Caller: ...For the past 4 or 5 years, I have a huge passion for cooking, mostly just for family and friends. As the years go by, I've considered getting into it as a career myself. What would be your advice to break into the industry, would it be culinary school or jumping right into the kitchen and working my way up?
Bourdain: Well, before you, uh, you're right on the age limit right about now. 27, 28, beyond that, it's going to be very, very, very tough for you, by the time you're trained up and ready to really work and make money in the industry. It's going to be late. You're practically Methuselah at 27.
What I would definitely recommend before you quit your previous profession is work for free, if necessary or just get a few months, six months, in a very busy restaurant. Any busy restaurant, you know, get your butt kicked -- see if you really like it, before you spend money on culinary school.
Because, no matter how good the culinary school, you're going to be rolling out of there and the best you can hope for is like a ten dollar an hour job for the first couple of years. You're not going to be paying back that student loan any time soon. So just make sure you love the business, that it's for you, that it's a passion, that you're willing to suffer for it and do without any kind of reasonable amount of money for quite some time.
Host: ...what do you tell young people thinking about getting into the kitchen as a professional chef?
Bourdain: ...It's like rock'n'roll in the sense that you better just love playing rock'n'roll for playing rock'n'roll. If you think that you're going to be a star, as most any musician will tell you, that's not a reasonable expectation.
Do it 'cause you love it. And most importantly, get out there and do it first, find out if the life is for you -- chances are, it's not. You'll know it after a few months in the business. And then, culinary school is a very worthwhile enterprise.So here's my question: how much is culinary school like graduate school in chemistry?
On the face of it, really, not much. Culinary school (so far as I understand) is shorter and you have to pay the tuition; it's rare (non-existent?) for graduate students in the sciences to need to pay tuition. Usually, they pay you. Salaries are different, too. If you're working for $10/hour with a master's degree in chemistry, friend, you're getting waaaay ripped off. But the long hours and the long time before you'll be making decent money? Yeah, that does sound like getting a doctorate in chemistry.
I think a significant difference between chemists and cooks is the concept of "doing it because you love it." I don't think chemists need to rely so much on that aspiration to replace the concept of a liveable wage after they're out of school. I hope not, anyway.