Aspiring chefs, listen up. Rebecca Pollack reached out to Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the French Culinary Institute, for some career advice for those looking to break into the industry. She is also the author of “Love What You Do: Building a Career in the Culinary Industry.”
Lots of people enjoy cooking, but how do you know if you can make it a career? What does it take to make it in the industry?
You have to start with a self-assessment. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What tasks do you enjoy? Dislike? Are you good with numbers? Do you like people? Do you have stamina? Being a chef is more than being a good cook. You have to be a good manager and a delegator. You have to be organized and have boundless energy. Most importantly, you have to love people. Cooking is one of the most nurturing, loving things you can do for someone. If you don’t love people, you should find another profession.
What’s your best advice for chefs who want to build their street cred — outside of the classroom?
Learn from the best chefs you possibly can. Realize that the first job where you work is similar to going to graduate school. Try to get into the most respected kitchens you can. Not only will you learn from talented chefs, but the experience will add dollar value to your resume.
Let’s talk about salaries and budgets. How has the economy affected the culinary industry, and what’s the best way to go about the job search?
The luxury restaurants are scaling back. The good, casual restaurants are bursting. Also, serious food has gone mobile. Many food trucks have culinary school-trained chefs creating focused menus and building clienteles through their Web sites and via Twitter updates. Search out where there is a lot of business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites foodservice jobs as one of the 10 occupations that will provide the greatest amount of new jobs over the next decade.
Any interview tips?
Don’t be daunted. Have one very good outfit to interview in. Look professional and polished. Wear good shoes. If you’re a woman, get your nails and hair done. If you’re a guy, shave. Look and act organized. One of the key attributes of a good chef or culinary professional is organization. Familiarize yourself with the restaurant’s menu and ask intelligent questions about it. Don’t talk money. Be hungry for the job.
What should entry-level chefs expect during their first year on the job?
To work hard! You’ll need lots of stamina working long hours under the intense pressure of a restaurant kitchen. Despite the hard work, there will be enormous opportunities to learn and grow. Don’t only be interested in your station in the kitchen. Keep your eyes and ears open. Volunteer for the hard jobs.
How long does it take to be a chef?
Years. For some three, for others, 10 or 15 depending on the sophistication of the restaurant and/or its cuisine.
Image credit, loooby, via iStock