Being a Chef or Executive Chef is often glorified by the media. You may see Chefs striding around on TV in tall white hats ordering people about to and fro. The reality of being a Chef is it is extremely hard work. It is also a very stressful job. Being a Chef can be very rewarding. But be prepared to make sacrifices in your life. This list is not meant to scare people off, but to instead take into consideration what being a Chef truly means
Do you love food? If you love food, being a Chef is a terrific position to be in. You get to practice an art form. There can also be downsides though. The higher up in the ranks you go, the less time you will generally spend cooking and the more time pushing paper, especially if you go into corporate.
Are you prepared to be a slave to your passion? The best Chefs are passionate about the food they cook. Do you dream of food? Does your mouth water when you describe a dish you’ve made or tasted? Do you talk about food to the exclusion of anything else? If so, you are headed in the right direction.
Are you prepared to spend more hours away from home then in any other industry? Unless you have a position as a Corporate Chef, be prepared to work very long hours. Over 60 hours a week is typical and it can be much much higher. Be prepared to rarely be home on weekends or holidays. These are the busiest times for a restaurant and as head of the kitchen you will be required to be there.
Can you take high stress situations? As a Chef, you need to be a good manager as well as being a talented cook. The days when a Chef could scream at staff and be bad tempered are over (contrary to anyone that watches Gordon Ramsey). If you can keep your cool while being in the weeds while the Health Inspector is visiting during service hours, you are probably able to take high stress situations.
Are you physically able? Being a Chef is a physically intense job. Standing on a 95 degree line and being on your feet for 12 hours straight requires some stamina. Can you lift a 50 lb. bag of carrots and move it easily? Can you take a 6 gallon pot of stock off the stove to strain it? Can you work 12 days or more straight in a row? Can you keep pushing out covers when you have a sheetpan burn running down the length of your arm?
Do you mind not having much of a social life? As a Chef, your social circle will pretty much be the people you work with on a daily basis. Your hours as a Chef will not match normal business schedules of 9-5. The weekends and holidays you spend with family members will have to be sacrificed.
Do you have any destructive behavior in your family? alcoholism? drug use? addictive issues? There is an enormous problem in the restaurant industry with this and if you are predisposed to any problems, the extremely high stress in the industry takes a heavy toll.
Are you good with people? As a Chef you will be managing a wide variety of staff. You may also be called upon to socialize with customers. If you do not feel comfortable doing these things, you may need to take some management or public speaking classes.
Are you computer literate? In the current age, being computer literate is a necessity. You will need to know and learn how to use Point of Sale systems. You may need to use a computer to compute your food costing or to write menus.
Think long and hard before going into the industry. It can be an extremely rewarding profession, both mentally and monetarily, but think about where you want to be in 10 years, in 20 years. Do you want a family, a home life, a social life? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you need to revisit your long term goals. If you want fame, fortune and glory, that can be yours, but it has a pretty hefty price tag attached to it.
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