The celebritization of the culinary industry has led every aspiring cook out there to believe that they can lead an easy, glamorous and lucrative life by becoming a chef. Well, it’s time for a very rude awakening. Almost every chef we have interviewed over the past year has told us that is one of the biggest misconceptions people have when coming into the field.
Chef Julio-Cesar Florez of Mirabelle: “that it is all glamour and no hard work, when it is the complete opposite. you have to be ready to humble yourself, you will be taking out trash, sweeping and mopping floors, and doing lots and lots of cleaning. cooks have short tempers and alot of them are not patient. cooking can be a messy job, it is stressful, and kitchens are hot.”
Chef Ray Vasquez of Pop Champagne Bar: “That you go to school and get a piece of paper and Wam Bam you are a Chef, that is not the case. You have to put in a lot of time, hours, blood, sweat and tears. You’ll miss holidays, family get-together’, and a lot of weekends. Its not all “30 mins meals”. It can be tough, you just have to be tougher.”
Chef Tim Hockett of Nacional 27: “It’s not going to be easy. If you’re not passionate about cooking, working in tight spaces without any sunlight (think submarine), standing on your feet for 12-14 hrs at a time, working every weekend and holiday ” then it might not be the best fit.”
Chef Sam Freund of One if By Land: “People think it’s easier than it looks. When I entered culinary school I had 15 close friends; only two of us are cooking professionally today. People think cooking is glamorous and think “I can do that”. They don’t realize that it’s a daily commitment of a tremendous amount of time and energy and you have to have a passion for it to continue with it.”
Chef Steve Mendoza of Las Chicas Locas: “I see so many people change careers because they think being a chef is all about being on TV and parties and champagne. It takes a lot of long hours with very little pay, all nights, weekends, holidays, no insurance, no personal life and lots of cuts, burns and mental anguish to be a chef. It takes a special kind of crazy to want to do this.”
Basically, you have to really love to cook and be willing to endure the physical requirements of the job and work hard for a very long time before you start to see the fruits of your labors. Becoming a chef is not for the weak of mind or heart.
Let’s go back a couple of steps. Say you are not already employed in the field. Most likely you will consider culinary school. Well, that’s no picnic either…and it will cost you. Tuition for the first semester of Freshman Year at CIA will run you a mere $14,850.
So you’ve graduated from culinary school, have some nice student loans and now you’re out looking for jobs. What can you expect to make? If you are interested in finding out, you may want to pick up Rick Smilow’s new book. He is the president and chief executive of the Institute of Culinary Education. His book: Culinary Careers, exposes the salaries being earned by chefs and other people in the industry. Here are some highlights:
Cooks – $30,000
Pastry Chef – $35,000 – $50,000
Sous Chef – $45,000-$50,000
Chefs – $60,000
Executive Chef – $70,000 to $140,000 (depending on seniority)
According to Restaurant News: Katie Button who was slated to work at the world’s best restaurant (El Bulli…wonder what her plan is now that it is closed) would make somewhere “between “free to $15.50 an hour.”
So say that you are in the top end and you are making a good $75,000 a year. Bring into consideration that you will work every weekend, every Valentine’s Day, every Christmas (Hanukkah or Festivus if you wish) and that most chefs work 6-7 days a week for about 12-14 hours a day and those hours are the hours when everyone else you know is having fun. If you have a family, you might as well forget about seeing them.
We were not surprised at all by the book’s findings. It is important that this information is out there. Many young people can be misled by the glamorous lights of kitchen stadium and many diners forget the amount of sweat and tears that go into making their meals every single night.