If you want to become a pastry chef, you may be wondering just where to start. Should you try to work your way up from an entry-level kitchen role, attend a culinary arts school, try to score an apprenticeship, or just start off on your own? What are the best steps to take to begin a career as a pastry chef?
That’s what we wanted to find out at Helpknx in order to help those aspiring pastry chefs to land their dream jobs. To get some real world feedback from those in the pastry/baking industry, we sat down with three top experts in the field.
Here are some of the top tips our experts shared with us to help you become a pastry chef:
In our first interview, we talked with Lil Miller. Lil has been in the restaurant industry for over 40 years. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has owned her own bakery in Everett, Washington called Pave Bakery.
Lil doesn’t believe that you need to go to culinary school as long as you are enthusiastic and have an eagerness to learn more.
“You must love what you do and be willing to work at getting better. Great experience can sometimes be better than a class where eight students work together to make one thing”, said Lil.
If you can work for a few great places, even if you have to start at an entry-level role, that opportunity will give you the chance to learn from experienced chefs in the industry.
Lil now works at a casino in Washington and mentioned to us how the lead pastry chef does not have any formal education when it comes to baking. They simply built their skill set over the years, took opportunities to learn from others, and had a drive to learn more in order to get to that position.
In addition to broadening your basic culinary skills, Leslie DeMarco recommends that someone looking to become a pastry chef should learn all aspects of the business (including running and cooking in a professional kitchen).
Leslie started her career in the culinary industry in 2001 when she attended L’Acaemdie de Cuisine in Germantown, Maryland. Since then, she has worked in a variety of positions and places including owning her own business. Currently, she is a Baking and Pastry Arts Instructor at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, NC.
When asked what people should focus on when trying to become a pastry chef, Leslie had this to say:
“You need to know the fundamentals. Be prepared to work at it. Your heart has to be in it. It’s important to be open to learning and try to find chefs who are willing to train. It’s important to know how ingredients work in recipes.”
Overall, it’s important to build a solid foundation of skills. If you plan to be a lead pastry chef at a well-known establishment, you have to know the basics and understand how to instruct others. It takes time to learn all of these skills, so you need to make sure it’s something you really want to do.
Which leads us to probably the most important point…
Just as with any job worth doing, you should love what you do. It can take a long time to learn all of the skills you need to become a pastry chef and establish a career.
That was the point Mo Ottoman, pastry chef at Baklovah Bakery in San Antonio, Texas, was most adamant about. You need to love what you do.
That’s what will drive you to learn more and build the skills you need to become a pastry chef.
Mo Ottoman has been in the business for over 35 years and has worked all around the world. When considering who to hire at his bakery he looks for people with basic skills such as the ability to use a scale, solid math skills, have the ability to work on their feet for 8 to 10 hours a day, and are generally fast learners.
To add to the tips that our experts provided, here are a few things to consider and prepare for when aiming to become a pastry chef:
As some of our experts mentioned above, you don’t need to go to school to become a pastry chef. Experience often trumps education. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to go to culinary school, try finding an entry-level pastry job if possible. Even just an assistant position will be helpful.
From there, you can start to learn the basics of working in a kitchen and learn from more experienced people than you. But, don’t stay there long enough to the point where you are no longer learning.
The point is to find a position that you can learn and grow from. Once you feel that there is little to nothing more you can learn from the position, it’s time to move on.
As a pastry chef, you’ll often have to work very early or late at night to serve the breakfast and late dinner hours. It’s not unusual for pastry chefs to have to start a shift at 3 a.m. to prepare for the breakfast crowd or work until 1 a.m. on a late-night shift.
If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, then you know that the work can be tough and the hours long. The same goes for the dishwasher all the way up to the lead pastry chef. Especially, if you are catering for an event.
It’s not uncommon to work for 10 to 12 hours a day. Nearly all of that time will be spent on your feet. It can be tough on your body and you will be sore after a long day of work.
So, just as our experts mentioned, you really do need to love what you do. Otherwise, you will be hard-pressed to put up with the grueling hours.
Again, experience is key. Starting at an entry-level job in a kitchen or bakery can be a great way to learn and develop all the skills you need to become a successful pastry chef. But, it all starts with finding that perfect position.
Helpknx is a resource that connects hospitality professionals and helps job seekers find positions in the industry including jobs for cooks, chefs, dishwashers, waitstaff, and more. We even help connect people to on-call positions in their area. Browse our job board to see if there is a perfect fit for you.