Shannon Wolf | October 21, 2015 1:00 AM ET
Working on the Road: An Inside Look
PHOTO: As a digital nomad, you can happily trade in your cubicle for whatever you want it to be: a beach, a jungle or even a seat on an airplane! (photos and captions by Shannon Wolf)
Three words are vital when seeking work on the road: Persistence overcomes resistance!
That said, if you’re looking to be a millionaire; this may not be the path for you but if your idea of the perfect life is to work to live, not live to work — this might very well be the career change you’ve been looking for.
Ian, a fellow nomad who I met in Bali, has been on the road now for a year and a half, working his way around Europe as a traveling chef. The journey began with challenges, but his path led to many unexpected adventures and a world of new food. I had the chance to interview him before he attended a cooking class in Ubud. This is his story:
Tell me about your experience as a traveling chef.
It started off as an opportunity to work for a friend in Belgium. After I had booked all my flights he called saying the job fell through. I was stranded but had always wanted to travel, so I changed my flight to head to Ireland to meet with a friend who was a chef there. He hired me to work in his catering business in Cork and Ballymaloe (a big culinary school) where I prepped food in a shed, hand-picked fresh ingredients and sent divers to get scallops for a big American wedding we catered in a castle.
Thanks to my initial experience, I met a lot of interesting people and saw parts of Ireland you wouldn’t necessarily see as a traveler. From there I traveled to Germany and the Czech Republic where I met the director of a few hotels, who treated me to wine bars and Michelin star restaurants.
After that I met with a Canadian friend who was working at a golf resort in Slappy and created classic Czech dishes such as bread dumplings, beef tongue and rich sauces you wouldn’t typically see in Canada. On my days off I biked around the beautiful countryside.
Afterwards, I returned to Germany and then traveled to San Sebastian, Spain, where I succeeded in eating everything, and spent an ungodly amount of money on food in three days that included foie gras and eight different types of mushrooms drizzled with olive oil and an egg yolk in the center. It cost me 20 euros but was worth every penny. I do not regret spending money on incredible food.
I then traveled through Spain and Portugal and stopped in Morocco where I attended a cooking class and cooked tangine: A giant clay pot that steams vegetables and a preserved lemon lamb shank with Moroccan bread.
After the cooking class I ate my way through Italy and Croatia until I reached Hungary where I stayed with a friend whose grandparents and mother showed me how to make traditional gulage.
I then headed to Norway and handed out dozens of resumes until I got a job at the Grand Hotel, where we prepared classic Norwegian food for the Nobel Peace Prize dinner, as well as dinners for world leaders, celebrities and politicians.
I was broke while I waited for my working visa to get sorted out and was reduced to eating apples and pasta, and room-surfing at university student housing until I finally found a place to stay full time.
On my off days, I discovered fishing and made side-trips to Sweden, Austria and Iceland with fellow chefs.
After nearly one year of working at the hotel, I left to travel through Australia for a week before coming to Bali, where I am now — eating my way through the country and planning to take a cooking class this afternoon.
It has been quite a journey, both in food and social aspects — experiencing the different cultures, landscapes and tasting the wide variety of dishes that has inevitably and pricelessly enhanced both my personal life and my career as a chef.
What was the most valuable thing you learned working abroad?
I learned to be ready to live off of the bare minimum. For example, when I was in Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world, it took me three months to obtain a working visa. I had no money, slept on friends’ floors, and lived on apples and pasta.
What was your strangest experience?
In Morocco at a wedding celebration they were walking with a cow through the street and in front of everyone they severed its head. The blood went everywhere and all the people danced around and celebrated. It was quite a gruesome spectacle.
What were your most memorable experiences working abroad?
Hanging out with different chefs in different countries, seeing how they worked and spending my off time with them fishing in Norway; having Guinness after a long shift in Ireland — that sort of thing.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to pursue the life of a traveling chef?
Be ready to sleep on floors, make hardly any money and eat the bare minimum. You’re going to get skinny but the experience is priceless!
How did you make your contacts for working abroad?
I contacted all of the people I had met while working in Canada. Basically, if you’re nice to people, they’re usually willing to take you in and help you out. It costs nothing to be nice to people but it definitely helps you get a lot farther.
What sort of qualifications do you need?
Kitchen experience — if you know how to use a knife. No one is going to read your resume. They just want to see if you can move in a kitchen and if you can then you’re in.
Can someone just walk into a restaurant and ask for a job around the world?
What I did when I arrived in Norway was print off a dozen resumes, walk into every single restaurant, (and) asked if their Chef was in.
Then I handed the Chef my resume and talked to them about who I was, what I was doing and let them know right away if I wanted to work under the table or not. A lot of places won’t let you do that but you need to get that out of the way right from the beginning.
Were most of your jobs under the table? Did you get paid for them or were you volunteering to gain further knowledge about the industry?
Only in Norway did I get paid legally — everything else was either paid under the table or was just for experience.
What were the biggest pros and cons of working abroad?
Pro: you get to meet tons of interesting people, places you wouldn’t typically see as a tourist and of course, eat a ton of spectacular food.
Cons: You’re working. But at the end of the day if you love your job it’s never really work.
PHOTO: One of the many jobs I have acquired while on the road is by taking photographs for companies. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth!
More by Shannon Wolf
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