The True Story about Being a Chef

Few days ago, I stopped by an article on my FB wall. 50 things they never told you about being a chef. The bad sides and the very few good ones.

One day or another in my professional life I shared few points with this list, I still share some, I also stopped sharing others and finally some points I never shared at all.

I wanted to just translate this list into French, but finally I modified it a little bit by removing few points, keeping some and adding my own experience into it.


The True Story about Being a Chef

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. Oops, sorry, always wanted to be a chef. To me, being a chef was better than being anything else in the world. I don’t know why as I can’t say that my parents were food connoisseurs and good cooks at home. We never went to the restaurant together, my first time was in Narbonne with one of my aunt. So no backgrounds for me, but the desire to become a chef was deeply in my mind.

I was warned that it would be difficult, that it was a very hard work with long hours and so on. That it was stressful and tiring. I still remember my english school teacher in Sévigné (Narbonne) claiming in front of the whole classroom that I would never ever manage to survive in this work and that I was useless.

I did it, and I’m still working as a chef. I travelled, I lived in a country I always wanted to go – Ireland. I’ve seen different kind of people, of different social classes. I had friends from all over the world. I worked in good restaurants, in average ones too, and just few hours in dreadful shitholes….

So now I’m 40. I’m working as a chef since I’m 16 (with few years break for more studies), and I don’t regret my choice. Even if it’ not such an easy job, it’s not the worst either. So don’t take this list too seriously, relax, think about it, and have fun with it.

Never I would wish my children to work in a kitchen. I would encourage them to cook at home, to like it, to be really good for their family, friends, I would teach them how to enjoy food, how to choose quality over quantity, how to appreciate great food, good products, nice wine and beers, how to appreciate real whiskey. In fact, I would teach them how to appreciate the good things in life.

But I would never push them to choose my job. Too many sacrifices….

So think a little before starting you career as a chef. The road will be long and treacherous. Read all these points. But as I already wrote, take them with a little sense of humor.

Not everything is that bad. I love my job. I love to cook for others, I love to create new dishes, new menu. I loved the atmosphere in a kitchen, the fun with the waiting staff, the night out with everybody, drinking beers and getting drunk, I loved the stress during a service. But now, I’m getting a little too old, I like to be quiet….

  • Your hands will be continuously cut, burned, skinned. An open book about your life in a kitchen
  • Your back will be painful all your life
  • You will always be tired
  • If you had friends, you will loose them. You will never manage any more to meet them for a night out or a birthday party. Yes, it’s right, you will be working during the week ends, bank holidays, their holidays, Xmas, Easter, Sylvester, Valentine’s day… Just name it, and you’re sure work that day
  • You will be so cranky, all the time, and you will have constant mood swings
  • You will spend most of your life in a tiny room, noisy, smelly, horribly hot, greasy, sticky, with a bunch of people who will be your only social relationship in your life
  • You will work a lot, really a lot, so much that you will wonder if it’s legal. By the way, there is a good chance that you work illegally one day or another
  • Your social life will be inexistent, you will only know your team mates. You will work with them, go out with them, drink with them, even have sex with them. They will know you better than your friends or family do
  • You will hardly meet new people
  • You will loose your social skills
  • You will addicted to one of the following: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, even red bull (in Poland, they only drink that in kitchen)
  • The only time of the day you will be able to sit down will be in the toilets
  • Your working days will be longer than any of the working days of your normal friends
  • Your shortest working day will be longer than the longest working day of your normal friends
  • Your longest working day will be longer that half of a working week of a french civil servant, even more
  • You will become either skinny, either fat
  • You will eat all the time, at any hour of the day
  • You will always be under pressure, you will be anxious, stressed
  • You will always be asked to constantly give 110%
  • You will make mistake, but you can’t. In case you made one, there is always someone who will show you how shitty you are
  • You will never be sick, ever
  • You will be expected to place your work before your social life, your partner, friends, children. Which in fact won’t be that difficult because you already don’t have a social life
  • Anybody with more responsibilities than you is God, don’t argue with them
  • If you’re at someone’s else place, and they are cooking, and you want to help them by providing some advices. Forget about it. They will take in a bad way
  • You will have to work so many years in menial positions before even attaining some kind of responsibilities and authority in your work place
  • Before that, you will be humiliated, you will be treated like shit, you will be yelled at…
  • The better the restaurant, the longer the hours, the smallest the wages…
  • If you are a woman, beware, it’s a man world. You will have to work much harder and better than men. And they will laugh at you.
  • Nobody around you will ever undesrstand how difficult being a chef is. It looks so easy and lovely on TV.
  • Your partner will not understand you, your state of mind, or why you always work. If you find someone who does understand and accept. Keep her! Don’t drop her!
  • And then, she or he will tell you when you’re back from work that you are smelly, sticky, greasy. That your breath stinks garlic, onions…
  • The only Xmas you will have off in 10 years, your family will ask you to cook for them
  • And when you will eat with them, or with friends, they will stare at you waiting for your opinion on the dish that was just served
  • Everybody in your entourage will expect you to have in your brain all the recipes ever created by human kind

If beside all these points, you still want to be a chef. Go for it, don’t look back, persevere, don’t give up. It’s worth it big time. Because after all these years of hard work, working countless hours, I would not change it if I had to go back to the past. I don’t regret anything because at the end of the day, it’s still a good damn job.

And my wife loves when I’m off and she comes back from work, that dinner is ready, waiting for her.

NB : I’m working in Poland where the working system is really different than all the other countries I worked in. Here, we have a 2 days on, 2 days off system. So it gives me lots of free social time with my wife, my friends and also to practice my other big hobby – photography. And I also have some Week Ends off, at least one a month.

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16 thoughts

  1. Bonsoir,

    Une chose est sure, vous n’y avais pas été par trente six chemins.
    Quand on est plus jeune, nous aimons cette adrénaline, que le service nous procure.
    Mais effectivement avec l’age, le stress, courir, on en veut moins.
    Nos amis, c’est exactement ça, se sont nos amis cuisiniers ou serveurs…. Notre vie.
    Toutes les fêtes, le sport…… A bannir.
    Généralement, notre femme…… Serveuse
    Mais avec tout ça c’est une passion, une envie de faire plaisir. De se faire plaisir, et de regarder le visage de cette personne qui déguste votre plat. Nous avons toujours cette fierté et cette envie du plaisir partagé.
    Nous avons tous envie de quitter ce métier.
    J’en suis partit au bout de 12 ans, et en suis revenu, mais de nouveau à essayer de la quitter.
    Nous n’avons cette envie d’avant. Une envie d’être à côté de nos proches.
    Voir la famille, les amis, les copains, faire une activité sportive.
    Avec l’age nous réfléchissons différemment.
    Il faut se faire plaisir AUSSI.

    Un peu dur dans vos propos mais réel.
    Thierry

    1. Depuis que j’ai un gamin, j’ai de plus en plus envie de quitter le métier. Mais c’est pas évident. Pour faire quoi?

      Rester dans un bureau? Hors de question

      Parce qu’il va falloir que le nouveau métier bouge un minimum pour pas s’ennuyer.

    1. Before commenting, you should read the whole article, and also buy some humour. It helps…

  2. This is all so true and being a chef is a passion…difficult for family life..but exhilarating. I wonder if chefs live shorter lives on average?

    1. I get older, I now have a son, I find this life tiring right now. I still love to cook, but sometimes, family should me more important than any job 😉

  3. As a 4 years doing sushi chef I can said this is pretty much true. I lost all contact with my friends. My co-workers are my best friend (event some time we insults each other) I see my co-worker man than my family. I work 5-6 days a week (if 7 day of work is legal in USA I prob have to work for it). Chef job is decent pay but dont do it for long rung unless you own a restaurant.

  4. Been wanting to become a qualified chef for 11years. Now that im 22 and qualified for the past four years working 15hours a day 5 days a week in South Africa’s 4th best restaurant i am tired, embarrassed, disappointed, pushed to the limit & my social skills are so bad odds are that i’ll de-bone a chicken faster then hooking up with it.. But most importantly i am very proud on how resilient i have become. Never have i ever devoted my all to anything else as much as i do for this dream. Never have i worked any where else than in the food industry.
    In fact I have never worked a single day in my life. Everyday people pay me to manipulate the best ingredients possible, if i never became a chef chances are i would never have the financial stability to cook with these ingredients. If you do what you love you will never work a single day in your life. Everyone knows this is not just any kind of job for just anyone who likes eating. Every real chef knows that this is not a job.
    We are living a dream.

    1. I really love my job, I love to cook. People are always surprised that I also cook at home. They don’t understand that it’s not only a job. It’s a way of life 🙂 But it has some bad sides. Mainly when you start to have a family. I never really looked at the bad sides before that. I didn’t see them. I was working, going out, working again and so on. Now, it’s difficult to not see his son everyday.

  5. It is my dream to become a chef, I don’t care about the money I’m just In it for the respect and hard working shifts. This one teacher I have at my school called me a “dickhead” and proceeded to call me useless and I’ll never amount to nothing. So I wanna show him what I can really do and show him how I do it. I wanna be a chef and have a damn hell of a ride getting there. ?

    1. That’s exactly what happened for me at the beginning. Teachers that said I would never manage to do anything. So I tried and succeeded. Anyway, I always loved to cook, even now. May be even more now.

  6. It started for me ,as a cook , almost 30 years ago. All though I had a few bullshit kitchen restaurant jobs prior,I went to work for the Chef who is my mentor and the reason that I’m still in the business and a Chef today. And why I’m on the verge of opening my own place at almost 50 years of age !! Chef Joseph Bruno ,the former owner of Pasta Nostra and now,Brookalino.
    All his teachings,philosophies,and passion for the culinary arts,I still carry with me until this day.
    And,they are teachings and lessons that I passed to others

    1. I never wanted to open my own place, I’m already 44. But why not when I’ll be older? I can’t work in a kitchen when I’ll be 60 years old 🙂

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