He likes ALL kinds of Swedish Fish!
September 20, 2010 12:04 PM   Subscribe

My brother is back in Chicago and looking for a job, preferably in the culinary world. But he's also looking to move away from retail and restaurant work, and is both unsure what's out there and wondering what other kinds of education he could do to improve his future prospects. Any suggestions?

My brother is a culinarily trained fishmonger. He has spent the past two years working at a stand in Seattle's Pike Place Market (not the one where they throw the fish; it bruises the flesh!) following 5 years managing a seafood department at a major-metro branch of a store that is not called Incomplete Beverages. Now he's back in Chicago, having moved twice for his [wonderful] lady friend.

He's getting a bit tired of the retail grind, though, particularly since he's coming up on 30 and needs a job that provides health insurance. Even though he's trained at places like Le Bernardin (and makes the meals to prove it... omg), restaurant work doesn't really appeal to him, particularly because he is settling down and the hours are tough.

He's also at a disadvantage because his degree, from a well-regarded associate's program at our local tech college, isn't even complete. He skipped one unrelated requirement. So he's got some business training, but even though he's a pretty good writer and has decent sense for the landscape, he doesn't have many proven skills other than those in the food industry. (He could probably temp, but... eh.) He might go back to school, but he's been out for a while and has no idea what would make him more marketable, or even what else he could do. (Maybe a general food business program at Kendall College?)

So I'm trying to help him find both a job for right now and possibly a new career path.

Some things that we think would be good:
--personal chef or teaching cooking classes (seriously, he's super charming and makes amazing meals for himself and his girlfriend every night: Mussels in a lemongrass curry broth! Halibut escabeche! White truffle risotto and seared kale with lemon!). He's looked into various schools and services and isn't really finding much.
--maybe serving as a liaison between some sort of supplier and restaurants, or producers and suppliers, even at a place like Sysco (who isn't so bad!)
--higher-end stores like Sur la Table and other equipment places (he's looked, with little success.)
--This job would have been, like, the best job evarr.
--He is very well connected with the local food scene in the Midwest. He cares a lot about people and food; he worked at the biggest farmer's market in the country for 10 years.
--He is in River North for the next six months or so, but would then likely be in a place like Ravenswood. Public transit only; no car. (So... not a distillery rep for a vodka company in Lake Bluff.)

Obviously he should just get ANY job, but he is pretty down on himself already because he's just unsure of even the right direction to take. Any thoughts?
posted by Madamina to Work & Money (5 answers total)
The Wooden Spoon in Andersonville (very close to Ravenswood) offers small cooking classes and might be a good option. The link is for their employment opportunities page. It seems like that type of cooking class can lead to personal chef gigs--at the very least, every fun cooking class I've ever taken has been taught by someone who says s/he works or has worked as a personal chef (as well as, usually, some high-end restaurant experience, something more retail oriented like managing a butcher shop, and something totally oddball like... I don't know, cave diving). One of the students will inevitably ask about the chef's background, so it's not like he'd have to do much spontaneous self-promotion, he could just say, "I was a fishmonger and now I'm an instructor and personal chef." And then another student will ask about hiring him for a dinner party she was thinking of having.

There are a ton of similar places throughout the city, but the Wooden Spoon is the only one where I've actually shopped or taken classes.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:03 PM on September 20, 2010

Personal chef and teaching classes aren't going to really make him much money. And the time spent finding people who want you to cater a wedding for $1.95 a person isn't worth it.

Is he interested in purchasing or food brokering? His combination of skills sound about right for that sort of thing. It's sales, basically. He'd need a car.

Scroll down on this for a list of places in Chicago.

There's also food service places, and wholesalers like Costco, which is a terrific place to work.

I know none of these sound very sexy and cool, but there's a surprising amount of good jobs that don't really sound very interesting, but turn out to be.

There's also working with supermarket chains and manufacturers in community outreach, PR, etc. Product development --which might take more food science classes than he has, but he might get hired in an entry level gig and then explore.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:22 PM on September 20, 2010

LTHForum's Pro section might be a good spot for him to find out about job opps.
posted by me3dia at 9:11 PM on September 20, 2010

Response by poster: Aaaaaaand he's back at Incomplete Beverages, albeit the South Loop, as a butcher. Okay!

Luckily, he's got benefits, accessibility and fulltime status, which is good. I just hope this gives him the cushion he needs to think about easing into something else.
posted by Madamina at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2010

Enh, I know a few people who've made a living as personal chefs. I'm not sure how difficult it is to get to that point, but it can certainly be done. Those people certainly do better than your average retail wage slave at Costco or even Sur le Table.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on September 21, 2010

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