The Real Poop
We know what you're thinking—all chefs are like that cranky Gordon Ramsay fellow on Hell's Kitchen. His "whisper" is more of a "slightly raised voice," and even when he's yelling at you, he can still kick that anger up another gear. If you're 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 probably wouldn't even be surprised if he pulled a Hansel and Gretel on you at some point, shoving you into an oven along with the table bread.
Then again, maybe you've just been watching a bit too much TV. Chefs are normal people (for the most part) with a passion for food. They buy it, prepare it, cook it, serve it, and are hopefully paid well and lauded for their efforts.
Being a chef isn't all about the food, though. Think about the person who most loves cooking for you. Probably someone close, right? Like a friend or family member? Cooking food for someone else is a personal, emotional endeavor. Maybe that's why many chefs have a nurturing, compassionate element to their personality. Yes, it's about the art of preparing delicious and attractive meals, but a big part comes from a chef's desire to please, comfort, and take care of those who depend on them for sustenance.
On average, chefs make about $47,000 a year, though it of course depends on a lot of things, such as the exact position they occupy in the kitchen and the location and pedigree of the restaurant (source). Things get even murkier when you're the chef of your own restaurant, but more on that later.
The great thing about being a chef is food will always be in demand. Sorry to break it to you Miss America contestants, but hunger isn't going anywhere. A good chef will always have job opportunities, as there will always be some hot new restaurant opening just around the corner.
The bad news? There are already roughly a zillion restaurants on a zillion of those corners. Business will be divided among all of those establishments, and because of the high failure rate of restaurants, chefs may find themselves working for many different restaurants, at least early in their careers.
The sad truth is many restaurants barely make enough to cover expenses and often will gradually lose money over time. They're likely to buckle if such patterns continue for too long—buckle just like your pants after eating your own pasta bolognese for one too many meals.
Here's a scary statistic for you: nearly one out of every three restaurants will fail within its first year (source). So if you're going to sneak home a pepper shaker or two, be sure to do it early.
There are, however, certain types of restaurants that may be able to provide greater job security: popular chains that have been around a while, popular upscale restaurants, and popular mom 'n pop restaurants with 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'll be following a corporate recipe, and much of that creativity you pride yourself on will likely 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 only the chefs at big fancy restaurants who make the big fancy bucks.
Restaurants can be hectic, stressful work environments, but while you'll likely have to plunge your feet into an ice bath at the end of every evening, it can be a rewarding life for those who enjoy the work.
You love to cook food, and you love the food you cook—those are the most important qualifications for your dreams of culinary artistry. Every time you sweat, it's because you're preparing to send something you've crafted with your own hands, mind, and heart to the dining room.
Rejection can be as devastating as losing an audition for a Broadway musical, and the accolades you receive can be just as exhilarating as a standing ovation under the bright lights.
Most artists work alone, 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, like other artists, some chefs develop notoriously huge egos (we're looking at you, Mr. Ramsay). If you own your own place, your restaurant's success relies heavily on your own ability to craft well-received cuisine, so there's that pressure as well.
But you wouldn't trade the job's baked-in anxiety and heartache for the world. Until it literally gets too hot, there's no way you're getting out of the kitchen.