” Not all’s bad ! A happy, satisfying, financially rewarding life as a chef! “

Dear friends and colleagues,

So much has been said lately about the decline of our industry on many levels. I myself am most critical of many negative aspects. But just as good parents see all sides of their children and try to correct the less positive aspects, so do I and many of my fellow chefs love our profession, even if we are aware of the less positive sides of it. We don’t forget the tremendous riches our efforts have bestowed upon us in a LONG, mostly rewarding career. To make my point again and to hopefully help the “youngens” understand what it takes to get to the positive side of our journey as chef, I here give you an article I wrote some time ago for the same purpose.
Enjoy  🙂 

From Cook to Chef. A long, rewarding Journey
By Chef Hans Susser   CEC. CHE

So now that we have established that you want to become a Chef, let’s see how you can get there.
Many established chefs will try to warn you not to join our ranks. This probably comes from chefs who are tired of the position they are in at the moment. However keep in mind that for those chefs , in order to get to where they are now, at one point had to be as enthusiastic and positive as you are at this moment.
The first question that pops up is usually: ” Should I go to culinary school?” Until a few years ago I would have told everybody that this is a waste of time and money. However, I got older and I got wiser.
These days, without an education it is nearly impossible to get to a management position without proof of a degree or at least a diploma from a prestigious school. One has to realize that to be a very good cook will only be the minimum requirement once you reach the Executive Chefs position. You must also be very knowledgeable in human resource matters, food cost, labor cost, design, union rules, cleaning, public relations and many more such things. Most places will hire you to fix those things, not to teach them to you. There is a reason the other chef is not there anymore. A wealth of knowledge and skills, patience and diplomacy is expected from you when you walk in the door.Most of this you cannot learn in a school. It will take years off acquired skills and knowledge to become the Chef that you aspire to be.
Don’t be discouraged if things seem to go slow and tedious at the beginning. Think of your culinary career as a kind of snowball:
Lay a small snowball (your Career) on a snowy hill and see what happens: Nothing! But push, push, push and it starts to slowly roll down the hill and after a short time it will start to gain momentum all by itself and off it goes to become a giant snowball ( your Career).
Here, in a few words is how the snowball rolled for me:
I started as an apprentice when i was thirteen and a half years old, in a small hotel in the black forrest in Germany. Tough times. Long hours, sometimes no day off for many weeks. At that time there were no “shifts” , you where assigned to. It was normal for everybody to work breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eight hours?! Work at a bank. During my first year I earned room and board and approximately $20 cash a month. Second year about $60 a month and during the third year probably around $100. From the second year on, an apprentice was expected to run his or her own station.(VERY few girls in the kitchen at that time, 1967). My dream at that time was to become a disc jockey as soon as i finish my apprenticeship. Thanks God my dad gave me a few fresh ones to set my head straight. The next stations on my journey, as much as I remember now, were as follows:
One winter season as a Commis de Cuisine during winter season in Austria. (Hotel Alpenhof, Jungholz, Tyrol)
One summer season as a Commis de cuisine at the German seaboard.(Hotel See Schloesschen, Timmendorfer Strand).
One summer and winter (1972 summer olympics) as the lone cook with two helpers in a small restaurant and banquet facility in Munich (Gaststatte Zunfthaus).
One year during which I was promoted from Chef Tournant to Executive Chef at a Congress Center in Germany (Congresshalle Boeblingen) -The Chef got sick – there it was, my first big chance.
After that I took a year off to live in Hollywood, California. (A whole different story)
Then, 5 years as a Chef de Partie with Royal Viking Line, traveling around the world. Working hard, partying harder. Making tons of money. Spending tons of money.
After that, back to Germany for some time, working in a five-star restaurant as Chef de Partie and then going back as Executive Chef to the Congress Center in Boeblingen.
At around 1980 I took a position as Sous Chef in Manila, Philippines. I stayed there for a few years and was promoted to my first international position as Executive Chef.
From Manila I moved to Singapore and Thailand and eventually to Miami where I joined Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. During my time there as Senior Executive Chef I met my lovely wife Maria who also worked for RCCL.
For the next 15 years Maria and I traveled the world, living and working in a variety of Countries.
During my career in the hospitality industry I have held the positions of: Apprentice, Commis, Chef de Partie, Sous Chef, Executive Sous Chef, Executive Chef, Senior Executive Chef, Area Executive Chef, F&B Manager, Owner, Chef Instructor, Program Chair for the English Program at a Culinary College, Program Chair for the Spanish Program at a Culinary College.
I have worked in restaurants, hotels, cruise ships;
I worked in places where I was the only cook, in places where I was leading a staff of a few hundred and in places of any size in between.
I have lived and worked in such places as: Germany, United States, Jamaica, Grenada, US Virgin Islands, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, France, Thailand, Hong Kong, and probably a few more which I cannot remember right now. According to my wife Maria who keeps track of those things, I have lived, worked and or visited 128 countries in total.
Not bad for a kid who left school before he was 14 years old.
During the past 25 years in the hospitality industry my specialty for which companies hired me was to open new ventures or to bring back the former glory that many places had lost. This made for some very hectic and stressful but nevertheless beautiful and exciting years, which I would not want to miss for anything. (the money was great too). I lived mostly in five-star hotels or other high-class accommodations, provided by the companies i worked for. If you work at this level, most companies provide a high-class expatriate package, which can include great amenities for the whole family such as free travel, maid service, company car and chauffeur, free food, drinks, laundry, medical service, etc.
During the past seven years I have worked as a chef instructor at a local culinary college. Life is good, even without the stress and hectic. Sometimes I miss the crazy action, most times I don’t.

Well folks, there you have it. It is all out there, just waiting for you !
All you have to do is work hard, never give up and understand that all beginnings are tough.

Good Luck ! Life is Good !   

From CC.I Newsletter    7 / 201

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4 comments

  1. All of this is so true. If you want to be a chef it takes years of hard work and dedication. Thomas Keller and Marco Pier White did not wake up one day super chefs. They pushed and when the beast ( the restaurant) pushed back they just pushed harder. I can also attest to the difficulty of dropping out of school and not pursuing highet learning. As one of these folks you have to prove you deserve to be there as much if not more so than the college grad standing next to you. One of the things that the sous chefs at Bouchon Las Vegas drill in to your head is to be better than guy next to you. Work harder faster and smarter or he will make you obsolete.

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  2. Chef Hans, I am a journalist and food editor with a regional magazine (Coast and AlternativesNewsMagazine in Myrtle Beach, SC). I enjoyed reading your story. I have been involved in the food industry since Litton Microwave in 1964. You are spot on about education and certificates. In the 22 years that I was in the catering business I have employed my share of inexperienced, alcoholic and addicted cooks. I finally rose to the level of ACF Certified Executive Chefs. I now employ a second generation German chef that schooled in New England and interned around the world and most notably the Breakers in Palm Beach. He is the president of the local chapter of the ACF and is a chef instructor at our local college level culinary school. He can outwork and out think a half dozen cooks. His name is Chef Eric Wagner, CEC, and he teaches discipline in the kitchen and has a close brotherhood with many other professional chefs in this city of thousands of restaurants. My favorite kitchen book is “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. That’s the way I see it in all but the most professional restaurants including many that belong to the Chaine du Rottiseur.

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  3. This is a wonderful piece. Our Culinary Cornerstones program is for individuals with high barriers to a career. This is intended to get them started and focuses on the basics from knife skills to following recipes, from cleaning and sanitation to being reliable in your work habits (showing up on time). We are in many cases the first small push on that snowball, and we always emphasize that this is not a destination. This is the beginning of a journey — and where it leads you is substantially up to the determination and work that each individual puts into the journay.

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