What’s Your Next Career Move after Chef?

Baby –> Toddler –> Kid –> Adolescent –> Teen –> Young Adult –> Chef –> ??

Often, as I tour a kitchen-in-need-of-remodel with a general manager, architect, and/or developer and I’m introduced to the chef as their kitchen designer and former chef, the look of disdain on his/her face falls into one of green-eyed envy. After the initial design programming meeting, said chef pulls me aside and asks, “How can I do what you do?”

I certainly recognize the ragged edge look of the burnt-out chef, wanting ––no ––needing to DO SOMETHING ELSE. I saw it in myself 20 years ago in my thirties, a new mother, my forehead bruised by my own palm smacking it daily, punctuating the “what was I thinking?” rolling across my hopeless future. Nightmares of fixing the grey hair of middle age under my chef’s hat. Never having anything more than checked pants and jeans in my wardrobe. Doomed to dine out on Mondays forever. Missing out on every Easter egg hunt and Christmas morning with my child to poach eggs in a giant kettle for golfers. Yeah, I know, I could go on.

The fear here for any chef with a large enough ego (I know, I know) is tossing away the experience of those years cooking, managing, organizing, drinking and perfecting the art of pulling prime rib or cooked shrimp from your rear (figure of kitchen-speak for those who do not know, as in, “It was so fucking busy last night, we ran out of rare prime rib and I had to pull it out of my ass!”) which is quite a talent, I’ll have you know, and one that shouldn’t be wasted.

When I arrived at this crossroads, two careers peaked up from the horizon of my misty future: teaching cooking and designing kitchens. I felt qualified for either due to my vast kitchen experience in international kitchens from Hawaii to New Orleans to Canada to Australia. Never mind that I stuttered unless I was cursing at dishwashers ––minor detail. I was pretty good at brushing over my own flaws and insecurities if I wanted something badly enough.

The stars lined up in such a way that I landed a job for a commercial kitchen design firm in town. Somehow my persistence and gumption trumped the fact that my people skills and my wardrobe were at the bottom of the humanity well. But I wouldn’t be sitting around drawing kitchens all day as I had envisioned. I’d be selling.


Yep, cold calling. With a stutter.

I’ve known chefs who have easily transitioned into food sales mode; calling on all their chef buddies with a smile on their 40-hour-work-week face, toting a book offering canned goods. And this is a natural way to morph for those of lighter hearts and smaller egos. I couldn’t do it. Too easy.

The harder achievements in life are more rewarding and my transition from chefdom was very hard. I wanted to offer carts at Wal Mart many times. It wasn’t learning how an exhaust hood actually works and how to be nice to everybody no matter what and how to avoid costly mistakes. It was the self-doubt, the erosion of my precious ego, the STRESS of this new life.

But I persevered and now it’s kind of fun. I draw a lot of kitchens now and you know what? We need more people like me in this industry. A lot of self-proclaimed kitchen designers are equipment sales people. Or they have engineering degrees. Or they were aeronautical engineers. Who better to design the most efficient and cost-effective kitchen than a former chef? Who better than a chef to ensure there are spice shelves and a sink on the line, enough space in front of the food wells for a plate and that the kegs and flowers don’t get stored in the food walk-in? With all the commercial kitchens in this country and worldwide, there should be a school for designing kitchens. And there is! Working in one.

So chefs, if it’s time to launch into something else, get ready. If I can do it, you can.


For more about life after Chef Life see: So You Want to get out of the Kitchen? Part One

and                                                                 So You Want to get out of the Kitchen? Part Two


5 responses to “What’s Your Next Career Move after Chef?

  1. Oh man, the food I have pulled out of my ass! It’s amazing. Though in my current job I am still working meat miracles. After leaving the line, I went into sales at a meat distribution company. Just last 4th of July I managed to pull a sucking pig (fresh AND local even) out of my ass for a customer. It’s such a combination of stress and satisfaction though – all that adrenaline! And I literally lol-ed at your “doomed to dine out on Mondays forever” line. Sadly this is still my life as I am married to a chef. Anyways, enjoying your blog – can’t wait to read more!


  2. Thanks for following! Yes we kitchen people are cut from a different cloth aren’t we? I pull other miracles from my ass now, usually in the form of getting a stove into a kitchen when the door is too small (hey guys, try that window!), or pulling solutions outta there to all kinds of challenges that other people can’t seem to solve. And I still strive on the stress even though I bitch about it. So hang in there in the life, we are special!


  3. I’m totally in the same boat. I need to get out of the kitchen. And not sure how. My resume is stacked for a chef / kitchen manager , but that’s about it. How did you get the kitchen design opportunity?? How do I start looking for opportunities like that ?


  4. Well, back then I looked in the yellow pages! I was very lucky for a small town to have such a professional and willing design firm. Look online in your area, Google “Food Service Consultants,” “Commercial Kitchen Design,” and just “Commercial” or “Restaurant Equipment sales”, sometimes equipment companies have in house design services. You may have slide into some sales–I did, which was hell to smile and be nice to people after swearing at dishwashers, but, hey, life is about learning, right? Pull some skills from before you worked in the kitchen, anything to prove that you’re a wonderful, organized person, eager to learn and smart. I think that’s how I got my job, my boss (now of 23 years) interpreted my desperation for persistence, and persistence does pay. Keep me posted Sara, let me know how it goes, and if I can offer anything more to you, I’m happy to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s