shuna lydon

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« Black Walnuts, what do you know? | Main | sometimes life makes you smile first thing in the morning. »

25 August 2006


Thanks for that. I don't want to be a professional cook, but I am going up for a job interview soon that will net me no cash in an industry I love and to compensate I will need to do a skut job- I've picked waitressing. This post helped me realize that there is so much going on in a kitchen and that I will have to deal with fellow staff who are clawing their way through life and not just customers (who will be trying in their own special way). Good luck.

Wow, a lot of that sounds just scary! Yet, I have been thinking off asking a local Indian place if they would ever have me.
Thanks for the insight and advice, it will help a lot.
See you Sunday!

Yeah, I'll stick to the other flavor of insanity in the dot-com media world. The abuse is more subtle and gentle. But oy, the politics.

i wanted to say a little hello. i have been reading and enjoying your blog for some time now and you always seem to verbalize how i felt when i was entering a new kitchen, visiting one, deeply entrenched in, and leaving one. thank you.

I'm astonished at the scale of the trial process you had to go through. Is that typical when applying for a chef's position in the US?


Indeed! For chef positions there is at least one interview and a tasting. But oftentimes there's more than that. 2 years ago I trailed at a place for 2 weeks straight & didn't get the job!

The idea is that they want to "make sure" you're the right person. Also you're competing against a secret number of people...

Should I move to Australia?

Shuna... you dont know how close
i came to going to CCA, In SF. But
i just felt that they were asking for alot of money for a pastry arts program... My mom is a really good, closet pastry chef. When i was younger she use to make cakes and cookie platters and sell them for extra money... I have some talent for baking, but i think its better and cheaper to work for free and to buy alot of cookbooks!

As a chef, we have to jump through hoops so often during our careers, which are often aflame and that is just not taught in culinary school. If one is indeed interested in becoming a chef stick to a focused 6 month program(i.e. the French Culinary Institute) go to work, read & take your lumps. If the perils of chefdom are not appealing but you are drawn to the business then one of the 4 years schools(CIA, Johhson & Whales) on the east coast may be thing for you, given you a great foundation for other areas of the culinary field…random thoughts by a chef junkie.

well said.

the one thing i can add to that -- if you're a woman in this field, don't come off like you're a badass with something to prove, especially if you have no experience. you won't last five minutes.

i work in a unique restaurant in town (that must remain anonymous here); not only am i female, i am also a shift leader, responsible for as many as 20 dudes (and 3 girls) on a weekend, 10 on weeknights. tonight, we served 783 people in about an hour in a half with only one "dead" plate of food, one major complaint, and an average of 22-25 minute ticket times. we sling food like nowhere else in town can even imagine. one of the guys i went to culinary school with used to complain about getting slammed with 200 covers over a period of six hours. i couldn't help but laugh at him. even my instructors couldn't fathom our volume compared to our time frame. 783 in about 90 minutes. slinging. madness. i love it.

being a line cook is not something "regular" folk can understand. no offense intended, i never understood before i got in the kitchen. this wasn't something i had to think about, i knew i was going to do it and i knew i was going to be awesome at it. i've been in this industry only a year and a half. i wish i had gotten in sooner but i knew if i had at 18 or 19 (i'm 31), i would NEVER have been able to handle it. no matter who you are, male or female, you MUST have a thick skin. it's a locker room mentality, politics and drugs and their fallout are rampant and the front of the house has NO CLUE what we do back there.

i wouldn't trade it for the world. i'm much happier with the threat of cut off fingertips and 3rd degree burns than sitting in front of a computer screen for $8 an hour. the idea of going back to that is worse than hell. here's to a bright and dirty future.

/if you can't get on the line, wash dishes for a summer job. it worked for Tony Bourdain (as he never lets us forget ;-)

Excellent post, and comments! Very illuminating. If we in the dining room ever thought about any of this, we would never eat out at all.

Also, it's funny to me because people often tell me I should do what you do, be a pastry chef, and I always just laugh in their faces. It's one thing to take a couple of hours on a whim to create a couple of fancy pound cakes (or whatever) in the privacy of one's own messy kitchen (in other words, in one's own probably-not-up-to-health-code kitchen, what with the cat hanging out in there looking for the odd dropped butter pat and all) and then give them away a serving at a time as little joy gifts. It's a whole other thing to pump out hundreds of something every day and rely on other people to help one execute at speed in the environment you have described. No. Never. It would utterly sap my love. I really am amazed at people choosing and even embracing this path. The mere idea makes me want to crawl into bed for the rest of my life.

But here's a question: Would having your own bakery be different? What is the difference between being pastry chef for a restaurant vs. running a commercial bakery with a storefront? And if you, Shuna, don't have your own bakery, why not?

Great advice.

Anyone reading this who is interested in culinary school, I beg of you to go work in a kitchen for at least 3 months. Make sure you want to do this for a living (meager as it is) and if you answer yes after that time, ask yourself if the investment in school is worth it. You'll come out deeply in debt making less than $12.00 an hour in many cases. School is simply not a sound investment. . invest the money back into yourself. . . Shuna's ideas are golden. I can't tell you how many kids have worked for me who are $45,000 in debt at 20 years old with a $9.00 an hour job. They realize once they work for someone who can mentor them that they could have learned everything on the job.

A new school recently opened in Portland called the Oregon Culinary Institute. So far, the word-of-mouth about the school has been very good. Apparently it was started by mutineers from one of the Cordon Bleu schools. The school costs considerably less, and the education is supposedly much more practical for the actual restaurant industry. Cheers ~

I wore your t-shirt to school the other day... fun t-shirt... i was just wondering if you will give that cocoa sourcream cupcake recipe that goes great with the chocolate frosting recipe you gave :)


when I feel that the cake is well tested I'll give the recipe. It has some issues that have to do with the kind of cocoa used... until I figure out the kinks I don't want to pass it along.

thanks for representing the Old School Tool!

School -- the right school -- is a good option for some people.

I started culinary school at 48, knowing that I'd never get into a good kitchen, even as a volunteer, because of my previous high-tech salary ("Oh, he'll just leave the minute a real job comes along."). And I didn't have time to acquire enough OJT to get me where I wanted to be in the long run.

So I went to a well-regarded local community college, got an excellent practical education -- partly because I worked really, really hard. I paid about $1,500 a semester, including tuition, books, tools, and uniforms. So about $6k for my associate's degree, My first job was as as the A.M. Pastry Chef at a country club, despite the fact that I was 51 at the time. As you have noted elsewhere in your blog, everybody knows everybody, and my instructors were valuable allies in my job search.

So, for me, school was the ticket.

I am a recovering culinary school student (finished my externship last year). And I wrote a post about the pros and cons of culinary school, called “Should I go to culinary school from someone who has been.”

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you.

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