By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student
There’s a section of the Culinary Arts Block that people who have been through the program talk about with hushed tones. They discuss it the same way they’d tell you about the time they had to stay up for 56 hours to study for a Calculus final, or drank a keg of coffee in order to finish their senior thesis. Something that requires “so much work” you’re left drained at the end, in the same way that triathon runners have IVs put in as they pump their fists in victory.
That section is entrepreneurship.
I discussed it briefly in one of my posts last week, but it’s a class period that people tend to remember, so I thought it merited a little more discussion. I personally find that it’s one of the more useful sections of either the Culinary or Pastry Arts curriculum, and while it leads to a lot fewer delicious Facebook posts, it is chock full of useful information.
To get into more detail, entrepreneurship is a period in which you go through the academic process of starting a culinary business. For example, if you want to start a food truck, you have to locate and price a truck to buy, source possible investors, identify laws and permits you’ll need to be in compliance with, decide on a menu, and price that menu. You also have to develop a business plan, including logos, marketing campaign, demographics, business model, and so on and so on.
It’s a lot of office work that many people (including myself) got into the culinary word to escape. The good presentations will have a powerpoint, sample menus, fact sheets, pricing guides, vendor possibilities, and expansion plans, all of which your instructor will review. And yes, it doesn’t sound as sexy as Duck à l’Orange, but it’s the nuts and bolts of owning a business that Guy Fieri never talks about on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
First, let’s dispel some rumors:
1. It’s not that much work (comparatively speaking)
It would be easy for me to start ragging on the amount of work you do during this block when compared to my average two-week workload. It’s mandatory that I put out at least 6,000 words worth of material in that time, plus (on a good week) somewhere around 7,500 words of “optional material” between my book and short stories, both of which I hope to get published one day.
But in light of the average two-week period in the kitchen, the workload during entrepreneurship isn’t that heavy. Instead of putting out five separate plate items, plus sauce, plus sides, plus everything else, you have to sit down and plan out a fantasy restaurant. You’re off your feet, you get to take regular breaks without worrying about putting off your production schedule, you have a nice icy beverage next to you whenever you like. It’s a pretty sweet gig. Sure, office work is boring. But this isn’t your typical office work, because…
2. The work is fun (with the right mindset)
“Your methods aren’t working,” my classmate Benn quipped as he was pricing out his restaurant. He was referring to a previous article of mine, where I discussed how to make the best of a boring task. An argument can be made, however, that this particular task is not boring. It’s basically the Fantasy Football of restaurants. You get to invent an entire menu, design and decorate an imaginary restaurant, come up with your own themes, draw pictures of your plans, discuss flavors with your classmates…
In my book that’s pretty darn fun.
3. The real goals here
Sometimes, it’s hard to focus on work that will eventually lead more or less nowhere. You’re not actually going to open your food truck that also has a DJ, and you’re probably not even going to try many of your experimental menu items. So what’s the point?
The side of being a chef (rather than a line cook, an assistant, or an apprentice) often means a lot of paperwork. Chef Robert touched on this quite a bit while we were in fundamentals—a lot of time, being an executive means as much paperwork as it does kitchen time. And true, just because you want to work in the kitchen doesn’t mean you eventually want to be an executive. But the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts strives to give you as many tools as you might need in your career. For some people, that means learning to cook meat when they’re vegetarian. Or how to bake a cake when they hate desserts. But for everyone, that means learning to do paperwork, and it’s an important skill to master early.
4. It’s not supposed to kill your dream.
A lot of times, this portion of the curriculum is seen as a mission to kill students’ dreams of owning their own place. After all the presentations are finished, that’s the most common statement, “Man, I’m NEVER opening my own place now!”
But that’s not the point. Dreams are great, but unless they’re grounded in reality, that’s all they’ll ever be—dreams. And yes, we’re not supposed to bog down people’s dreams with annoying facts about what they’re trying to get into. We don’t want to hear how many restaurants fail in their first year. We don’t want to hear about health inspections, scrubbing, long hours, little sleep, or the other pitfalls of restauranteurship. It’s a dream, and we want to keep it alive.
But it is important to have all the tools you need to make that dream succeed, and that’s what this block is all about.
5. It will make you a better chef.
In the brief time I’ve been working towards being in the culinary field, I’ve found that the three tools you need more than anything (except how-to in the kitchen) are grit, courage, and patience. Grit because not everything you do will be a tiptoe through the tulips on a sunshiny day under a rainbow. Courage because you’ll probably spend the rest of your life at least kind of anxious about something. And patience because sometimes a cake needs an extra five minutes, and the batter doesn’t care that you’re in a hurry. Tackling tasks you don’t like in an efficient and competent manner is the only way to develop all three of those.
Nobody really looks forward to entrepreneurship, to be honest. Even some of the chef instructors I’ve had seem to view the block as a necessary evil, and I know if my classmates read this, they’ll think I’m off my rocker for thinking it was fun. But it is definitely worth the time spent, and if treated properly, you will come out of this block a better kitchen hand than you went in.