Monday, October 18, 2010

The Eastpointer

I Wanna be a Chef, Mommy!

By Richard E. Noble

The rise of the restaurant, cooking and food service - fast and slow – has been the New American Industrial Revolution. Salad makers have replaced tool and die makers, bakers have replaced bricklayers, line cooks and expediters have replaced assembly line foreman and dock shippers - and for the most part all of these jobs have been replaced at half, a third or one quarter of the wages - no benefits or health insurance.
I have seen food service in America from just about every perspective. I have been in the killing tomato fields next to the illegal immigrants and a manager of million dollar fooderies in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Coral Gables and North Miami Beach. I have done every job in a restaurant from dishwasher and bartender to owner and operator.
There are opportunities for success in the restaurant business - but success in the restaurant business is not for the faint of heart.
When my niece told me that she was going to borrow a bunch of money to go to "Chef School," I gave her my advice. I told her to hold back on the borrowing and first get a little experience working in a restaurant. She had never worked anywhere - never mind in a restaurant.
I told her to go into any large chain restaurant in her area and ask for a management application. You could, in those days, go into any restaurant and apply to be the dishwasher or the manager. It was simply a matter of asking for the right application. I further told her to take a position in any chain that would accept her into their management program.
After she completed the training program she would probably know if the restaurant business was for her or not. She would not be in debt. She would not have wasted time studying something the college credit for which could not be used or transferred to any other area and while she was gaining this valuable insight, she would have been collecting a check instead of costing herself and her mother a fortune.
Naturally she thought that her old blue collar Uncle Dick was "old school." She could skip all the low level crap, go to chef school and start right at the top. She was going to go to her graduate study in Paris, she told me.
Today this little girl is in her mid-thirties and she is in so much debt that her blue collar Uncle Dick couldn't help her even if he wanted to. She is back to living with her mother 70 year old mother working part time and trying to get her masters degree in some established course of study.
After she graduated from "Chef School" as a part of the Placement Program she was sent to the McDonalds in Disney World. She was automatically enrolled in the Management Program and she worked the counter and assembled burgers.
When she told me about this I asked her if she had her tickets to Paris yet. She said no but she would get there eventually one way or another.
My niece is not married, and with her huge debt I don't know any boy in his right mind that would have her. She certainly couldn't afford to have a child - they cost money too.
When I think of her situation I become very annoyed and unhappy - but who can I blame?
She was just a little teenager and now she is in debt beyond recovery. And as I understand it her debt has been transferred to a private equity company and the interest at the moment seems to be growing faster than any of her possible income opportunities.
I can't really blame the chef school - she does know how to make cream sauce and bordelaise. She cooked me breakfast one time and the eggs were rich, creamy and delicious. Of course the kitchen was a total disaster. How can a person use fourteen pans to cook eight scrambled eggs and six breakfast sausages? She must have cut the clean-up class at the chef school.
I can't really blame the government for transferring her loan to an equity company - why should the taxpayers eat this disaster?
I can't blame her mother. She was a single parent and worked three jobs ever since she was a teenager.
I'm left with blaming a poor little teenage girl whose dreams were bigger than her abilities. I am told by some that she is getting exactly what she deserves.
But her life is ruined, it seems to me. And I really think that is a little more than even she deserves.

“The Eastpointer” is a series of selected columns from the Franklin Chronicle. It is available on or B&N. The author won a 1st place award for humor from the Florida Press Association in 2007 for this column. Click on the Eastpointer link at the right of this page to find out more.

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