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This is an article that I posted two years ago regarding the expectations that young graduates of culinary education oftentimes have when first entering a professional kitchen. I felt that it fit well with the series of recent posts that I made regarding line cooks, bakers and the path that they take en route to the position of “chef”. So, forgive the “repost”, but hopefully you will note the timeliness of the content.

I am not sure where it went wrong.  Maybe it is an over-zealous admissions staff, maybe it is the Food Network.  The source could be instructors hoping to inspire young people to early greatness or quite possibly it is the parent who truly believes that their son or daughter is born with the Emeril gene.  To some degree it is probably the “return on investment” need for instant payback on a very expensive culinary education, or who knows, quite possibly the work ethic in America has changed.  The end result is a plethora of culinary school graduates who truly believe that graduation should lead them immediately to the sous chef position and a very comfortable salary.

Having spent many years in culinary education, I am a strong advocate for the investment that a culinary degree provides. However, when I put on my chef hat, I want to tell every graduate that they need to be patient, vigilant, focused, attentive, and subservient for a period of time.  There is a part of the educational process that requires every student of culinary arts to pay their dues, add their foundational skills to the mix of “hard knocks” education, and learn how to respect any kitchen that they enter.

The first step cannot be – change the model.  The first step must be – learn how this model works and respect the chef’s domain.  Your time will come.

Kitchen work is very hard.  I know, everyone has heard that before, yet many graduates don’t seem to grasp that until they are really immersed in it day in, and day out.  The cooking part is really easy.  This is what the student loves to do.  This is what attracted them to the field in the first place.  This is what, rightfully so, culinary schools tend to focus on. Those who aspire to make this their career will quickly learn that it is people and financial performance that allow a restaurant to thrive and deliver that excellent food that they are so passionate about.

Managing people is extremely challenging because everyone is different.  Forget following the book – the book doesn’t understand your co-workers.  The styles and methods of working with and managing others is just a brush stroke.  You are trying to finish the painting.  Be patient!  Observe people and learn.  Develop your style as a culinary professional before you think about the first sous chef job.  It is those people who will allow you to be successful in that position.  Cooking will get you noticed, leading others will carry you through your career.

I think we need to address this very early on in the field of education.  Everyone needs to understand this from the admissions counselor to the teacher; from the administrator to the marketing director; from the parent to the student.  A quality culinary education is a means to an end, the first important page in the novel, that first brush stroke in a long and challenging career.

Those who have completed their education and hit that reality wall very quickly – know that it will work in the long-run, just be patient, be vigilant, be focused, listen and learn.  It may take a bit longer than you thought, maybe 5 years or so before that sous chef job is in sight, but it will happen if you understand the path.

What do you think?


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