” Why are chefs so poorly compensated? “

Great inside views by Jonas and Gil.
The sad thing is that the so called “Education Industry” has seemingly
unlimited marketing funds and still pulls in thousands of culinary students
every month all over the country with their illusionary tales about the
wonderful life of a “chef”. Their ads are seen by millions of people daily,
while cautionary comments like ours are seen by a few dozen. While job
opportunities dwindle,the amount of new cooks multiplies. Many very
young, unexperienced or older chefs are forced to take any job available
to them, at any salary, just to survive.

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17 comments

  1. As an older fella, who graduated from Culinary School with honors (on a career re-direct attempt), I found it hard to find a long-lasting, steady job, so I reopened my former business, still making 3-4 times what I was making working in a kitchen. Less stress from idiot managers who like to say I was lucky to have a job at all, and mentally abused workers. From my experience, the culinary field has a lot to learn in terms of treating people right. As a matured person, it’s not worth putting up with. Be prepared to deal with emotionally immature people who don’t have good business minds and live in the moment.

    Although I love to cook, and am fairly creative, life experiences aren’t appreciated in the kitchens I worked in. Egos, making $9.75/hr after 24 years experience, are ridiculous. A brand new person, without experience in my former (now current) field starts out at $10-12/hr, and we are known as the lowest paid in the construction industry.

    The culinary field has a lot more to work on than just pay structure, in my opinion…

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    1. Hospitality is a people business, whenever you have to interact with people you have to manage differing stakeholder expectations. Hospitality can offer significant financial rewards provided you are able to differentiate your offering in such a way people value your product service. Sadly Ken Anderson tale is the truth for most nevertheless this factor doesn’t justify poor management and pitiful job satisfaction.

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  2. I spent 6 years in the industry after 2 years of culinary school. I got out of it becasue I was tired of making $6-$9/ hr (in the mid 1990’s). You can’t pay your bills on that sort of income. Many of my culinary class is also now doing other things for the same reason. We all loved cooking, but couldn’t live off it. Out of roughly 100 grads I think only a handful are still in the culinary field.I got out in 98. I’ve now been in insurance (personal/commercial) for 10 years making a whole lot more. I also agree with Ken that the environment in addition to poor pay makes one wonder why anyone is in the industry at all. I would however recommend culinary school to anyone. If you like cooking it’s a great way to expand your horizons; especially if you don’t know what to do with yourself after highschool and/ or had less than stellar grades like I did. The structure of culinary school made it easier to learn and I went from a C highschool student to a B+. I actually enjoyed going to school.

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  3. i have been in the industry for almost 30 years,i agree in the start, you work like a dog and get paid nothing for the experiences of a lifetime.After that i have worked for various corporate companies they pay well but you give up your creativity. where independent companies give you all the freedom to plan any type of menu you desire,but usually pay poorly.Hotels I find pay the best but you have to be in a senior position.We as chefs contribute more to the bottom line than F&B,but are not compensated as well.

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  4. Cooking is a low level occupation and despite some attempts at creating star status for some it remains a low level occupation. Cooking food is not widely considered to be a valued occupation and when I see many chefs I can understand why … and I see a lot of chefs! For every good one there are many more idiots.

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    1. hello arno
      i would love to hear more of your thoughts about this low level occupation and your own occupation as well
      regards
      p

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      1. Hi Patrick, maybe I come across a bit severe. But this is my feeling. Cooking food throughout history has been a low level activity and whilst everybody since we can tell has always enjoyed a “good feed” it remains a fact that the kitchen has been relegated “out the back” downstairs” or otherwise “out of sight”. As much as people these modern times try to glorify cooking it remains an act of applying heat to dead things – usually animals or other creatures. It is the art of transforming dead animal flesh and in some cases organs into something else that appeals to the modern sense of beauty.
        I am a chef myself and have worked in many different arenas of food production. I have been Executive chef, Head chef, and all other positions in Australian kitchens. I have acted as a restaurant consultant and am versed in management techniques and financial aspects. In the course of my work I see many chefs I now run a chefs agency finding work for other chefs. Many chefs are pretty clueless and some are downright dumb. A smattering are excellent and could be successful in any occupation. A small number are outstanding individuals with admirable skills and ability and intelligence. I am sorry but the average run of the mill chef that crosses my radar is more commonly described in less flattering terms.
        If you have any specific questions I would be happy to answer them.

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  5. Russ Orford :
    Mike you hit the nail Right on the head I do not mind doing long hours , if the rest of the management are doing the same ” all for one and one for all ” What has always got me is to see front end and office management come in to work at 10am , that’s 3 hours after me , watch them then stop at 2pm to have a nice long lunch ( normaily center stage in the restauarnt ) whilst I am grabing a BLT on the run ” then seeing them pop by the kitchen on their way out the door at 6pm to say ” have a great night Chef ” !!!!!!!! some times I think these managers and the General public look at us like we are some Character from Lord of the rings !! a Troll draning our knuckles, and if not that a loud mouth bully who yells at everyone . I must say that if you took any normal person of the street put them in a Atmosphere and worked them 14 plus hours aday with little or no breaks in 37 C plus Temperatures , with little or no staff , you would see them run out the door screaming and pulling their hair out. But as chefs we do it every day day in day out so please excuses my temper flare ups , my glazed look, my zero Tolerance for stupidity and lazy people !

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    1. Thank you for that. It definetly takes a strong person to do what we do, and no one likes making up for stupid, lazy, ignorant people. There was just one more aspect of the job that you did not mention that will set every chef in the industry off. The banker, construction worker or the so called “foodies”, in other words people whos only experience in the kitchen is making a can of spaghetti o’s, telling us that their steak temp is wrong or our methods are in correct. Blah

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      1. Yes Matt you are correct. It can be very frustrating and even upsetting. But get used to it – everyone out there is an expert. You need a thick skin to survive.

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      1. Hey arno and david. Please believe that after 11 yrs in the food service industry, starting as a busser and progressing all the way to sous chef, I have a very thick skin and absolutely LOVE what I do. I was merely addressing the one gripe that at least every chef I have worked for has had if not every chef in the world has had that was not fore mentioned in the blog before mine. How ever you are both correct. This job is not for everyone. It takes a special kind.

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  6. Ken said; “Although I love to cook, and am fairly creative, life experiences aren’t appreciated in the kitchens I worked in.” I am also an “older fella” who came up in kitchens the old fashioned way(started at dish machine age 14) I would have to disagree. Life experience is highly valued, as long as it is culinary experience. I recently had a cook working for me who had just graduated from a “culinary” school who was also doing a career change. He was fairly creative, as long as he was cooking Hungarian food. He had great experience managing a retail outlet so he dealt well with other employees providing direction and supervision. However he had just started scratching the surface of being a Chef, his cooking was delicious and attractive, but limited in it’s scope. I personally can cook 8 or 9 different cuisines using native ingredients. He did not know the difference between nuoc mam and Mole, or mangosteen and pawpaw. Great cook, not so good Chef.
    I’m not saying that we are well compensated, but the people coming out of all the culinary schools have got to have more realistic expectations. They have all seen the commercials;”Do you want to be a Chef/ F&B Director/ Restaurant owner?” They don’t know how many years it takes to absorb all of the life experiences we have. They seem to think our industry is like a bank, you get your degree and suddenly you are a VP of something or other.
    You know I could keep going for days, but I think wisdom dictates that I shut the hell up now before I start rambling and writing my Manifesto and demanding it be published in Culinary school handbooks.

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  7. You are so right about the “dumbness” of the average chef. There are few intelligent individuals out there.
    I think that far too many take up the vocation as “just a job” and therfore lack the passion neccessary to be truly successful.
    In the modern hospitality industry one is required not only to be a skilled craftsman but in addition must be fully versed in the IT skills related to cost of sales control, menu engineering and so forth.

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