Becoming a chef in your 30s is an ambitious, but attainable, goal. Besides having a passion for food, you'll need to study and work at an accelerated speed to gain the experience others got in their late teens and 20s. See below if you have the necessary characteristics to make it in the kitchen.
A Willingness to Learn
Part of starting a bit later in life is realizing your boss and colleagues may be younger than you. That's OK — you can learn something from anyone. Don't let your age embarrass or hinder you. When fresh out of school (or just starting out), be willing to work your way through all the kitchen positions. No one likes the know-it-all line cook. Listen to the executive chef. Go the extra mile for the sous chef. Be kind to the dishwasher and servers. It's appreciated and keeps the peace in a professional kitchen.
You'll also work longer and more irregular hours than you're probably used to, so get ready to adjust your sleep and life habits. Look for internships or entry-level positions in commercial kitchens and restaurants. You start at the bottom and get little to no pay for your hard work, but the professional connections you make will be invaluable. You may have to find another way to support yourself in your free time, but it helps to polish your resume one restaurant at a time. There's always a new skill to master, no matter where you're working.
Becoming a chef takes a number of years to gain the skills and experience needed, so start planning ASAP. There are generally two tracks to gain this valuable knowledge: formal schooling or informal on-the-job training. The opportunities are more endless than you expect, so do some research and figure out what peaks your interest. You may like baking for your children but your skills lend themselves better to being a sushi chef — explore both paths and see what fits best.
You'll never truly know how to master the five "mother sauces" unless you practice hundreds of times, but practice doesn't have to be repetition. Branch out and experiment with different flavor combinations. With what feels like millions of dining options available, finding what makes your food stand out is vital. Because people also eat with their eyes, start thinking about how food looks along with tastes.
Many chefs started as dishwashers and prep cooks, moving up the ranks and learning the craft in a restaurant. Whether you worked in finance, as a teacher or maybe a stay-at-home mom, your nonculinary professional experience creates a specific combination with your culinary training that others don't have. Find out how your background and qualifications — time-management skills, quick thinking, teamwork ability — makes you a better chef than someone decades younger.
Anyone can purchase a chef's coat, but donning the garb doesn't make you a master chef. You'll be expected to work umpteen hours a week (including nights, weekends and holidays) in a hot greasy kitchen, so make sure that cooking is something that excites you. Besides, seeking a new career in your 30s is all about finding an occupation you feel connected to.
Becoming a chef in your 30s isn't about the money or the fame, and it's unlikely you'll have either when starting out. It's about the food and the art of cooking and baking. You need a fire in your soul for creating the best food possible — it will drive you to continue learning your craft even when the hours are excruciatingly long and the kitchen is unbearably hot.
Photo credit: Flickr