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Career Advice from our Chefs

July 14, 2014

By: Darden Restaurants,

Career Advice from our Chefs

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In recognition of National Culinary Arts Month in July, we asked our corporate chefs to share career advice for individuals looking to pursue culinary careers. Below are some of the tips they shared.

“Find the best chef in town and work for her or him. It will likely be very hard work, but it will be in this environment that you will learn the most. Spend the extra money you have on cookbooks that are written by chefs that interest you as well as going out to eat. Also, it is not always about you, but it is always about the guest.” -Chef Jim Neutzi, Olive Garden

“Get a part-time job in a restaurant to see if you enjoy the atmosphere, pace and work, preferably just washing dishes. Almost every great chef started by washing dishes. It keeps you humble, prepares you for the long road, and begins to shed light on what guests like and don’t like. It may seem simplistic, but I think that it is the shortest route to understanding the restaurant culture and the differences from what may be presented on TV.” -Chef Christopher Black, LongHorn Steakhouse

“The restaurant business is like no other. The kitchen is alive with fresh ingredients that must be sold.  It is the only business that receives raw, perishable materials, manufactures those materials and sells them all in the same day. Managing this process is very challenging. Managing this process profitably is even more challenging. Anyone who is seriously considering a career in the culinary arts should first get a job as a cook in a restaurant. Not all restaurants are the same so working in a couple different kitchens may be necessary to form an opinion. If after a year of working full time in restaurants, you are still passionate about a career in the culinary arts, consider investing in culinary school. Culinary school will not only teach the fundamentals of cooking, it will provide understanding into the many facets of the business and management. On the other hand, I have worked with some of the best chefs in the world, and many of them did not attend culinary school but gained the knowledge from real-world experience.” -Chef Keith Hanks, Olive Garden

“Enjoying cooking at home and watching TV chefs does not prepare you for a career in the kitchen. Before you make the decision to enroll in culinary school, go and work in a professional restaurant kitchen to make sure you enjoy the hours and schedule. Then enroll in an accredited culinary school. The school will teach you the basics to be successful, but to become a chef, work in restaurants or hotels that are quality focused and make great food. Don’t go for the money—go for the experience. It will pay off later.” -Chef Peter Olsacher, Bahama Breeze

“For anyone who wants to be in the culinary field, it is important to have hands-on experience in a real working kitchen. Today’s chef is not just a cook anymore. Today a chef plays many roles, from cook to buyer, from scheduler to finance manager. Going to culinary school helps teach you to learn how to run a restaurant and use tools and recipes. Working in a restaurant helps teach you to understand the production area and the line pressure during busy times.” -Chef Paolo Lafata, Olive Garden

“This can be a challenging business and not what you see on TV. You have to love it to succeed. Being a chef is not what you do, it is who you are. Also, learn every day.  Look at and listen to as much as you can. Becoming a professional chef is a lifelong journey.” -Chef Michael LaDuke, The Capital Grille

“The culinary industry is very challenging but also yields great rewards for the aspiring young chef. It is critical to have a passion for cooking and a “being-of-service” mentality. The culinary industry can push you to the limit but when you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Consider pursuing a culinary education to understand the fundamentals of cooking as well as how to run a successful business.” -Chef Vern Thomas, Olive Garden

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