You Don't Have to be Crazy to Work Here, But if you are, it Helps
With the rise of the celebrity tv chefs and the multitudes of cooking shows, more people are becoming interested in the culinary profession. This is a commendable goal, but the path to becoming a chef is much more difficult than it may seem from a distance. While I don’t want to discourage any future chefs, I think that certain aspects of the career need to be pointed out so that the wrong people aren't wasting their time with something they won’t enjoy in the long run.
You’ll Work Very Hard
Cooking is not a job for the weak and whiny. As a cook you’ll endure long work hours, often more than 12 hours, on your feet the whole time, running around the hot and loud kitchen. You will leave one job, just to go to another before finally getting home to sleep, just to start again the next day. Some days, especially when you're starting out, you will only be peeling carrots and potatoes, cleaning lettuce and other boring, time consuming tasks - barely doing any cooking. You will be working when all of you friends aren't. Friday nights and weekends are always busy for restaurants.
You Will Hurt Yourself.
Working in the kitchen, you’re handling hazards all day. You will cut yourself, no matter how good you are, it happens. You will burn yourself by grabbing a hot pan, or from splashing oil, grill flare ups, or brushing up against the side of the oven when reaching in to grab a pan. Like cuts, burns happen, don’t be surprised. You could also develop skin problems from handling cleaning chemicals, even just constant hand washing - a necessary hygienic practice - can cause you to develop eczema on your hands. This is an unpleasant experience that I have suffered from. Invest in hand moisturizer..
You Won’t Earn a lot of Money and are Unlikely to be Famous
You’d think that with all of this hard work you’d be compensated fairly well, but you’d be wrong. For the vast amount technical knowledge and skills required to be a good cook, you’ll earn quite little, especially when starting out. The farther you move up the ranks of the kitchen, the more you’ll earn, but it’ll still be less than many other professions. The likelihood of becoming famous from cooking is extremely low. In many situations, you’ll be behind closed doors or in a basement where no one can see you. This makes it hard to get recognized. On top of that, while working under other people, they’ll be taking as much of the public attention as possible. There will be times of local celebrity, but not like the chefs with their own shows. It’s not a glorious profession, but...
The Work is Extremely Rewarding
Despite the various downsides of this line of work, it’s extremely rewarding. You’ll get to see constant results, in both preparation and service, you’re making something that someone else is going to enjoy. It makes you feel good, especially when it’s one of the best meals they've ever had. When you’re working on new dishes and everything just works perfectly, you feel great accomplishment. At the end of a service where everything goes well, you’ll be exhausted, but happy. You’ll build very solid relationships with your colleagues because of the long hours spent together in the same situation.
The culinary line of work is not for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work, but can give a lot of reward too. if you’d like to learn more about what it takes to become a chef, then I’d suggest reading the book “Becoming a Chef” by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page. This website will also be a good resource to learn more about the life and work of chefs and cooks.