28 YR OLD Chef experiencing burnout, job expects too much, looking for alternative and some insight? (CALLING ALL CHEFS)

Joined Feb 29, 2020
Hey all,

I'm an Executive Chef thats been in the kitchen for 10 years, I'm going to be 29 in October and I've steadily climbed the ladder over the years, no schooling, self taught and trained by some great chefs. Worked for Wolfgang Puck in Manhattan, started out dishwashing and prep at 18 years old.

Currently I've been working for a casual restaurant for about a year and a half. I was hired as Executive - I oversee all operations that involve the kitchen, staffing, scheduling, ordering, costs, putting out fires - you name it. We opened in March of 2019. Biggest issue is finding staffing in a small town, or anyone reliable for that matter. I was working 75 hour weeks, 6 days a week, with most of my time spent on the line the first year of opening. The owners had said that the first year would be difficult with a lot of hours and I would need to be there most times to get it up and running, which was understandable. I expressed I would not be working like that again this year back in January, and they understood. However during the last weeks of Phase 2 of reopening, we couldn't find any staff and I expressed genuine concern about moving forward with normal hours with 50% capacity, because it would be just me and two other line cooks operating 200+ covers of volume on the weekend. (we have a patio and indoor dining so it actually puts us at 100%) When we were doing take out service, we were open for limited hours from 1PM to 7PM and we operated beautifully. We had one core team and I was able to work the line no problem. Fast forward, moving towards the extended hours I kept expressing concern. The owners said they'd see what the could do. First week we open and hardly any staff to suffice, I was cooking for 3 days in 95 degree heat from opening to closing, which was 11:30 AM to 9 PM. I was also working fryer and saute, two stations. I started feeling ill and I actually had to call out for the weekend due to heat exhaustion. My job doesn't end there. I have to do ordering from three-four different purveyors and I have to keep inventory on check. Things started to slip. We were running out of product. People are calling out. They want me on the line. I told them that's not what an Executive does, and that I won't be working like this so they need to figure something out.

The stress of this position is starting to effect me. I'm looking to change my career path while still remaining in the food industry, photography was my first love and I'm damn good at it. I'm looking to possibly start online schooling for Digital Marketing and I want to help restaurants build their brand through content marketing - but I can't work on myself If im working 65 hour weeks, stressed out about this. I was considering a slightly lower paying job (an upscale meat market is hiring a chef in town with an 8-4 schedule for heavy production in prepared food for 2-3 dollars less an hour, I applied and im waiting to hear back) and I hope I get a call. Is making less money for the time being worth it if I get to work on myself? I'm nervous to struggle little bit, I have before and it was tough but I did it financially - I guess what im asking is if the grass will be greener on the other side. I appreciate all the input you guys have. Thanks for reading.
Joined Mar 1, 2017
First of all, the grass is never greener. From what you've described, it seems as though you have gone as far as you can go with your current employer. Perhaps its time to go where the work it. You seem qualified and know your way around a kitchen, Perhaps look to a state that doesn't have quite the problem with Covid as other like the midwest where things are open and its more or less business as usual.

The schooling is always a good idea. There's no such thing as a bad education. Perhaps the 8 to 4 gig for a few dollars less an hour would be just what the doctor ordered to get allow you to "do you" and help you get back to where you need to be? Maybe its time to start thinking about your own restaurant? The point is never stop reinventing yourself. Always keep moving forward and you'll do just fine. :)

Good luck. :)
Joined Feb 18, 2007
I don't know how much good this may do, but when the lockdown first started, I saw a blurb for Chef Deb on social media somewhere. She was doing free one hour "webinars" to help chefs and restaurants shift their operations and figure out how to continue in some way shape or form. It was a good session, very informative. She did a few other free webinars and was offering some multiple session programs at reduced or free rates. I didn't access any of her other programs, though; I'm in a bakery not a restaurant so being alone in the bakeshop now I just don't have any extra time. I would describe her as a "Culinary Coach" (much like corporations hire management coaches, she offers the same thing but specifically geared to the culinary/hospitality industry). She might have some of those sessions archived, or maybe she offers regular free "try it out" kind of consultations. Look up Chef Deb online to check it out.
Joined Jan 4, 2011
All things being said ... understanding situations and conditions ... remember this ...

Work is always better than NO work.

"We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.".
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Cooking can be the pursuit of artistic expression in a job you get paid for and it can be just a job. Finding the right people to work with is the hardest part. Sounds like these people aren't it.
29 is a great age to be thinking about this. First option, do nothing, Look for. a better cooking job.
In twenty years will you regret not having done anything?
If so, then now is the time. take the leap of faith, devote yourself completely to your pursuit and see where it takes you. When you fall flat on your face, get back up and keep going. Life changes we didn't ask for are very hard. Life changes we make ourselves are the reason to get out of bed every day.
Joined Jan 31, 2012
I dont see any reason you should expect or accept a pay cut if you change jobs. I might suggest you try to get a somewhat comparable salary for a reduced number of days/hours more in line with what you want. Which seems reasonable to me considering you have the recent skills and experience to generate a fairly impressive resume'.

If you do leave your current employer, I would simply cite that you what youve been doing for some time is not what you were hired to do, and theyre not giving you any strong evidence it will change any time soon.
Joined Sep 17, 2018
Not to sound negative but what you are doing is basically what executive chefs do all across the country. It's more uncommon to have a exec who just does paperwork and team management. That being said if it is not what you agreed upon in your hiring contract then yes, it is time to renegotiate or move on. Pay cuts can be hard and people have bills to pay but you also have to put a price on your time and health. Who cares if you are making more money at a bad situation if you drop dead from a heart attack in a few years. You need to find a work/life balance that works for you.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Look into Corp employee cafes/catering or Health care. You'll find you can still be creative while working less hours. I did this while working for a Food Services Management Co. In fact I liked it so much I started my own management company. The only way to go in this business and have a life at the some time.........
Joined Dec 13, 2018
I was looking into the healthcare chef jobs, mostly assisted living facilities and the pay for a roughly 40 hour work week was comparable, if slightly less than I am making. I was looking in wine country California though, so it might not be as comparable in other locations.

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