Career Advice from Chefs to Recent Culinary School Grads
Chef Nathan Tate of Boulevardier
With graduation ceremonies in full bloom, we contacted a few local chefs for some bits of wise advice for culinary school graduates. First, we asked them about their worst jobs after school, then for a few pieces of advice to help thrust new grads into a world of mildly socially awkward, sometimes hostile kitchen crews. Oh, and prepare to never spend another holiday with your family again.
Congrats, kiddo. This'll be fun. Promise.
Nathan Tate, Boulevardier Worst job out of school: Killing and cleaning dozens and dozens of lobsters.
Advice: Keep your mouth shut and eyes open for at least the first six months at your new job. I really don't want to hear about your molecular experiments with sodium alginate until you can properly sear a piece of fish.
Brian Zenner, Belly & Trumpet Worst job out of school: Worst job out of culinary school was cleaning the line every Sunday after brunch at the Driskill in Austin. I had to come in at 2 p.m. to a destroyed kitchen and pull the mats that were covered with a 1,000 egg shells, sweep, mop, all just to get ready to work all night. All for $5.25 an hour.
Advice: Two pieces of advice are things I learned in my first job about 10 years ago. Write it down. Everything. Your entire day on paper down to the finest detail. Nothing is too insignificant or too small to write down. Second: Taste everything. Learn to love all flavors, textures, and appreciate them for what they are. If you aren't tasting it, how can you serve it?
Brian Luscher, The Grape Worst job out of school: I wouldn't necessarily call it the "worst job," but I got a job as an "executive sous chef." It was me and two dishwashers.
Advice: Don't bitch, whine, complain or gripe about how much you have to work, how little you're getting paid, or how the servers are all ungrateful dickbags. Just put your head down and work. You've got a long career ahead of you, being a turd in the punchbowl will not make it any easier.
Patton Robertson, Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck Worst job out of school: The worst thing is trying to get used to the lifestyle of being a cook and trying to become a chef. It's a lifestyle, not a career. Long, hard hours, lots of blood and sweat (no tears because there is no crying in the kitchen). There was also getting used to the after-work lifestyle, the work hard/play hard kind of thing.
Advice: First, make sure that being a chef is what you really want to do. We work all the hours that regular people don't and we rarely see our wives and kids. Look a little into the future and ask if you're ready to make those sacrifices. Second, get in with a high-end, high-volume restaurant, because I learned more the first six months working with Wolfgang Puck than I did the entire time at school.
Grant Morgan, The Ranch at Las Colinas Worst job out of school: My first job was as a prep cook. I screwed up something really bad and when I told the chef, he turned and threw a cordless phone at me, which missed me but went through a window. I worked for him for three more years and we still stay in contact today, 20 years later.
Advice: First, find the best chef you can and beg him or her for a job. Show them that you're really serious about your career and about spending time staging in their kitchen. Second, work and apply yourself harder than you ever have in your life.
Danyele McPherson, The Grape Worst job out of school: My first job out of culinary school was at Stephan Pyles. I started on the tapas and ceviche station. Not much in the way of gory details, just a lot of hours and about a 45 pound weight loss. As it turns out, stress is good for your figure.
Advice: Graduating from culinary school doesn't make you a chef. You need to pay your dues and work through the ranks just like those who have come before you. My second piece of advice: Shut up. Listen to all your new coworkers and watch what everyone does. The more you can learn and do quickly, the faster you will rise through the ranks.
Andre Natera, Village Marquee Grill & Bar Worst job out of school: I was a baker and wanted to work my way to pastry chef, however the chef thought I was too slow and moved me out of the kitchen to be a busser in the front of the house. I was so upset because here I was paying all this money for school only to be told that I wasn't good enough to be in the kitchen. I used this to fuel my desire to be a great chef. But the hazing back in the kitchen was really awful in the early '90s when angry chefs ruled.
Advice: In a kitchen your grades in school aren't relevant, nor is your pedigree, until good food is produced from your hands. Be humble and learn. You can cook all day, read all night and have all the passion you want, however, the fastest way to become a great chef is to surround yourself with chefs better than you. It never gets easier, if you think to yourself, 'I really don't like being a cook, but when I am the chef ...' It really never gets easier.
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