Chef Fitch Talks Culinary Management Careers, Challenges, and Trends
Filed under: Culinary
October 27, 2015
“When you start culinary, it’s about the love of food and family and friends and hospitality and comfort. If you’re going to pursue a career in that though, you have to have an understanding that it’s a business like any other business,” says Chef Candace Fitch. “You have to run it and manage it, or, no matter how good your food is, it’s not going to work.”
Chef Fitch is an instructor in Culinary Management at The Art Institute of Washington, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta. With experience working in hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, and country clubs, she is as comfortable in the kitchen as she is in the courtroom representing her clients in the hospitality and restaurant business as an attorney around Washington, DC.
She sees studying culinary management as a way for her to students to take more control of their careers so that they can go anywhere they want within the field.
As to what her students do after graduating, it’s all across the board, she says. Many graduates start working in kitchens to gain experience and work their way up, while others go straight to working in front or back of house management for a small hospitality operation. Still others want to start a place of their own.
“Some of them go out and try to open their own business, whether it's as a personal chef or in catering,” she says. “Food trucks are very popular right now, so some of our graduates start with a food truck since that is a small and manageable operation.”
While the programs at The Art Institutes can give you a solid foundation and knowledge about purchasing, management, menu development, and much more, Chef Fitch reminds everyone that being a first-time business owner is no easy task. For students who do wish to open their own business right away, her advice is simple--get help when you need it.
“When you start out, you should be proud of what you’re capable of doing, but understand that you can't always leave college and be hugely successful right out of the gate,” she says.
For many people, the biggest challenge can be understanding legal and financial issues that go with owning a business, especially with leases occasionally being up to 100 pages long.
“You have to know yourself and understand your limitations. Don't be too proud or embarrassed to say ‘I need help with my books,’ or ‘I need help understanding the legal issues here,’ because I think that ruins more restaurants and culinary careers than anything else,” she says.
Even for those who start out working their way up, it’s takes a lot of effort and dedication. “The Food Network has created a sort of skewed, glamorous expectations for this field. It’s not always glamorous,” she points out.
In fact, her recommendations are to be humble and always be ready to learn. Sometimes, she says, the greatest learning experiences can happen while you’re washing the dishes and watching what’s going on around you, as you keep your eyes and ears open to what successful people are doing in the industry.
Respect is another trait that she believes is essential to success. She explains, “The farm-to-table and sustainability movement, for example, that’s part of having respect--respect for yourself, respect for other people in the industry, but most of all respect for the ingredients and the food you’re using.”
When you respect your food, your craft, your staff, and your customers, and you see everything come together, she says, that is where the magic waits.
“Whether it’s an everyday meal around the table where people catch up with each other not via text but face to face, to birthday and anniversary celebrations, to the holidays, food can evoke so many emotions and memories. It you can make people feel that happiness in your dining room, and if you’re managing it properly, that is the most rewarding. That’s exactly why most of us got started.”
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