The Real Poop
We know what you’re thinking—all chefs are like that cranky Gordon Ramsay fellow on Hell's Kitchen. A slightly raised voice is his version of a whisper, and even when he's yelling at you he still has another gear in his back pocket. If you are working in his kitchen, your reflexes had better be sharp, because you're going to have to dodge more flying objects than a duck during hunting season. You wouldn't even be surprised if he pulled a Hansel and Gretel on you and shoved you into an oven at some point.
All right, so maybe you weren't thinking that a majority of chefs exhibit these unfavorable traits. Good, because our description really applies to only about 30% of them.
Chefs are normal people (for the most part), except that they have a passion for food. Buying it. Preparing it. Cooking it. Serving it. Being lauded for it. Being paid for it. And kinda in that order. And you've heard the saying, "Eat your own cooking" as a proxy for whether you believe your own smack? Well, this is the real thing. Being a chef isn't all about the food though. Think about who you know who loves to cook for you. Your mom—maybe your dad, right? Cooking food for someone else is a personal, emotionally linked endeavor. Most chefs (like your parents) have a nurturing, compassionate element to their personality. They are caretakers. Yes, it's partly about the art of preparing delicious and attractive meals, but a big part of the passion comes from the desire to please, to comfort, to take care of those who depend on them for sustenance. Yeah, we've taken a psych class or two.
The great thing about being a chef is that food will always be in demand. The world population is never going to suddenly be full. So you will always have job opportunities, and there will always be new hot restaurants opening around the corner. The bad news? There are roughly a zillion restaurants on every block in every city of America. So business will be divided among all of those establishments, and because of the high failure rate of restaurants in general, you may (unfortunately) need to take advantage of one of those new opportunities. Most restaurants barely make enough to cover expenses and salaries. They gradually lose money over time, and many buckle within a matter of months or years. We hope the same can be said of your pants after so many consecutive days of eating Pasta Bolognese at every meal. Here's a scary statistic—nearly one out of every four restaurants has either gone bankrupt and closed its doors, or at least changed ownership, within its first year. So if you’re going to sneak home a pepper shaker or two, be sure to do it early.
Don't be cruet.
There are certain types of restaurants that may be able to afford you greater job security. Popular chains that have been around a while, popular upscale restaurants, popular mom 'n pop restaurants that have stood the test of time and have a loyal following. The keyword here, if you didn't catch it, is "popular." Of course, if you're working at one of these more dependable places—a Cheesecake Factory, for example—you’re only following a corporate recipe, and all of that creativity you pride yourself on will have to be left at the door. So you'd have to be at peace with that. You'd also have to be at peace with a more modest income, because it's the chefs who do get to exercise their creativity, at fancy, inventive (and expensive) restaurants who make the big bucks. New eateries are risky propositions, because everyone already has their favorite spot, and the food had better be awfully good to win people over so that your place builds up a group of regulars. That's why you should be awfully good at what you do.
Restaurants can be hectic, stressful places, and you likely will have to plunge your feet into an ice bath at the end of every evening, but it's not that bad a life. You are cooking food, which you love to do; you are practically an artist. Except in this case, the admirers of your art consume and digest it. They salute you with gusto about 10 hours later, sooner if the chicken wasn't thoroughly cooked. Consider that a good review.
Above all, you are a lover of the food you cook. You are preparing and sending to the dining room something you have crafted with your own hands, mind, and heart—the rejection can be just as devastating as if you are auditioning for a Broadway musical, the accolades just as exhilarating as if you are cast in one. When uneaten meals have to be tossed at the end of the evening, those are your babies who are headed to a landfill somewhere. Most artists work on their own, but chefs have to depend on a lot of other people to make sure their vision is carried out correctly. And that can be troublesome, because chefs have notoriously huge egos (we're looking at you, Mr. Ramsay). And, of course, your restaurant's success lies heavily on your own ability to craft well-received cuisine, so there's that pressure as well. But you wouldn't trade all the anxiety and heartache for the world. Until it gets too hot, there's no way you’re getting out of the kitchen.