I love food, but can't cook, so I greatly appreciate someone who can. Douglas Silva is such a person. He recognized his avocation as a young man, and today he is sole proprietor of Silva's Sheldon Inn in Elk Grove, where he's a chef and business manager. In his spare time, he also squeezes in two nights a week at American River College, teaching the art of cooking.
There aren't many roles within the hospitality food industry that Silva hasn't filled, so he's able to provide many perspectives. Dressed in a chef's traditional hounds-tooth pants and white jacket, Silva met me outside his classroom prior to an evening lecture.
I briefly stepped into Silva's classroom, which resembled a large, industrial kitchen. With some of the most renowned culinary academies charging as much as $30,000 for tuition, this community college program provides a more affordable alternative.
Classes include food theory and preparation; becoming a chef; introductory culinary skills; calculations in food service occupations; sanitation, safety and equipment; professional cooking; cost control in the food service industry; beverage operation; advertising and sales in food service; catering; restaurant management and production; and dining room management.
Silva's students, who greeted him warmly, would learn bread making that night. It crossed my mind to ask him if making good bread can translate into a career earning good bread - pretty corny, so I didn't phrase it quite that way.
The answer, nonetheless, turns out to be yes. Silva notes that over the past decade chefs have commanded higher salaries and that some chefs can earn up to $80,000 per year or more. Naturally, the big bucks go to the highest-profile chefs at swanky Bay Area restaurants, with a more typical Northern California salary ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 annually. Entry-level cooks can earn from $8 to $15 per hour in much of Northern California, with Bay Area wages even higher.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects are bright for most culinary positions. Openings for chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers are expected to be plentiful through 2010. While normal job growth will create opportunities, the overwhelming majority of job openings will be created through turnover. Additional employment growth will be spurred by increases in population, household income and leisure time that will allow people to dine out and take vacations more often. Growth in the number of two-income households will also lead to more family restaurant outings.
Projected employment growth, however, varies by restaurant type. Increases in the number of families and the more affluent 55-and-older population will lead to more restaurants offering table service and more varied menus - which should result in faster-than-average growth for higher-skilled restaurant cooks and chefs. As more Americans choose full-service restaurants, employment of fast-food cooks is expected to decline.
Which is all good news for Silva, who launched his restaurant in 1988. Today, Silva's Sheldon Inn serves dinner six nights a week and employs approximately 30 people. In addition to Silva and his wife, Barbara, the restaurant's workforce includes a dining room manager, bartender, service staff (waiters, waitresses, bus crew), kitchen staff (assistant chefs and cooks), and a janitorial service.
Catering to a Dream
What education is necessary to maintain a successful restaurant? Surprisingly, Silva earned a psychology degree with an emphasis on child development. So, a college degree isn't a prerequisite. However, what Silva did next might be. Just out of college, he and Barbara worked as caterers and refined their dream.
"We were on a mission. We wanted to own a restaurant, and decided one of us should enroll in a culinary academy. I had experience working in several food industry jobs during college, so I attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco for two years." There, Silva broadened his knowledge and honed his skills in a classic French model kitchen.
Other prerequisites for success are drive and a strong work ethic. Silva labored as a chef in several kitchens before launching his own business. Now, aside from teaching, he operates his restaurant full time. He strives to be an adroit business manager and astute human resources supervisor in addition to a master chef. Silva takes his duties a step further by growing his own fresh vegetables and herbs in a garden on the restaurant's two-acre premises. His clientele, both loyal, longtime customers and new patrons spawned by Elk Grove's growth, appreciate that fresh touch.
"Anyone who expects to make it in this business must handle pressure. Restaurant work means long hours - nights, weekends, and holidays," Silva advises. "A successful kitchen is intense. It's hot and busy, and you can go from zero to 60 in a minute. Satisfying customers is the primary goal.
"It's pretty easy to land an entry-level job as a cook or as a service staff member, but you must be able to think and act quickly to last long enough to climb the ladder. Then you must be able to envision long-range goals." He points to corporate restaurants, such as Chili's, Applebee's and TGI Fridays, as an opportunity to advance through the ranks. These ubiquitous chains offer countless opportunities with several layers of management and chef positions.
His final words of wisdom to anyone seeking to be a restaurateur - define your goals, pursue your education (business and culinary), get a foothold in an entry-level position, and always put forth your best effort. For Silva, it's all worth it. "My work brings me satisfaction daily."
For more information on careers in the culinary industry, check out these resources:
- BayChef.com - website for the California Culinary Academy.
- Education-Resource.com/culinary.html - College search site with information on career opportunities, professional training, business school or distance learning programs, and answers to career-related questions.
- Escoffier.com - Website for chefs with news, articles, links, resources, education and scholarship information, and a career center that offers searches, resume posting and links to other culinary career sites.
- FoodService.com - Website for the industry includes news, resources, links, equipment and a complete career center.
- FoodWork.com - Select jobs based on zip code and the number of miles you can travel each day, followed by the job types you want. Browse restaurant bios and position descriptions and apply on line. FoodWork faxes applications directly to the restaurants.
- hjo.net - Hospitality Jobs Online website for hotels, food & beverage establishments, travel groups, casinos, cruise lines, country clubs, convention centers, entertainment groups, recruiters and other companies requiring professional services or needing to fill job descriptions common to the hospitality industry.
- HospitalityOnline.com - Job listings for hotels, restaurants, casinos, etc.
- RestaurantJobs.com - Post a resume using a resume builder, search jobs, use a job search agent that sends positions (according to your criteria) to an in-box under your login ID at the site.
- RestaurantJobs.org - Thousands of restaurant manager jobs, chef jobs, catering jobs and hospitality employment listings.
- RestaurantRecruit.com - Job listings for restaurants.
- Silva's Sheldon Inn - (916) 686-8330