8 Questions Chefs Ask You If Interested In A Cooking Career
A cooking career is one of those decisions that can seem straightforward and easy at first, but the scope and depth can be vertigo inducing. Career Cooking is tough work! Find out the questions chefs want to ask you if you’re interested in a career in the culinary arts. Learning to cook is a life long journey, and the best chefs are the ones who never stop. If you are serious about a career in the culinary arts, then read on to find out.
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1. How Much Do You Really Love Cooking?
All chefs will agree that cooking at home for your family and cooking at a high end restaurant for 200 people is much different, and they are right. Ask yourself what aspects about cooking you really enjoy. Is it the satisfaction of a job well done? Is it the chance to impress your friends, or show them your culinary abilities? It doesn’t matter too much and as long as you’re honest with yourself, a cooking career may be a valid option.
Job satisfaction from a commercial cooking career comes from completely different places than cooking anywhere else. You must get used to the idea that you won’t always get recognition for your hard work from your customers. You must also get used to the fact that you will not always be patted on the back every time you achieve a new plateau of excellence from your co-workers or your chef. A cooking career is a very humbling profession where you must internalize your own success.
If you love cooking on a fundamental level, or have no qualms about the nature of the biz, then you might be of the right cut to be successful at a cooking career. But professional or not, it’s important to remember that just because you love cooking does not always mean you should devote your life to it. If cooking is a hobby, then turning it into a cooking career means turning it into work! And work satisfaction is much different then the satisfaction you get from your hobbies.
2. How Well Can You Handle Stress?
One of the biggest factors that determines a good cook is their ability to manage stress. Cooks and chefs deal with short term stress on a regular basis. The chaos that arises on any given night can fluster even the most prepared cook. Your ability to adapt to an ever-changing set of circumstances is vital. While you may not have that skill set as a beginner, it is something you will have to develop as you get better. A cooking career is rife with stress.
The good news is that cooking stress is a short term problem. It only ever lasts during service and will go away once service is completed. That means that you won’t be taking the stress home with you and it is easy to leave work stress at work. However, it is constant and will come back every night. So having a method to dealing with the stress is of utmost importance.
3. Are You Able to Multi-task?
Multi-tasking is not just about managing one or two things at once, but coordinating them so they all work as a concert. If multi-tasking in the cooking industry was like multi-tasking in the office cubicle then a cooking career would be much easier to deal with on a nightly basis! Not only do you have to multi-task incredibly time sensitive dishes, but there ends up being multiple layers upon each multi-task. For example, you must ensure that those mushrooms you’re frying don’t burn, but you also have to fire them at the right time so they’re perfect by the time the steak is completed (Whether you’re making it or not – communication is another vital skill!). But not only that, but you have to be reading your chits ahead of time so you know what’s coming down the pipeline. And all these has to be coordinated so the customer gets his dish on time and hot.
Like most things, these skills are developed and honed the longer you spend cooking. Most chefs forget this fact and tend to judge your abilities by how well you can manage your time on the line. It’s not without reason. A line cook must understand the importance of timing and multi-tasking is the only way he can keep up! If you have these skills, then you may be right for a cooking career.
4. Are You OK With a Lower Wage?
It’s no secret. Cooks are not paid very well and in fact, it is one of the lowest paying trade skills there is. While you’re starting out you will see hourly wages barely above minimum wage and the work load will be high. You will
burn a lot of energy for low pay. It doesn’t get too much better, either. The average sous chef/chef will earn around $40,000 – $50,000/year. The ceiling for paid work is low, but the knowledge you learn allows you a special skillset that you can leverage once you’re ready to jump into running your own kitchen. Restaurateurs fail constantly because they have zero restaurant experience and that’s where you come in.
So while the wage eventually gets better, if you’re never constantly striving to become the best you can be, you limit you own income potential. For the first 5 years, expect to be earning less than you anticipated. Remember, this is a career choice and any career choice starts at the bottom. A cooking career is no different.
5. Do You Consider Yourself Creative?
Creativity isn’t something that chefs will ask you in the interview, but is crucial for your career. A chef once told me that no recipe is original and that everybody steals recipes from everybody. The truth is that creativity plays an important part in whether that statement will ring true for you or not. Yes, a lot of recipes are taken, modified, and called someone else’s. But if you have the creativity to develop your own recipes and methods then you define your own career.
As you develop your skillset, creativity becomes easier as you draw from experience to fill the gaps. As a cook, you will notice that the right time for creativity continually rises. Not having the creativity to develop new and exciting dishes will not disqualify you from a cooking career. It might require that you spend more time to make up for it, but there is enough information and recipes out there to borrow from that you shouldn’t have a problem.
6. Can You Deal With the Old Guard?
Prevalent in almost any industry, for cooking the old guard consists of old chefs and passionless cooks who for one reason or another feel the need to bring everyone else down to their level. You’ll find them in almost every restaurant. The old guard are the ones who demand that you follow techniques that are obsolete, or to cook dishes that are embarrassing old fashioned. There is no forward thinking, and for these individuals, any thought into the new world that cooking is delving into is mocked or seen as something to be ignored.
The important thing to remember is that during your career you will hopefully move and see many different restaurants. And while every restaurant seems to have a mixture of the same characters from one spot to the next, this particular individual tends to be one that can sabotage your career and ambition. Being diplomatic with them while retaining your own core beliefs will be important. And equally as important, while the old guard tends to carry with them a lot of bad habits, they are also a wealth of information that you should leverage as much as possible during your time next to them on the line.
7. Can You Put In the Hours?
The hours aren’t terrible. You do shift work and you tend to have regimented schedule of prep time, service time, and clean up time. But it is important to understand that the more time you spend cooking, the faster you’re going to become better. As you get thrust into positions with more responsibility, so do your hours. Some jobs require you to constantly be cooking, and when you’re not cooking some jobs require you to be thinking about cooking.
If you have any desire to become a great chef, you have to put in the hours at the best restaurants under the best chefs. Your training is only as good as whoever is teaching you. If you’re in a situation where your career is stagnant, you have to move and go somewhere you can learn more. How far you go in your cooking career is up to you. If you put in the hours needed to become a professional, you’ll have a chance to become the next Gordon Ramsay or Anthony Bourdain.
8. Can You Avoid the Pitfalls?
One of the biggest problems with the culinary career is the amount of pitfalls that seem to derail the brightest students. As we talked about stress earlier, dealing with it on a daily/nightly basis is vital to your success. Going in with the proper mindset is imperative.
The industry is rife with characters that carry with them bad habits. Avoid regularly drinking with staff members after shift. Avoid the drug habits where the lower members of the profession reside. Deal with your stress in a constructive way and do not use drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms, they WILL destroy you! The industry is changing, and no longer is it OK to be under the influence or to be a regular drug user like Anthony Bourdain may have you believe. Avoid it and don’t get caught up in the scene!