Being a chef is different from flipping burgers at McDonalds (although that can be a great way to get some experience under your belt!). It not only requires experience and training, but also a certain innate sense of food creativity. Being a chef can be a great career, but it isn’t for everyone. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of being a chef.
Pro: Most programs take only a few years—but you don’t have to have formal training.
To work in very fancy restaurants or even run your own, going to a technical school can offer you a leg up. Many schools offer two year programs (some scholarships and grants are available), some with a focus on cooking, others on baking, and still others with a more general hospitality education. Depending upon where your talents and goals lie, you may decide against this. Many kitchens will train you in house (some may even send you to school later) for positions like a pastry or sous chef.
Con: It’s a very competitive industry.
If you’re wanting to be a top of the line cook in a five star restaurant, you really have to be amazing. It takes a lot of time and work to be the next Bobby Flay or Paula Deen. Just because you’re family loves what you make doesn’t mean you have what it takes to stand out amongst thousands of other people who also to be a head chef. This is another way that cooking school can help you: it expands your recipe base, helps you pair wines, and teaches you all sorts of other important tricks of the trade that might give you that little extra something to land you the job of your dreams.
Pro: You get to utilize your creativity.
Not every job lets you take what’s in your head and make it a reality. But that’s one of the great things about being a chef. Some restaurants want their chefs to create special meals, or even whole menus. While cooking is a kind of science, it’s also a form of art.
Con: You work long hours when everyone else is at home.
Don’t expect to have dinner with your family every night if you’re going into the food business. Your prime hours are when everyone else is going out and finding someplace to share a nice meal with their loved ones. A chef’s hours can go long into the night—you may even have to stay after the restaurant closes to oversee the cleaning and closing up. Additionally, if you’re trying to start your own restaurant, expect to put in even longer and harder hours.
Pro: You can work in a variety of environments just about anywhere in the world.
Food is one of the few things that encompasses every culture and country in the world. Everyone eats, and restaurants can be found all around the world. Being a chef gives you the freedom to take your skills just about anywhere you think you’d like to be. Some chain restaurants may even send you around to open new restaurants and train new employees. If you like traveling and the prospect of being able to go to other countries to share your talents, a career as a chef is a great way to open those avenues.
Con: The pay for most chefs isn’t dazzling.
Again, this is an extremely competitive field. Only the top of the line make really big money, like celebrity chefs. The median pay for most chefs and head cooks is in the $30,000-$40,000 range. Many restaurants offer full time pay, but it doesn’t come with any benefits (like vacation time or health insurance). On the bright side, the more experience you gain and the more you develop your talents, the better qualified you are for the positions that do offer a high salary and benefits. And you can always depend on a chef being needed.