Pursuing a culinary career
Do you find yourself "at home" in the kitchen even on days when your schedule seems too overwhelming to cook a thing? Is your idea of therapy or meditation a simple matter of poring through cookbooks and food magazines to find inspiration or comfort at the very least? Have you often wondered what it would be like to personal chef, work in a restaurant, or even own one? A passion for food is the start of a rewarding culinary career, and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder of The French Culinary Institute in New York City, grew her passion into one of the most renowned culinary schools in the world. We had a chance to catch up with Dorothy and get the dish on what inspired her to follow her culinary dreams and how other women with kids and families can follow their foodie dreams, too.
Love what you do
Dorothy Cann Hamilton founded The French Culinary Institute in New York City in 1984 with the mission of not only providing students a solid foundation to pursue a rewarding and successful culinary career, but to also stir their passion for food as a lifelong pleasure. After 25 years and over 15,000 graduates, Dorothy was inspired to share her wisdom with those who are considering a career change or beginning a new career in the culinary world. Her book Love What You Do: Building a Career in the Culinary Industry (IUniverse, November 2009), helps food lovers uncover their goals, passions, strengths and weaknesses while giving them guidance into a new career in the food industry. Love What You Do is an invaluable resource if you are considering a food move and need the confidence to know you are making the right decision.
The French Culinary Institute is a work of passion
SheKnows: What inspired you to follow a culinary career and found the French Culinary Institute?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: The French Culinary Institute stemmed from a passion, not a profession. When I saw an opening, I jumped for it. I returned to NYC during the recession of 1974. I was an English major in college and had just served in the Peace Corp in Thailand. I had no job skills or opportunities so I took the only job available to me—a job at my father's trade school in NYC. I loved it. I loved working with the students. From there, I followed my passion for cooking and food after I visited culinary schools in Europe. I convinced my dad to create a culinary trade school in NYC and The French Culinary Institute was born.
Focus on priorities and accept your limitations
SheKnows: How did you and do you juggle family and life obligations?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: You have to make choices. It's not easy. You're not going to be the best at either work or family and still have enough time left for the other. You have to be cool with that. You can still be good at what you do. It's about focusing on your priorities. For me, that was my daughter. I made a rule that I wouldn't go out to industry functions more than more four times a week. Accepting your limitations is the hardest part.
Explore your options
SheKnows: What are your recommendations for moms who are craving a career change or starting a culinary career but worry they won't be able to fulfill their family responsibilities?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: Know financially what you can afford to do. Maybe you have a supportive spouse who can take care of you financially while you attend school or work. Maybe your parents or other family members can help out with care giving or a place to live. Start small. If you like to cook, maybe you can prepare ready-made dinners in zip-top bags and sell them to busy neighbors. I also recommend that women read, read, read. Get inspired by others and their stories.
Share your wisdom
SheKnows: What was the catalyst that led you to write Love What You Do?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: Since I founded The French Culinary Institute 25 years ago, we've graduated over 15,000 students who are now working in the culinary profession in some capacity – chefs, bakers, food writers, consultants, TV producers, stylists and so on. After years of working with and helping to train chefs and culinary professionals, I have accumulated many lessons and insights that I wanted to share with people who are equally passionate about the culinary world.
SheKnows: What steps should women seeking a culinary career take?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: Start with a self-analysis. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What skills do you possess? What can you learn? What tasks do you enjoy? Dislike? Understand what exactly you like to do and then figure out the steps necessary to get a job doing that.
Seek personal and professional growth
SheKnows: What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton: I'd like to see The French Culinary Institute grow like an octopus—with multiple long and strong legs reaching out into the sea. I see The French Culinary Institute growing with the industry, keeping current with our culinary peers, not just observing the industry. Personally, I want to continue to grow and educate myself. I'd like to travel more and continue to learn about new culinary techniques and cultures.