I started culinary school two and half years ago, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that people truly don’t know what it’s like to be a chef. Friends, family, and complete strangers talk to me as though it’s something glamorous, asking me who my favorite chef is on The Food Network. The answer is none of them; I don’t watch it. Some show a variation of the reality but it’s almost always over the top, and the people they bring on usually just want attention. It’s fake. Then I get questions from people who think they want to become a chef, and you can tell right away that they have no idea what they’re talking about. They believe in the televised reality, and it’s not as pretty as you think. It’s more like blood, sweat, lots of crying, and the occasional thought of wanting to stab your co worker with a knife. If you want to start your career in the culinary industry, these are my top things you need to know.
- It’s Physically Painful
Not only can being a chef be back-breaking work but you hurt yourself. A lot. Probably almost every day, and especially in the beginning. You’re clumsy with the knife or equipment at first, but even after you’ve mastered the knife there is always a chance of injuring yourself. (Trust me. I’ve cut and burned myself more times than I can count.) Cuts and burns are standard occurrences, but there is also pain you won’t physically see. At the end of the day your feet may hurt from standing at your station for an entire shift, your back could ache from hunching over your cutting board, and your arms or shoulders could feel tight from lifting all day. If you can’t tolerate pain or body aches, move right along! This career path is not for you.
- You Need to Take Care of Your Body
As a chef you can’t sit around eating junk or wasting your days on the couch. I did that for awhile, and I saw areas of my body expand that I didn’t want to see expand. As a chef, it’s a must to taste everything you make in order to ensure the quality of the product, and sometimes what you’re tasting is unhealthy. In theory, eating all the time sounds awesome, but it’s not awesome for your health. Chefs can easily put on extra pounds just from trying items at work. (That doesn’t include pastries, which is why I joined a gym.) Once I started going to the gym at least four times a week for an hour, I lost all the weight I gained from entering a professional kitchen. It’s also a good idea to eat healthy meals outside of work. Your body will thank you! Taking care of the inside of your body is important but show the outside love too. Moisturize and exfoliate everything, especially the feet. Your hands are your tools, and your feet need nourishment after that 12 hour shift you just worked.
- Never Work For an Abusive Chef
DON’T DO IT! A chef that commands a kitchen by yelling and being physical with his staff doesn’t deserve your respect or your time. You’ve seen it on TV, I know you have, but don’t believe you have to put up with it. A chef who controls a kitchen with a firm hand, speaks to you like an adult, and helps you learn and grow (not just professionally, but personally) is a chef you want to work for. I’ve heard one too many horror stories from other apprentices about how some chefs treat their staff. A friend from culinary school told me a widely successful chef in Kansas City likes to throw sauté pans at cooks, and sometimes his aim is true. One day the chef ended up hitting someone in the face, and the employee still works there! It’s typically the “old school” chefs that do it, but I’ve seen plenty of fresh faces just out of culinary school who conduct themselves in such a way. I’m fortunate enough to work for an Executive Chef who treats me and the rest of my coworkers with respect. Even at his angriest he steps away to calm himself down before coming back. He knows not to react abusively. All chefs should behave like this. Period.
- Face Your Fears
My first day on the job terrified me in a way that I know it terrifies a lot of new apprentices. Even though I was amped up, I didn’t know anyone or anything about the industry. Just know that it’s okay to feel this way, and face your emotions head on. You’re going to mess up, and your chef should know and understand. If he or she cares about your education, they will help you through this journey to become the next leader in the culinary industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to take risks. If you don’t know how to do something, so what? Isn’t that why you’re there? I started out two years ago knowing almost nothing, and now I can look back and take pride in what I’ve accomplished. Know that you can and should feel that too.
- Have Fun
They say that if you love what you do,then you’ll never work a day in your life. Nothing is more true. Love what you do, and love who you do it with. Enjoy every moment, even when it’s hard. At times you’re going to want to quit; just keep your head up and push through it. In the end, it’s all worth it.