WanaBe a ChefHow to get back-of-the-house experience

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WebFoodPros.com: WanaBe a Chef: How to get back-of-the-house experience
By Charlene Corpus (Charlene) on Friday, March 05, 1999 - 04:22 pm: Edit

I'm a second year animal physiology and neuroscience major and considering becoming a chef. While this forum has provided a lot of info, I still have a few questions. First, I'm investigating the French Culinary Institute a a possible avenue for formal training and would like some input as far as the quality of the curricula and the caliber of students it produces. Second, many of you say that experience is the key to success. While this summer I have an apprenticeship at a boulangerie/patisserie owned by a family friend in Los Angeles, I'm not sure about how to go about getting any experience in a kitchen after that. I'd like some advice on what I should do. Beg? Work in any restaurant for free?? Any advice would be totally great, thanks.

By Andy on Saturday, March 06, 1999 - 11:07 am: Edit

In order to get expirence you need to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. You are a rookie no matter how much schooling, or summer jobs you have had working in kitchens at least in the eyes of an employer. Find a place you are interested in working in and then apply for a lower level cook position. i.e. Pantry, Employee Cook, Yard/Prep. Cook. After you get hired into this postion, work your way up. This is the best way to get expirence. Ask a commie they'll tell you.

By Michael Scherzberg (Mscherzberg) on Sunday, March 07, 1999 - 12:52 am: Edit

The French Culinary Institute graduates some of the best new culinarians I've seen or worked with. Their starting salary is higher than that of CIA or Johnson & Wales graduates according to an article in the NY Times. The Staff at FCI is second to none for classical and contempory cuisine. The program isn't very long so you need to be able to focus on all the information you're being fed. After graduation you should be able to work as a commis, or "student" basically an enlightened culinarian beginning a long road of trial and error eventually, hopefully leading to the position of "Chef".

Michael Scherzberg

By Timothy Banning on Sunday, March 07, 1999 - 04:21 pm: Edit

Begging might work and not just any restaurant just the one or two that you really want to work in. Be persistent.

By Barry Marcus (Barry) on Tuesday, May 04, 1999 - 04:08 pm: Edit

FCI is widely regarded as a very good school. But like anything else, you will only get out of it what you put into it. That is to say I have worked with several graduates of the FCI with whom I was frankly unimpressed. My advice would be to pay close attention to the details in any course of study you choose, ask lots of questions of the chef instructor, and then be prepared to ignore everything that you've learned once a restaurant chef tells you to do it his or her way instead of the way you learned in school. Being able to quickly build on your basic knowledge is much more important than the basic knowledge itself.

As far as getting experience goes, in a city like NYC I have found, that if you are armed with a diploma from a respected school, or even if you are currently attending school, and you just walk into a top restaurant and offer to work for nothing, more often than not the chef will take you up on it. They have little to lose and a lot to gain. If you don't work out, you'll be the first to know. I have worked with and learned from some of the best chefs in the world (right here in NYC) doing just that.

Finally I would say that you should try to put off becoming "The Chef" for as long as is financially possible for you. The more you learn, and the more people you learn from, the better off you are in the long run. Once you are in charge, though, it's a lot harder to take the time to step back to watch and learn.

By Janiq (Janiq) on Sunday, July 16, 2000 - 07:52 pm: Edit

I'm not sure begging would be good;it may diminish your value. Ask your employer and/or instructor to strongly refer to a place you would like to go or that they may know someone at.Connections are important, so make them also (otherwise it may take you fifteen years to get where you want ot go).This could be strong determent for a young chef. But,I do agree with Barry on experience; but experience doesn't have to take long. As you would do with your instrucor ask questions to the chef and always be constantly on the look out for new ways to do things. A young chef who enchants everyone with her cooking learned so from just observing what they did in the kitchen. Even if you don't get a job in "the kitchen" you can still experience it by becoming a waiteress and doing this. Then you take this experience to a different restaurant(most chefs are extremely impressed when you know how to do something many different ways).

By Cyberelvis (Cyberelvis) on Friday, September 01, 2000 - 06:15 am: Edit

try washing dishes for a year.

By Cyberelvis (Cyberelvis) on Friday, September 01, 2000 - 06:17 am: Edit

maybe two.

By Bump (Bump) on Friday, November 03, 2000 - 11:51 am: Edit

What is the best way to start? Do you need a college degree? Should you find a chef to work with first? Do you have any knowledge of a cullinary school in Lake Placid New York? Thanks!

By Teri (Teri) on Sunday, June 17, 2001 - 05:36 am: Edit

i'm a 36 yr old female nurse looking for a new job. been doing nursing for 15 yrs and quite frankly am pretty disgusted with the whole medical field. not sure i want to go back to school. if i went to the local Chili's restaurant and filled out and application requesting a position as a "cook", what type of position would i be offered? would it be more feasable for me to start as a dishwasher, bus-person, waitress, bartender? any guidance is appreciated.

By Debord (Debord) on Sunday, June 17, 2001 - 08:16 am: Edit

Don't be scared to walk into Chili's and ask them. It's hard to say how desperate for help they might be or not be. If your going to make a career switch I'd do ALOT of reading of all the post previously written at this site and several others to get a real feel for this new job posibilty.
I've never been a nurse, although I've heard how hard it can be, so I'm sure your pretty tough. Be smart and do alot of homework before you jump into this field, it isn't perfect either and I'd bet you'd be taking a large pay cut for MANY years to come.

By Danwa (Danwa) on Sunday, September 09, 2001 - 03:26 pm: Edit

I am currently a student at a 4 year university, studying business administration. I have allways been interested in the culinary arts, and have been very seriously considering exploring it as a carrier option. I live in Seattle, and know there are a LOT of great restraunts in my area, but am not sure what kind of place I should try to get a job at. I understand I need to work up from the bottom, and tht is no problem at all. Should I spply at one of the big hotels, or one of the well known restraunts, or does it not really matter? Thanks for your advice it is GREATLY appreciated!

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Sunday, September 09, 2001 - 05:26 pm: Edit

If you are serious about it you need to think about why you are studying BA. You need to be committed to this business, you never stop learning and, you will never know it all. I suggest you get a job at a location you think you might want to work at as a career, if it's hotels you are interested in go to a hotel, fast food, fine dining, healthcare, airlines, food stylist, dietician, there are many options these are just a few. Just go work for a while and see the reality, long hours, weekends, holidays, maybe benefits, maybe not, no retirement plans generally, stressful situations, hot, not the brightest work force....etc. Go work for the best in the field you choose also, even if they don't pay you....go to the best and learn from the best. There is no substitute for quality experience!

By Danwa (Danwa) on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - 12:54 am: Edit


Thank you for your advice, I truly appreciate hearing from the people who are actually in the culinary field! I realize that the culinary arts, just as any job have a lot of faces to it. There are many different positions within the fields and even more way to handle each of those positions. The reason I am studying for a BA is to give myself as many skills possible, and expand my opportunities.
I do not expect to go out and get hired as a chef, after graduating with a degree in Business Administration, I don't even consider that would be beneficial towards getting me a job as a dish washer! However I do see it as being very beneficial in the future. After I have paid my dues, worked in a (many) kitchens for some years, and hopefully attended at least some culinary school. My ultimate goal is to some day own my own restaurant. May be just that a dream, but I am doing my best to equip myself with all the skills necessary to achieve that dream/goal.
I do not mean to sound defensive towards your comments. I completely agree that if you are not committed to something then it is not worth wasting your time on. I am saying that in today’s society, I feel I would have more opportunities with a solid degree on top of my culinary experience. Heaven forbid for some reason this field does not work out for me, at least I have other skills to fall back on.

Thanks for the advice and I would love another responce!


By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - 09:35 am: Edit

Dan now your post makes sense, yes you are doing
the right thing in getting a well rounded
education and experience. There is nothing wrong
with the dreams you have, just use your business
sense when it is time to open and remember that
95% of operations fail in the first 2 years and
the avarage return is about 20-22%. Good luck in
whatever you decide.
If you have enough $$$ to open a McD's...go for
it, that's the $$$ makers if that's what you want.

By Danwa (Danwa) on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - 09:37 pm: Edit

Chef Manny,

Thanks for the support. I am not getting into the business to make any big bucks, just have a fulfilling carrier doing something I love. Thanks for the heads up about McD's though, got to keep those options open ;-)

On another note, I have been calling some places asking about positions in their kitchens and am not really getting anywhere. who exactly do I need to be talking to, kitchen manager, executive chef, or just anyone who handles hires? Or is this something which is better done by just walking in? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - 05:44 am: Edit

Chef or the Kitchen Mgr, are the ones to talk to. You have to be persistant, they'll be leary of hiring inexperienced persons, even though that's how they started!

By Chezhoo (Chezhoo) on Saturday, September 15, 2001 - 03:18 pm: Edit


Manny's right you gotta be persistant #1- I've been very fortunate hiring folks with little or no training. Kinda lends weight to the old saying -"the only things you need in this industry are a strong back and a weak mind" A lot of chefs and managers aren't willing or can't take the time to train newbies so you have to convince them that you will be as low maintenance as possible. I spent 8 years in the restaurant biz then switched over to the college and university field where I've been happily plying my craft for 25 years (1 or 2 days off a week, WOW!) so I suggest checking out the closest college or university and ask to get into the catering department or dining service. And no, college food ain't what it used to be - - you'll actually be able to pick up some quality skills there without the sometimes pressure cooker atmosphere and medival conditions in some restaurants. Just another option for ya.

Also, I'm an inveterate reader and I'd like to suggest some fun, but informative food books for you - - "The Soul of a Chef " Ruhl
"Kitchen Confidential" Boudain
"Down and Out in Paris and London" Orwelle(?)
"Larousse Gastronomique"
"The New Professional Chef" 7th ed.
Escoffier, the red and blue editions

These are just a few, but by no means enough. The first two I include because they are really fun reads and they portray modern day restaurant kitchen life and the day to day of a chef's job with great truth and detail and with more than a little bit of gritty humor and depressing reality. Read them and enjoy.

By Danwa (Danwa) on Saturday, September 15, 2001 - 07:35 pm: Edit

Thanks for the info, I actually just bought the making of a chef yesterday and am already about half way through it :-) I am always eager to find interesting reading material! I actually applied for a job at my school, they were very excited and said the Chef’s would be more the willing to let me work in the kitchen. Not sure what that exactly means yet, I will find out this week when I go in to talk to them again. Our Dining Commons are run by Sodexho. It is a beautiful facility, was just remodeled a couple of years ago. After being turned down by a couple more local restaurants due to lack of experience I thought I might as well call up the school. I know they are always looking for people and they are used to having students working for them so they will be more flexible with my schedule. Basically what I am saying is GREAT suggestion! It has been great finding this board where there are so may people willing to hel0 each other out. I am currently in the technology business, and it is not like that at all. No one wants to give you any tips about getting a job because they think you may take a job they want! Well, have a GREAT rest of the weekend, and thanks again!


P.S. Here is a link to our Dining services web page. http://www.spu.edu/depts/us/dining/

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