WanaBe a ChefNew career

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Looking for a Culinary Arts Program?

If you live near any of the programs listed below(or are interested in living these areas while in school)click on the link to get free, no obligation information on the programs.

All the Best,

Atlantic Culinary Academy (NH)
California Culinary Academy
International Culinary Academy (PA)
The Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago
Western Culinary Institute (OR)
California School of Culinary Arts, Pasadena, CA
Texas Culinary Academy, Austin, TX

WebFoodPros.com: WanaBe a Chef: New career
By Robo (Robo) on Saturday, March 10, 2001 - 06:26 am: Edit

I am 52 years old and am very interested in starting a new career in the culinary field. I have no experience in this field, but I love to cook and feed people
I have looked into the FCI, The CIA. and the N.Y.
INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY. I am inclined to thinking that I would do better with an A.O.S. in culinary, but being 52, the two years of school really concerns me. Anyone in this similar position or anyone with advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks much

By Debord (Debord) on Wednesday, March 14, 2001 - 07:52 am: Edit

I'll tell you the truth, because no one else will. Your age may be a handicap (but then I suppose you've thought about that). Most guys in the kitchen by the age of 50 are head chefs. This is a very physical field and many people "burn out" even in their late twentys, around 40 even more people leave the kitchen and go into management. So your definately not going to "fit in" age wise to skill level. But of course your personality might be a great fit into a younger group, both at school and on the job!!!

That said....helping you definately depends on what your goals are? I tend to think you'll do best working at a smaller businesses (vs. a hotel, large employee pool). Are you aiming for owning your own business? Or are you aiming to go into cutting edge culinary arts?

The answers to those questions help us understand who you are. In order for us to think about which path might be best for you individually, you need to tell us abit more about your-self.

By George (George) on Wednesday, March 14, 2001 - 05:20 pm: Edit

Hi Robo,

I went to the CIA when I was 35 and was one of the older folks in my group. There was 1 guy who was 45 and the group ahead of me had a 65 year old. I already had about 15 years in the business working part time and full time.

There are several concerns about getting into the kitchen in middle age, a couple of biggies are below-

Can you afford it? If you have to support a family can you do it for the next 5 years making less the 30K (if you are getting a golden parachute from Wall Street skip to the next question)

Do you need healthcare insurance for a family? Not much out there, and what there is will most likely come out of your 30K

What kind of shape are you in? Can you take 16-hour days 6 days a week on your feet doing very repetitive tasks for the next 6-10 years "Making Your Bones"

Do you have a life?
ie- Friday Nights, Saturdays and Sundays off with little holidays like Easter, Mothers day, 4th of July etc, if you do say good by to it.

Are you a team player? Can you do exactly what a 175 pound 23 year old tells you to do with a smile on your face?

If you're not scared yet great!

I don't know the FCI but I'm a CIA Alum and was Adjunct Faculty at NYIT.

The CIA is truly the Harvard of cooking schools with as many quality facilities, staff and resources as 50 schools combined. But it is a factory, every effort is made to have you graduate with your group and the last time I looked at it the AOS was NOT academically certified (credits are not transferable to "real schools") They are also NOT ACF accredited.

NYIT is both academically and ACF accredited. When you graduate you get a CC, Certified Culinarian Certification, from the ACF if your a member when your graduate. It is a tough love program. (in my opinion) The department head Chef Susan Hendee cares about the students and the program and makes sure no one gets swept through. (Disclaimer- am very biased for her the program and ACF) The facilities are adequate (better than most) but they don't hold a candle to the CIA

If you have the passion, and can deal with the above, go for it. If not seriously consider another course of actions.

All the Best,


By Cheftim (Cheftim) on Thursday, March 15, 2001 - 12:40 am: Edit

Great answer George!!!!!

By Alissa (Alissa) on Wednesday, March 28, 2001 - 04:40 pm: Edit

After a very enjoyable, lucrative, rewarding, career in the language industry, I have decided to leave it due to a shift in priorities, and pursue a career in culinary arts (somehow). I start school in the fall and have been talking to a lot of area chefs, caterers, etc. to get their professional perspective and guidance. I know that in addition to my education I need to get some hands-on experience and am more than willing to start at the very bottom. I have never worked in a professional kitchen before (except for a year of flipping burgers 10 years ago in high school, if that counts), so I am apprehensive to say the least. I am walking away from everything I know professionally. Please tell me if I am crazy. ;)

Your help is greatly appreciated.


By Panini (Panini) on Friday, March 30, 2001 - 06:53 pm: Edit

Are these personal priorities? I personally don't thing you will find ENJOYABLE LUCRATIVE and REWARDING in this industry. Keep in mind that this is a very primative industry, especially for women. There is still the mentality of "you must pay your dues". The transition from the school atmosphere to reality is usually enough to scar3e off the career transient.
Treat this career as any other and set a time table and goals. Get there as fast as possible and don't let anyone or anything get in your way.
You do not have to learn everything, you must develope your own style early on. Don't clone or fashion yourself after any one chef.
I know this is harsh, but you will find a lot of sugar coating along the way.
What are your goals? Where do you want to be in five years?
I wish you good luck in your new venture. You might want to stick around this forum. There is a couple of old war horses that can probably give you some advice along the way.

By Debord (Debord) on Saturday, March 31, 2001 - 07:21 am: Edit

You'll meet some very bright people on line representing this industry. But on the whole, I'd say we have more than our fair share of this worlds' unstable individuals working in this field. We have ALOT of alchol, drug and sex addicted people.

The bright people in this field remain in it only because they hopelessly LOVE cooking or baking!

People are getting sucked in watching chefs on T.V....looks fun doesn't it?

UNLESS YOUR TOTALLY PASSIONATE IN YOUR LOVE OF COOKING OR BAKING I'll tell you what you know since you did ask us to tell you..."Yes, I think your crazy for leaving a career you've described as VERY ENJOYABLE, LUCRATIVE AND REWARDING!!!"!

Why would you leave a career that you can decribe with such wonderful adjectives?

By Johnp (Johnp) on Sunday, April 01, 2001 - 11:22 pm: Edit


I have to agree with Debord and Panini. I'm a career changer myself and before I make the leap to culinary school (French Culinary Institute), I decided to work in a restaurant with a very good reputation. Granted it's only my 2nd week, it has made me think twice and hard about this profession and whether or not to pursue it. Standing up for 12-13 hours straight isn't the most glamorous or the comfortable thing you can do for your legs and back. I'm DEAD tired after a days work. Working Fri, Sat, and Sun isn't exactly fun either when all your friends are out drinking and partying it up. Although I have to say it was pretty exciting to work this Saturday when the place was going 100MPH and a big food critic came in to dine (I do the prep work, appetizers, and deserts. I also help the chef and the sous-chef load up with everything they need). I'm taking notes like crazy for the sauce recipes my chef creates each night. I may ultimately not go into this world but I'll definitely know how to cook, not break sauces, make deserts from scratch, etc..

Right now I'm leaning towards sticking with my career in finance but I also want to come in couple days a week after work and cook. I can't come to terms with spending $25,000 for school to go into a business which pays less than that a year to start. Rewarding as it maybe, it's just not practical for some people and perhaps working at this restaurant was the best thing for me as far as saving $25,000 and making a wrong career move. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm definitely a victim of the Food Network and its audacity to make the profession look like a piece of cake. IT'S HARD!!!!!! Spend time pounding out 500 chicken breasts or chop bucket after bucket of shallots and garlic and you'll have a better understanding of what these guys went thru. Go buy a cookbook and cook for your friends if you need the satisfaction of others complimenting your creations. It's much more enjoyable that way. I currently have the pleasure of working for a great chef (friendly as hell) and a sous-chef who looks after me like a little brother. This is never the case with other restaurants I've heard of and even with that sort of personnel, I'm wavering in my decision about going into this profession. PLEASE GO WORK IN A RESTAURANT BEFORE YOU WAISTE MONEY TO GO TO SCHOOL. You'll be glad you did. I know that every career changer reading this hates me right now because you're all looking for people to tell you you're making the right decision. Just take it as a warning and think through it thoroughly before you jump in head first Ethere could be water in the pool for some of you but for some a bed of nails. Good luck.

By Debord (Debord) on Monday, April 02, 2001 - 11:11 am: Edit

Maybe your all too young to know this music but it plays in my mind when we go into this career topic.

Look up Harry Chapin (at one of those free music sites). He has a song called "Mr. Tanner". Mr. Tanner was a dry cleaner, who loved to sing! Friends encouraged him to spend his saving to become a singer. "He didn't know how well he sang, it just made him whole". The critics ripped him "full time consideration of another career might be in order". Hurt he returned to working as a cleaner and never sang out loud again......except very late at night....

"Music was his life, it was not his livelyhood."

Trust me, as a former professional artist and now a professional pastry chef....you can love and appreciate something with-out doing it as a career. The world is full of people with enormous talents. Most of those people are never known, never heard of...sometimes passion for an art is something so special that doing it professionally ruins your joy of it.

By Alissa (Alissa) on Monday, April 02, 2001 - 06:13 pm: Edit

Thank you all for your honest opinions and advice. I have heard the same from many people, and I guess I should be more clear about some things (I didn't want to bore people with my life story...)

My husband and I have been discussing this idea a lot, since it never really felt 100% right to me (probably why I solicited your opinions on this board!), and we are both concerned about it and the things you describe: long hours, the idea of "paying your dues," the high percentage of unstable individuals in the industry; and of course my initial fear was exactly what Debord describes: I was afraid that doing it as a profession would completely kill my passion for it. It happened to me once before when I was a dancer. I had spent my entire life studying ballet, and was breaking into the professional point. By this time I had forgotten why I got into it to begin with. It no longer fed my spirit and I was just going through the motions. It was years before I would even go see a ballet again.

My previous career in the language/localization industry was very lucrative and rewarding, as I said; but since it is in such a young industry, and very dependent on the dotcoms, it is very unstable and there is not a lot out there. In the last four months, I have lost my job, accepted another one 1000 miles away, relocated, lost that job, and moved back. My husband stayed behind at his career, so we were apart while I was working across the country. Had I not lost my job, we would still be apart for the rest of 2001. Before that, I was in the same job for several years, but it was always scary anytime the stocks would do something funny, or when international economies would shift. I am in very high demand in my industry, but I would have to relocate for any position I took, since the companies involved are so few and far between.

The "priorities" I mentioned were that I decided that staying with my husband was more important to me than any career. I realize that being a professional chef I will be working long, late hours, weekends, holidays, etc. But I want to at least explore this side of myself to see if it might open other doors.

At this point I feel like I may have started down this path because I am afraid of the possibility of having another job offer come in where I have to decide if I want to relocate again. Talk about instability! I'm tired of making that decision. My husband hangs onto his career while I go all over the place, because his job is very stable so even with the internet stocks going all over the place, we always have his income and an "anchor."

I would love to have a year in my life that is just consistent, where I live in the same apartment with my husband, and I don't have to worry about whether or not tech stocks are going up or down. From my friends here who are chefs and restaurant managers, they are all telling me that their business is the last place to find stability, and I believe it. But cooking school at least would give me a chance to really get a good base of skills down for something I love to do anyway, and it would give me a chance to take a break from my very unstable industry. I have not yet committed to cooking as a profession. I have just made the commitment to complete the school program.

So at this point my goal is very simple. My goal is not to become a chef, but simply to complete the Culinary Arts program at the local community college here. They have a good program and I will learn the basics. In addition I will work part-time in a kitchen, to get the hands-on, "in-the trenches" training. I will probably make up my mind along the way as to whether or not to pursue it to the fullest extent.

I guess what I was more looking for, since my restaurant buddies here have pretty much given me the same feedback, is outside confirmation of what my intuition is telling me. And even if I get the degree and go back to being a slave to the fickleness of the internet economy (or something new entirely), can I still hang out online with you guys? ;) I mean, even though I'm not a professional dancer anymore, I still enjoy talking to dancers and sneaking in an occasional pirouette when no one is looking. ;)

Thanks again for your honesty and sorry about the long post.


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