Most parents want two basic things for their children. They want them to be happy. And they want them to be happy. When you want to go to culinary school and have a career in the culinary arts, and your parents don’t support you, it may seem like their goals have shifted. But, what do your think their reasons are for not wanting you to go to culinary school? Perhaps they think that you will end up unhappy! Maybe they don’t understand your passion for food.
Your parents may know that the restaurant industry is grueling and competitive. They may know that the hours are long and the chance of failure is very high. They are afraid for you!
Well, they say nothing that is easy is worth doing.
This may be true, but becoming a chef is not easy! Becoming a top chef is even harder! If owning your own restaurant is your dream, well, for some, it never happens and restaurants fail more often than they succeed.
It is possible that many people envision cooking school as if it is like becoming a lawyer. You go to school, meet the requirements, pass the bar, and you’re a lawyer. Well, even while true, this doesn’t guarantee you a job in a top law firm. Yet, cooking school is not a way to get instant “executive chef” credentials. While it will give you a jump-start and make you more attractive to potential employers, you will still be starting in entry-level positions, most of the time. As a culinary school graduate, you will be able to make more of any position you procure, and move up in your career faster, as you will already know your way around a kitchen, to say the least.
But you have a passion for cooking and you want to make a lot of money doing it? One thing you should expect from CulinaryLore is honesty. While I encourage you to follow your culinary school dream, if you think even professional chefs who own their own restaurant make a fortune, you’ve been watching to much Food Network. Even top cooks, I’m afraid, don’t get paid as much as you may be thinking. Your parents may ask you, how much do you expect to earn?
What is the Average Pay for Chefs and Cooks?
According to the U.S Department of Labor Statistics, for 2014 the mean hourly wage was $22.06 and the mean annual wage was $45,880. Even a chef de cuisine will make less than $60,000, on average, and an executive chef will make an average of around $75,000. Of course, if you own your own restaurant, you’ll make tons, right? Probably not. If you’re lucky, you’ll pull in maybe $10,000 more than if you were the executive chef, but not the owner. Entry-level cooks can expect to make between $8 and $12 an hour, or around $20,000 per year. Remember, these are the mean earnings. You may make less, or even much more.
Chefs and head cooks in hotel and other lodging tend to make a bit more than the average, while the pay for other industries, such as cruises, colleges and universities, and nursing care facilities is around the same. Those who work for elementary or secondary schools are the lowest paid.
Keep in mind that pay varies, as well, depending on where you work. You will may make more in New York than you will in Chicago, for example. In Hawaii, you’d probably make more than in either of the former locations.
I would encourage you to do your own investigation into the average salaries of chefs and cooks, and expand that into salaries for specific types of establishments and institutions, but, to be blunt, becoming a chef is not the most lucrative job you can choose.
You can make a good living, let’s make no mistake. If you’re willing to work your way up to the highest paying position you can do very well for yourself. And culinary school graduates can compete for higher salaries, especially if they’ve also worked for a high-profile chef or two. Still, it’s a long haul and you have to be in it for distance, not speed.
There are Many Career Paths Open to Culinary School Graduates
Do I sound like your parents? Well, wait. See, your parents may be under a wrong impression about the culinary field. What they may not understand are the many rich opportunities available to a culinary school graduate, rewarding on a personal and a financial level. You may incur loan debt from your culinary education. You certainly will put in a lot of time and effort. Your parents are worried about your future. They don’t want you to burn out on such a demanding career field, or to end up unhappy after putting so much into it.
If they simply disapprove of a career in cooking, or if they are concerned for your future prospects, you could tell them:
Becoming a chef is only ONE possible career for someone who graduates from cooking school! The food and hospitality industry is vast, and culinary school can be and entryway into many segments of it. What’s more, the job outlook is good.
You can choose a school based on other goals, and you can use a culinary education for much more than cooking in a restaurant. Certainly, there are other places that need professional cooks. Hotels, catering, resorts and spas, various institutions including hospitals. Even corporations hire culinary professionals. You could work in research and development for the food manufacturing industry, for universities, or even for supermarkets.
As well, there is the option of becoming a personal or private chef. I’ve listed some of the basic types of jobs for a culinary school student in Should You Work in a Restaurant Before Attending Culinary School?This information really only scratched the surface.
Information Sources on Culinary Careers
There is a book, written by Irena Chalmers, who teaches at the Culinary Institute of America. The book is completely dedicated to the subject, called Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers, and Food Lovers. This informative and entertaining book, of course, mentions restaurants and other food service establishments, but also, as general areas of oppurtunity, retail jobs, art and design, publishing, television, the internet, history and culture, science and technology, farming and cooking schools and culinary education.
In other words, culinary school graduates are everywhere!
One thing the author writes, as advice to aspiring culinary professionals, hits home. It is similar to what I used to tell people when I was a fitness/strength trainer:
Deciding to change your career, embark on a new venture, or just change jobs is a major undertaking. It means thinking ahead and anticipating where you want to be in the short term. Don’t worry so much about the long-term future, because you will probably change your mind and change jobs several times. Most people do.
The book includes advice and and commentary from famous chefs such as Alice Waters, Chris Kimball, Betty Fussell, Darra Goldstein, Bobby Flay, Todd English, Gordon Hamersly, Francois Payard, Danny Meyer, and Anthony Bourdain. You may want to skim the part from Anthony Bourdain.
Another book which will provide much more in-depth information one specific jobs in the culinary industry, including some of those mentioned here, is So You Want to be a Chef? Your Guide To Culinary Careers. This is a great resource for culinary school student, providing general information on culinary training programs, earnings and employment outlook, and specific information on culinary careers in many different areas.
Do You Have to Have a Definite Plan?
Chances are, your parents, when they were young, didn’t land on the perfect job the first time out of the gate. They may have even had a hard time deciding on what they wanted to do for a career. Like many people, they may think that they handled things badly. They may want something different for you. They don’t want you to “flounder” like they did. Sound familiar?
What you have to know, and what you must make them understand, is that, sure, you may not know exactly what you plan to do with your culinary education. As you embark on your education, you will learn more about what the culinary arts is all about, an as you do so, you will learn more about yourself. You may think right now that you want to be a chef. Perhaps that will never change! But, along the way, you may be attracted to many other facets of food and food culture. The purpose of an education is not just to prepare you for a job, but to help you decide in what direction to take your life.
Or, perhaps you just know you have a passion for food and cooking! You know know exactly why you want to be involved in food for the rest of your life, and what you want to end up doing, but you know it’s what you want. It is a prevailing misconception that we always have to have extremely specific motivations, and do things “for the right reasons” or we will not succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. An any educational and career journey, things change as you learn and gain new experiences. When you succeed in one area, it motivates to expand into more challenging areas. You learn about your career and you learn about yourself, and things will change. If you want to know what your future in culinary arts holds, you actually have to start moving towards that future.
You may want to go to your parents armed with a copy of either of these books, sit down, and have an honest discussion with them about culinary school. Try not to be defensive or get angry. You may be passionate about food, but you must try to be dispassionate and logical about your education and career choices. Let them know that you aren’t just throwing darts at a board and hoping the hit the bulls-eye. You’ve thought a lot of about this and you’ve decided that you must must work in food!
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