Culinary Careers: More Than One Way to Get There
As Director of Career Services at ICE, I’ve had career strategy meetings with many hundreds of students in all of our professional programs. Often, they’re looking to me for that "holy grail" that will illuminate just how to get from A to Z in their targeted culinary career.
So what’s the most interesting takeaway that I’ve discovered after 13 years of talking with students and following our alumni’s varied paths to success? Well, just as there’s more than one way to way to dice an onion (Advice: the correct way is always your current chef’s way!), there are many different roads that can lead to your dream career. But how do you find your way when so many paths can take you to success? Here are a few key points to keep in mind. Most successful alumni will tell you that these considerations were instrumental in getting them to where they are.
- Work for and with chefs that inspire you to be your best. Finding true mentor pays immediate dividends in terms of skill development, but also immediately places you in a deep network of other cooks and chefs.
- Speaking of network, don't underestimate the interconnectedness of the food industry. Everyone in the business will tell you, “Leave positions on good terms and never burn a bridge!
- At the risk of sounding new age-y, be “present” in all you do. Lots of new cooks get hung up on the finish line (When am I going to make sous chef? How can I earn more money?) that they don’t recognize all the ways they can be learning and taking advantage of their current role. Be patient. Craft is mastered through repetition and constant refinement of technique.
- In order to grow, you must be challenged. Get out of your comfort zone. If you are working the garde-manger station, try to shave minutes a day off your prep work, so you can help out elsewhere. You will keep yourself engaged and your curiosity will be noticed and rewarded by your chef.
- Be open. Sometimes a little serendipity takes you on a turn that you wouldn’t have anticipated. Have short-term goals, but be mindful that exploring new experiences can often direct your passion for food toward unexpected opportunities.
Even in today's ever-evolving culinary field, there are certain truths that remain true for all careers. Be dedicated and challenge yourself every day. Surround yourself with the right people in your work life, and take advantage of your network. Stay true to these guidelines, and you'll be on your way to an exciting culinary career.