From Cook To Chef. A Long, Tough & Very Rewarding Journey

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” Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. “

Dear Friends of ChefsOpinion,

When I started this blog in April of 2012, my circle of readers was very small and consisted mostly of friends and colleagues I knew already from other parts of life.
Now, one year later, the situation has changed tremendously, with daily clicks averaging between 400/500, on someday’s far exceeding the 1000 click mark 🙂
Lot’s of folks stumble across ChefsOpinion by accident and have no idea about my professional background , where and what I’ve been and what the philosophy of  ChefsOpinion is all about .
So, since I had so many inquiries lately about my professional past, I thought I should re-publish the following article of mine which I wrote mainly to address my students at le cordon bleu . It was first published at  ChefCook.us  about three years ago and was re-published here on ChefsOpinion about a year ago. It will give newcomers to ChefsOpinion a bit of information who they are dealing with when they visit my blog and might even enlighten some others about the possibilities and opportunities  which present them self in our line of work.

Should you just start out as a cook and need a bit of encouragement,  I wish you the best of luck!
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From Cook To Chef. A Long, Tough, Rewarding Journey.
An Open Letter To All Young Cooks.

By Chef Hans Susser

So, now that you 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 or who never really made it to the top of our profession or are simply burned out after many years of hard work under less then pretty circumstances.
Keep in mind that for those chefs , in order to get to where they are now, at one point they had to be as enthusiastic, positive and full of dreams 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. Unfortunately these day’s, without a piece of paper which proves that you attended school for a certain amount of time, your life/professional expertise is useless in this country and many others. These day’s it is nearly impossible to get to a management position without proof of a degree or at least a diploma from a prestigious school, no matter how much actual experience and skills you possess.
On the other hand, 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 a myriad of other 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. So here it is : You first need to get your papers (diploma) THEN  (maybe) you will be given the chance to actually learn, experience and practice what you already are “licensed” to do. “Catch 22″,  really.
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 now, in a few words, is how the snowball of my career rolled for me:

I started as an apprentice when I was thirteen and a half years old, in a small hotel in the black forest in Germany  (Hotel Wiedenfelsen in Buehlertal). Tough times. Hard work. Long hours, sometimes no day off for many weeks. At that time there were no “shifts”  you were assigned to. It was normal for everybody to work breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eight hour workdays ?! Go 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 secret dream at that time was to become a disc jockey as soon as I’d finish my apprenticeship. Thanks God my dad found out and 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 (Gaststaette 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 and I had to take over – 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 (Ratskeller Ludwigsburg) and then going back as Executive Chef to the Congress Center in Boeblingen.

At around 1980 I took a position as Sous Chef at the Manila Midtown Hotel 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 (Excelsior Hotel) and Thailand (VERY extended vacation 🙂  ) 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 de Cuisine, 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 and 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, Singapore, 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 and, after apprenticeship,  had no further formal education.

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 one works 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, etc.

During the past seven years I have worked as a chef instructor at a local culinary college (Le Cordon Bleu, Miami). 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 !
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Link to pictures of some of the places I worked at over the years.
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Link to more professional background of chef Susser

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hans susser..... 

hans susser 

hans susser five star diamond award 

hans susser, ca 1987 

hans susser, ca 1988 

hans susser, singapore, ca 1984 

hans susser. 1985 

hans susser. buenos aires 

hans susser. ca 1986 

hans susser. rare vacation. at home in cologne. ca 1987 

hans susser. rio de janeiro 

 
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32 comments

  1. Your summary ‘enter with abandon or not at all’ is absolutely right. I would add those who do only to discover they don’t have the aptitude for professional cooking soon leave. If they are fortunate they leave with a respect for those who are professional chefs plus a sense of good will having at least ventured into alternative working life. Most aren’t even willing to try.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I must say,this Artikel is the Life of a real Chef just like i wrote you the last time.It is great
    for your Readers,so the no what a Chef has to do to get to the top of the Ladder.I hope
    some young People read this before the make up the mine to be a Chef some Day.You are a hundred percent right,i have to say this from my own experience.
    Thank you for editing this i enjoyed reading it and memories came back!
    Lets duet over again and have fun.GREETINGS ROLF

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hans, You are my idol. If you do not understand the idol part, let me know; it is the root word for idolatry, but don’t be so conceited, this is from the professional and human point of view. You are not so handsome!

    Hope Maria is doing better. Love, Carmen and Zeke

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you Chef, never give up, work hard and know it will not be easy! I am adding one more; you are never too old to start…… I have always been an avid cook, owned a small catering business and taught basic fundamentals to those who know nothing about cooking. I did this for fun only, at 50 years of age I was downsized out of my job, I took a few days to visit my oldest son; he said to me what now mom, my reply was I’m not sure. He handed me a pamphlet and said it’s time go back to school finish your degree and do what you love most. I looked down at the pamphlet and noticed it was for culinary school. I looked up at him and said your right it is time.
    It is now three years later, I’m in school, I hold an average of 3.6 to 4.0 GPA. I will have my Bachelors degree in culinary management and graduate in June.
    Last year I landed a cook position in a great restaurant, and within the first 90 days was promoted to head chef, and then BOH manager, and corporate trainer.
    I work 60 to 70 hours per-week, attending school full time, I have given up much to peruse my passion and career. It has not been easy, to do what I have done in such a short amount of time and especially being a a woman chef in a mans world.
    Students ask me all the time how I got lucky, my answer is simple, there was no luck! It is trusting in myself, working hard, staying focused and not complaining about how tired I am! What made it happen was doing everything it took, to show the owners of my company I was the best!
    I’ve never been happier, it is the best thing I have ever done, I love being a chef! I can’t wait to see what my next adventure is in this amazing wonderful culinary world. I’m hoping I can land a job in Europe soon, nothing is better than hands on education.
    Ciao, Juanita

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Most wonderful Chef Hans,
    I will pass this to the students at Lane Community College Culinary,
    I myself am in the throws of putting my career to paper, one another project, a book, about Chefs for now shall we say, “Gang of Four, Chefs” catchy title, with a story to prove it. always a pleasure.
    I too remember when though my Career had a lot more lines, than the lights.
    Still “Life is good!”
    Chef John

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I left the restaurant industry because I felt that there were too many chiefs and not enough indians. The problem with culinary kids is that there is now a surplus and they think that they are chef or deserve the position right out of school. In the end, I decided to become a R&D chef and work in the food retail industry. I still get to do what I love (creat & cook) but without the politics and drama. Great story thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hans
    I believe our ways has crossed twice
    munich 72, i was working at the Humplmayer [Commis]
    and pakistan Avari [Corporate Chef]
    your descripton of your carrier is completly right,
    i think nowadays it would be unthinkable to have such a way.
    Anyway, Enjoy you Life [ LG]
    Chef Udo

    ;

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Hans ,

    A great article and I relate to your passion which has similarities to my own 58 years career, from apprentice cook to exec chef and teacher to head of school and all steps between

    You may be interested in reading some in the following:

    http://chefpedia.org/wiki/index.php?title=My_induction_into_a_commercial_kitchen

    In addition, I am currently writing a book, which attempts to describe the “SAKE” philosophy and the characteristics of a chef, which can be seen

    http://chefpedia.org/wiki/index.php?title=SAKE:_Skills,_Attitude,_Knowledge_and_Experience.

    Culinary Regards
    George Hill
    National Awards of Excellence: F.S.A.A. – NAFES – AFMA
    Industry acknowledgements: Pioneer. Les Toques Blanches – Black Hat. A.C.F.
    General chef’s website: http://www.salonculinaire.com
    Competition website: http://www.auschef.com
    Certification website: http://www.certifiedchef.com
    Encyclopedia website: http://www.chefpedia.org
    Wikipedia: Wikipedia Reference – Chef George Hill

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi,
    Great article Chef. I have enrolled in a cookery course here in Sydney at 46 years of age and have had to fend off the constant negative feedback; long hours, low pay and no recognition.

    I worked as a pot washer many years ago in a few different restaurants and what I noticed was the camaraderie amongst the chefs and in fact amongst all staff in the kitchen.

    After working on farms most of my life and suddenly finding myself working in a call centre(and hating it); I find my mind returning to the kitchens.

    Well, it is now or never. I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I am just hoping to eventually work in some bistro pub somewhere in a beautiful part of Australia or in Portugal(where my family is from).

    Hard work has always been good therapy for me and I think my current erratic behavior can probably be attributed to sitting in an office all day and going home feeling totally dissatisfied!

    Bring on 2014!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark,
      Way to go! I have been working in the culinary field off and on most of my life. But it wasn’t until I went to culinary school at “50” years of age that it all changed for me. Because of my Bachelors degree in Culinary Management I am now the Director of Food and Nutritional Services for a hospital. I have always loved what I do, cooking is my life and passion, not I actually made the money that I’m worth!
      So in the end “you are never to old”, go for it enjoy school and show those youngster’s who your are! You will soon be the one they all go for advise!

      Like Ches Hans Susser say’s “Life is Good!”

      Chef Juanita

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hellow chef, thanks for sharing those experience, I myself is on internship right now on the pastry department, and I wanted to ask that how do you overcome the physical and mental stress. To be honest , I’m kinda intimidated by the staff on the hotel, they are working like crazy and never looked tired.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Addo,
      If you truly love what you are doing, your colleagues will soon realize that and will welcome you into their community.
      We work hard, play hard and if we are tired, we just get over it 🙂
      Being a cook/pastry cook/or chef is about passion, attitude and life style. It is certainly not for everyone. But-if it is for you, you will grow into it 🙂
      You might want to read what I wrote about this a few years back:

      http://hospitality21.com/open-letter-young-cooks/

      Best regards, good luck and keep your head up! All beginnings are tough 🙂

      Like

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