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Cooking for a

Cooking for a


Our career coach tells a laid-off flight attendant how to start a new career in the kitchen and helps another worker understand that getting more education means making more money

Dear Ed, It's been nine months since I was laid off from my job as a flight attendant with a major airline. High jet fuel prices and air-carrier bankruptcies have put many of my fellow colleagues out of work. Having to live on unemployment compensation in San Francisco (an expensive town to live in) is just not doable.

Although I've been actively participating in finding new employment, the responses to my resume by potential employers have been few, and there have been no subsequent interviews whatsoever. Disheartening, to say the very least.

What does a flight attendant of many years do when the plane gets grounded? Recently the answer to that question has been to rethink the plan in unconventional terms and begin to consider unconventional alternatives. Which leads me to write you about what has been my passion in life: cooking.

As a lifelong hobby of mine, preparing meals for others has always been my source of solace. In fact, I now turn to cooking as a way to keep me out of the depths of depression and desperation over my employment situation. My partner and our friends have always recognized my cooking gifts and talents and remarked that I missed my calling in life. Seeing their point, I've now decided to investigate the option of going to a Bay Area cooking school and becoming a chef. I would really like to hear from you and get your feedback on a career as a chef.

Thank you, Iron Chef

Dear IC, Starting out from a place of passion is always a big plus when considering the next steps along one's career pathway. The fact that throughout your life those around you have recognized your gifts for the culinary arts is confirmation from the universe that these talents for cooking are in fact a part of you.

Now, if you can stand the heat in the kitchen, you've got it made in your new career as a chef.

My suggestion for you is to try your best to get into a recognized certification program from a four-year cooking school. Depending on your reasons for wanting to attend a school in the Bay Area, you may want to reconsider: See if the Culinary Institute of America ( will accept you as a student.

The Institute has a reputation internationally as, by far, the premier U.S. culinary school, and it now has a West Coast campus in St. Helena, Calif. After graduation many of the Institute's alumni go on to become head chefs at high-end eateries around the world. A chef's income varies greatly, depending upon prior experience and position level--that's why it's important to graduate from a recognized cooking school such as the Institute. An aspiring chef must spend four years at an accredited cooking school, followed by at least another four years of working under a head chef as an apprentice.

The better schools such as the Institute will want you to have some culinary arts background--such as a kitchen support staffer doing vegetable and meat preparation. You'll have no problem finding such work in the fantastic restaurants in the San Francisco metropolitan area and the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino wine country. Your first aim is to become a sous-chef at one of the better restaurants under a top name who can serve as a mentor. Depending upon your success in finding the right mentor, you can expect to become head chef or open your own restaurant within 10 years.

It's a well-known fact that kitchens are places of high stress and fatigue. Unless you work in a corporation's executive dining room during the day, restaurant hours are odd and long. Chefs go to work well before the oven gets turned on just to do inventory and prep. Once the operation is in full swing, the pace is frenzied and the tempers are turned up.

Despite the downside (which every occupation has to a degree), most chefs who are passionate about their work will tell you that it is the most rewarding thing they can dream of doing in life. Why? Because it's creative and they view themselves as true artists. And you know what? Being a gourmand myself, I would have to agree with them.

Dear Ed, My partner and I are always at it over whether a graduate degree pays off in one's career. My partner holds a bachelor's degree, and I have a master's. Although I make more in salary, I still have student loans to pay off, which my partner doesn't, so we come out even at the end of the year.

The bone of contention between us is that I'm considering a doctorate program for 2006, which my partner is dead set against me doing. Some of the financial logic behind our debate is understandable; however, I still feel educational advancement is a plus to one's career initiatives--or am I just that perpetual-student spoiled brat I'm sometimes accused of being?

Thanks, E=MC2

Dear E=MC2 Understandably, taking on additional financial obligations can cause strain in any relationship. The most I can offer you are the hard facts surrounding the income levels for degree holders like yourself. Let's refer to the most recent U.S. Census data (from 2004), which compiled the following numbers regarding the median annual incomes of Americans by educational level. A median income is not an average, which might be higher because of super-high-earners in each category. A median is the number at which half the people in that category earn more and half earn less:

Education level Median annual income

Less than high school $21,600 High school diploma $30,800 Some college credits $35,700 Associate's degree $37,600 Bachelor's degree $49,900 Master's degree $59,500 Doctorate degree $79,400 Professional degree $95,700

You can see for yourself that whatever a doctorate degree will cost you, it may pay back you even more in the long run of your career. Given the jump in median income from a master's to a doctorate, I wouldn't necessarily be fearful of taking on another student loan.

What I'm advising is to include your partner as well as third-party opinions in your ultimate decision. Perhaps a talk with your accountant or financial adviser would be a wise move to help both you and your partner handle this decision, which will impact both of you and your combined lifestyle. Educate yourself before you educate yourself.

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Ed Vladich