Jim Flak, Sous-Chef
Have you ever thought
of a career in the burgeoning culinary field? Then, Jim Flak’s story will interest you. At 25,
Mr. Flak was living in Lincoln, NE unhappy in marketing. He
had always liked to cook. So, encouraged by his wife, Jennifer,
a dietitian, they moved to Providence, RI where he enrolled
in The College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University,
renowned world wide for training excellent chefs, and earned
a Associate in Science Degree, Culinary Arts in 2004.
I caught up with Mr.
Flak at Rue de L’Espoir, a popular
Providence bistro, known for its inventive seasonal menu. It’s
cheerful with peach walls and a French street scene in the
bar. Mr. Flak had worked part-time here while studying at J&W.
Now, age 29, he’s night sous-chef, on duty from 3 p.m.
to 9 p.m., and almost always in the kitchen. While I enjoyed
a delicious baby spinach salad accented with tart dried cherries,
he said: “Everyday I’m thankful I’m not at
that desk in Nebraska.” (His wife is now a hospital dietitian.)
To work in a job like
his, means being happy in tight quarters, long hours and
perhaps accepting a modest starting salary. (Some sous-chefs
start at $25,000). It’s also teamwork.
Mr. Flak works with the chef, the kitchen manager and five
others on the kitchen staff on things like selecting specials;
he keeps track of inventory and personnel. His job requires
rhythm and planning. “I make sure the food gets to the
wait staff so everyone at a particular table is served simultaneously,” he
As to a chef’s schooling, at Johnson and Wales (J&W,)
Mr. Flak literally began at the bottom. “I polished my
boots,” he said. He learned to stock a store room and
everything else to do with food preparation, from cutting meat
and preparing stocks and sauces to using all kinds of cooking
equipment—ovens, grills, broiler and a variety of pots
and pans—and estimating food requirements. “Studying
nutrition was a J&W requirement and I learned to make healthy
food delicious,” he said.
Mr. Flak said that
a good chef must also be aware of the world around him, the
environment, past and present trends in foods (he has 160
cookbooks in a growing collection), and today’s
hot button issues like obesity. He also looks ahead to career
advancement, knowing his job will always be his passion.#