People of Food52: I want to know what your first food job was, if you had one.

This could be anything at all, from food service to cooking and anything in between. Bonus points if you share a fun story!

Kenzi Wilbur


Scheherazade March 25, 2015
Selling ice cream at Wimbledon. When it rained and sales went down, we got drafted into the bars to make more Pimms.
MTMitchell March 25, 2015
When I was 15 my high school had a requirement that we all do work-jobs (as they called them) around the school, and my friend and I were assigned to be kitchen support. One day we had to make 150 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for teams to take to away games. We got through something like 140 when we realized that we were not, in fact, using apricot jam (not sure why we thought the kitchen even HAD apricot jam...). We were using duck sauce. We finished the rest with duck sauce for consistency's sake. Never heard complaints directly...but we didn't exactly advertise our new twist on an old classic. The best part, though, was that the man who ran the kitchen used to give us each a fresh cookie right out of the oven, a Diet Pepsi (soda was forbidden fruit!) and a few kind words when our shifts were done. I don't work in the food industry now, just an average home cook, but I learned a lot of lessons about checking your ingredients first and about the importance of small kindnesses (sometimes that nice warm cookie was the best part of an angsty teenager week!).
Lydia M. March 25, 2015
Working the take-out counter at our rinky-dink noodle shop @ 13 years old. 15 years later, I am still in the industry, but on the corporate finance side :)
Jenna G. March 25, 2015
"Can you write?" asked the editor of a new local foodie magazine about to be launched. They had everything but a cookbook reviewer. I must have demonstrated reasonable proficiency with a cookbook at a friend's house, as he had recommended me to the magazine.

"I've done plenty of business writing, like proposals and such," I replied. "Let me draft something and you let me know if I'm on the right track."

I think that first draft read like a mutual fund prospectus. Thankfully the editor told me where the right track could be found and gave me a second shot. I suspect he didn't have time to find anyone else.

And so my transformation from competent home cook to adventurous foodie began. For 7 years I tested my way through the top cookbook releases and hidden gems, sharing my foibles and the triumphs of dish after dish. The first time I roasted a duck I tried to carve it like a turkey, which I'd only ever observed done previously, and which was quickly proving to be an utter fail. After mangling most of it my sister graciously suggested we take it out, carving board and all, and continue to mangle it in front of our plates. I think she was starving.
nancy E. March 24, 2015
When I turned 14 I got my first job in the industry at Bonanza as the salad girl. I worked in the food industry ever since. That is now 43 years. A good time
patty@bryce March 24, 2015
Cobbler and Cream in Lubbock, TX. They only played Buddy Holly songs - all 10 of them - over and over.
cookinginvictoria March 24, 2015
Love this thread. My first "food" job was setting and clearing tables at a bustling breakfast diner in Colorado when I was a teenager. It wasn't much fun -- I came home smelling like pancakes and maple syrup every Saturday and Sunday. In college, I worked in a bakery that was attached to a hip cafe called the Market in downtown Denver. (This was before there were hip cafes, and even Starbucks, in Denver.) This was a really fun job. I baked cookies and croissants and learned how delicious eclairs, fresh fruit tarts and baba rhum could be. Later, after I moved to New York City, I managed a monthly lunch (cooking and service) for a Sunday soup kitchen on the Upper West Side, making soup and sandwiches for a couple hundred homeless people. It was challenging but very rewarding. :)
Mei C. March 23, 2015
I started out at 13 being a barista at a now-defunct café close to my mom's job. This was during the days when you could still smoke inside, and, in case you don't remember, the scent of second-hand smoke mixed with burning coffee stench is beyond terrible. And as I couldn't get myself to and from work, my parents had to pick me up from work -- I don't think they've ever forgiven me for what that smell did to their car.
Victor M. March 23, 2015
I was in seventh grade & needed to ''earn the money'' to see the Beatles.
My job was washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant. Wait...there's more. Each plate that came back had certain elements that could be re-used. Partial eggrolls, chicken..we even had a tub for vegetables...
I'm glad tickets were only $5. Two nights of that turned me off to asian food until college.
sexyLAMBCHOPx March 24, 2015
yuck, lol. hope you had fun seeing the Beatles!
Aliwaks March 23, 2015
I was a bartender when I was 18 in an Italian restaurant in Tribeca, the clientele can best be described as "friends of ours", member of a certain organization that does not exist. I had no idea what I was doing but my Dad was friendly with the owner my "Uncle Louis" so they gave me a job it was the summer of 1989, I was a camp counselor during the day and tended bar 3 nights a week. I learned how to mix drinks and pour wine, steam wrinkles out of my shirt with the espresso machine and one older gentleman taught me how to mix a martini, and tipped me $40 when I got it right.
sara_cornelius_ March 23, 2015
I worked as a "fountain girl" at a local old-fashioned ice cream parlor called The Jigger Shop. (The "Jigger" was their signature ice cream sundae.) I made many an ice cream sundae in that un-air-conditioned place, and was always covered in sweat and sugar after my shift. (so attractive, right?) I fell even more in love with ice cream while working there, and my favorite things to make were the flambae sundaes. I almost singed off my eyebrows a few times making a bananas foster.
aargersi March 23, 2015
A VERY short stint as a salad girl at a joint in Newport, but the first real money maker was at The Black Pearl - hot dog annex in the summer and tavern cashier in the winter.
Bevi March 23, 2015
At 7 or 8, scooping ice cream out of the coffin freezers for our hotel guests while standing on a milk crate. Some times I felt like I was going to dive in and need to be hauled out.
Jennifer March 23, 2015
Uggghhh. Burger King, high school.
Kristen W. March 23, 2015
Frozen Yogurt shop in the mall -- the place to be for a fifteen year old in the mid-eighties! I remember we also sold a few pasta salads which always had a smattering of gnats swarming over them in the case. My first and last food job; I remember: flirting with a lot of boys, pinching A LOT of frozen yogurt (old-school flavors, no taro root or green tea), and one time when the drummer for Guns 'N' Roses came in the shop...
bamcnamara March 22, 2015
I was a hostess in a swanky Chinese restaurant and I'm Irish! :)
Pegeen March 23, 2015
China go bragh ?
Andrea N. March 22, 2015
I worked at a bakery owned by an older German couple; the husband baked (he never let me into the kitchen) and his wife Hannah ran the shop. It was in my hometown of San Clemente, CA. I'd just gotten my work permit and was 13 years old. I was so excited to work there because they baked their own breads (Swedish limpa, apple pull apart) and cakes (German chocolate!).

There was a hierarchy and I was the awkward, youngest, newest person to join their ranks. The other girls weren't kind. It was a bit of a sorority-ish situation. But I learned invaluable things like letting bread cool sufficiently before putting it through the slicing machine, lest it got smooshed and caught in the blades and Hannah would reprimand us.

There was also a particular humid quality and sweet baked goods smell that lingered in my memory. Today, I live in Santa Cruz, CA, and whenever I go to a small bakery near my home, the smell is there and it takes me back to a certain point in my life over 30 years ago.
SKK March 22, 2015
I was 16 and had a job in the take-out department at The Denver Drumstick. (Yes, it was chicken). All that chicken and grease! Manager demanded I work on a specific Saturday, the answer 'no' not allowed. And that was the Saturday I was Homecoming Queen. So I called in sick. However, my photo was in the paper, manager saw it and fired me. That was the last restaurant position I ever took. To this day I cannot bring myself to fix fried chicken.
LeBec F. March 22, 2015
My first food job was self-created: i made and sold Baklava to 13 businesses in Boston and Cambridge.1972, M.I.T., living off campus in a railroad style 1890 apt building, in a 4 person apt. where my bedroom was $52 p. mo. (the cheapest because it was on the air shaft.)

When I began the business, my first customer was the very hippy Orson Welles Cinema, for their food stand. This was BEFORE i got a food processor! I used to come home from classes , put 5 lb of pecans or walnuts in a double heavy plastic bag, put on my heavy strong hiking boots, and stomp on them. Honest! But I convinced my parents to buy me a Magic Chef food processor the first Christmas of the business, and from then on, I was , as we say, "cookin' with gas"!! (That Magic Chef stood me in good stead for many years.) My baklava recipe was from a Greek neighbor of my aunt in VA. I have never been a honey fan, and this recipe was perfect for my taste: No honey. The syrup was sugar based, with orange and lemon zest and cinnamon. Cranberry Orange bread was another of my products. Before all this, I had been devouring Gourmet magazines since my early teens, hand copying recipes and/or cutting out and pasting them onto 4x6 cards, and I watched and prepped for my mom, who was a great cook with an open, International palate (developed as we moved around the world every 2 years, the family of a career Naval officer.)
( sorry if i went on too long!)
Pegeen March 22, 2015
Love the hiking boots! Great story.
Pegeen March 21, 2015
My first summer job at about age 13 was flipping burgers, dogs and doing the fries at a snack bar. (Now that I think about it, wasn’t it illegal to hire a 13-year-old to man a fryolator?)

It was a small, local amusement park, before the days of rock-climbing walls and trampolines: mostly a big swimming pool with water slides, swings, picnic tables, and some rickety rides. Parents and kids would hang out for the whole day in their bathing suits. Of course the snack bar was a hot spot but no one tipped teenagers.

I’d about had it with the stench of grease anyway, but one day, the final straw. A little kid (the politically incorrect word would be brat) with blue popsicle smears all around his mouth came up to the counter with his two hands cupped together, full of a mountain of pocket change, dumped all of that on the counter, and demanded “I want to know what I can get with this!”

That day, as I was riding my bike home, I made the first “adult” decision of my life: “I QUIT!” When I got home I told my parents I’d do ANYTHING not to go back to the snack bar. Please, I beg of you, I want to go to summer school all day, every day. I will take algebra. I will take biology. I will take Latin. ANYTHING.

They said OK to some classes but only with the provision that I found another job for pocket money. So I came up with the idea of teaching piano lessons to the neighborhood kids. It actually worked out well and was a lot more fun (and a lot less smelly) than the snack bar. To this day, if I get too close to a fryolator, I have a Pavlovian reaction and start to retch.

Later I did some catering but enjoyed the business side so much I decided to switch to business. The most joy I’ve ever had from cooking has been the experience of participating in it for a big family from a young age - the best practice of all.
pierino March 21, 2015
Not long after attending (non-credit) culinary classes I set up my own private chef business. For a time I also did a stint as the breakfast cook at a B&B. Semi-retired, I did some retail work in the olive oil business.
ChefJune March 21, 2015
Oh gosh! Summer between 8th grade and high school I was a tray girl at the local hospital (2 blocks away). I served the patients their meals and went back and collected the trays.
hardlikearmour March 21, 2015
Prep cook at the restaurant called the Lean Bean (it was attached to a health club). I prepped for salads and made pancake batter and the like.
HalfPint March 21, 2015
My first job, ever, was at Baskin Robbins. I got very good at scooping the perfect cone.
JulieS March 20, 2015
While working as a receptionist for a neurosurgeon, I talked him into letting me cater a cocktail party for him. Big endeavor out of a small kitchen in Cambridge, MA that I shared with 3 other roommates. Needless to say, they were not very happy with me. I ended up leaving that reception job to apprentice in a professional pastry kitchen!
Pegeen March 20, 2015
Does it count if you cooked for your family every night? 7 men and 2 women.
sdebrango March 20, 2015
How far back can we go, at 16 yrs old I scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins, does that count? Waited tables in an Italian restaurant when I was in college, I was terrible at that, spilled food on people and was asked to leave.
Ali S. March 20, 2015
I was a pool girl at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where I had to serve guests "amenities" every hour -- from frozen grapes and cocktails to Evian mists and sunglass cleanings.
Monita March 20, 2015
My first job after culinary school was working for a small catering company run by 2 women. I had no work experience so I offered to work for free so I'd have something for my resume. We prepared food out of one partner's studio apt. The most challenging assignment was making crepes over two hot plates. Once I could do that, I figured I could do anything
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