So you want to be a chef?
With the restaurant industry becoming one of the fastest growing industries these days, people everywhere, from kids right of high school to middle aged office workers, want to get started in the restaurant business. Whether you are just starting out your working life or making a total career change, there are several options for getting started on a career in the food industry.
Restaurant Job Option #1: Formal Culinary Education Culinary School seems to be the first route people want to take when they want to kick start their career path to becoming a professional foodie. While this is a great way to get an edge and make contacts in the industry, it has its downsides as well. First of all, they’re expensive. Most Culinary Arts programs are two year degree programs that require almost full time hours, and can cost as much as a Bachelor’s degree at a four year university. If you’re serious about food and learning to cook, there isn’t a better ways to learn everything you’ll need to know as quickly as in these full immersion programs, but this quick start comes at a high price.
In addition to learning to cook, you’ll also get a head start on the business end of the industry by taking purchasing classes, restaurant management, even culinary math courses, all which can be boring if all you want to do is cook. As far as the cooking part goes, you’ll learn to cook high quality foods, restaurant style. If you’re used to home cooking, this will be a big change, as you’ll be using different types of recipes (or formulas as they’re often called in the industry), and different equipment, all at a much faster pace than you’re used to. You will also have to take food safety and sanitation courses in school, and passing a test such as the Servsafe exam is a huge plus for an owner that doesn’t have to spend time or money training employees on safe food handling.
Most culinary schools have externships and job placement programs that you will belong to for life, so you’ll have those connections to be able to find hot jobs in high quality restaurants. It’s important to remember that all the connections in the world won’t help you if you’re not passionate about food and cooking, however. As any successful professional chef will tell you, passion is a huge part of being an accomplished and acclaimed chef or restaurateur. In addition to all these things, culinary schools are great resources to meet professionals in food service. You’ll be connected to highly acclaimed organizations such as the American Culinary Federation, a national organization of professionals who are as serious about food as they are their careers.
Through this program, you can gain varying levels of nationally recognized certification that will help you get top jobs and gain clout in the business. You don’t have to be a Culinary Arts grad to join the organization or get certified, but it helps speed the process up. A formal education isn’t the only way to break into the food world. Restaurant Job Option 2: Working Your Way Up In The Industry While some professionals require degrees and certifications to get jobs and be successful, the restaurant industry is certainly not one of them. Many highly regarded professionals do not have degrees; instead they have an astounding passion for food, restaurants and the business itself. There are advantages to this route.
For one, by skipping the schooling process, you’ll save yourself a lot of cash, as well as any money you can make by working the two years or so you would be spending in school. In a rough economy, this is a huge plus, especially in an industry where some of the best and brightest don’t make a lot of money. In addition, some restaurant owners (mostly those who are not schooled themselves) actually prefer to start someone from the bottom. There is something to be said of the ambition of someone willing to start washing dishes for minimum wage because they care about their craft that much.
Expensive school doesn’t impress everyone. Of course, by choosing this route, it will take you longer to learn things like terminology and the chain of command, as well as professional knowledge such as the importance of each part of the uniform. You’ll also miss out on valuable contacts; as with any career choice, networking and having a good contact list can certainly help boost your career. Also, while culinary schools tend to offer well rounded programs and certifications, by working in a restaurant, you’ll only be learning their style, and to get that same level of varied knowledge, you’ll need to work in several different types of restaurants.
Whichever route you decide on, just remember that to be a good chef, you must have passion and commitment to food and professionalism. Without these things, you’ll find that having a lucrative and successful career in the food industry is almost impossible.