Pastry Chef Job Description:
First, my job involves prepping - preparing ingredients, basking, chopping and mixing ingredients. You have to make sure the ingredients are ready before you start baking (the night before or earlier). You don't want to start prepping while you cook. I run my own kitchen inside a church. I create cookies, cakes, cupcakes, tarts and pies.
Clients contact me and place their orders. I can drop it off, or they come pick it up. My marketing is a combination of word of mouth and advertising. I have a menu, it's shaped like a greeting card; on the inside of the card is the menu. I send them to friends who pass them on, co-workers pass them on. I know about marketing from working at an ad agency a couple of years ago.
Can you tell us your pastry chef career steps?
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I started cooking when I was 8-years-old, I was a latch-key kid; back then, I never thought of cooking as a profession. When I went to culinary school, I took the Cordon Bleu program which includes everything, including a baking class. After I took my first baking class, I knew it was what I really wanted to do. There was a beginner baking course, and I couldn't wait to take the intermediate. It covered all types of baking: scones, biscuits, croissants, cakes and cookies. What attracted me was the color and artistry.
Then I did an internship in a high-end pastry shop. It was a lot of hard work, early hours in a bakery in Berkeley, California. Then I worked at a upscale hotel. It was negative, and soured me to working in the industry. It started off positive. It had a lot of potential to be fun. What soured it was the people, there was a lot of drama and stress every single day; it took away the joy of cooking.
People were upset that I was given leadership, even though they had more experience. I had the enthusiasm that the people, who hired me, liked. It was pretty cut-throat. After working in the hotel, I went to work on my own. I devised a menu, and used all I learned at the pastry shop and hotel, and incorporated them into my own business. Now, I have a lot more fun and control.
What advice would you give to those interested in pastry chef jobs?
Think hard if you really want to do it, make sure you have a passion for it. There is a lot of sacrifice. If you work in a high-end restaurant, the schedule may change. If a restaurant closes at midnight, you'll be there an hour later. Or you may have to be there early. Culinary school can give you a preconcieved idea of how a restaurant wants you to be, but restaurants usually don't want you to be that way at all. They want to mold and train you.
They actually don't want you to have a culinary education, or sometimes they like you to have some culinary education. If you work at a large restaurant or hotel restaurant, without an education, you're gonna start as a prep clerk. With a culinary education, you could be a lead pastry chef; it depends on the restaurant. It's not as stressful in a small town, but in a large city, you're around ambitious people. There are more opportunities available to you, but people are clawing their way up.
When I entered the work force, I thought everyone would be quietly cooking - that was my preconcieved view. At school they told us it would be like that, but it's different when you're in it. Culinary school is for someone who wants to strike out on their own, you pick up tricks and techniques in school, but you pick up more in the industry.
What do you enjoy the most about being a pastry chef?
One of the most enjoyable things is having control over my business. I have spare time to try out new recipes and get to work with fine people. Every now and then, I have an assistant that helps me. I just started teaching private classes in people's homes. That's really fun, I get to answer questions that people have.
What factors can affect pastry chef salaries?
Hotels normally pay the best because they're usually unionized. A pastry chef salary is pretty decent if you work in a hotel like I did. Pastry chef salaries have a lot to do with your level of skill, experience and reputation as a cook and baker. The size of the restaurant can also affect pastry chef salaries; learning cake decorating can up your pastry chef salary.
What is the outlook for pastry chef jobs in America?
The outlook for pastry chef jobs in America is good. You can't outsource pastry chef jobs, diets do not affect this industry; it doesn't matter if people are doing low carb, business doesn't drop off. That said, I have seen people interested in alternative sugars because they have health issues like diabetes, but people are never going to stop eating sweets.
So if you can add a healthy edge to it, that could be marketable, but you don't want to sacrifice the taste. There may be changes, like using alternatives to sugars, but employment won't change. I worked at a high-end pastry shop, and there were lines out the door; it has to do with quality.
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