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Top chefs serve career advice - Chef Jobs

 
Making it in the kitchen as a professional is not nearly as easy as some New Yorkers might think.

Some of New York's top cooks warn budding kitchen commanders that being a chef requires equal portions of business savvy, hard work and food expertise.

Anita Lo, 42

Chef/co-owner Annisa, West Village; chef/owner Bar Q, West Village; chef/partner, Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, Flatiron, Greenwich Village

Go work in a restaurant to see what it's like before you spend all that money on cooking school.

"With the advent of the celebrity chef, I think a lot of people think that it's a lot more glamorous than it actually is. You kind of have to pay your dues. I'm lucky to have gotten where I am, but it took a lot of work, it took a lot of sacrifice. I worked six days a week most of my life, and long hours on top of that. You're going to be on your feet the entire time. It's physically demanding. It can be really hot. You're probably going to cut yourself eventually. You're going to burn yourself eventually.

"A lot of people, if they knew what it was like to be working in a professional kitchen, probably wouldn't go to cooking school."

Alex Guarnaschelli, 39

Executive chef, Butter, Greenwich Village

When you're gathering your experience in the field on the road to becoming a chef, do a few things that branch you into the unfamiliar, so that you diversify your skill set. You'll always gravitate to what you love, naturally, but if you get some other types of experiences, that rounds you out. The bigger your skill set, the better.

"It's not a bad idea to get a little serving experience and eat out within your budget because the more experiences you have as a diner, or with the diners, it adds to your cooking. Then, when you cook, you think about how you would feel if you were eating it."

Charlie Palmer, 49

Chef/owner, Aureole, East Side

You need to fully understand the business, because at the end of the day it is a business. If someone wants to be successful as a chef, they have to take the time to understand that some of the failures come from someone becoming a pretty decent cook, but not understanding the financial makeup of a kitchen � the food costs, the labor costs.

"In this day and age, understanding marketing is a huge thing. If you can't market yourself, you're dead, especially in New York City. My hat's off to anybody who's successful in this business, because it's not easy, and the margins are very small.

"There are really no shortcuts to being a good cook. You have to cook a piece of fish a thousand times before you get it. You really have to put in the time."

Christopher Lee, 32

Executive chef, Gilt, midtown

If you want to do it right, I always recommend going to school. Schooling gives you a foundation. It teaches you culinary vocabulary and product identification; it gives you the basics of what we do. We teach things in the restaurant, but we teach finishing skills, not basic skills. There's just not the time to do it.

"If you don't have the foundation, which to me is schooling, you're going to be aggravated, and you're going to find yourself most likely leaving the industry, because it's not going to be very kind to you. There are a lot of demands and pressure.

"It takes patience to be a great chef. You've got to understand that you're going to start at the bottom."

Marcus Samuelsson, 37

Chef/co-owner, Aquavit, midtown; Riingo, midtown

If you're not passionate about food - almost overly passionate - this is a really difficult industry.

"In the beginning, it's as simple as life skills: Showing up on time or early, making sure you dress properly, addressing people that you work for properly. You're an assistant in that kitchen, so really what matters is for you to have a great attitude. Somebody's going to take notice of that and give you a chance.

"People want to do it the quick way, but it takes a long time before it's about you. I found it calming peeling the carrots. I enjoyed cleaning the fish.

"It's all about work ethic, attitude, willingness to be there, commitment to yourself and to the industry. If you have all those things, this is a beautiful industry where you can go anywhere in the world or the country and be welcome."


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