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Guide to Culinary Arts Programs & Career Cooking Schools

ShawGuides' Survey of Leading Chefs
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ShawGuides' Survey of Leading Chefs

What do top chefs and restaurateurs look for in hiring a new employee? Where do they find qualified candidates? How much can a beginning cook or chef expect to earn? An experienced chef?

We sought answers to these and other questions by conducting a survey in 1995 of the leading chefs in Europe and the U.S. Our 36-question survey was mailed to the executive chefs of 539 European restaurants that were rated 1-, 2-, or 3-star by the 1995 Michelin guides and 973 U.S. restaurants that were rated among the top 40 in each of 30 metropolitan areas by the 1995 Zagat Survey. A total of 391 (29% of the European, 24% of the U.S.) chefs responded.

What knowledge, personal qualities, education, and experience are most desirable in a new employee?
Each chef was asked to rate 10 abilities/qualities on a scale of 1 (least important) to 5 (most important). The following were rated 4 or 5 by most of the respondents:
· Professional demeanor 93%
· Product knowledge 89%
· References 71%
· Accredited training 62%
· Knowledge of cuisine specific to the region 60%

What is the starting salary in your restaurant?
$15,000 to $19,999 per year 52%

What is the top salary for a chef in your restaurant?
Nearly 65% of the respondents stated that they had an ownership interest in their restaurants.
· $30,000 to $49,999 per year 52%
$50,000 to $74,999 per year 25%
· More than $200,000 per year 2%

Are/were any of your immediate family members chefs or restaurateurs?
More than 65% of the respondents had family ties to the profession.
· Parent 33%
· Grandparent 23%
· Uncle or aunt 15%
· Sibling 13%
· Other (mostly cousins and in-laws) 16%

How old were you when you decided to become a chef and how long have you been involved in your profession?
The average age at which responders made the decision to pursue a culinary career was 18 for both American and European chefs, but the European chefs had been at it longer -- an average of 25.5 years versus 19.5 years for the U.S. chefs.

Describe your background and training.
· Changed careers 25%
· Started as an apprentice 63%
· Attended a culinary school 58%
· Received part or all of training outside the U.S. 48% of U.S. chefs

What do you like most about being a chef?
"Creativity". "Immediate gratification". "Raves from customers". "Making people happy". "Freedom". "Working with and helping others". "Teaching". "Constant learning opportunities". "The changing seasons, each with different menus and foods". "The pace". "Food as art and cooking as love". "Opening new restaurants". "Marrying ingredients without disturbing the integrity of each". "Playing with food". "Using my hands". "The people I work with".

What do like least?
"The hours". "We never see a sundown". "Being away from family on holidays and special occasions". "Not having time for personal relationships". "The pace". "Business aspects, paperwork, telephone calls". "Having to babysit employees". "Tomatoes in winter". "Dissatisfied customers". "Self-styled food critics". "Hot kitchens". "A half-empty restaurant". "Cooking school graduates who think they know it all". "The people I work with".

What personality traits do you look for in a new employee?
"Passion". "Enthusiasm". "High energy level". "Eager to learn". "Perfectionist". "Strong work ethic". "People skills". "Humility". "Ability to stay calm under pressure". "Team player (preferably captain)". "Athletic ability". "Asks questions". "Keeps their mouth shut". "Clothes reflect a sense of style". "Gets their foot in the door any way they can".

What other qualities do you look for?
"Experience in a high pressure, high quality restaurant". "Well-rounded training from a good culinary school or apprenticeship". "Someone I can learn from". "Someone I can teach from scratch". "Eager to learn, eager to please". "Looks me in the eye". "Likes chaos". "Management ability".

What aspects of your culinary education were the most valuable?
"Good teachers". "Studying under top chefs". "Learning basic techniques". "Eating in many restaurants". "Culinary school". "Learning to taste". "European training". "Reading". "Apprenticeship". "Learning to make a good sauce". "Learning self-discipline". "Gaining a respect for food products".

What advice would you give someone considering a culinary career?
"Get a job in a restaurant before going to school and see if that's really what you want to do." "Work only at the top restaurants (for nothing, if necessary)." "Never stop learning or studying." "Make it your life, not your job." "Taste, taste, taste." Remembers who matters most -- the guest."

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