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« Shuna in London: the job that inhaled my life. | Main | hot chocolate at flat white. soho, london »

08 December 2008


To this type of account, I have always responded accordingly...

Yes, innumerable hours go "unpaid," per se, and yet no one is forcing anyone to work in these conditions. The fact is, when a person finds a career that suites them, that completes him, perhaps, she is getting paid much more than the hourly wage on his/her pay stub.

True, the cook doesn't work 8 hours a day, but in turn, the cook doesn't get paid merely 11 dollars an hour either.

It's so easy to lose sight of what drives us in our fields. Passion is indeed exhaustible, and when we break down our hours into dollars and cents it is disheartening because that equation excludes so many factors that drive us to do our work.

Great post. I was thinking today about the European apprentice system is, and how different things would be if that was in place in the US. When you are 14 or 15 or 16 you can bust your ass all day, sleep in whatever space they give you, and just immerse yourself. You become a chef when you are ready – after years and years of training. Here you can pay lots of money to go to school, but you are not a chef when you come out. You may think you are, but you’re not. Restaurant owners may think you are, but you’re not. You can pose all you want for your family and friends, but you are not a chef. You need to bust your ass to get there. And you need to put in the hours, because there is always something that can be better. If you are not interested in better, you might as well throw your apron in.

Lovely post Shuna. I agree that one should not count all the hours that she puts into knowing the craft against pecuniary compensation. To my mind this is obvious.

But I would not advise anyone who has confidence in their skills and who is happy to take their work home to work without pay. That's for stagieres who cannot afford to pay and people of independent means who don't want to pay for instruction. Otherwise, the boss pays.

I have been reading your blog for a while and this post forced me to come out to comment. I love this post and the beautiful candid honesty of your words.

Your dedication and true passion for your profession and work shows through. I love the beauty and deliciousness that your work gives to us that love to look at (and photograph) and eat beautiful pastry.|

I try in my own small home cook ways to aspire to your aesthetic and it makes what I bake a tiny bit better each time that I follow your lead.

You are a true inspiration, girl...keep on keepin' on....!
Merci mille fois...

Very nice post, Shuna. I did short stints in a professional kitchen and catering company after completing an intensive cooking diploma. It became clear quickly enough to me that, though I enjoyed cooking and baking, I didn't have the drive and innate sense of urgency to work in this field. I came to cooking after 15 years in office work. It was hard to justify a cook's salary when I knew I could make 50% more sitting in an office, working regular hours. Professional cooking is definitely a calling. :)

It's like anything else - find what you truly, deeply, love to do, then work your ass off at it. Because you love it. And hope it pays enough to survive. And then when you've done it for 15 or 20 years, maybe you've earned the right to back off a bit and still get respect, and have other parts of your life too.

Or, don't give a shit, work your 8 hours, and wake and do the other kind of baking every day. It's your life, eh?

The hardest job I ever had was as a caterer. It was insane the hours I worked, with a 40 minute drive on either side. I finally quit when I realized that I never had any recollection of how I had gotten home, I was always on auto-pilot. That wasn't a good thing.

Thanks for this post Shuna, you've pulled my heart strings again. I worked hard at this for over 10 years and feel lucky to make 12 plus tips. If it was about the money, I would have left long ago. Thanks again!

Well I'll be looking forward to that...

My husband always said one needed loose nuts and bolts in their heads to work as much for so little and he would also add that to very few people know that passion and dedication are priceless. I think he is the priceless one for sticking it out with me.
Great read as always Shuna. I truly hope that you'll put all these thoughts in book form. My selfish way to read you more often!

You're our voice Shuna.

This is a great post. As a working owner of a food business I think she addressed the industry on both sides of the coin. Employees and owners who really enjoy the actual process of doing their food job and embrace it with all of its good and bad components --and-- the business side, the customer and how much he is willing to spend. The equation doesn't seem fare to the cooks, dishwashers, wait staff or chefs most of the time. But we food people value doing a good job and making good food, and most of the time it doesn't get done in 8 hours. A little acknowledgement from the general public would go a long way. This is also an excellent post for culinary school students or career switchers to read. Thanks and I hope you are enjoying your new job.

I am not a chef -- not even close, I just graduated from law school -- but I will remember to come back and read these words as I begin my career. Thank you.

Thanks Shuna,
I always have an urge to write something negative about my own situation at work,Union shop! I was once a Union man but I never acted like one, I preferred cooking and still do, trying to find others who share that love is hard in my place, occasionally we outsource help and I recently found a cook who has a fondness and appreciates good food!
Cheers and I want to interview you, your a great inspiration!(lots of exclamations,I meant it man!)

The question is how do we- food people get paid a decent wage for a good job done? Most food people I know either have a good salary and work 25 hours a day like your post says or work alot of hours at more than one place to get a total decent salary. How does one make a good product, have a balanced life and make it affordable to the masses? Why should all the work go uncredited either in gratitude or salary?
I hope you are enjoying Europe. Do they have better balance for their food workers?

After interviewing you in SF this summer, this post brings me back to why I, and the people around me, were so enraptured with you - you truly love your work. You talk about it, you execute with a passion of an Olympic athlete.

Thank you for this wonderful piece Shuna.

Well said. I worked in many a kitchen and at the front of the house during college and law school, and miss the excitement, the interaction, the creativity, the people, and the food. I don't miss the hours, at all, however-- my passion just isn't passionate enough to make a go of it, and I routinely tell people that chefs and other professional cooks are the toughest working people around.

That was the best most concise sum up of what it truly is like in this business called "cooking" that i've ever read. I'm not sure my family/friends have ever understood the way I work, but after showing them this post, they will. Thanks for (as always) your candor.

Anders, To illuminate your loved ones is an honour. Thank you !

Ahhhh yes.. a job with lots of OT. OT=Own Time =)

Well said!!! Like you I have been in the industry for a long time close to 15 years now and I honestly couldn't imagine my life without it. Living with me is living with my job as a pastry chef and chocolatier.
I am a fan, I love love love my job. No I don't always like the "stuff" that comes with it, but I accept!
I am 32, just completed 3 months in Barcelona staging, now in London for some more. Where does it stop, for me I am already planning round 2, where can i enhance my training next.
I just can't get enough of this cooking business. Its love and commitment beyond words!

I can relate with this article. Friends who are not in the industry can never understand the effort and time I put into it. Its a world in its own, no matter how small it is. Being a chef is the greatest thing that happened to me. I will not trade it for anything else.

Idn't really understand how many hours they work a day .... ):

I was very interested to read your blog - an honest insight into another world for me. You seem incredibly dedicated and I understand this is more than your job, it is your life.

I am currently writing a novel set in a small independent restaurant and was researching working hours. Would it be realistic to expect owner/maitre d to arrive 7 am; head chef at 8; final two chefs at 8.30; waiting staff an hour before opening; the restaurant to close at midnight?

Thank you for squeezing time out of your hectic life to read/answer this.

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