Chef Mil

Berkeley, CA

Female, 49

I have been working in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years (two of the restaurants had been in the SF Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants). I have cooked mostly Mediterranean food, but have some experience with Asian food. I went to cooking school, and worked my way up from being a prep cook (think--prepping 3 cases of artichokes, de-boning 100 quail, and juicing a case of lemons!) to being a chef at a well known restaurant in my area. And no, I am not the yelling type! :)

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93 Questions


Last Answer on March 14, 2013

Best Rated

Hi, awesome thread, thanks. If I want to become a professional chef and have no experience, what path do you recommend I take and how do I get started?

Asked by Wannabe almost 12 years ago

Hi Wannabe, You are welcome! I recommend that you first get some kind of job in a kitchen, even if it is washing dishes so you can get the feel of a restaurant. If you still like it and want to pursue becoming a chef, you can either go to cooking school or find a good restaurant that's willing to train you. Stay there for a year or two, and then find another good restaurant and learn from them too. If you decide to go the cooking school route, I recommend a junior college cooking school. Don't spend a lot of money going to an expensive school where you'll owe $70K once you get out. You most likely won't be making a lot of money starting out. I must admit, it isn't easy becoming a chef. You won't get paid much starting out and you'll probably be made to do all kinds of lowly jobs such as de-boning 100 quail which I did several times in my early years. I don't like saying this, but I've seen so many people go to chef school, owe a lot of money, find out they hate cooking in restaurants, and leave the profession shortly after. There's also a book I recommend you read that'll give you the lowdown. It called Becoming a Chef. They have lots of good advice in there too. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I'm happy to help.

Is it true that we should avoid restaurants on Sundays, because they don't receive deliveries that day and so the food isn't as fresh?

Asked by R. Jay almost 12 years ago

Yes! I would have to agree with that, especially with seafood items. I myself avoid fish on Sundays and Mondays. Sort of gross, huh? :)

What is the difference of a cook and chef?

Asked by FridayLover over 11 years ago

Hi Friday, Thanks for the question. To me, a chef is in charge of the menu (writing, testing, plating, and teaching the dish to the rest of the staff), the kitchen staff, ordering ingredients etc. When I became a chef, I didn't cook much "on the line" anymore which I missed. A cook is the person that executes the dish in real time, usually under the direction of the chef. They also do a lot of the prep for the dish. When I was a cook, I didn't have to take work home, when I was done for the night, that was it. I wouldn't call myself a chef for a long time, not until I had an official title. It seemed presumptuous to do so. I feel one had to pay their dues in order to become a "chef".

Time and time again I hear that "restaurants are a tough business." But I mean, most are businesses tough. What is it about the restaurant biz specifically that makes it so especially tough?

Asked by Bang Bang Chang over 11 years ago

Hi Bang Bang, Mind you, I haven't worked at lots of other jobs...But what I noticed about cooking professionally that's harder than other jobs: working times that most people have off, starting at a very low wage and working your way up, standing for hours on end, and the pace in a professional kitchen. Thanks for the question.

How much do chefs at top restaurants in major cities like NYC or LA make in a year?

Asked by cragsly almost 12 years ago

Hi Cragsly, If you're talking about the well known chefs with tv shows and endorsements, I can imagine their salaries can easily run into 6 figures. I imagine a chef of a big restaurant, nothing else, clearing $90K to 100K . The chef I worked for was making $90K. I only knew because a waiter friend pulled a paper with all the figures out of the trash and gave it to me. Sneaky, huh?

Have you ever owned or co-owned your own restaurant? If not, what's kept you from doing so?

Asked by McKnight over 11 years ago

Hi McKnight, Nope, I have never owned a restaurant and never want to. After watching the owners I have worked for, I have noticed it's a 24/7 business. For example, one busy Saturday night, the owner had to come in because the toilet was clogged and the restaurant was flooded with water. Headache!! Another time, he had to come in at 3:00 am because the alarm went off. Most people who start restaurants who haven't worked in the biz think it's just about food. It isn't. You have to deal with linen, insurance, employee issues, the health inspector, the dishwashing machine, customers, etc. It's a lot and this business makes you wear more hats than you think. I just wanted to concentrate on food, have a life outside of the restaurant, and I'd rather someone else take care of all that stuff... Great question!

What's your opinion on minimalist dish presentations vs. busier, more heavily "decorated" presentations?

Asked by Elliot R. (NYC) almost 12 years ago

Hi Elliot, That is a good question. My top priority is taste, and taste alone. But having said that, I usually don't like a dish that I feel had a lot of hands on it, i.e. the "decorated" presentations. Also, I feel each and every thing on the plate has to make sense; it's not just thrown on there "just because". I've seen a lot of plates like that and it's not enjoyable to eat something that looks and tastes like a Christmas present. :)