How about a Career in Culinary?
Is Being a Chef a Good Career?
Let’s see the big Pros & Cons of Working in Culinary Arts
The pros and cons to working in culinary arts by CulinaryLab School Los Angeles
Do you love experimenting in the kitchen, whipping up an amazing meal for family and friends, or checking out the latest and greatest restaurants in your city? If you have a passion for delicious cuisine, you may have considered a career in culinary or pastry arts. However, you might also wonder if working as a chef is a good fit for your lifestyle and personality.
A chef’s job is very different to your standard 9-to-5 office role; there are bound to be crazy hours, big personalities, and grueling physical requirements. However, being a chef also offers lots of creativity, flexibility, and independence.
Below, we’ll dig into the pros and cons of a career as a chef, and how you can determine if it’s the right fit for you!
Pros of Being a Chef
You Can Be Creative
Cooking is an incredible way to express yourself and share your passion with others. As a chef, you’ll have the opportunity to create new dishes, experiment with unique ingredients, and maybe even come up with your own restaurant concept someday. Culinary arts is an amazing field for individuals who want to showcase their creativity through food.
You Can Work for Yourself
If you’re an independent individual who values flexibility, culinary arts is full of potential. Restaurants are always seeking skilled cooks and chefs, so career opportunities abound when you’re ready to learn new techniques, move to a different location, or simply find a change of pace. You could also consider a career as a personal chef for even greater flexibility and freedom.
There Are Great Salary Opportunities
Once you climb through the kitchen ranks and put in some years into the industry, it’s possible to earn a comfortable salary as a chef. That’s particularly true if you land a job at a high-end restaurant, resort, or hotel.
What can you expect to make as a chef? As of 2019, Executive Chefs nationwide earn an average salary of $68,000 per year, though that number is higher in major cities like Los Angeles ($77,000 per year) and New York ($82,000 per year).
You Work with Talented People
A career in culinary arts is a great way to surround yourself with creative, motivated, and independent people—just like you! The restaurant industry is filled with incredibly talented individuals, and you’ll have the opportunity to receive mentorship and collaborate with other passionate chefs every day in the kitchen.
Cons of a Culinary Career
It Can Be Unstable
The restaurant business is notoriously fickle, and things can change at a moment’s notice. Many restaurants fail for reasons totally unrelated to food; a difficult landlord, a bad business deal, or one unfavorable review may mean you’re out of a job as a chef. This con can be especially scary if you have a family that relies on your income, so you’ll need to determine if you’re able to accept the risk.
You Will Work Long, Difficult Hours
Working in restaurants means working when people want to eat—even if that’s early in the morning, late at night, all weekend long, and likely on most major holidays. It’s not uncommon to work 10 to 12-hour shifts. Because chefs often have a challenging and inconsistent schedule, balancing a culinary career with a personal life can be tough.
Starting Salaries Are Low
While it’s possible to bring home a solid paycheck as an Executive Chef, most culinary professionals have to work their way through a variety of lower-paying jobs before they reach the top spot in a restaurant. Entry level cooks often start out making minimum wage, even at higher-end restaurants, and it can take years to make your way up through the ranks—so it’s important to be realistic about your salary early in a culinary career.
It’s Physically Demanding
Working in culinary arts takes a lot of energy, and you’ll likely have some scars to show for your years as a chef. In most kitchens, you’ll spend long hours standing and work with sharp knives, hot pans, and open flames. When thinking about a culinary career, make sure you’re physically capable of taking the heat before you step into the kitchen.
Is Being a Chef Right for Me?
After weighing the pros and cons above, you might still be unsure if a career as a chef is right for you.
To learn more about culinary arts, talk with friends who have cooked professionally, or sign up for one or two professional-level cooking classes where you can learn from experienced chefs, get a feel for working in a professional kitchen, and improve your culinary skills. Even if you decide that a career as a chef isn’t right for you, you’ll hone your abilities in the kitchen and be able to serve up spectacular meals for your family and friends!
Going For a Culinary Apprenticeship? What Chefs Look For in a New Hire
What Chefs Look For in a New Hire
So your chopping skills are first rate and your braised beef is to die for. Does this make you a prime target for a job in a professional kitchen?
According to chefs we spoke to about what they want in a new hire, the qualities they look for have little do with cooking.
They assume you know how to handle a knife, and they can teach you how to cook their way.
What they really want is not unlike what most hiring managers want: A hard worker with a good attitude.
We’ve peeled away five attributes that chefs look for with their candidates.
A cook is expected to work long hours, mostly on his or her feet for eight hours. Chopping vegetables, organizing a walk-in, and cooking over a hot stove is hard work.
“Hard work is the main ingredient to success,” says Steve Tsirtsis, owner/chef at Citrus City Grille in Orange.
From food prep to keeping your workstation clean, organization is very important in a kitchen. You need to be organized so you don’t fall behind.
“Clean as you go. That’s the most important thing in a kitchen,” Tsirtsis said.
“It’s important that you have your prep list, be able to take care of that list, but also do more than what’s on your prep list,” says Chef Ross Pangilinan of Terrace by Mix Mix in Costa Mesa. “Like, if you see something that needs to be picked up, pick it up. Clean.”
Kitchens are often small and hot places with several cooks climbing over each other in tight spaces. If a staff member doesn’t work as a team, it can also be dangerous and inefficient.
Pangilinan says his cooks need to “have a positive attitude and work well with other people.”
Restaurants do a lot of their business on weekends and holidays, so it goes without saying that you are expected to work holidays and weekends.
“They should know not to ask for holidays off,” Pangilinan says. “They need to be available.”
You might also be asked to work a lot of overtime, and come in on off days.
Willing to Learn
No chef expects a new hire to be able to cook his menu to perfection right away. You will spend years learning.
“I’m looking for someone who is not an expert,” Tsirtsis says. “I want someone who is willing to learn something new.”
Do YOU Have What Chefs Look For in a New Hire?
So if you’re a hard worker with a flexible schedule, give it a shot. Chefs are always looking for new blood. They want new hires whom they can groom into the next great chef, and not one who already believes he or she is there.