In the age of Top Chef and celebrity-driven restaurant empires, the stars of the kitchen have been turned into a pop-culture phenomenon. But make no mistake about it: Beyond the glitz of reality TV, working in a professional kitchen is still one of the tough gigs around. Slaving over a burning stove on a Saturday night is anything but glamorous, and yet the hype about being a chef has made the “rock star” analogy ubiquitous. Think that you are under-paid, over-worked, and under-appreciated in your current job? Spend a little time with a line cook (if he or she can find any to spare) and compare notes about who works more, and for how little.

With that said, being a chef is also undeniably bad-ass. It is a job that is grueling and stressful, but also fun, creative, and rewarding—at the end of the day, you are feeding people and making them happy.

We talked to a group of heavy-hitting chefs and asked them for advice on how to break into the industry and earn your stripes—in other words, essential tips for making the journey from dishwasher to chef de cuisine. Don’t be fooled—there are no promises here. A culinary degree alone won’t make you a chef, and while preparing a perfect coq au vin for your friends at home is mad impressive, it means nothing to a soldier behind the line.

With that, we give you some no-nonsense rules for success, gathered from those who have already charted the course. Steel yourself for some hard work, get yourself some good knives, and plan on setting some time aside to stage (that means working for free) if you think you’ve got what it takes. No Quick-Fire Challenges will be involved.