With about 20 students in chef whites, it’s time to begin afternoon class at El Centro Community College in Dallas, Texas.
“You guys ever eat cold soup?” asked Chef James Knifong, instructor and apprenticeship coordinator. Some of his students — ranging in age from their early 20s to retirement — said “Yes.” Others, “No.”
“Like I mentioned yesterday,” Knifong said, “the big deal on cold soups — you’re going to need to adjust your seasoning, because when it’s cold, the flavors aren’t popping out like they will when it’s hot.”
Knifong, a CIA graduate – that’s the Culinary Institute of America – said what’s hot these days are chef and restaurant jobs. Government statistics show industry jobs will grow 12 percent in the next decade.
“There’s a huge need out there,” Knifong said, sitting in his office. “If you look outside my door here, we have our job board. We currently have six jobs for every student.”
Twenty-three-year-old Charlotte Zuber is one of the school’s 400 students. Thanks in part to her enrollment here, she’s in demand in different sections of a trendy downtown restaurant kitchen.
Student Charlotte Zuber busy chopping onions.
“I really love the fast-paced environment of the restaurant industry. And all the pressure. It’s really fun for me, the adrenaline and everything,” Zuber said.
That helps because chef jobs come with buying pressures, standing for hours and handling picky customers. But if you love it and learn it, it can pay off, said Ron Ruggless, who writes for the Nation’s Restaurant News.
“I don’t think anybody going into the food service in the back of the house should expect to become a multimillionaire,” Ruggless said. “But I mean, a solid, good wage can get people by quite well.”
Back in class, Zuber feels like she’s only getting by. Her restaurant job pays $9 an hour — the same, she says, as the dishwasher. Knifong told her she’s worth more.
“So you know prep,” Knifong said, “you know production, you know pastry, you haven’t got a raise? You need a raise young lady, because you know all this stuff.”
Knifong said his grads can make $30,000 as cooks, $80,000 as sous chefs, and more than $100,000 as an executive chef.
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