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Starting Salary for a trained line cook in NYC

nirshid Feb 18, 2013 02:33 AM

Im am seriously considering leaving a career in engineering to attend the International Culinary Center in NYC and thereafter start a career as a cook. Having to take out big loans in order to pay for the training I'm worried about not being able to pay them off. How much does a starting line cook make in NYC? While I don't mind working 12+hours a day 7 days a week; I don't even know if restaurants can accommodate this number of hours.

  1. Paprikaboy Feb 24, 2013 04:02 AM

    Have you posted on Egullet?
    They have a restaurant life section which has a lot of professionals posting on it.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Paprikaboy
      nirshid Feb 24, 2013 04:07 AM

      No, the site didn't come up while googling. Thanks

    2. HillJ Feb 23, 2013 05:52 PM


      Don't forget about grants/scholarships and continuing education programs for working professionals specifically looking to make a career change.

      1. p
        pine time Feb 23, 2013 09:42 AM

        Again referencing that Chef Wanted show with Anne Burrell (only 'cause I've never worked in a restaurant)...the interviewing chefs seem to have many problems with the line cooks not having skills or understanding seemingly basic tasks.

        So, the OP's question about "trained" line cooks: how much training is (a) necessary, (b) common? Does the OP really need the Internat'l Culinary Center's training to become a line cook? Can you skip a line position w/ the proper training and begin higher up the totem pole? Now I'm curious myself...

        2 Replies
        1. re: pine time
          ninrn Feb 23, 2013 05:18 PM

          I think the good thing about culinary schools is that, if you go to a prestigious program, or at least one where the faculty are well-liked in the industry, you can get great internship opportunities and make amazing connections. Does that pay off when weighed against the debt? I don't know.

          1. re: ninrn
            maria lorraine Feb 23, 2013 10:25 PM

            No, the connections are not substantiated by the huge investment in tuition and living expenses in loans. You can get those connections by being good at your job and networking at seminars and conferences.

        2. n
          nirshid Feb 19, 2013 10:04 AM

          Thanks for everyones replies. I'm 26. I worked in bars while i was in university, I washed dishes in high school. I know that it's a tough job but I'm not adverse to hard work. I was in the military for 3 years so I've been in stressful situations with people yelling at me; I was in command of a company for a year so I did allot of the yelling my self. I've wanted to work in the food industry since I was a kid, but I've always found the excuses not to. I'm not really questioning wether or not I want to pursue a career in cooking; but rather if i will i be able to pay the bills.

          11 Replies
          1. re: nirshid
            ipsedixit Feb 19, 2013 10:08 AM

            There are other (and arguably better) ways to start a career in cooking than starting as a line cook.

            A better approach, given that you appear to have (somewhat?) significant income as an engineer, is to save up enough to start your own restaurant.

            I wouldn't bother going to culinary school, it's a total waste of money. Find out the kind of restaurant and food you want to get into, then find a similar type of restaurant and/or chef to work for (and hopefully to be a mentor), and then go from there.

            1. re: ipsedixit
              twyst Feb 24, 2013 03:39 AM

              "There are other (and arguably better) ways to start a career in cooking than starting as a line cook.

              A better approach, given that you appear to have (somewhat?) significant income as an engineer, is to save up enough to start your own restaurant."

              I'm sorry, but I feel this is actually terrible advice. Opening a restaurant with virtually no restaurant experience almost guarantees failure.

              As for the OP, I got into it later than you did. I was an architect until 31, then went to school and started cooking. I love it and dont regret it for a second so dont let the naysayers deter you, but I do have to do a little consulting work on the side to keep my bills paid. (or would have to have 2 cooking jobs). Its a very demanding profession and only the mentally and physically tough survive, show any weakness and you wont be in the industry very long. If you think you have what it takes and enjoy working under pressure, then it might be the right fit for you.

              1. re: twyst
                nirshid Feb 24, 2013 03:57 AM

                Thanks, I appreciate your reply as a career changer.

                1. re: twyst
                  ipsedixit Feb 24, 2013 11:22 AM

                  I'm sorry, but I feel this is actually terrible advice. Opening a restaurant with virtually no restaurant experience almost guarantees failure.

                  Yes, but going to culinary school will give less than "no restaurant experience".

                  That's why I said the following in my reply, "Find out the kind of restaurant and food you want to get into, then find a similar type of restaurant and/or chef to work for (and hopefully to be a mentor), and then go from there."

              2. re: nirshid
                ninrn Feb 19, 2013 06:05 PM

                Hi, I admire your determination and willingness to work hard.

                Everyone I've known who went to culinary school could not afford to work in NYC right after school and pay back their student loans at the same time, even working multiple jobs. Most ended up moving elsewhere, but some then ended up getting kind of stuck in that elsewhere (at big resort hotels, relatively obscure restaurants in non-foodie states). Once you're out of the main, big city restaurant loop it's hard to get back in. One line cook I knew had no student loans and was living in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx with three other guys and still found it really tough to make ends meet on the salary from one full-time job.

                Have you thought of seeing if you can get a job at the CIA in Hyde Park, or something like that, so you can take all your classes for free and live in a somewhat cheaper place while you're doing that? It might take a while longer to complete your coursework, but it might be worth it. Alternately, maybe look into taking classes and working in Portland. Great food and restaurant scene, respected chefs, MUCH cheaper than NYC.

                1. re: nirshid
                  ninrn Feb 19, 2013 06:17 PM

                  PS: What kind of engineering do you do? I bet there's a way to combine the training you already have with food industry work in some way that will let you make a lot more money and still follow your passion. There are so many food-related jobs beyond restaurant kitchen work -- being a buyer for some place like Wms Sonoma, repping gourmet food suppliers, doing wine and fine foods import-export, corporate recipe development, even working at the Food/Cooking Network or at Martha Stewart. There are even some venture capital firms that focus on food industry businesses. Just a thought.

                  1. re: nirshid
                    HillJ Feb 22, 2013 04:50 AM


                    Research!!! You need to do a good deal of research about the industry. Just going on interviews is an excellent way to get yourself before folks actually working in the industry and if you can swing a small externship while keeping your current job, give that a try. But, before you do anything really research the field including the various degrees and continuing education out there.

                    1. re: HillJ
                      HillJ Feb 22, 2013 05:19 AM

                      eta: career fairs are also worth attending.

                    2. re: nirshid
                      maria lorraine Feb 23, 2013 10:16 PM

                      You won't be able to pay the bills. Not bills in NYC, and probably not in most major metro areas. You'll be saddled with loans, assigned menial tasks in the kitchen, and live paycheck to paycheck. You'll work long hours in a pressure cooker environment, with few breaks. You'll work weekends, late nights and holidays, and won't have be available to have meaningful relationships with a girlfriend, wife, partner or kids. You won't have health benefits, or any 401K plan, or even any money left over for savings. You'll make the same dish thousands of times, and after the first 20 times, the thrill is definitely gone. No one will care you have an engineering degree or are educated. You'll feel resentment on many fronts. It will be so hard to get ahead, or to get to the level where you'll not feeling the pinch financially. Your student loans will take forever to pay off at your salary.

                      I know. I lived it. Luckily I found another path.

                      One of my closest friends is a VP-level executive at one of the nation's most prestigious cooking schools. One day he told me he felt terrible and deeply guilty about encouraging all these people to come to culinary school when it was one of the most horrible and abusive occupations in which to work -- and then he listed most of the reasons I wrote above. I was shocked to hear this coming from him, but of course he is right.

                      Don't do it. Cook as a passion. Use your engineering degree to combine love of cooking or food with some aspect of engineering. Or do something else entirely. Of course, all this is my opinion, and my close friend's opinion, but we've both been deep on the inside, and it's hell. Speak with others working in a kitchen on the line to hear what they have to say -- go deep in your questions -- and don't believe any of the stuff on TV or any of that celebrity chef hogwash. That's the rare exception. Sorry to put it so straight. I want you to love cooking, and want you to continue cooking, but it might be best not to do it for a living because working as a cook is horrible. Good luck.

                      Recent thread with good comments:
                      "If you were 16 again... culinary school?"

                      1. re: maria lorraine
                        nirshid Feb 24, 2013 03:55 AM

                        Thanks for the reply. I was hoping someone with first hand experience would reply. The thing is that as an engineer I'm all ready working nights, weekends and holidays to meet dead lines. And starting as an engineer doesn't seem to be all that different than as a cook. You spend all your time running simulations and going over drafts rather than any real design work (menial pre-jobs). To be a good engineer you really need it to consume your life. I'm okay with my career doing that. I love engineering but not enough.

                        1. re: nirshid
                          HillJ Feb 24, 2013 05:50 AM

                          You seem to have a good head on your shoulders. What maria l just described can be said of many advanced degree programs, including those who pursue law and medicine. If you have a fire in your belly for culinary training I trust you'll find a way. Consider equally how many people make hard decisions and succeed.

                          And best of luck to you.

                    3. Miss Needle Feb 19, 2013 09:37 AM

                      I'd work in a kitchen first before going to culinary school. One of my friends (at the age of 40) started staging at a restaurant and had plans to go take some culinary classes at the community college. She quit after a couple of days because she didn't realize what cooking entailed. Her "a-ha" moment came when she had to haul up huge sacks of potatoes from the basement. Now she just cooks for fun but doesn't plan on making a living from it.

                      1. s
                        Sherri Feb 19, 2013 09:27 AM

                        Since this is your first post, we don't have much to go on, nirshid. Have you ever worked in the F&B industry? If so, in what capacity? Kitchen experience? Your age? As babette feasts pointed out, this is a physically demanding job. It is also emotionally challenging. How do you take stress? Can you still perform your job is someone is screaming at you?

                        I am slightly leery of your question since a couple of phone calls could answer your query. What sort of legwork have you done on this subject?

                        I used to teach in a professional culinary school and would only recommend attending if you already knew this would be your life. Anyone who came with stars in their eyes and/or mentioned The Foodnetwork (!) was sorely disappointed.

                        Before you do anything irreversible, like enrolling, take an unpaid stage somewhere for at least six months to find out if this is what you thought it would be.

                        1. babette feasts Feb 18, 2013 04:01 PM

                          Beyond the money, how old are you? Line cooking is a young person's game. 12 hour days of hot, heavy, non-stop action are one thing when you're 23. It gets a lot harder over 30 or 40.

                          1. c
                            cheesemonger Feb 18, 2013 02:38 PM

                            Just as a reference point- I apprenticed with a French Cordon Bleu Grand Diplome Chef for 2 years.

                            First paying job after that: $9/hour, and as prep, not line cook. (not NYC, and more than 10 years ago). I made a lot of salad dressing, cleaned a lot of shrimp.

                            1. b
                              bobbert Feb 18, 2013 09:54 AM

                              While working as a line cook you will not necessarily work long hours although they'll still be bad hours. Restaurants as a rule want to keep labor costs (as well as food costs) as low as possible. That means avoiding having to pay overtime so you'll get less than 40 hours until you become a sous chef and are on salary. Then you get your base pay but work 60 hours per week with no o/t. This is the level where you are abused the most. Line cooks starting out might have to work 2 jobs at $10 - 14 per hour in a city like Boston. In New York the pay is probably better but so are your expenses.
                              See if you can, stage somewhere to try things out a bit. With no experience and no degree a top restaurant will not let you but some places that don't mind the free help slicing, dicing and peeling might let you get the feel for what you're in for. Make sure you have your eyes wide open.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: bobbert
                                Puffin3 Feb 18, 2013 11:13 AM

                                No matter how good you are and how hard you work you will get the worst shifts/hours and have to work with the worst employees. To move beyond that could take a few years. In the restaurant business everything is about 'who you know and who you ****' (metaphorically). If you don't have a 'hardened steel constitution and personality you WILL be literally shallowed alive. Take an honest look at who you are. If you have the slightest doubt that you will not collapse into an emotional reck the twentieth time on a shift your chef throws your food at you in anger b/c he's drunk and looking for the weakest link to take his own culinary failures then consider the profession. Other wise run don't walk. If you are still intrigued get a job working in any greasy spoon and see how you like that.

                                1. re: Puffin3
                                  pine time Feb 18, 2013 02:32 PM

                                  While I know "reality" TV isn't reality, while watching the Find-A-Chef with Anne Burrell show (don't know the real name), I've wondered who on earth wants to work like that, with people yelling, throwing things, sweat dripping into food, etc. The pay could not compensate, for me. Just my opinion, and I've never worked in the restaurant business.

                                  1. re: pine time
                                    juliejulez Feb 18, 2013 04:52 PM

                                    I worked in an environment like that, although not in the food industry, for most of my 20s. While I cried a lot, and was stressed out all the time, I liked the excitement, the drama, etc. As I got older I started liking it less and less though, and just grew unhappy. Now I'm in the least stressful job on the planet, and I like it, but sometimes I miss the craziness of my old job (and the pay, that's one thing, it did pay very well, unlike the food industry).

                                  2. re: Puffin3
                                    mrbigshotno.1 Feb 22, 2013 01:28 PM

                                    Well put Puffin! I've been there.

                                2. s
                                  sal_acid Feb 18, 2013 04:48 AM

                                  Big loans don't sound like a good idea given the wages. Why not start out at a community college program? They are much cheaper and, from what I read, as useful.

                                  1. Delucacheesemonger Feb 18, 2013 04:17 AM

                                    And to see what lies ahead, a friend is a sous chef/sommelier in Manhattan at a large ethnic restaurant. He has been in the business for 7 years, currently making @ 80 K

                                    1. m
                                      Maximilien Feb 18, 2013 04:04 AM

                                      IMO, don't expect to make any "real" money for the first few years.

                                      I don't know what is the exact salary, but i would expect it to be near minimum wage for a new untrained cook.

                                      a quick google returns that an average would be at around 24k; so, for a starting line cook, i'd say 20k (at best, for the better restaurants).

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