Forget What You See on TV: Here's What It Really Takes to be a Chef

Some of the country’s leading chefs weigh in on what it's really like to run a kitchen

"You’re not just a chef, you’re a therapist, plumber, and family member," Stella Barra's Jeff Mahin told us. 

Being a chef isn’t easy, and never has been. Long hours and lots of standing, very few breaks, pay that can be incredibly low…. But in the end, if cooking is your calling, few things are more rewarding.

Forget What You See on TV: Here's What It Really Takes to be a Chef (Slideshow)

We reached out to 10 of the country’s most well-regarded chefs ask asked them to answer the question, “What are some things they don’t tell you about being a chef?" Plenty of people have learned everything they know about chefs by watching Food Network or Top Chef, we proposed, but in reality it must be very different than it looks on television. To begin with, if you’re the executive chef of a restaurant, you don’t just cook the food; you’re devising recipes, keeping track of inventory, and most importantly, leading a team of cooks who look to you for guidance and inspiration. If a kitchen is a ship the chef is the captain.

What, we asked, are some aspects of being a chef that would take non-chefs by surprise? The chefs who responded were Lettuce Entertain You’s Doug Psaltis, Stella Barra's Jeff Mahin, Blue Ribbon’s Eric Bromberg, Scampo’s Lydia Shire, Vetri’s Marc Vetri, the forthcoming Loi Estiatorio’s Maria Loi, Delicatessen’s Michael Ferraro, Norman’s Norman Van Aken, Avec’s Paul Kahan, and Lonesome Dove’s Tim Love.

All of these chefs have spent decades in the kitchen and many years heading kitchens of their own; some, like Tim Love, have parlayed that success into several restaurants as well as TV shows. And while all of these chefs’ careers have taken them on different paths, their responses are strikingly similar: It’s a lot of work, it’s not glamorous, and it’s just as much about being a leader as it is about being a good cook.

Doug Psaltis

“All the office work involved -- being a chef is not just about cooking. There is so much clerical and financial work in the day-to-day that many aspiring chefs and non-chefs don't realize. It's a financially sound business, and you will be putting in so many long hours. You will be the first one in and the last one out. You also really have to step up as the leader and mentor for the staff to create a cohesive and efficient team.”

Eric Bromberg


“The food is the easy part. Running a business and being a chef/leader is the key to success. Lead by example and teach.”