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Alternative Food-Based Careers

I'm currently attending my local community college, and I've decided to switch my major to Culinary Arts. Now, let me explain - I know that I don't want to enter the insane world of restaurant work, but I love food, and I am hoping to shape a career out of my love & talents.

But am I nuts to try this? This is my love, my passion - I'm making this decision late in life - my experience was raising four kids on practically no money - used my creative abilities (went to art school back in the Dark Ages) to produce decent meals, since we certainly couldn't afford eating out much - some weeks, I hardly could afford groceries!

As a result, today, I usually bake my own bread everyday (it's difficult for me to make a small portion of anything, now that some of my kids are out of the house - but I realize that this is, in no way, comparable to real job applications), roast my own coffee, whip up an everything-from-scratch menu on holidays and even most days. I do most of this by hand - lack of money has also built my intuitive skills. I've noticed that in the past few years it's become much easier for me to do all of this - at some point lots of it became, well, duck soup... unfortunately, I don't have enough of an audience even on holidays - I love putting meals together (esp. my bakery creations). (I was very happy that one of my daughters was around when I finally achieved both a crusty outer crust and, even more important, that ever sought after crumb in my french baguette - she understood my insanity - and appreciated my success - hooray!!)

I am concerned, however - despite all of this, it seems as though my window of job opportunities will be very small. I could see myself eventually managing a small goat-cheese operation, bed & breakfast, writing about food (yeah!) or conducting food based tours - but I am getting frightened that this is way outside the realm of practical (maybe it's just the voice of my mom - God rest her soul - shouting at me that I'm too much of a dreamer!)

Any thoughts, chowhounds?

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  1. Here's the voice of reason...nothing is impossible. If you can dream it you can do it! Back in reality though, you should think about using your artistic talenst and think about Food Styling. Contact some local photographers and ask them how they hire their stylists. If you can intern or work for a stylist for a few months you'll quickly get the hang of it.

    If that doesn't work, the kind of cooking you do is often done at natural food co-ops. They are always looking for people with ideas and pasion.

    Good Luck

    5 Replies
    1. re: tnidetz

      Thanks so much for your fast reply! Need reality checks - that's why I'm posting this.

      Never thought of food styling - I'll check up on that. We have a Whole Foods here (actually thought of that already) - that's the closest to a natural food co-op, unless I travel a distance.

      1. re: tnidetz

        i don't know your age but i think that you are not a spring chicken.don't get me wrong as i think this is to your advantage.there is a great need for mature people in food service management.get your a.a.in culinary arts or food service management .spend some time in the industry in the kitchen so you will be versed in the operation on a day to day operation.there are companies like aramark & sodexio who are looking for mature folks that have the knowledge to be a supervisor or entry level management positions.

        1. re: big john

          Yes - you are right - I'm no spring chicken (in fact, I'm a bit marinated - ha! Sorry - bad joke), although I've been told I look a few yrs younger, which should help in the job search.

          This is an excellent idea. I just need a few ideas to make sure I'm still being practical. The community college route isn't the bank-breaker like the private culinary schools, but for me, it's still an investment (and just the uniforms and knife kit will cost me money I don't exactly even have right now!).

          I could go into so many other fields - but I already KNOW food so well - at least I have a bit of a foundation. If I aim for another field, I have to start EVERYTHING from scratch!

          I've done gardening (in the past - I'm in an apt. now), so I could also work for any sort of place that has a small scale farming & food shop.

          1. re: threedogs

            Gardening, cooking...sounds perfect for a bed and breakfast or inn. It would be hands on, allow you to cook the way you like (roasting your own coffee, baking your own bread, etc.) on a smaller scale. Doing so would also allow you to write about food--think of how many inn/B&B owners write books. Contact your favorite inns/B&Bs and see if they will allow you to intern there for a week or so so you can see what running one is really like. I love staying at inns, especially ones with excellent in-house made food and see a good market in that. Lastly, it does sound like you love cooking but don't base your decision on having a base in it. If there is a field you enjoy more, but have to start from scratch, I'd still go for it. You're in an enviable position where you can remake where you're going and what you want to do. From what you've said, it sounds like you'd be happier starting small and having hands on work than being higher up and working on a larger scale (preparing breakfast for a dozen of so guests vs. larger restaurant where you'd have a small part of the whole picture). Good luck with it all!

            1. re: chowser

              This what I love, chowser. I'm interested in many, many things, but this is the core of me. Seems everyone around me is giving sort of "what took you so long?"

              I was actually trying to aim for health care. So many jobs, esp. in my area. But you know what? Just the thought of blood, and internal organs, etc., (human, at least), makes me want to vomit. The thought of studying anatomy & physiology - well, I could force myself to do anything, but no way - there'll be plenty of difficult things to learn in a field I love!

      2. A local woman started baking bread out of her house here in southern New Hampshire, and has turned it into a thriving business. She was selected as a "Best in NH" pick in New Hampshire Magazine back in 2005:

        "Artisan Bread: Yes, they are lovely to look at, but the loaves from Lynda Shortt’s bakery in Mont Vernon, The Good Loaf (673-0471), just beg to be ripped into with gusto. You’ll find her range of ryes, multi-grain, sourdoughs, challah, ciabatta and more at the Black Forest Café, Vista Foods and several Milford restaurants. For weight watchers, bread has become a forbidden pleasure of late. Trust us, this bread is worth every carb."

        We pick up her bread at our local Farmer's Market, and there is always a line!

        1 Reply
        1. re: whs

          Terrific - I'll do a search to read more (when I finish my work - this is my last week of an intensive semester).

          Sometimes I describe myself as an aardvark. I feel like an oddity today - my personality doesn't seem to fit in with the typical American workplace. When I thought this through - that's when I decided to do this. I may not fit into a restaurant setting - heck, I don't want to. But I know there are many, many roads that I could take. Just need to find the one that fits me, not the other way around.

        2. The old Ann Landers query is applicable here:
          "How old will you be in five years if you pursue your dream?"
          "How old will you be in five years if you don't?"

          Nothing is sadder than a life lived in the key of "What If I'd ...............?" Follow your heart, AND do it wisely. "Wisely" translates into being brutally honest about your situation, personal, financial, etc.

          You've gotten a lot of good advice so far about seeking input from those already in the field. They have the experience you need and often will be generous about sharing it.

          If the B&B idea makes your heart beat faster, are you in an area that supports this? Are you willing to work harder and longer than you probably ever have? (this according to those who are in the business) Are you good with people? This is often a seasonal business, is that OK with you?
          P.S. I didn't get any great vibes from you that you adored the gardening part of your experience. Am I mis-reading?

          Ask yourself honestly is food something that you really, truly and deeply love? or is it just what you know best? Do you get bone marrow-deep satisfaction out of your baking, coffee roasting, etc OR do you do it to save money? OR because it is the Martha Stewart-expected thing for a woman to do to gain acceptance?

          Once you have good answers to tough questions you can begin to make plans. Networking, through groups, local or international, like IACP, is a great idea because chances are that someone else is already doing what you want to do. Barbara Sims Bell's book JOBS IN THE FOOD and BEVERAGE INDUSTRY has opportunities far removed from the usual resto type and tells you what you need to get there.

          Good Luck!
          FWIW, I have only held a couple of "regular" jobs in this industry; all the others were invented and I've loved (almost) every minute of my long career.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sherri

            "Follow your heart, AND do it wisely. "Wisely" translates into being brutally honest about your situation, personal, financial, etc.'

            Yes - very true. I don't have the know-how, nor do I want to be one of the many that fail. My way is slow, methodical - I have all the time in the world, as long as I can bring in enough

            "If the B&B idea makes your heart beat faster, are you in an area that supports this?"

            Sure, but I'm not in a financial position to own one, at least not in this point in my life. There is actually one quite nearby my home - but these people are not too friendly, and I prefer to find another route.

            I loved gardening when I had my own home - but I'm in an apt. right now (w/few areas w/sun here, too), have been away from it & have had too little time to even think of doing it for now. It would be very, very difficult to garden here.

            My method was more of a lazy gardener's method - but that goes along with my personality. Sort of went with the ebb & flow of the plants - and I ended up with tomatoes one year when I didn't even plant them - they just reseeded themselves.

            "Ask yourself honestly is food something that you really, truly and deeply love? or is it just what you know best? Do you get bone marrow-deep satisfaction out of your baking, coffee roasting, etc OR do you do it to save money? "

            It's both. I know it best from the years of experience, but I never would have (still) put so much time into it unless I truly loved it.

            I'm very interested in teaching someday - what I'd love to do is combine my love for food, both eating and the preparation, with an exploration of all the interesting cultures in the world. The thread that travels throughout humankind is centered around food. That's exactly what we all have in common - this could be a course that is never-ending!

            "OR because it is the Martha Stewart-expected thing for a woman to do to gain acceptance?"

            HA!! That is SO not me! (Children of the '70's, we don't need no stinkin' acceptance!)

            "Once you have good answers to tough questions you can begin to make plans."

            Yes, I am one to always, always ask questions. I can see things from so many different angles... ponder over many viewpoints.. so when I finally make a decision - I KNOW it is right (only takes me a lifetime to get there..)

            "I have only held a couple of "regular" jobs in this industry; all the others were invented and I've loved (almost) every minute of my long career."

            Very cool! I have the creativity, but I realize that I need the business sense to back up my ideas. I'll look for that book, too.

            Thanks so much!

            1. re: Sherri

              Great Advice Sherri, couldn't have said it better. I would only add, "think outside the box and create a job that you love, that you're great at" - the money will follow as will customers. Read Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur and Fortune for Small Business - it will at least prove to you that people do it all the time.

            2. threedogs-go for it! I've changed careers three times in my nearly 50 years...and may change a 4th time if I'm lucky. Life is always more delicious with anticipation in your heart and optimism as your guide!

              Intern to your hearts content; it's flexible, easier to make a time commitment and a great way to gain specific skill sets. Dabble in everything that interests you; then make a few choices...and continue narrowing down your decision.

              Network like crazy--you will be pleasantly surprised by WHO you actually know to help you on your way. If all else fails seek out a life styles coach--they know how to guide maverick thinkers! HAVE A BLAST!

              2 Replies
              1. re: HillJ

                Very good ideas. Thought about interning - I plan to do just that. No way to figure out what job/place will fit me w/out it.

                Funny thing is, I'm not looking for anything that would be described as typically exciting (to others). But then again, for me, exciting is discovering just how to make that near-perfect crumb in my bread... I'd love to be part of a small operation, where everyone contributes.

                Actually, as I write this, it sounds as though a monastery would suit my personality ; > }. Wonder if I could bring my three dogs... ha!

                1. re: threedogs

                  t-dogs, another suggestion is to investigate food-based non profits. National orgs offer internships & volunteer opps. Great way to network with insiders, do your community proud and scope out a career move. Good luck to you!

              2. A friend's son is a chef, owned his restuarant, taught at a culinary school. He gave it up, because a chef has no home life. He now works for Smart & Final and sells to and advises resturant owners/chefs. Still food, but home at night.

                I am in the San Francisco area and food tours are huge right now. And personal chefs are everywhere.

                Good luck. Go for what makes you happy. My husband became a glass blower in his 60's ( and sells all over the country ) and is happiest doing hot glass. You don't know until you try.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Janet

                  i was thinking personal chef when i read the op as well.

                  put together some sample menus, cost them out (places like costco and restaurant depot are your ally here; you'll never make costs through regular grocery stores.) and advertise on craig's list or spread word of mouth with your circle of friends. a big business in my area is chefs who prepare a week's worth of meals and deliver them packaged and frozen with instructions for reheating. allows some flexibilty in your schedule, instead of being beholden to the whims of one family.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Yes - the personal chef idea is definitely something I'm considering. I don't have a car right now (but that can change). Before I try anything, I want to get some of the crucial business info under my belt - hoping that my community college classes will help me there - and careful planning.

                    I've discovered also that there are food businesses quite nearby that will rent out space, too - in this state it's only legal to make baked goods (cakes, cookies, breads, etc.) from one's house - and they'd have to inspect my kitchen (eeks- with my three dogs, right!).

                  2. re: Janet

                    What your son experienced is just why I have no intention of going into the restaurant business. I tend to work in a slow, methodical manner - working under intense pressure never suited me. Oh, I can take some here and there - but not what goes on in the back of the house - never. Besides - I'd be worrying too much about my dogs ; > )

                    That's what I need to find - my version of your husband's glass blowing! I went to art school a long time ago - my favorite was always pottery, especially hand building. I hope to take it up again when I can - but for now, I think I channeled that love into bread.