For the past six years I have held the position of head chef for the Dauphine Orleans Hotel located in downtown New Orleans. Although I got started in this field rather late in life, it has been one of the most rewarding things I have experienced in my 47 years on this planet. Normally I work five days a week for ten hour shifts. I have a team of six sous chefs that work with me to put out some of New Orleans’ finest foods. We make it our mission to put our hearts and souls into every dish. It is my greatest pleasure to see people enjoying the meals that we have prepared for them.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my job at a 9. As head chef, I do have free reign in choosing and adjusting menus and kitchen staff, but if I was an owner of one of these fine New Orleans establishments, there would be other things that I would change. For instance, the month of Mardi Gras would be filled with banquet bookings and Mardi Gras galas. This would be a time that I would be willing to stay on site for the two weeks of this celebration. I would hire extra staff and have special training for such occasions so that patrons would have nothing but the best in food and service for their Mardi Gras celebrations.
I got my start in the food industry because of my ongoing obsession with cooking. Ever since I was a child standing on a chair next to my mother by the stove, I knew that the food industry was in my future. Life sort of got in the way and it took me a while, but when I was 33 I finally went to culinary school. I loved every minute of it, and the more I learned, the deeper my love of food grew. When I graduated I accepted a job as a sous chef at my current job. I learned more from working in the industry than I had in the two years that I had spent in culinary school, and my passion for food continued. After six years of working “the line,” I was promoted to head chef. It was one of the proudest days of my life.
The thing about my job that I had to learn the hard way is that you cannot please everybody. Since I am a perfectionist, I always have great expectations for my food as well as my service to the customers. On the rare occasion that my food gets sent back, I find out what the customer was dissatisfied with and then calmly work the problem. I do not get insulted. Instead, I appreciate the fact that people all have different preferences. But on a few occasions, I have had angry customers who I could hear yelling from the dining room. They send back food three or four times and then demand to speak to the owner. The first time this happened, it really threw me for a loop. I didn’t sleep for days, and kept going over in my head what I could have changed to make the customer happy. It was actually the owner who talked me off of the ledge and told me not to sweat it. “Some people are just plain idiots,” he said. “You just have to do your best to please them, accept it, and move on.” That was quite possibly the best advice I have ever been given regarding the food industry.
The strangest and most terrifying thing that has happened to me in my years as a chef is the night that my chef’s hat caught on fire. As it turns out, this happens to most every chef at one time or another, but when it happens to you, it’s another story. I was leaning down to pull a beautiful crabmeat au gratin from the oven, when my paper hat tilted just enough to touch the open flame of the stove; and up it went. I stood up, unknowingly, with flames coming from the top of my head! The look in one of my sous chef’s eyes was enough to alert me of my predicament. I quickly pulled off the hat, only to find that my hair was also on fire! Thankfully, two or three employees came to my rescue as they all very vigorously patted my head until the flames were out. When it was all over, I was missing some hair from the top of my head, but I was otherwise unharmed. I came back to work the next day with a nice new short haircut.
When I am asked my opinion on getting into the food industry, I always respond the same way. If you have a true passion for food, follow your gut and pursue it as a career. You will never regret your decision.
This is a true story as told to JustJobs Academy which houses career interviews and job search advice for professionals in any industry. Keep reading to see how this chef got her start in the industry and what she learned once she finally started her job.