Becoming a chef was, and can still be, almost as simple as moving from Point A to Point B. Sure, the going was slow and it was a lot of hard work, but it was fairly straightforward nonetheless. So without further ado, we outline the current life-cycle of the chef.
SPOILER: This isn’t the only option – less traditional paths described below!
Step 1: Culinary School
For a lot of us, this is the part where we realize we aren’t even close to the level of equipped that we thought we were. Not even a little bit. Usually, this manifests itself in the way that you stick out like a sore thumb.
You somehow manage to have the biggest chip on your shoulder while simultaneously having the least amount of preparedness. You bring messiness and dull blades to whatever job you can land, and you figure that those who refuse to hire you will regret it when MasterChef finally calls back.
Your life’s purpose now is to do the most menial work in existence.
Step 2: Prep or Pantry Cook
At last, a job in a real-life kitchen! It takes about half a shift for you to realize that you will not be creating documentary-worthy creations here. Instead, your life purpose now is to do the most menial work in existence and to somehow still manage to mess it up in a very public way.
Thus, no one will like you and any opportunities to remedy the situation by showing an ounce of talent will be foiled by your nerves and lack of experience. Don’t worry – it’s not actually that bad!
Step 3: Line Cook
Whether by divine intervention or perhaps just random chance, you finally are able to edge your way into the line cook’s spot.
Cons: Everyone still hates you and blames you for everything.
Pros: You at least now get the family meal.
In many ways, though, it’s the same song, second verse. Your fantasies of the job had you believing that it would be a platform for you to shine; you would spend hours comparing different tools and reading up on the latest trends. Instead, you make more mistakes than actual cuisine.
Step 4: Stage
There is, perhaps, nothing that you have romanticized more than staging. Like all that came before it, there is not a lot that you accurately assumed about it. You may be in a destination location (and rocking it), but you certainly don’t have the time or money to enjoy it.
Instead, you get as close you’ll ever be to slave labor. You move, for months, through a fog of exhaustion as you work, work, work. Despite this, though, you do learn a lot. Not nearly as much as you claim when you return, but you do learn.
Step 5: Sous Chef
After the first week, you have loads more respect for Tony, your predecessor, who you originally thought was a slacker, but now realize actually just had a ton of stuff to do.
You’re the middle-man. Not like everyone else, but also not The Chef. They need you to run the kitchen, but you can’t quite make it happen by yourself yet. Your clipboard is an extension of your hand, but when you do use your hands to actually cook you realize that while you’re berated less often, it’s much more intense when you do slip-up! The money isn’t great, but now you’re salaried and have benefits and actually feel like an adult.
Step 6: Chef de Cuisine
This is it. The culmination of it all. It’s all yours: the kitchen, the menu, the training, and the responsibility. Right about now you realize that cooking isn’t predominately a means of expression,
It’s all yours: the kitchen, the menu, the training, and the responsibility. Right about now you realize that cooking isn’t predominately a means of expression. Instead you get a high from crafting a meal that connects with your guests. Your life is stable in a way that it hasn’t been previously. You have made connections with others in the culinary world, you are drinking less and working out more, and you’re invested in helping others who are less-experienced.
Your life is stable in a way that it hasn’t been previously. You have made connections with others in the culinary world, you are drinking less and working out more, and you’re invested in helping others who are less-experienced.
Step 7: Opening a restaurant
You’re an ambitious one and couldn’t settle for just the kitchen, you had to have it all, the entire restaurant.
You thought you knew what tired was, but this is something else entirely. This makes you think fondly of the early, easy days when you were being yelled at for such inconsequential things as carrots being peeled too slowly, and burning the orzo at the bottom of the pan.
That is until one of the young prep cooks asks you about your stage, and you’re able to pass on some of what you did learn. And the fact that you have gone almost a month without a day off, pays off: you get a spot on the line as a dinner service meat cook. Plus, the endless parade of construction, meetings, and organizing result in a packed dining room opening week. Well, that and the heaven-sent good review that came just in time.
Today’s chefs walk a wide-ranging variety of paths.
Step… none: Choose your own adventure
Let us be so bold as to say that if you’re lucky enough to walk the aforementioned path, you’re lucky enough. However as we said at the beginning, today’s chefs walk a wide-ranging variety of paths.
Take the Food Network’s Guy Fieri for example, he came to the auditions for The Next Food Network Star in support of a friend, was talked into auditioning, and now his frosted tips are known the world over. While an extreme example for sure, it still is one that could only exist in this current climate where home cooks can become instant stars, and you can be known as a celebrity chef without more than a brief dalliance working in an actual restaurant.
Some possible additional possibilities include:
The TV Chef. Your life mainly consists of PR hustle, Food & Wine events, and navigating investments and endorsement deals.
The Burnout. Just as bad as it sounds, at this point the years of work have taken a serious toll. You’re not accomplishing anything beyond that pack of Marlboros in your chest pocket.
The Comeback. Some manage to lift out of the burnout stage, but usually only for brief stints. The fame you once had gifts you with momentary opportunities, but you’re a little out of practice, which makes things even worse for your already lacking PR presence.
The Food Truck. Food trucks are trendier than ever. They’re the alternative for people who know what’s “happening” since they aren’t spending every spare second prepping their station or planning the menu at their semi-stable job.
The Private Chef. The main downside here is the glares you’re going to get from restaurant chefs at the Farmer’s Market, but the upsides include a hefty paycheck, car allowances, and paid travel.
The Child Prodigy. This kid throws everything we’ve written so far out the window, and trades years of work for good genes and wealthy folks. Cue the collective eye roll of the entire culinary community.
The Corporate Hotel Chef. While it took a lot of cooking to land this gig, now that you’re in it, you’re doing very little in the kitchen. Instead, you’re a spreadsheet master. You use your sizable bonus and comfortable salary as a comfort when you’re annoyed its time for yet another banquet.
So, there you have it. There is no one way, or right way, to become a chef. The path is yours to walk!
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