From Tonia Schmidt, graduating culinary arts student at Le Cordon Bleu, Boston:
I graduate in September with an associate’s degree in culinary arts. I grew up in Hampton, New Hampshire and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 17 years old. Culinary arts was something I was always interested in but I mostly worked in front of the house jobs. I moved to Montana when I was 20 years old and helped open a winery there while being a stay-at-home mom. Two years ago I thought, “You know what, I want to go home,” so I moved back to New England. I saw a Le Cordon Bleu commercial and thought I would apply, so I did, and when I did a tour of the campus I was so excited. Everything in me knew that that’s where I wanted to be.
I didn’t go to culinary school to learn how to cook, I went to learn the business side of things. I’m going to be doing an externship at a restaurant called “Olivia’s” at Disney World in Florida that does fine dining and I’m excited to learn that. After graduation, I’ve thought about starting my own catering business. My long-term career goal is to be successful and own my own business in this industry. My favorite thing is when I’ve prepared a meal and everyone is sitting around the table and it’s quiet. It’s quiet because everyone is enjoying the food. That’s what makes me happy.
Advice from Molly Loveday, Hospitality & Events Manager at Sarma Restaurant, Somerville:
I am thrilled to hear that you made the choice to pursue your professional future in the culinary/hospitality field! It is a difficult decision to make, but you will find the work to be deeply rewarding. I recognize and appreciate that same feeling of happiness when everyone is gathered around the table, silently enjoying, communing together over something as basic as a home-cooked meal; those occurrences are profound and meaningful. What I have learned from my time in this industry is that those moments do not necessarily happen (visibly/audibly) every single day, but…seeking them out… that is what drives me. It is best to be honest with yourself from the get-go: you will be faced with challenges, and frustrations, there is no doubt, but hopefully those moments are fewer & farther between, and you can learn to grow from them. Getting into uncomfortable situations, that’s what makes us better at what we do- it’s a muscle, and you develop it over time and get better at adapting and figuring things out (a wise woman very close to me once told me that. It’s so very true!). Don’t be afraid to jump in and really commit yourself to the process.
To that end, I think it is important that you are exploring some avenues via externship, testing the waters in fine dining, agriculture, and wherever else the road has led you thus far. Cook, practice, learn the classics, master the basics, develop your technique, then try new things, make mistakes, branch out with different cuisines. Read, research, explore and cold-call/email people in your network for advice. Offer to stage in exchange for a chance to see some different things. I believe that once you feel comfortable in a kitchen, and confident in your culinary skills, what you do with them is limitless!
Myself, I took a varied approach to a career in hospitality; teaching cooking classes, farming, catering, bar tending, serving and restaurant managing, among other things. I think it has given me great exposure to what the industry has to offer, while helping me decide where I really want to ‘dig in’ the most. I can say that from my time catering, you will find yourself dropped into the kitchen amidst people’s personal lives- sometimes you are just there to cook and blend into the scenery, sometimes you are invited to be part of a very intimate setting (a wedding, a christening, a funeral), and sometimes, your food & the event itself, is the star of the show! What I loved about that time (besides the great people I worked with), was the fact that every day was a new & unique challenge!
I think people can find a niche in catering & doing the personal-chef gig; it is a chance to combine your philosophy with your abilities. You have to be creative with marketing yourself and making sure you stay busy- my advice is while exploring career options, try to incorporate several revenue streams in case you are not in love with something early on (i.e. work for several catering companies at once, and shop around until you find the best fit). In the meantime, I would recommend in your down time, that you try your hand at throwing parties for your friends- very low pressure- to see how your personal cooking style & organizational skills come together with time constraints/ restrictions/ etc. and see if you really love it!
I wish you the best of luck & encourage you to keep at it!
Good luck & keep us posted on your success,