Considered working as a chef? This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more.
What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I have been a chef for more than 15 years. I am also an entrepreneur and business owner (I own one restaurant) since January this year.
Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
Well, I wake up very early in the morning because I like to make sure that we have all the fresh ingredients that we need for the day! I personally choose some of the ingredients (like fish and sometimes, fresh fruit and veggies).
As you might imagine, I spend most of the rest of the day in the kitchen. I personally cook some of the dishes and I closely supervise the rest of the staff while they are cooking or doing anything else in the kitchen. I like to make sure that everything is the way it should be and support others in case they need my help.
Whatís your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?
I am mixed (white and Arab), but people notice my Middle Eastern features all the time. I get all types of comments from people; most of them are favorable (people getting curious about the exact country where my family came from and our story),. Occasionally, some people assume that I am ìnot like themî, but they are just a minority and I try to ignore them.
Professionally speaking, I have never been discriminated. I live in a very cosmopolitan city, so I guess that helps.
Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?
Yes, I speak Arabic and some Spanish. In fact, I learned some Spanish while working in the kitchen. Some of the people who work there are Hispanic! Knowing some Spanish has helped me have a better relationship with the people that I work with. I can tell that they felt like I really paid attention and cared for them in a more personal level when I showed that I was really trying to learn some more about their culture.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I would rate it as a 9. I really enjoy what I do. The only thing that I feel a little frustrated about is that I wish that I could take more risks while creating new dishes, kind of experimenting, But our clients are the reason we are on business (and they are paying!), so we do whatever they want. We are grateful for having them!
What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned that, no matter how many times a client has left a restaurant feeling extremely satisfied; if they leave feeling unsatisfied once, they might never be back. They might tell their friends about that one time when they felt unsatisfied and not about the many times they felt happy.
I learned that the hard way because in the first restaurant that I worked for. The owner had the restaurant because it was his hobby (he didnít really need the money or anything). so anytime a client didnít like their dish I didnít know what to do or how to behave. Whenever someone complained, I would feel ashamed but didnít really do anything. Now, depending on how bad the situation is, I try to offer to re-cook the dish (but not before I make sure that I understood why they didnít like it the first time).
What donít they teach in school that wouldíve been helpful to you?
I feel like schools donít do enough to get their students used to working to all kinds of people. They still let their students choose their teammates too often, so they choose their friends and the people they like. But real life is not like that; in a real job most of us donít get to choose the people that work as our bosses or co-workers.
Students need to learn how to adapt to this reality. Learn to work with people that you might not like or that you donít really know well.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I have always loved food and cooking for others. I always knew that this was what I wanted. I donít come from money, so I had to wash dishes and wait tables in a restaurant while I was studying to become a chef. Later when I graduated, the same restaurant gave me the chance to cook for them.
Whatís the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
Itís hard to think of something strange. A few years ago, we were looking for a sous-chef and the owner asked me to read the resumes. I found an outstanding application, so I called the candidate to schedule an interview. When he got there, he told me that he didnít really want the sous-chef position. He wanted to meet the owner and suggest a new business, and he attended the interview because he thought he would be there. He said he was disappointed that the owner was not there, apologized and then left!.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
When I get compliments from someone who is eating in the restaurant. It feels great because I know that most people only say something positive about their food if they really liked it.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
Sometimes, we run out of certain ingredients. It is very frustrating when someone orders a dish and we have to inform them that we canít cook it because we donít have the ingredients to do it. I know they get a little disappointed.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
It is stressful at certain hours and days, when the restaurant is really busy. We need to cook fast without sacrificing flavor, quality and quantity.
Whatís a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
It depends on your experience, the city and the category of the restaurant. I think that I am paid enough, although a little more money wouldnít hurt.
What’s the most challenging moment youíve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most challenging moment is the one that I am going though right now! I have to combine being the chef for the restaurant I work for, and owning and operating my own small- restaurant.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Well, it depends. Most big chains and prestigious restaurants hire people with a formal culinary education. However, there are many people out there who have made a living out of cooking and they donít have any formal culinary education. And they are great; some of the best recipes come from regular people. There are individuals out there who are talented. My advice? Go for a culinary education if possible! Skills? Well, I think that knowing how to combine flavors is important. I think that some people are born with that skill. In addition, you need to be able to work in an environment where you will need to move fast at certain hours. In addition, it is important to learn about nutrition and the possibilities that each ingredient gives you.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
I would tell them that cooking for a living is not quite the same as cooking for your friends and family. It is not an easy career path and you need to distinguish wanting to do something as a hobby from wanting to do something for a living. For example, just because someone is good in soccer, that doesnít necessarily, mean that they should be pro athletes.
Make sure that this is really what you want! You will spend more than 8 hours per day inside a kitchen!</p>
How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I think it is enough. However, because we get a lot of people in the summer especially the weekends-, I don’t get vacations at the same time that most of people normally do. Sometimes, I even work Christmas Day and January 1st!
Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
Yes. Some people think that being a chef is easy because you only need to follow the same steps over and over again to prepare a dish. But that is not true at al! We need to adapt the dishes to certain circumstances. Also, most of us like to create our own dishes, not just follow others.
Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
Yes. It does. I think that for many people, attending a restaurant and eating something tasty represents their chance to forget their problems for at least some hours, relax and think about something different. I like to think that I am a part of that.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to expand my own restaurant. My idea is that it will be consolidating as an experimental restaurant, where people who want to try new flavors and combinations will be able to do so. In addition, I want to maintain my position as a Chef for the restaurant I am working for.