Culinary Careers For Dummies
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Kick Your Career Up a Notch: 10 Tips to Help You Thrive in the Culinary Industry
These days, cooking is very popular—and getting hotter by the day. From superstar chefs to mouthwatering prime-time cooking shows (and even restaurants that have attained celebrity or cult status), there are plenty of reasons why you might be dreaming of entering the culinary field. However, the last thing you want is to go all out in pursuit of your dreams only to be “voted out of the kitchen.” Not to worry—that’s where For Dummies® comes in.
Whether you’ve decided to switch careers after taking one too many financial hits during the ongoing economic downturn or are embarking on your first job, Culinary Careers For Dummies® (Wiley, October 2011, ISBN: 978-1-1180-7774-0, $22.99) will give you the knowledge you need to enter and excel in the food service industry. Authors Michele Thomas, Annette Tomei, and Tracey Biscontini share insider industry tips that will teach you what your options are, how to select a culinary school, how to land your dream job, and more.
To whet your appetite and ambition, here are ten ways to spice up your game and truly thrive once you embark on your culinary journey:
Start at the bottom. Don’t forget that even the most famous celebrity chefs had to start somewhere. So no matter how lofty your goals might be, be prepared to start at square one. Your first job may not be what you want (in fact, it might feel frustrating and difficult!), but it will give you the chance to prove your skill and dedication. Remind yourself that while you’re “only” washing dishes and prepping salads now, in a year or so you’ll be moving up the ranks. Take this opportunity to observe, to hone your skills and interests, and to learn as much as you can.
Take courses related to your interests. Even if you don’t want to complete a whole degree or certification, taking classes can help you hone your skills and stay abreast of industry trends and advances—plus, they’ll look great on your résumé because they’ll show potential employers that you’re serious about your career. And don’t feel that you need to limit yourself to food-related courses, either. An English class might give you the skills you need to become a food writer, while a chemistry course will help you to become a food scientist.
Find a mentor in your field. There’s no substitute for experience. So if you meet someone more advanced in your field who shows a willingness to befriend and help you, take advantage of this tremendous resource! A mentor might or might not work directly with you (these days, you might converse online from across the country!), but he or she will have your best interests at heart and will give you honest advice to help you improve.
Work well with others. Especially when you’re first starting out, you’re likely to be in someone else’s kitchen making an established chef’s recipes and sharing tools with your co-workers. Don’t underestimate the value of interacting efficiently and respectfully with others—an inability to work as part of a team can stop your career in its tracks. Also keep in mind that while you may think you know what you’re doing, you need to remain open to constructive criticism.
Make time to read. The culinary industry is far from static—on the contrary, it’s constantly changing. To remain cutting-edge and competitive, it’s important to stay abreast of current and rising trends. You don’t have to devote every spare moment to scouring industry magazines and journals, but it is a good idea to look through these types of publications—as well as credible blogs, cookbooks, and even the food section of the newspaper—from time to time.
Choose a specialization. Most culinary professionals highly recommend choosing a specialization (otherwise, you might drift from job to job with no clear goal in mind). This can be as simple as deciding whether you want to work with Italian food specifically, or that you want to work with traditionally prepared foods as opposed to experimenting with hypermodern trends. A word to the wise: Take extra courses, read the appropriate literature, and perfect your skills before advertising to employers that you have a specialty. And don’t let anyone else determine your specialty for you!
Manage time wisely. Time management is especially important in the food industry since food can lose texture, temperature, or taste easily. Before starting on any task, make a mental (or actual) list of everything you need to do and jot down how much time you think each component will take. If you have more work than time in which to complete it, call in reinforcements!
Open yourself up to new ideas. You don’t need to incorporate every new product, idea, or technique into your work, but do consider those that come your way. If you refuse to consider new options, you’ll soon find yourself losing your colleagues’ respect and stuck in the past. Think carefully about which advances and innovations will keep you competitive and cutting-edge.
Stay fit. At first glance, this industry might not seem like one that would require physical fitness. However, the reality is that you’ll probably be on your feet in a hot kitchen for 40 to 60 hours a week. (And that’s not even taking into account all of the lifting, chopping, stirring, washing, etc. you might need to do.) In addition to staying in good physical shape, always be sure to drink plenty of water.
Broaden your horizons. You may come across some great opportunities if you choose to specialize in a particular area of the culinary industry. But you may find even better jobs if you keep your eyes and ears open and continue to learn new skills. Remember, the more you can do, the more marketable you will be. For example, a company might love to hire someone who’s a computer whiz, because that person can help design food-purchasing software.
The bottom line is, if you keep these ten tips in mind and For Dummies beside your cookbooks, you’ll be well on your way to building a five-star career.