For a career that requires a lot from its workers—expensive degrees, unpaid internships, bone-crunchingly long days—being a cook pays pretty crappy. On average, annual salaries are about $57K for chefs de cuisine and $42K for sous-chefs, according to StarChefs.com's 2009 salary survey. Huh, that doesn't sound that bad! But wait. StarChefs.com's respondents are drawn from particularly high-end restaurants: 69 percent of them come from "small group" or single-unit independent restaurants. In other words, fine dining, not the Cheesecake Factory. This is what a group of fairly elite cooks make.
Break it down hourly and the picture gets pretty depressing. Especially when you realize you could make about the same amount of money driving a school bus. And get summers off.