years attended culinary school and I am still making less money than a public school teacher. I am in a high position with a corporation and work horrible hours. I get to travel all over the United States teaching new chefs. The traveling is the best part of my job. If you truly love cooking do NOT become a professional chef. It will make you hate cooking. If you truly love cooking go to school for a career that will make you a lot of money then spend your life traveling. You will get to expierence everything I have gotten to expierence without being torn away from your loved ones. I wish someone had given me the same advice this food writer is giving. Then maybe I would not be in this tortured state of culinary hell.

  31. Kilie says:

    Okay, yeah some of that seems a little intimidating, however, I’m still going to work hard to get to be a professional Chef. I love to cook, it a unconditional passion. If I have to stand for 10 hours straight, then so be it. If I have take out trash, do dishes, gut out lobsters, and do the littler things that make the kitchen clean, then so be it. I don’t want to be a super star chef. I want to cook with my heart, I want to make people happy and smile when they eat the food. Then, I will know that all the pain, frustration, and hard work was worth it. Isn’t it worth to go through all that, to just make people happy? I also want to be a professional author. I’m up for the challenge, and I’m I refuse to give up. 🙂

  32. lisa says:

    I think you are rude and you obviously don’t like being a chef ….but don’t try to break the spirit of those that want to be a chef with all their heart.When you love what you do you don’t work a day in your life….keep a journal instead of ranting and raving on here:-)

  33. diana moreno says:

    diana, is it weird that after reading all of this i still want t go through al of that ? i know it wont be easy and honestly i did not expect it to be. wheres the fun in that ? i love cooking i love the whole concept of the kitchen and how it goes .. but i want to be at least once in my life be the reason a person say thamm that was the best meal i ever had… or to be in the kitchen for the rest of my life ….

  34. I’ve been a cook, worked my way up to be the executive sous chef at the Hilton Gaslamp and this is what I got for those who wanna learn to cook.

  35. El says:

    Interesting discussion! I’m thinking of retraining as a chef but I’m 35 this year and I’m wondering if that’s not too old already to be starting in the business…. Then the decision of whether to do a general training or specialize in baking straight off the bat. Appreciate any opinions or advice anyone in the business has to offer.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Chef Scott says:

      Its never too late. The only issue will be your physical fitness. Younger culinarians have an easier time running around, standing for long hours etc etc. The odler we get, the more those aches and pains catch up. But too late…. never too late.

      • Khalid says:

        Well chef, I was reading all the comments and I was preparing my introduction to ask you how to become a chef, I mean where can I apply, but after I read the age issue, I don’t know, I’m 57 years old man, yes it’s true that all my life I dream to be a chef, eventually I could carry my courage and searched the net to find my goal, I love cooking, so much, I love to cook and I always ask for feedback, I love to make people enjoy my cooking, mostly they does

        I understand I can’t move in the kitchen like younger guys, but I saw many older chefs are so creative, I understand they’ve spent all their lifes hard working to be what they are

        Over the years I’ve learned some recipes that can impress people, but I can’t say I understand the methodology of the recipies

        Irony is, I still want to be an executive chef in a five star hotel, believe it or not, I’m willing to work hard, to travel to any recomended culinary school and attend classes to become a chef

        I hope you don’t say it’s to late for me

        Thanks for everyone for contributing and advising


  36. BG says:

    Hahahahaaha. A better chance of being on the food network…with all those personalities like emeril and Rachel Ray… thanks. I’m completely content with being a sous or executive. I love what I do and will hopefully own my own place eventually.

  37. Angelina says:

    Hi! I am 22 years old, iam really want to be a confectioner!! I don’t know where I can learn cooking studies. I would like to work in restaurant. I will be able to do any work for free if you are teach me! I speak English and Russian. Write me please, if you have some offer for me.

  38. Keabetswe kodisang says:

    Hi am a 18 year old male in south Africa i love cooking, i love making different kind of aromas in the kitchen. I don’t know what to do i really love cooking i have researched and send emails but its being long because i started sending those emails since i was 14 years old please help me.I thank you.

  39. DLC says:

    I Want to be a chef and own my own restaurant. Reading this is not discouraging I mean so what if you got duties to make when you start off at your dreams as a chef. Chores and hard work means you get experience. I want to not just be a chef but an artist and I know I can do it. Bring it on!!

  40. Huna Kang says:

    Thank you for your all opinions, guys!
    Let me ask you a different question.
    Is there only one type of restaurant, working for more than 12 hours a day?
    What about restaurant that open from Mon. to Fri, eventhough its profit is low? It is obviously exit. A famous pork-boiled stew restaurant near Seoul city hall open 10 AM and close 4 PM. Of course it is because it’s very very famous.
    We could think of relatioins between Passion/Salary/Rural/City.

    • Chef Scott says:

      Just because the restaurant hours are such… does not mean no one is working. Food network is a blessing and a curse. It has shown the world the love and complexities of food and cooking, but has such glamorized in a way that the general public don’t see. There are chefs, and there are cooks. cooks come to work, clock in, and clock out. like someone who works a 9-5. chefs don’t pay attention to their time cards. the do what needs to get done, when it needs to get done to run the restaurant. the world consists of thousands and thousands of great “cooks” but chef’s are a less. the term chef is so thrown around these days a lot of younger culinarians and so called “foodies” use it for anyone who can make a nice dinner. a true chef- so much more.

  41. Ishan says:

    Hi wanted to know what is executive chef salary? I am 16 year old and wanted to know if i want to be a top level chef what qualifications are reqired

  42. Elizabeth says:

    Hi! I cooked for 2 years, then I went to culinary school (CIA) and that was wonderful, then I worked in the business for an additional 15 years. If you want an idea of what it was like after that, read “Oliver Twist.” Other than have good food and the best ingredients to eat, the hours are long, if you’re lucky enough to find a good spouse and create a family, you don’t spend the holidays with them, your body breaks down after a while from 15 hour days standing on concrete, you may not get healthcare, or decent vacations, let alone sick days. It’s your basic Victorian workhouse. Unless you’re the exec, the pay is bad. Very few grow up to be Bobby Flay!

  43. Johnny says:

    I’ve been at a culinary college for one year, and I bloody hate it.
    It’s always the same things from every vindictive, salty, moody chef I know: long hours, shit people, crap pay, loads of stress and it hits you at home too.
    I’ve spent one year being told I’m nothing.
    And at first, all I wanted to do was cook, after watching me parents for years.
    Not everybody is cut out for cooking, and it hurts when you find out the hard way.
    I don’t know if I should keep following something so many say is so bleak.

  44. Sarah says:

    I have a question I hope a culinary professional will answer. I am 49 and disabled so the long, arduous slog to become Chef Extraordinaire is completely out of the question from what I have been reading. However, since I realize my limitations, I was considering attending a culinary school institute for other reasons, but perhaps you might suggest better ways to achieve my goal?

    I very much enjoy cooking. I especially enjoy the creative process–the challenge of adapting existing or creating new, exciting and delicious recipes for people with special needs. I myself am one of those persons as I am allergic to wheat and my husband, being hypoglycemic, requires a low carbohydrate diet. I also have friends with diabetes, various food allergies/intolerances and religious dietary restrictions. I deal with challenges like making a gluten free, low carb, egg free, dairy free, kosher ‘sugar’ cookie that is actually edible.

    My goal is to write cookbooks to help people with these types of needs. In order to do this though, I feel I need to have a better understanding of food chemistry, techniques and ingredients and much more that I don’t even know I don’t know. Is culinary school something I should consider, or what other ways and means are there for me to get the knowledge I need to make this happen?

    Thank you,
    Sarah Gunter-Heinisch

    • Hi Sarah, I hope some professional chefs and food writers read you comment and respond. If you goal is to write a cookbook specifically for people with diabetes and allergies and not work in the field as a line cook, I’m not sure you need to go to culinary school where you are going to spend a short amount of time learning those areas. I think you may have more success reading everything you can get your hands on, speaking with as many experts in the field as possible and if necessary, take a community college course in nutrition. There are also some very good online courses you may want to look into too. Sarah, this is just my opinion and I highly recommend you speak with as many people in the field as you can to get their opinions. Good luck and please keep me updated with your studies.

    • Alexis Addison says:

      I’m a beginner I love to cook but where should I take a cooking class at

  45. Pravendra says:

    Sir I am master with computer science but when we look back my passion all about cooking.So sir tell me how become a chef and I also want to work under any professional chef who guide me and take me where we want to go . but I do not want any eduction about chef I want it practically right way.
    any one can help me ,
    suggest me chef who guide me , tech me, I want to be chef

  46. Nik says:

    Hey I am going to be 31 next year. all ready got hospitality certificate in bartendering. want to become a chef. understand both English and Russian. want to know if it’s not too late to go study.

  47. Sinenhlanhla says:

    I’m a hard working girl who is so passionate about food. I love cooking there’s this feeling of joy that i experience when cooking and I would love to make cooking my career I always wanted to be a chef but unfortunately i come from a poor background my mother cannot afford paying for my studies I even wish i could get a bursary but hy maybe someday things will work out #from South Africa#

  48. RK SWAMY says:


    I have been an Chemical Engineer and currently working as Manager at an Aerospace company. With the wish, passion and love I am thinking to become Culinary and Chef and stop my profession as Engineer. But lot of questions are stuck within me regarding earning, which I cannot take a chance. Irrespective of what I work and where I work, I need to keep my monthly earning with out a stop. I have 2 questions – What should I start learning? and How can I still keep my earning active? Delaying is only making my age old.

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