Maintaining control with classes,
a job and personal responsibilities can be tough
aking time to study is far more important than getting boba tea with your friends. They can wait for you to handle the priorities that will benefit you and your future self,” says Daniella Santos, baker at Amaretti Desserts in Jacksonville, FL and student at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ).
Culinary students like Santos might find themselves facing a juggling act of having a stressful job, taking care of family matters and managing a life outside of the kitchen in addition to attending classes. To keep all those balls in the air, a student must build learn to cope with challenging times.
Have a Plan
One of the first things a culinary student learns is mise en place — setting oneself up for success by getting everything in order before you begin.
Apply the principles of mise en place to your life. “That structure develops standards and consistency,” says Chef Susan Ciriello, CCE, Culinary Program Chair at the Art Institute of Colorado. “Hopefully the habit of putting things in place can benefit students’ lives.”
FSCJ professor Rich Grigsby, CCE, urges students to plan financially, realistically and personally for the type of commitment culinary school requires. Before making the decision to enroll, he suggests prospective students do their research in choosing the right culinary school that will understand a student’s personal commitments while challenging them academically.
Chef James Paul, MS, CCE, FMP, Chef Director at the International Culinary School at Art Institute of Atlanta, recommends students look for jobs that recognize their schoolwork comes first.
“There are many companies and job positions that are willing to accept a part time employee,” Paul says. If you already have a full-time job, talk with your superior about cutting back on hours or switching shifts.
In addition, tracking your budget and maintaining a weekly calendar can help tremendously in making sure that responsibilities don’t fall through the cracks.
Will Muña, a recent graduate of Stratford University, attributes handling stress to positivity and focus. “I knew every day I woke up I had to push myself as hard as I could to be successful,” he says. “That meant waking up early, getting to school, staying for six hours of classes, going right home and get ready for work.”
Muña had to make sacrifices on personal time to succeed in the kitchen. “During school I worked two jobs and still maintained a serious relationship with my girlfriend. The discipline came into play when I was tempted to go out. I just knew that I had bigger responsibilities than having a good time.” All that hard work paid off — Muña is now the Executive Chef of Esoteric, a gastropub in Virginia Beach, VA.
Of course, enjoying yourself is important as well. Without some time to decompress, stress can get the best of anyone. After a hard week, getting that boba tea with a friend might be the thing that keeps your mental health on track.
Find a Support System
Teamwork and communication are important to any kitchen. No one can handle all the work alone. Students should apply those skills to the classroom, too, according to Paul. “Students will create more opportunities to succeed if they communicate early on with their professors and advisors on the challenges they face.”
Having a support system and the ability to communicate effectively is a key point in moving through culinary school successfully. “Make connections, build a support system, and have a sense of humor,” Chef Ciriello says.
One easy way to make those connections? Create camaraderie rather than competition. “Have a good attitude. Skills are teachable, but having a terrible attitude is not something that can be changed,” says Sasha Greenwald, student and intern at Disney.
If a classmate uses the wrong knife or adds ingredients to a cold pan, joking about these mishaps can create a more positive environment. In the future, your classmates and professors will become your colleagues — and friends in the industry are an invaluable resource. They’ll be the key to getting your next job and will understand personal and work struggles better than anyone else.
“When you have other people to help, it not only makes it more fun, but you can learn from each other’s strengths,” says Greenwald.
“I talk to my friends and peers about stresses,” Santos says. “[It helps me to] figure out what is causing my stress and how to handle it.”
Remember why you’re doing this
Passion is key in succeeding as a chef. ”I always tell students there’s a bug you get bit by — the hospitality bug — once you get bit, you just make it work,” says Chef Grigsby.
Greenwald agrees. “Without an extreme passion, in this industry, you will not make it.”
Realizing you have that passion is easy, but once challenges start appearing, convictions waver. Look for something that inspires you on a daily basis, no matter how small. That perfect pan flip can keep you going for another week at least.
Slice of Life – Lanzer Ligon
Culinary students come from all backgrounds, are all ages and all ethnicities. The one thing they all have in common is a passion for cooking.
After graduating high school in 2005, Lanzer Ligon wanted to become a chef. But his parents thought it was a bad idea. They pushed him towards nursing school, but he eventually dropped out. After three years working two foodservice jobs, he says, “I started questioning my passion for culinary arts. … Maybe my parents were right.”
He went back to school and in 2012 earned an associate degree in automotive engineering technology. But after a year of working and making a great living, he still wasn’t happy. “[I] realized that money isn’t everything if you’re not enjoying the work,” Ligon says. “So in 2014, I finally listened to my heart and enrolled in the culinary program part-time, determined to begin my journey [to become] a chef.”
Today, at 31, Ligon is a student in the Culinary Arts Technology program at Culinary Institute of the Carolinas at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, SC, expecting to graduate in December.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Through my life’s struggles, mistakes and growing, at the age of 30, I realized that the little five-year-old me that stated to his parents that he wanted to be a famous chef was absolutely correct. Working in many different positions in the foodservice industry, I also realized my ability to lead others, adapt to change quickly, be creative, remain calm under pressure and willingness to push to be different. All of which I think will make me a unique chef.
Do you have a job in addition to being a student?
Yes, I currently work as a full-time line cook for a retirement community while owning and operating a small catering business. Also, I tend to my very own garden where I grow many different vegetables such as squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and many different herbs.
How do you juggle it all?
Honestly, I’ve never stopped to think how I juggle it all. First and foremost I have a great supportive loving husband and family who stand by my every step of the way. I can totally say when you love what you do you never really realize how much you’re actually doing.
What would be your advice to other young chefs?
My advice is to truly be yourself. Your authentic self is what sets you apart. Accept criticism, be part of the team and push the limits. Just remember one thing: You have the ability to change people’s lives through food.