Tag Archives: cooking

Dear Blog (and possible blog readers),

I know that I have been neglecting you lately.  The truth is, this past year has been rather rough for me. After I returned from Paris, I looked for a waitressing or bartending job, but was unsuccessful in spite of 12 years of experience.  I also tried to find clients for the personal chef business I was hoping would take off.  There, too, I was unsuccessful.  I was thus forced to take a cooking job.  Why was a cooking job my last resort, you may ask.  Don’t you like cooking? Well, blog, you’ve obviously forgotten about this post, in which I declare the restaurant industry in Montreal unsustainable.

Anyway…though the job I have allows me to cover my basic expenses, I pay almost half of my net salary in rent (not including hydro, or anything else)  This leaves me in a very precarious situation financially.  If I have unexpected or occasional expenses, there is no room in my budget for them.  There is also no room in my budget for going out to eat once in a while, etc.  On top of this my job is dull, unrewarding, and provides no opportunities to interact with anyone except the other cooks with whom I never really seem to have much in common.

This unlife has left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I became disillusioned with…well, pretty much everything including writing in you, dear blog.  This experience has also left me ever more bitter and jaded about the restaurant industry.  I’ve pretty much stopped reading the restaurant reviews and such, because…hey, it’s not like I can afford to eat out, or anything.

I went into cooking in hopes of opening up my own restaurant one day.  However, since that goal is not currently within my grasp, and since I’ve always wanted to see more of the world, I’ve decided to dust off my Bachelor’s of English Literature and go teach English as a second language in South Korea.  The abundant opportunities for new culinary experiences (and new experiences in general) will hopefully renew my zest for life (and food, and cooking).  Also, the fact that I’ll be paid a decent wage and will actually be able to start saving money again should take a load off of my shoulders.

I’m not sure if I should start a new blog, or continue on with this one…but there are changes ahead, blog, that much is certain.

Restaurant Reviews & The Industry in General

I’ve struggled with the idea of posting in-depth reviews of restaurants on here for a while, due to the following reasons:

1) I know that working as a cook can be difficult, and don’t want to unduly criticize anyone.

2) I wasn’t sure whether I should risk being ostracized for any potentially negative remarks I might possibly make.

However, presumably, there are people out there (like you) who are interested in my opinion. My opinion represents my view of an experience I’ve had, and since someone else may have an entirely different experience, their opinion may diverge quite violently from my own…and that’s okay. What is important to remember is that my opinion is just that; nothing more, nothing less.

In regards to the second reason listed above, well, I highly doubt I’ll ever want to work in another restaurant in this city (as a cook) unless they magically start paying their employees decent wages and stop taking them for granted. I don’t know of any other industry where a degree, that takes a year of full-time schooling to obtain, often results in a starting salary of $10/hr, zero benefits, no breaks, a dangerous work environment, and no respect from one’s employer. I don’t know if things are better for cooks in other countries, but here in Montreal (and, from what I’ve read, the rest of Canada and the States) I have to say that cooking is an unsustainable industry. A wage of between $10 and $14/hr just isn’t enough to live off of, especially considering the lack of benefits. You may be able to pay your expenses (if you keep them to a bare minimum) but forget about things like saving for retirement, having children, or buying a house.

If cooking is a trade, then cooks should be making $20/hr and receive benefits like workers do in other trades. Since restaurant owners are notoriously cheap, greedy, and crooked, expecting their employees to work long hours while trying to screw them out of the little holiday and overtime pay to which they are legally entitled (and often succeeding), the only way this will ever happen is though provincial or nationwide unionization. Until then, cooking should stop being touted as a trade or a ‘career’ and instead be looked upon as an alternative to working as a cashier (something that pays a similar wage, but requires minimal knowledge or skill).

Though there are many people who will tell you that ‘you don’t go into cooking to get rich’, fewer people will tell you just how low the pay is or how bad the working conditions are. One often has to deal with sweltering heat, broken equipment (that the restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay to get fixed), slippery floors, terrible wait staff, plate shortages, and sociopathic co-workers, to name but a few things. I could go on, but thinking all this over, again, is starting to bring me down.

So, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I recommend you only go into cooking if:

1) You really don’t know what else to do (though I suggest you think long and hard until you can think of a few options)
2) You’re willing to slog it out for 10 years or so, work constantly, toot your own horn, and stomp over anyone who gets in your way until you’re finally able to secure a position as executive chef somewhere
3) You are, or want to become, an alcoholic and/or drug addict, and need a job where your boss will look the other way as long as you show up and do some work
4) You’re a workaholic who doesn’t like money
5) You just want to get some experience before starting your own restaurant/bakery/food truck, etc. (Save up some money first and be prepared for the worst)
6) You know someone who can hook you up with a job that pays well (overseas, or possibly at an airport or hotel)
7) You are a masochist, and especially enjoy it when you’re working hard, trying to do ten things at once, and one of your co-workers walks by and tells you that your technique is flawed, because you are not doing it the same way Escoffier’s grandmother did it back in the nineteen hundreds.

So, in conclusion, I know that there are many people out there who love cooking, and I love cooking too…but I hate ‘the business’ as it is called. I don’t see an reason why skilled, hardworking, passionate employees should be payed an unsustainable wage and forced to deal with dangerous working conditions, and abusive employers (and coworkers) in order to do the job they love doing. Many cooks seem to regard these negative working conditions as a badge of honour, or as an example of their commitment or toughness…but this most likely just a justification they need to make to themselves in order to compensate for their reality. If they were offered a higher salary and better working conditions, while still being able to produce a high caliber, quality product, I doubt many would refuse.