Chef 101: How to Get a High-Paying Job in the Kitchen

Forget culinary school. Get a restaurant gig first, say veterans.

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"If anyone has a misconception about this business—because what you see on TV is not necessarily representative of the business—we tell them when they get here that there are three words they need: passion, discipline, and intensity," Koetke says. "Nobody finishes Kendall and doesn't understand what the industry is about. At the same time, the employment prospects are incredible. The food service business is expanding, and more and more jobs are needed."

Dory Ford's chef de cuisine, Esteban "E. J." Jimenez, recalls that about six years ago, he badgered Ford to become his mentor after being a member of Ford's team during a chef's collaborative at Disney Animation Studios.

Ford's team lost the competition that day, but in the process, Ford taught Jimenez to make a proper "pate sucree," or pastry crust—it took the young cook five tries to get it right.

Jimenez worked for years in various kitchens before coming under Ford's tutelage, and attended the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena while simultaneously working for Ford at the Huntington Beach Hotel. Like his mentor, he recommends that anyone thinking about going into cooking work in a kitchen first.

"Wash dishes and work your way up to prep cook. If you still have the desire, get on the sauté line. If you still have passion after that, then consider going to school," Jimenez says. "You really can get beat up on the sauté line, and if you're working that line and you can't picture yourself doing anything else, that's when it lies true."