You Graduated, Now What?
One of the strongest incentives to attend culinary school in New York is the bounty of options for employment and internships, both while in school and post-graduation. I already touched on a few options that are conducive to a student schedule in "How to Bite the Big Apple," but it's an entirely different world once you're not in school all day.
Personally, my choices are somewhat limited because I'm still on a school schedule. Before going to culinary school, I was admitted to the 2 year MFA program at Columbia University for a graduate degree in nonfiction writing. I started classes at Columbia about two weeks after graduating from The FCI, and have been getting accustomed to 2 hour lectures and 20 page essays before delving into a culinary job. But now that I'm almost a month into classes, I'm ready to put that Culinary Arts Degree to use.
As a c-school grad, one is faced with many food-related job opportunities (especially in New York). Below are just a handful of avenues a newly certified cook can venture down.
Obvious, I know. But it's surprising that there are a good many culinary students and graduates who have never set clog inside a kitchen. I belong to the school of thought that no matter what direction you go in the food-related job industry, you should work in a professional kitchen for at least a few months. Whether you're doing culinary PR or food writing, you'll be working with chefs. It helps tremendously if you understand how they think, where they're coming from and how their work environment functions. Culinary school gives you a sense of all this, but you don't really know what restaurant life is like until you work in a professional kitchen.
A catering job can take on many forms, from a part-time gig to a steady means of employment. If the idea of heading into the same workspace and making the same menu every day sounds like hellish tedium, than catering can be an excellent way to get variety while still working in a kitchen. As one of The FCI instructors noted, it's also a free pass into some exciting venues and gorgeous homes. New Yorkers are known to throw amazing parties at places like The Met or Hamptons mansions, and you can bet they're not whipping up the hors d'oeuvres themselves.
For someone who has a serious commitment outside of a job (ie. grad school), personal chefing can be a good way to go. You can make a decent salary (often much more than an hourly wage in a restaurant), and depending on who you work for, the hours tend to be less demanding. One of my fellow students works as a private chef for a family on the Upper East Side, and swears it's the easiest, and best paid, cooking job she has ever had. Again, it ups your employability if you’ve spent some time in a restaurant, especially one that is well known.
In the current political climate we may consider Wall St. financial firms and major banks as blood sucking entities, but the people who work in them need to eat regular food. Working in corporate dining may not have the panache of cooking in a NYC restaurant, but there is one major upside: benefits. Medical insurance may not seem like a big deal when you're 21, but it's a nice thing to have after life beats you up a bit. A recent posting on The FCI site for a corporate dining position listed the following: "Weekends off, medical, dental, eye, 401k, continuing education, childcare facilities and fitness program." Not even Jean Gorges can give you that.
Whether it's an entire restaurant group or an individual celebrity chef, heavy hitters in the culinary world need representation. Working for a firm like Bullfrog & Baum that has an extensive client list of well known restaurants, food magazines and TV shows means working with the culinary industry in a different form. Even if it's advising the food section of a non-culinary mag like Men's Health, the work still involves using previous training you learned in school and the kitchen.
You swore off retail after a summer job at The Gap, but imagine stocking imported Italian cheeses instead of rayon sweaters. Food specialty stores like Dean & Deluca need employees to help decide what products to stock and where to find them. Although being a buyer requires a more experienced background in the culinary field, beginning in merchandising and getting familiar with the store's products is a good way to begin working your way up.
Those surefire recipes in Gourmet and Saveur don't just magically appear out of nowhere. Before going to print, publications give most recipes a trial run in their test kitchens. It's an excellent option to pursue if you're interested in both cooking and the food publishing world.
Do you ever wonder why the Wendy's Baconator looks delectable on TV and like a greasy mess in the package? Food stylists. Edible items being photographed or filmed aren't any different than people – everyone needs a little touch up before going in front of the camera.
Food media refers to the broader industry of food television and publications. Whether your aspiration is to work with the Food Network or write for Bon Appetit, a culinary degree can certainly help in both training and connections. Case in point, I'd probably never be writing for chef2chef had I not attended The FCI. Going to school is a great way to get plugged in with that world, which is otherwise very tough to enter.
Again, this is just a few of the many options available in the food world for recent graduates. Anyone reading this with other employment suggestions, please speak up!