When I tell people I work as a chef, they constantly ask me what restaurant I work in or own. To a tee they always sound disappointed when I admit that I do not work in a restaurant. Its as if you are only valid as a chef if you are attached to one of those darn restaurants.
The truth is that if I were to calculate the statistics, it would probably turn out that something like sixty percent of the chefs in this country do not work in restaurants at all. Although most of them have most assuredly paid their dues by training in one kitchen or another. I suppose it wouldn’t be a big deal to even mention, except that I get asked this question so often it has begun to irritate me that people seem so disappointed.
There are many facets of working in the food industry. From research and development in manufacturing plants, to teaching in cooking schools. Teaching is cooking schools, working in cafeterias, or any number of commissary type operations. Then there are the chef consultants, who develop foods for fast food chains and so forth. The list goes on.
The chefs I believe get the rawest deal all when it comes to respect, are the catering chefs. The worst part about this situation, is that bar none, some of the most talented and hardest working men and women I have ever had the pleasure to collaborate with, make their living orchestrating events.
I spent many years working as a catering chef in Hollywood California. Catering to the elite of the entertainment industry. I have orchestrated events from the Academy Awards Governors Ball, to small intimate dinners for actors, I am not allowed to mention. The time I spent doing this kind of work, were by far the most difficult years of my working life. While at the same time, they were the most creative and exciting experiences I could have ever imagined. I ran the kitchen for one company in Los Angeles that did over thirty million dollars a year in sales. The challenge of organizing sometimes as many as thirty high end parties a week, was enormous in scope. Every little detail from the perfect amount of meat to trash bags and crazy glue for nasty cuts, had to be thought of.
Just consider what it might be like to open twelve restaurants a day, then turn around and do the same thing all over the next day, with a completely different theme and menu. Imagine that the clientele you are catering to, is not only paying top dollar for the event, but because they happen to be a movie star, or producer, even the smallest flaw during the evening will not only get noticed, it could cost you thousands of dollars to rectify. The best catering chefs I have known, not only have to be veritable masters at global cuisine, but they have to be logistical geniuses and posses impeccable leadership skills. In Los Angeles, the level of cuisine presented at these parties not only has to be of the same quality of the best restaurants in the country, but it has to be executed perfectly the first time. These parties last for one night and the pressure for perfection is enormous. Not to mention that your staff counts on you to lead them with confidence and skill, or the whole shebang might fall apart.