My Chef Career Change Journey

Being a chef is a very physical and mentally demanding job. It is no wonder that many chefs suffer what is commonly referred to as ‘burn out.’

‘Burn out’ is the phrase used to signify a chef that has had enough of cooking and can’t do anymore. The long hours, intense work pressure and lack of time with loved ones is a huge problem within the catering industry.

My aim here at ChefWord is to provide a fair and balanced view of the trade for those interested in becoming a chef, therefor it would be remise of me not to talk about the problems that chefs can sufferOpens in a new tab..

I understand ‘burn out’ because I myself suffered from it for a long time, and decided I to quit being a chef. It was by no means easy giving up on a career I was once so incredably passionate about, but I simply felt I couldn’t do it any longer.

Many chefs find themselves in this position. In fact if you are reading this post I imagine you yourself are a chef who is beginning to look at alternatives to the career that you have put so much time and love into.

This post explains the path I took which led me away from being a chef (which I hope will be useful to readers) as well as some tips for applying the skills we have as chefs to other career paths.

Practically speaking there are many job opportunities out there for chefs. Although it may not seem like it at first, the skills we learn as a chef are hugely transferable to other careers. It simply relies on us presenting the information in the correct way on our C.V.

We learn many great skills as chefs. When we apply for other career opportunities we have lots of real life examples of when we have demonstrated the attributes the employer is looking for.

Some of the desirable job attributes that chefs will have no problem finding examples to fit are;

  • Team work – Vital when part of a kitchen brigade
  • Calm under pressure – Is there a more pressure filled environment than a kitchen?
  • Organisational skills – Prioritising the tasks we do each day in the kitchen.
  • Ability to follow procedure – We must always comply with food hygiene regs.
  • Flexible working hours – No explanation needed on this one!
  • Adaptability – We never know what the day is going to through at us.

These are just a few examples of the experiences chefs can easily demonstrate. In fact, many other candidates can get no way near to the great examples that a chef is able to demonstrate on these character traits!!

I found, the biggest influence on my job hunting success whilst using my chef experience was the way I presented the information. Once you realise that the experience is applicable to so many sectors it is a great way to get a foot in the door.

The general public, including potential employers have an admiration for the hard workOpens in a new tab. and dedication chefs are known to have. Do not sell yourself short when applying for jobs!

That being said, like all careers we have to start near the bottom and this can be very difficult mentally as well as financially for chefs leaving the catering industry.

As I shall share in my own story it was the mental aspect fo walking away from the career I had put so much work into that was by far the hardest thing to do.

In this post I shall share the route I took away from being a chef working in a kitchen everyday. Of course everyone is different, and what we are passionate about is different, but hopefully this can help some other chefs who are looking towards the next stage of their life

Should A Chef Change Where They Work?

It may be, that as a chef we are not fed up of cooking, but that we are burnt out from the place that we work in; and the hours and intensity associated with it. (The physical toll on a chefs bodyOpens in a new tab.)

The biggest hurdle I found when taking a lower level chef position with better working conditions, was my own mental one. I viewed it at the time as stepping back down the career ladder and was a tough decision to make. Unfortunately in order to get better working conditions it often requires that a chef take a step down the culinary ladder.

It can be very difficult to move down a cuisine level from what we are accustomed to cooking, in order to get better conditions. I began to loose love for my chef career whilst I was a sous chef at 2 rosette Opens in a new tab.standard (not an amazingly high level, but a good quality restaurant that made everything from scratch non the less)

An opportunity came up at a restaurant close to home that was willing to pay hourly and required less hours to be worked each week. Whilst the food was still a good standard it had no culinary awards (other than local awards).

This was a big hurdle I had to overcome in my own mind, stepping away from the Rosette awards that I held in high regard in my mind.

Once I made the jump I realised I was happier overall. The reduced hours working as well as commuting plus freedom to experiment and play with food again was something I really enjoyed.

Should A Chef Make A Complete Career Change?

After working at the new restaurant for a few months, the feelings that I had actually had enough of being a chef started to return. Although the hours where a lot better, I had reached a point where I was simply fed up of saying no to all social occasions, plus the incredibly hard work and stress associated with being a chef.

I feel this is a point many readers here will be feeling. If we can do a career change into an area of catering that we enjoy more, that is great. However, some chefs simply want out of the industry altogether to give themselves time to recover. (why do chefs work so many hours?Opens in a new tab.)

I remember trying to find opportunities for careers such as food nutritionist, or salesmen for caring companies, but when honest with myself I could not imagine doing this type fo work for the rest of my career.

Retraining seemed like the best course of action. A friend of mine was a plumber and he always seemed to have a great work life balance so this seemed like a great idea to me. However, I tried hard but could not secure a plumbing apprenticeship.

Chef walking out of work

In the end I took a job as a labourer on a building site for around 6 months before getting an apprenticeship and becoming a fully qualified electrician (hence why I have the time to run this site and use my rediscovered love for cooking in a positive way to help others!)

My aim of sharing this personal info is to show that there are options where by chefs can completely re-train. However, it does require making some tough decisions; and going for it.

I’m not going to lie, being a labourer on a building site after being a respected sous chefOpens in a new tab. was very mentally tough. However, the 8am till 5pm shifts where a huge bonus and I knew that I was doing the right thing, in terms of moving my life in the direction I wanted to go.

I always knew that if I got fed up I could always go back to catering. This is one of the great things about being a chef – we always have a career to fall back on!

Although it’s difficult, there is no real danger in taking a break from the kitchen to pursue another career avenue. After a year or two, our love for the kitchen may be reignited and we go back to our career having gained some interesting experience elsewhere.

I personally found that after a break from the kitchen life, my love for foodOpens in a new tab. and cooking returned just as great as it was before. However, I no longer felt like I wanted to cook as a career. Instead I was happy having the spare time afforded by my new job to cook and eat out at great restaurants in my own time.

My Advice

For what it’s worth to people, my advice as someone who has made the switch is to give it a go. The worse that happens is that you can go back to being a chef a few months later.

I am glad I tried to go to an ‘easier’ kitchen first though as this taught me that a clean break was what I personally required. This allowed me to get my love for cooking back and years later start this site to help others on all stages of their chef journey.

This is not the case for everyone. I have chef friends who are more than happy now they are working in ‘easier’ environments (such as beach wedding venue) One of the perks of being a chef is the amount of different career paths open to us! (10 step guide to getting a promotionOpens in a new tab.)

It may not be a break away from a kitchen completely that we need more a change of scenery. Perhaps we want to try being a chef for a ski season? Or a job on a yacht?

These are all achievable dreams and I wrote an article detailing the different types of places a chef can work which I shall link here.Opens in a new tab.

Equally, changing careers has become the norm in society now. Gone are the days when people are expected to remain at the same job their entire careers. Instead, now at any age, society is accepting of those who wish to pursue new and exciting career paths.

My personal view is that when life isn’t going as we hoped, we need to look around and make the changes necessary. This is often tough, but vital to our long term happiness.

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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