Talking with people from all sorts of backgrounds and diverse careers, to inspire Cayman’s youngsters of all the great jobs available to them.
What it’s really like to be an…
Executive chef, Sandy Tuason, Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa
What made you decide to become a chef?
I went to college and got a degree in English Literature. I didn’t plan on becoming a chef as it just kind of got into my blood while working part-time jobs in high school and college in the restaurant business just to make some cash. I finally enrolled at The French Culinary Institute in New York City after I graduated from college. Working in NYC, I learned from some great chefs and the culinary environment is the best in the world.
What are your main duties as a chef?
First and foremost is the development and support for your culinary team. Once you are able to install the correct culture in the kitchen, the teaching/mentoring becomes easier. The end result will be to provide your guests with the best possible dining experience and also exceed their expectations. When it comes down to it, cooking (if you are trained properly) is the easy part in the kitchen. It’s taking care of our team and teaching that is the most important part of my duty as the chef.
How long have you been a chef?
I have been in the business for almost 30 years but I would not say I was a chef until years later. The term “Chef” should be earned through experience and merit.
What qualifications and training did you need to get your first job?
Aside from the jobs I had during my school years, my “first real job” as a cook was at a 3-star restaurant in NYC. I was going to culinary school in the morning from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day and then taking the subway uptown to get to work and finish at midnight. Great experience. I was just a sponge and wanted to learn everything and learned all the stations on the line.
What can an entry-level chef expect to earn?
Depends where you are living but it won’t be that much. I would call it an entry level cook, not entry level chef. The thing to do is to choose the proper chef you want to work for; one that you will learn from and be a good mentor and teacher for you. An entry level cook compensation is mostly what he learns from the right chef. That’s how you accumulate your eventual salary down the road. That’s the real currency.
And how much can a chef expect to earn when they have been on the job a few years?
It all depends on how they progress during their initial years in the business. Proper experience, technical knowledge and full immersion in your craft is the real currency. It’s all about sacrifice, dedication, focus and perseverance, not passion. Passion is the most overrated word in this business. It takes time to build your craft.
What do you love most about your job?
Working with my team and watching them grow and learn.
What are the low points to the job?
Hours are long. Pay is low at the beginning. Working nights, weekends, holidays. It crushes peoples’ spirits and drive after a while. There is a huge turnover in this business. People burnout. In reality, you don’t choose this career, it chooses you.
What words of advice would you give a young person considering becoming a Chef?
Expect to work hard and long hours. If you are in this business because you want to be the next celebrity chef on TV, then you’re in it for the wrong reason.