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Jun 19, 2014 01:22 PM

Tips on becoming a "self-trained" chef

Okay Im 26 years of age and my passion is cooking. Every since I was a child the kitchen has been my 1st home. But at this point n my life I have a lot of debt and can't afford school. So I want to teach myself. Is it possible?? I need help and a lot of advice. Please feel free to comment I accept all critism.

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  1. 1. Learn how to select the freshest ingredients.
    2. Read a lot of books.
    3. Watch other people cook dishes that you like.
    4. Experiment.
    5. Practice, practice, practice.

    1. I'm not sure where you're located but lots of chef friends of mine started out working working for free in restaurants. You can also go to free demos at markets and at places like Williams-Sonoma. They can be fun! Good luck.

      1. "Find out sooner rather than later. Work—for free, if necessary—in a busy kitchen. Any kitchen that will have you will do—in this case, a busy Applebee’s or T.G.I. Friday’s or any old place will be fine. Anybody who agrees to let your completely inexperienced ass into their kitchen for a few months—and then helpfully kicks it repeatedly and without let-up—will suffice. After six months of dishwashing, prep, acting as the bottom-rung piss-boy for a busy kitchen crew—usually while treated as only slightly more interesting than a mouse turd—if you still like the restaurant business and think you could be happy among the ranks of the damned? Then, welcome." - Anthony Bourdain

        More here:

        Much more in his books, especially "Kitchen Confidential".

        And in the meantime, if you haven't yet, take a knife skills class, and practice, practice, practice!

        19 Replies
          1. re: c oliver

            I came upon the book years after it was written, and just devoured it! When I need reminding, I keep going back to the chapter "How to Cook like the Pros". I love these two parts in particular; he's not pulling any punches, either.

            “Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don't deserve to eat garlic.”

            "Stock is the backbone of good cooking. You need it - and you don't have it....Make stock already....Life without stock is barely worth living..."

            1. re: mcsheridan

              Listen to the audiobook if you haven't. He's the reader.

              1. re: c oliver

                I'll have to see if my local library has it for loan. Thanks.

          2. re: mcsheridan

            Such appetizing imagery. Such a classy gentleman, St. Anthony.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Yep. That's what comes from an upper class, Ivy League background.

              1. re: c oliver

                There no longer is an upper class. Only crass, ultra-rich vulgarians, of which Bourdain is one. Yippee.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I was referring to his family and his education.

            2. re: mcsheridan

              I agree you need to work in a kitchen doing what ever it takes.
              I disagree with working for free. Never, ever work for free, cheap money, Ok, but free, never. Money should be paid regularly no matter how little.
              That has to be one of the weirdest things I have read numerous times about kitchens. Come work a shift (for free) and we will see what you have to offer. Besides being illegal in most instances, it should be an insult to your intelligence.

              1. re: genoO

                I guess you haven't heard that most (non-medical) internships these days are unpaid.

                1. re: genoO

                  working a stage shift is just like an audition. those are always free and plenty of folks don't make the cut.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Working an audition is nothing close to working a shift at a business, no matter what business.
                    Any person who is so insecure in their abilities as to work for no pay deserves what they ask for. Washing dishes for free to learn how to chop onions is wrong.
                    I always seen to read about kitchen help complaining about low pay and long hours. So a good start into this industry would be to give your time and effort away.
                    That's just my opinion. I have done many jobs through out my life in many different industries and no one has ever had the balls to ask me to work for free. It just is not they way business is done outside a kitchen.

                    1. re: genoO

                      What about unpaid internships? They used to get paid, not any more. If you want the experience and possibly the inside track, you do what you need to do.

                      1. re: genoO

                        nobody makes you wash dishes for free and you don't stage to wash dishes. you stage for a cook's position in a good restaurant. this isn't something done by a chain set-up, but primarily by places that are chef-owned and driven. they don't have you slaving away since you don't know the food anyway and it's one or two shifts. it's a few hours out of your life to take a shot at something you really want. you may or may not have what it takes to work for a particular chef and/or you may decide you don't want to work for the guy.

                        if it's a kitchen in which you really want to work and learn, refusing to do it out of principle simply means you won't ever get the job.

                        it is what it is.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Yup, plus a restaurant is one place where no matter what your resume says and how well you say you can cook, talk mean nothing and what makes it onto the plate is everything. It's not about confidence, it's about the end result.

                        2. re: genoO

                          Doing a Stage is as much for the person trying to get into the Kitchen as it is for the Restaurant.
                          I have done a Stage and been offered the Job but turned it down because I did not like the Culture in the Kitchen.

                      2. re: genoO

                        I bet there are plenty of aspiring chefs who would pay to work for great chefs like Boulud, Bouley, Keller, Ripert, et al.

                        1. re: zackly

                          i worked for 3 different james beard award winners in boston. everyday we got calls, resumes and walk-ins from people willing to work for free to learn.

                          1. re: zackly

                            There are established chefs who would work for free, just for the sake of continuing education. I would. Too bad Francisco Migoya just closed his chocolate shop, I would have loved to stage with him.

                      3. I went to cooking school for 2 yrs only to find it back-breaking, dirty work that was too much for this five-foot-two gal. Don't even consider it unless you're in top physical form. There is no self-teaching for what happens in a restaurant kitchen.

                        1. 1. Pay off your debt.
                          2. Master knife skills
                          3. Pay off your debt.
                          4. Build your stamina
                          5. Pay off your debt
                          6. Improve your skills of observing by eye and listening by ear
                          7. Pay off your debt

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Karl S

                            Knife skills are something that is very important I agree with Karl.

                            Know the difference between the different cuts, dices, etc.

                            buy good quality chef knives and take care of them.