This is an answer on Quora that we liked, it’s written by , Professional chef for 15 years!
First, what do chefs like?
Chefs get a lot of social equity. We cruise right on the edge of blue collar, white collar, slumdog millionaire sorta style. I can walk into any restaurant, bar, whatever, and I’m service industry royalty. It feels great. You constantly get fed that from your other coworkers, but only if you’re the man at your job.
You can slap together great food easily. If you think your skills are good now, well, imagine you spent 200 hours practising those things. You’re just better because of time invested.
So, what do chefs not like?
Well, just like everyone else is saying, the hours, the commitment, the brutal schedule, the unforgiving nature of the job.
Chef life is all about feast and famine. You either like your job because you’re doing something cool, or you make money. Usually, a ton of hours come into play. You are either broke, or money is rolling in and you have no time to spend it. It’s an abusive catch-22.
The fact is that people love food, but they hate paying for it.
It seems like the more you get paid, the less you actually do something you like. You start asking yourself what you actually like about the job, and why.
So, you say that you enjoy cooking?
Why not just cook in your free time, and enjoy it?
You won’t get paid to cook what you want. You NEVER do! Trust me … actually, you barely ever do. You put together a thousand caesar salads to pay for those moments you get to work on your craft.
A chef job is like a sexy train wreck of a girlfriend that you meet while you’re a chef. You can’t maintain a healthy life while dating her. She’s ruining you. Your health is failing. You love it, you’re having a blast. You’re slowly falling apart. You know there has to be a better way.
Don’t leave your job. You are an investment entrepreneur. Just do anything that pays you well. Go work your 40 hours, and then cook all you want in your free time. Hell, open up a speak-easy supper club in your area, and play chef. You’ll have the best parts of cooking while having none of the bad parts of managing minimum wage employees, being an enforcer to some goofballs, pretending you feel really passionate about whether or not someone properly did the inventory.
Being a chef is death by a thousand cuts, and then run a marathon every day.
It’s hot. You can’t have normal relationships. Your back hurts. Your arms hurt. Your legs hurt. Your feet ALWAYS hurt.
Is it a good career? NO!
What makes a good career?
Is there advancement? Sort of … but not really … everything is a side step from feast & famine to frying pan & fire. You just flow from burnout job to next burnout job. You look yourself in the mirror and wonder who actually could enjoy this life. As soon as you step away, you’re like an addict that can’t function in normal life. You’re looking to get back into it. It’s the only thing that makes you feel alive, but you can’t keep doing it.
Is there a way through this darkness?
You get no benefits. If you have a job with benefits, it’s one of those shitty accountant chef positions where you just balance numbers on a spreadsheet.
You talk to your peers about doing something cool like smoking your own bacon, and then you don’t have the skills to make anything of it. Worse yet, you don’t have the skills to market the products you can’t create.
Go back to a job where you can nurture those skills, and you’re back to the world of abuse … no benefits … no health insurance … no vacation … no light at the end of any tunnel.
And plus … trust me … You suck as a chef. I suck as a chef. You don’t hold a candle to me, and I’ve been doing this 17 years. All I can see is how flawed my game is, and I plate a thousand dishes to see a little improvement.
Go be a chef, and get ready to be treated like shit. Thank everyone that treats you like that. Hope that you found a good mentor because everyone treats you like shit. You don’t advance quickly. If you do, you’re just getting robbed. They’re advancing you just to keep their machine going, and focusing your skills on just running their business. You won’t be advancing your career. You’re just building your own prison.
You won’t be able to nurture your passion.
The industry will rip that passion right out of you and replace it with substance abuse.
So … how about your comment?
“Thanks for your honest answer, Greg – it seems like a tough racket, I really wonder why doing freelance chef work wouldn’t be a more enjoyable, and viable option. You’d certainly have more free time and you do a couple gigs a day and have a lot more time to spend with your family. What are your thoughts on that? In the sense that, you can work fewer hours and eg, cook dinner for maybe 3 families a day, 2 hours a family max including buying ingredients. I know some folks who’d be interested in that. And was thinking that may be an interesting route without the full pressure of a restaurant volume for an aspiring chef like myself.”
So how about freelance work?
I am the chef manager at Atlanta Personal Chef Service. We are trying to build the dream job for chefs that you are describing. Trust me, this is no dream job. This is another life of compromises, but actually, we are much closer to a positive culinary experience than most other places.
Here’s the average freelance chef lifecycle:
You work somewhere, meet someone who likes you. You start working for them. You either undercharge because you’re so happy you get the opportunity, or you charge a reasonable wage, and it seems like you’re rolling in cash. You find a second client, and then you start to run up against lots of issues with scheduling. You quit your job, then you find a third client. You live a good life for about a month, or 3, or 6. You are busy, and you can’t really answer the phone anymore. Something happens. Someone quits, or someone leaves or someone gets divorced, or someone moves, or someone bounces a check. You start to fall behind, and before you know it, you are down on cash. You need to invest more in your business, but the calls stopped coming in already. Someone promises you an awesome gig, but it might be someone just checking out the service, or it might be a scam, or it might be someone that wants everything but doesn’t want to pay for it, or whatever!! Either way … a lot of those people end up having fun flirting with the private business for a while, and they bounce between part-time work, and private work for as long as they can keep it going. Usually, their web site ends up on the long list of dead sites that lead nowhere.
Google personal/private chef. Call all those numbers. See if you can book anything.
Getting business isn’t that easy. This semi-freelance job is feast and famine too. Managing the business trends, trying to balance downtime with busy time with another business is a lot. Our team is getting there. We are getting to a point where we are busy year round. Trust me, you aren’t as good as we are. This is our 6th year in business.
We have outlasted million dollar investment apps like Kitchit, kitchen surfing, and I can’t even remember all the other ones that tried to do what we are doing. We are doing it from the ground up.
So those few families that you know … well … you might have found a few families that could pay you and keep you going. Do you feel like ever getting a raise? They won’t really be into that.
Have you ever cooked for kids? Kids, that hate you? Kids that don’t want to eat? Adults, that love fatty food? Adults that love gluten free, health food? Adults that want dessert, but don’t want sugar, fat, nuts, gluten, or salt? How about all those in the same house? Can you make them all happy?
It isn’t easy. Work with us, and I’ll teach you how.
Families go through different cycles.
A couple that wants everything gets pregnant. Now, nothing you make is right. Parents with a kid have less disposable income. Maybe they keep you. Their demands are different. Parents with a toddler have different needs. Parents with 2 kids, again, different needs. Parents with teens, different needs. Will parents with an empty nest want you around?
Life happens. People get divorced. People get promoted. People need to move for their job. Recessions come and go, and guess what budget gets cut first? Everyone saves on their food luxury FIRST. They’ll buy their alcohol, cosmetics, cigarettes, almost everything before their food.
Why would anyone want to do this? If I was less invested, I would do something else.
Hell, my wife is interviewing for a job that pays as much as mine does. I want to apply for that job. It’s fewer hours, and less skill dependent.
Being a chef is like being a musician. Only, everyone thinks they play better than you. They also compare a song on youtube to your best work. They compare you to something free. Also, instead of playing 1 instrument, every single ingredient is a different instrument. It’s like being a conductor of a symphony of riff-raff, while you’re the entire symphony too, and every note you make sing is lost to the ephemeral ether … like tears in rain.
Why work so hard for … anything?
So maybe you’re thinking, why not get a job with us? Well, it’s not that easy to succeed in our business. We can’t plug and play everyone.
This life is a fragile house of cards that you build … while juggling flaming alligators trying to bite you.
Why bother … do anything else …
and just wait until the robots take our jobs … or everyone else’s job and everyone decides they want to pursue their passion and be a chef … flooding our market, and diluting the talent pool … increasing supply exponentially …
The only hope I have … nevermind … I don’t have any hope.
Just try to enjoy the ride.
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