What it is Really Like to be a ChefA Collection of Resources

An immaculately cooked and presented meal of tofu, vegetables and rice created by an expert chef

By popular demand, we are starting a series of columns to give our readers insight into different types of jobs and careers they might have thought of but never fully explored. This post is focused on what its really like to be a professional chef.

Jobs in areas like cooking, photography, or arts which can all be practiced both as hobbies and as professions. These professions are sometimes misunderstood because it’s easy to underestimate (or overestimate) the chasm between the amateur and professional version of the craft. So we turned to a few great articles by chefs on their craft. These are the key themes:

Competitive, Demanding but Educational Career

In response to a question on Quora asking “What is it like to be a chef at an expensive restaurant”, Christian Lemp, a former Chef de Partie at Jean Georges, one of New York’s famous Michelin star restaurants responded about the demanding and all-consuming nature of the job. The job can be exhausting and demanding beyond what one would imagine reasonable. With long hours, tough double shifts, clashes of egos and low pay, especially early on, aspiring chefs can often ask the question — “Is this really worth it?”. And yet, Christian Lemp implies that it is. For a lover of food, there can be no greater educational experience. He writes:

I learned what good food should taste. I developed my palate, learned how to balance flavor and be thoughtful about how I approach a recipe I learned what good product looks like, what good caviar tastes like, what a realtruffle smells like. I learned what, in a perfect world, the customer experience could be. I learned how to be creative and whimsical with food. I learned time management, and discipline. I learned teamwork and endurance. I learned how to focus. I learned how a successful restaurateur runs multiple operations.

Given how hard it was, would he have chosen another route? No writes Lemp:

I wouldn’t trade the experience I had for anything. It shaped me and made me who I am.

Another professional chef wrote about how you can’t make any mistakes. The standards are high and you have to juggle both speed, and quality. According to her, the chefs worked like ninjas.

Not one wasted movement, no cursing and only the sounds and smells of mise en place being prepared.

Being a Chef is More Than Just Cooking

In an illuminating article on Quartz, Chris Hill writes about the managerial side about being a chef. Titled “Leader, student, dishwasher-feeder”, he explains that being a chef is so much more than just the cooking. Chris writes:

I’ve had a lot of these days and nights, and often think about the things of which a really good cook or chef is made. There’s the obvious — technical skill, but over the years, I’ve learned there is a lot more to it than just cooking, and I would give anything to have understood this back when I started out

He writes about how your staff can be your biggest asset or your biggest liability. As a result, the chef job is really a managerial job akin to many in the corporate work place. You need to recruit, and manage your talent. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and make hard decisions. He talks about how it is critical to not be a yeller, and more importantly, not to tolerate team members who treat others badly. This article is perfect for really understanding how to manage the kitchen and move beyond a solo operation to be a team member and a team leader.

If there are other careers you want us to feature in this series, write in and tell us at info@tapwage.com

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Pathfinder Paul is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who discuss career paths and how to navigate important transitions in your career