The life of a pastry chef is one of delicious creativity. It’s also one of technical precision and attention to minute detail. It’s this balance of ingenuity and refinement that so many pastry chefs love!
If you’re feeling that draw towards the offset spatula and the piping bag, you may be debating between attending pastry school and learning “on the job.”
This is an important choice that can have long-term ramifications for your career. So here’s what you should know about pastry school before you decide.
All Pastry Chefs Need Education
Every pastry chef has to know the tools and skills of their craft. The question is, will you get that education on your own? Or will you get it from trained professional Chef Instructors in pastry school?
There have been successful pastry chefs who have done it both ways. Christina Tosi of Milk Bar attended a traditional pastry school. Legendary pastry chef François Payard learned from his father and grandfather—both pastry chefs themselves. He supplemented this education with classes in Paris. And Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake learned on the job. All of these chefs are well-educated. The difference is how they got that education.
Without pastry school, you will have to rely on your own dedication and professional network to make sure you continue learning. Are you a self-starter? Will you spend your free time reading blogs and cookbooks, studying recipes, practicing techniques, and seeking out mentorship? It can take a long time to piece an education together in this way, but it can be done.
On the other hand, a pastry school curriculum has been carefully planned and laid out by expert chef educators. At the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, each day’s lesson builds on the day before. When your program is complete, you’ll be amazed at how much you learned in such a short time. While there will still be more to learn (there always is!), you’ll be starting out with good habits and a clear “why” behind many of the techniques in baking and pastry.
“Pastry students and pastry chefs tend to be finicky about precision and accuracy and having everything weighed and measured. It’s a very delicate balance, but we thrive in that kind of environment.”
Anne Lanute, Executive Chef, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts
The Skills You May Learn in Pastry School
Pastry programs vary, but most include coursework in the following skills:
- Cookies, pies, and tarts
- Cake baking, design, and decorating
- Dessert sauces
- Pâte à choux
- Puff pastry and laminated doughs
- Yeasted doughs
Pastry School Builds Good Habits
Here’s an interesting experiment. Find a pastry recipe that’s supposed to take an hour. Complete it in 40 minutes instead. Then assess your results.
Unless the laws of physics work differently in your kitchen than in the rest of the world, that recipe won’t turn out very well. Why? Because the rules of pastry are rules for a reason. Doughs must be kneaded to strengthen the gluten that gives it its finished shape and texture. Laminated dough must stay cold to prevent the butter from melting out. Baking times and temperatures let batters cook through without drying out and deflating. Cutting corners on recipes like these will lead to disaster.
Pastry school can teach aspiring pastry chefs what’s actually happening during the baking process. When you know exactly why your dough has to rest, you’re much less likely to skip or shorten that part of the process.
“School can teach you each ingredient’s function and the science and chemistry so that you understand what’s happening. And when something does go wrong, you can recognize it and prevent that from happening in the future.”
Anne Lanute, Executive Chef, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts
People who attend pastry school prove that they’re the type of cooks who do things right. And that’s the kind of attitude that future employers love to see.
Certifications Can Help You on Your Way
Unlike some careers, certifications and credentials are not required to be a pastry chef. At first glance, this may sound like becoming a pastry chef is an easier or more accessible path. But it also means that it can be a challenge for potential employers to assess your skills—especially in the beginning when your resume is short.
A degree or diploma from a baking and pastry program proves that you have put in the time to learn and practice the basic skills. Pastry chefs can trust that you know fundamental baking terminology and techniques, and that you won’t be starting from scratch. This can make pastry cooks with degrees more attractive candidates.
Additional Pastry Certifications to Consider
After a degree or diploma from pastry school, there are additional certifications you can get to prove your bona fides. These credentials are recognized and respected among the baking and pastry community, and they can help you along throughout your career.
The American Culinary Federation offers five levels of pastry certification, starting with Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook™ and moving all the way up to Certified Master Pastry Chef™. There are only 11 CMPCs™ in the nation, including Frank Vollkommer, Escoffier’s Director of Culinary Industry Development.
The Retail Bakers of America also has five certifications. The Certified Journey Baker is the introductory level, building up to Certified Master Baker. While none of these certifications explicitly mandate a pastry school education in order to be eligible, they do have extensive work and skill requirements. And in Certified Master Baker Colette Christian’s experience, the best way to get started is with an education.
“You can’t get certifications without a solid foundation. The first thing that must be done is to get an associate’s degree. You have to have a good foundation, set realistic goals, and then not get discouraged.”
Colette Christian, Escoffier Online Pastry Chef Instructor and Master Baker
Start Your Career with a Built-in Network
One of the biggest benefits of attending a pastry program is the people you’ll meet. Strong industry relationships can help you in so many ways!
Your Pastry School Classmates
Whether you attend school in-person or online, you’ll be building relationships with your fellow students. On campus, you could be working together in teams to complete a baking task. In the online programs, you might be chatting via your class forum, sharing tips and ideas with your peers.
After graduation, you’ll have access to the Auguste Escoffier Alumni Association where you can stay in touch and meet fellow grads. Some will be further along in their careers, and they can be valuable sources of advice and possibly even job opportunities.
Your Pastry Chef Instructors
Chef Instructors at Escoffier’s pastry programs are very successful chefs with plenty of industry experience. They’ve worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, started their own bakeries, written cookbooks, been on television, and received major accolades.
These instructors are devoted to their students and may be willing to provide long-term mentorship to some.
Outside the classroom or kitchen, there is more help to be had. All Escoffier graduates have access to Career Services for life. This includes resume and interview help, job boards, career planning, and industry referrals.
With the combination of fellow graduates, Chef Instructors, and Career Services, pastry school students get more than an education. They get a built-in network of like-minded pastry enthusiasts that they can grow with for years to come.
So Do You Have to Go Pastry School?
Pastry chefs have found success both with and without formal education. But getting that degree or diploma can start your career on the right foot with good habits, reliable mentorship, and a crew of friends in the industry.
To learn more about Escoffier’s pastry school programs, contact us for details about the curriculum and financial aid.
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