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 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


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