From the outside looking in, being a pastry chef seems like
a pretty sweet job. From developing and testing new and inventive dessert
recipes to sampling some of the world’s finest ingredients, confections, and
sweets, there is, admittedly, much to love about a gig like this.
But it’s not all fondant, crepes, and crème brulée -- make
no mistake about it, this is a tough, challenging, and demanding role that only
those who are truly dedicated to the craft can survive and thrive in. According
to Shuna Lydon, a pastry chef and culinary instructor in San Francisco, “The restaurant kitchen is a
place that tests every milligram of your essence. A perfectly balanced recipe
of humility, hubris, and actual skill is needed.”
If you think you might be interested in pursuing a career as
a pastry chef, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the position
beforehand to determine whether you think this path would be suitable for you.
We’ll take a look at the education, training, and experience you need to become
a pastry chef, as well as the typical duties pastry chefs perform.
Among the world’s top pastry chefs, you’ll find some
self-taught practitioners who learned their skill through on-the-job experience
and apprenticeships, as well as classically trained chefs who gained their
skills through a traditional culinary institute education.
However, the preparation of pastries and desserts is as much
of a science as it is an art, requiring more precision, technical skill, and
scientific knowledge than virtually any other type of cooking. As a result,
many of those who are already established in the field recommend a traditional
education to ensure that aspiring pastry chefs are well-versed in the fundamental
practices and concepts of creating pastries.
If you opt for formal training, most culinary schools offer
specialized pastry and baking programs. Alternately, one could choose a general
culinary certificate program with an emphasis or minor in pastry or baking.
Many pastry chefs
receive the bulk of their training in an on-the-job situation through formal or
informal apprenticeships. In some cases, a cook or chef may find that she has a
special aptitude for pastry-making and begin gradually to concentrate on that
area, while in other situations, a particular candidate may be hired with the
specific intention of installing him in a pastry-making apprenticeship. Regardless
of which scenario best fits your situation, you’ll significantly increase your
chances of landing an apprenticeship if you have already accumulated some
general kitchen or bakery experience.
According to David Lebovitz, an American pastry chef now
living and working in Paris,
“There are some very good culinary schools, but in general, I think it's worth
getting some experience either in a restaurant kitchen or bakery before you
decide to invest a lot of money in education.”
Traditionally, most pastry chefs were employed in
restaurants. Today, however, increasing numbers of pastry chefs are striking
out on their own with upscale pastry shops or dessert-only eateries.
In the course of a typical day on the job, a pastry chef may
be called upon to perform many tasks, some of which are purely administrative
and logistical and don’t involve actual food preparation. Common
Just like every job, there are both disadvantages and advantages
to being a pastry chef. Even if you’ve spent your whole life dreaming about
whipping up desserts in a five-star restaurant, upscale bistro, or corner
patisserie, consider both sides of this career path before you make a final
On the positive side, pastry chefs usually get to carry out
their work with a level of creative expression that can be rare among kitchen
positions. The work is not as fast-paced or rushed as many other food
preparation roles, as many components of the desserts and pastries are made in
Some pastry chefs have trouble adjusting to the long hours
that are involved in this line of work. In bakeries, this usually entails
arriving at the pre-dawn hours to begin the preparation of the morning’s
offerings. In restaurants, pastry chefs often work demanding 12-hour shifts
that can stretch late into the night.
According to Lebowitz, “The downside of professional cooking
is that the work can be extremely difficult, the hours are long, and it
exhausts you down to the bone. A typical work day is often well over 8 hours
and you rarely get a break. I once mentioned that at a fancy dinner party which
completely stopped forks in mid-air. People had no concept of jobs without
breaks. And if you’re sick or injured, you’re still expected to work.”
Once you’ve been bitten by the pastry-making bug, it’s a
difficult dream to shake. Before plunging into a long-term and costly training
program, try devoting six months to a year to an apprenticeship or internship
with a local baker or restaurant so you can find out whether your passion will
outlive the long hours and attention-demanding recipes. That way, you’ll
accumulate some resume-boosting experience while determining whether
pastry-making is your niche. Good luck!