Chefs, Food

Never ever become a chef: advice from a chef

Recently a 13-year-old kitchen dish hand (dish pig, dish bitch whichever you fancy) told me that he aspired to be an architect, something that brought a smile to my face – Ahhh to be young. I asked him what burning desire drove him to this conclusion, assuming he would say perhaps “I am passionate about drawing and design” or “my spacial skills are quite good, and I like challenges” or even “I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetic nature of a building”. however the response was slightly less convivial  “architects earn 6.3 million dollars annually”… after informing him that perhaps if he were Renzo Piano he may indeed earn that annually, however financial gain is possibly not the best incentive (particularly considering the average median salary for an exiting masters graduate employed full-time in Australia as an architect is 45K for a male, and 41K for a female). He then asked me an odd assortment of questions including:

“Should I not go to University?”

“Should I learn a trade/join the mining industry?”

“Why are you a chef?”

Astounded by the daunting stereotype of a generation who no longer follows passion but monetary gain, I hoped that perhaps one day, someone as bright as this young man could channel the same amount of passion he has in his future career as he does in his current endeavours (which I can only assume if he’s anything like I was, would have been: masturbation, anything involving the opposite sex and/or trying to procure alcoholic beverages). But the last was the biggest catalyst of the series. “Why are you a Chef?” What led me here, what keeps me here? After sharing a few stories with him about where I found my passion for food, he asked me what its like being a chef? So I thought i’d share some revelations, and insights. Ideally if this could reach anyone, its kids, teens, tweens and the like who aspire to be chefs, like I did many a year ago. This is a compilation of all the reasons you shouldn’t be a chef:

You will miss important life occasions

Birthdays; Public Holidays; Occasional Weddings; Parties; Christenings; Weekends.

Its unrealistic in this industry to assume that you’ll ever have these off. The rest of the world plays whilst you toil, weekends are almost a taboo – and this will generally eliminate most parties and birthdays as the rest of the world will want to do this on Their weekends. it is possibly the biggest killer of potential chef careers. It can be a very lonesome and frustrating life to those who aren’t willing to make the sacrifice. Regularly I will forgo a friend’s birthday even though I had booked the time off 4 months prior to that occasion (to whom I still have to apologise to regularly) In most industries you can “pick up the workload” on another day if you are unable to work. a kitchen however is more delicate. they have exactly the right amount of staff one person missing can halt the entire functionality of a restaurant. which brings me to my next point.

There is no such thing as sick

If you are not on life support, then you are fine. Cut your finger off? put a band-aid on…or better yet cauterise it on the stove both fast and effective. you have the flu? no you don’t it’s a cold, and even if it were the flu – put a mask on and get your arse to work. In my career, closely drawing a decade now, I’ve had two sick days: both times I was in hospital. If your feet can carry you, you can work…and you will work, nay not even from obligation, but from an odd combination of fear, guilt and compassion. Fear that your family will fail without you, fear that you will return having let them down.

introduction into alcoholism and drug abuse will be very high

It’s no secret that this industry is rife with illicit substances and drunks. We are already sourced from the fringes of society, people who often fit in nowhere else. Some use recreational drugs, some use hard drugs and are completely addicted. Often you will find a waitress or chef racking up lines on a pizza tray at the end of the day before heading out to a night club, looking for escapism. Addiction is high (pardon the pun) among all people in our industry, and your ability to cope, stay away from, or fall into it – is completely up to the individual. You will see some of the highlights of human injustice, and bear witness  to (and possibly be a part of) a plethora, and cocktail of drug (ranging from weed to smack) and alcohol abuse.

Relationships will be difficult

Unless your partner is understanding you will have a string of unfortunate relationships. Another common misconception when someone goes into a relationship with a chef is that we will cook for you constantly. Though we are passionate about food, generally we will be working when you want to be fed. I’m one of the only chefs in my circle of peers who still cooks “properly” at home on a regular basis; most survive on a diet composed of instant meals, take out and dregs of half eaten chip packets. One must not fail to mention that most chefs are courteous and sociable on seldom occasions generally, and they are worse post a shift; only further propelling this relationship over the proverbial waterfall..this babies going over!! Bail overboard whilst you still can!! Time however is probably the biggest killer of relationships in our industry. It is difficult for most (not all, there’s still hope kiddies) to be with someone who is consistently never there, someone who (it seems) is more dedicated to his or her profession than the potential love of his/her life. Time will always be an instigator of hardships when it comes to chefs. which progresses to the next point:

Your hours are fucked

though many people will regularly complain about an 8 hour day (inclusive of 2 to 3 breaks) or even god forbid a 10 hour day, you will savor the rare occasion you get an 8 hour shift with no break whatsoever. The average shift for a chef is around the 12 hour mark (according to a recent census) though I personally and quite regularly work more. You will stand on your feet all day, sweat, and toil. Your entire working career will be an endurance marathon for both your body and mind. cuts, burrs, burns they are all part of the process.

You’re a piece of shit

or at least the majority of your superiors will inform you of this. Where as in the real world verbal bullying is now room for a class action lawsuit, in our domain it is second nature. “You fucking little shit, what is wrong with you?” could roughly translate as “wow, you have made quite a mistake young sir, I’m amazed at how you’ve made such an error” or perhaps “what’s wrong mate? too busy thinking about sucking dicks on your days off to do your fucking job” could easily be interpreted as “excuse me, is something the matter? you seem to have lost concentration and I can see it’s affecting your work”. On occasion it gets multi-lingual “which fuckwit touched my fucking Mise en? are you fucking retarded” which of course means “someone seems to have rifled through my preparation as it is now disorganised, and now I’m in disarray.” Not to mention a lot of this toiling will be for a very minimal pay until you eventually secure a respectable position. Also unlike the majority of things in this modern-day and age you are never “given” anything in this industry – because contrary to the ribbon you get for participating in a school running carnival (coming 4th last) you, like everyone else, start at the very bottom.  you must earn it, you must climb the hierarchy slowly and arduously. No rewards are given for “trying”  either you do your job, or you don’t.. and get fired -simple. Peeling 100kg of potato, picking 1kg of individual thyme leaves (don’t you dare cheat and just strip the stalks, I will throw that shit back in your face) these are all jobs that will challenge your very essence to overcome the sheer boredom, inanity and pain of it, as all of the chefs before you have done. But this is the process, you will start learning, you will always be learning.

But perhaps you are someone like myself, who even after reading this says “who cares” or “I’m better” or even “I’m going to be the best chef who has ever lived” then congratulations, you have the only tool that you’ll ever need to surpass any adversity, to conquer any fear, any challenge and emerge victorious. You have something that people in this day and age lack, something our 13-year-old kitchen hand will one day hopefully learn, something that has driven me to a succesful career. That driving force is passion, passion is not listening to your those who doubt you and doing what you’re heart desires, ignoring the nay sayers and becoming what you are capable of. If you so choose to immerse yourself with confidence and dedication, your ends are limitless. If in any profession you are lucky enough to not only be enamoured and passionate about what you do, but also earn a living from it, then nothing will stop you. If per chance this does fall into the hands of a young mind wanting to be moulded I urge you take this wisdom.

Be relentless in your willingness to learn

Never steal, and try not to lie

Be resilient to all adversity; It’s one of the greatest weapons you can use (and there will be many more problems than i have listed here)

You’re never too good, you’re never too old and you’re never too unintelligent to achieve if you so desire


193 thoughts on “Never ever become a chef: advice from a chef

  1. Pingback: Never ever become a chef: advice from a chef | pilosopangiska

  2. Theodore A. Stevenson says:

    I have known many a chef and although the issues brought up in this article are accurate to some degree, it is my opinion that unless you are a weak individual, and not committed to your passion for gastronomy, you will allow yourself to be overcome. Such is true of all professions. I believe success is attainable by those who are not weak enough to allow their addictions and weakness of character determine their lives will attain what they so want. Chefs who are committed to the best cuisine possible are amazing individuals.

  3. I am currently he gf to a sous chef and I agree the shifts are killer on him and myself, me being a full time mum it’s a long ass day. I only ever ask him to cook on the rare time he has two days off but only so he can teach me to cook it for him. So far I can say he is one of the few chefs I know that doesn’t drink in excess and doesn’t do drugs (thankfully) I used to work as a kip/ commis years ago so I understand the strain of working in the kitchen and trust me it Is not for the faint hearted. If you want to be with a chef be prepared to look at every event as though you’re single because he/she is not going to be there (that doesn’t mean act single) at all and if they are there then holy shit!! Good luck to all aspiring chefs and current chefs. Keep strong to all the partners out there because being with a chef although hard is one of the most rewarding relationships you will have, they are passionate about food and you. Love you all C.

  4. James says:

    I think I’m gonna actively try and change some of the things I do on this list I never realized how bad my lifestyle was til you pointed it out!

  5. David brownless says:

    59years old this year cooked for 41 of those and still doin it,enjoyed most of them been bankrupt twice an alcaholic had a laugh cried dry now for nearly 5 years and enjoying cooking again still do 60 hours a week and still skint but have wealth of of knowledge happy cooking all u guys out there

    • milo's says:

      Dedication is what defines this individual here! Wish to be you someday, except I love a good brew after my ass kicken in the kitchen

  6. Nicolas Ganea says:

    you forget about the you cant be normal, consistent pranks, and of course sex jokes, I say almost every kitchen does this, I know this because i have worked in Australia, France ( France was the worst with the sex jokes), London and now live in Chicago. I worked with a master chef one thing he taught me I took to heart and he said; a chef need to be organize, need to be liked , feared and respected. Mate I’ll tell you this now in America you have to sting the thyme ( sorry we fired a a guy that took 2 hours picking the thyme of 4 bags) this is how you know people fear you, my favorite saying; WHO FUCKING MADE THIS?! reply ( scared shitless) I did… Me: This is FUCKING FANTASTIC!

  7. Michelle says:

    Ah here we are, Valentine’s Day at last! Idk why exactly I’m posting this comment on another chef’s blog. I mean, it’s not like you’re on your phone/laptop or anything right now. Ha! I’ll spend some quality time with my wine til dinner shift is over :)

  8. Amy pobuda says:

    As the wife of a career Chef (20 years) and yes we met at work. I applaud your realistic telling of the industry. My advice is to marry a server or bartender or someone in the buisness. They are understanding and the only ones who will stay the distance of a longtime companion.I watched my husband grow from a green cook to an award winning executive Chef able to nicely support a family of four. You have to love it ‘ its the only way.

  9. Natalia says:

    Thank you for sharing openly to public about this!! I wish I read your article early last year before I entered my very first encounter to commercial kitchen world as kitchen hand (not even apprentice chef) and being shots to the ground as they know I want to be a chef. But yea I come out strong! I learnt in hard ways how to survive in harsh commercial kitchen as a 26 years old female that just started a career change. A year later (now) I am proudly move up the rank from kitchen hand, doing my cert iii, and wear that chef white with pride. I have been so privileged to learn under good chefs in few fine dining establishments in Sydney in the past months as stagiere! Chefs who are willing to discipline the brigade and train you to be a better chef, and passing down their knowledge.
    Hats off to you. I believe you are a good chef!! I know I still have a long way to learn when the chef who look after me say “you are a smart cook”. But I am happy to hear it from
    someone who has cheffing for 10 years :)

    Hope to learn under you Chef when I get a chance! Keep cooking!

  10. Crista says:

    You forgot to mention that if you’re a nice person, you end up being bullied. Also, bullying is part of the culture and dismissed by management. My advice is, that if you are such a person, work in the Caribbean. It’s the only place I’ve found being nice pays off. You’ll have a fab time too :D

  11. Pingback: Culinary art institute Le Cordon Bleu graces our sunny shores : Popwire

  12. Diane Jolly says:

    What he has said is true, all of it. So unless you are sure don’t marry a chef. You will not reap the benefit of good food. You will not even experience leftovers, they go to the kitchen staff.
    You will spend most evenings on your own and weekends. When you go to a wedding you will be on your own or he will be cooking in the kitchen because “your husband is a chef” he can do it.
    Make sure you give birth to your children in the early hours of the morning if you want him there. You will have more chance of getting a doctor out of surgery that expect him to come in the middle of service.
    Finally you will always be reminded of how hard they work and not you or anybody else can match.

  13. Stephen Post says:

    Starting a chefs apprenticeship at age 16 was the best choice I’ve made. 13 years later no one will break me, anything else I do is easy in comparison to a normal day of work in high end kitchens and now after working my arse off for.years I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor by cooking for between 6 or 20 ,guests at a time with unlimited budgets on high end boats where i get to go spearfishing during my down time and get over 4 months off a year whilst earning sensational money. I love food:)

  14. Tony says:

    Great article. I work Front of House in a resort town, though I started in the back. One thing I notice in busy restaurants is the sheer athleticism required to keep the place open. Both FOH and BOH are required to basically run around each other carrying objects that are either hot, sharp, or valuable (food). There’s kind of a dance to not bumping into each other, and it’s weird how I never hear it acknowledged how much fun that really is. I love carrying three plates and running through an obstacle course successfully. As much as I believe chefs deserve respect, and I do, respect as well to everyone in the restaurant industry who works hard to create an atmosphere to serve food in, from the dish pit to the table.

  15. Jools says:

    Im a chef and wish i work 12 hrs shift,i normally work 16 hr days,and when i say work! its full on from the time i start till i go,no breaks apart from a lucky toilet break well we all have to go,we got are 3rd rossette and now its full on for are 1st star so its gone from a luck 2 days off to just one,i work around 90+ hrs a week and only get paid for 40 and if you ask me if i could go back in time and change anything i want,i wouldn’t change a thing,I’m a chef and i love it I’m apart of a band of brothers who kill them selfs to please others and when i get home and think y do i do this the simple answer is i love it where else can i get this type of high

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