If you feel at home in the kitchen, and you’re particularly fond of the magic that happens in an oven, you might make a great pastry chef.
A pastry culinarian specializes in desserts and pastries and focuses primarily on baking. Baking and pastry arts require a different skill set than the culinary arts and an entirely different career pathway, but no less dedication.
To become a pastry chef, you need education, experience, and determination.
What Do Pastry Chefs Do?
Pastry chefs are specialty chefs typically responsible for baked goods and desserts. They are often thought of as the counterparts to culinary chefs. Whereas culinary chefs are the masters of entrees and savory elements, pastry chefs are the masters of desserts and all things sweet and/or baked.
The pastry arts require precision and attention to detail that the culinary arts often do not. A career in pastry can take you anywhere, from working in formal dining to casual retail.
Pastry Chef Careers
Trained pastry culinarians have many options to consider when deciding where their careers will take them.
Of course, they can often find work in the kitchens of casual or fine dining restaurants, hotels, or resorts. Many restaurants have executive chefs, assistant chefs, and line chefs dedicated to baking sweet treats or breads. Depending on the venue, these chefs may work right alongside culinary chefs curating menus and dishes to deliver a complete dining experience, or they may work independently of the culinary team and arrive early to prepare their baked goods before the rest of the chefs start working.
But if a restaurant job doesn’t seem like a good fit, chefs with backgrounds in the pastry arts still have plenty of other choices.
Many pastry chefs go on to open a bakery or work in one. Candy, ice cream, gelato, chocolate, and other specialty dessert shops are always in need of talented chefs, too. Some start their own food trucks focused on whatever treat they have come to love making most.
Entrepreneurial-minded pastry culinarians may even launch an online pastry shop selling their creations. Chefs who are passionate about creation and innovation may consider writing a cookbook, going into recipe development, or taking up food blogging.
But though full of opportunity, this field is also competitive. Hiring managers only consider candidates who are driven, creative, and meticulous, and those with extensive educational backgrounds and certifications stand out most.
Start With Education
For many people, the journey to becoming a successful pastry chef starts with a degree or diploma. Education is an important piece of the equation when you choose to pursue any culinary career, and the pastry arts are no exception.
You might think, and maybe you’ve even heard, that working your way up or starting a pastry job without experience and getting promoted over time is just as good as getting a degree or diploma, but most professionals in the field would say otherwise.
Chef Anne Lanute, an Executive Pastry Chef at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, is one of them.
When asked if she felt like education was necessary for those interested in the pastry arts, she said, “I would say so, absolutely. There’s sometimes a misconception with people thinking that baking is just following a recipe. It’s not—it is science. It’s chemistry. And it’s understanding ingredient function. And if you take something out, what are you going to do to replace it? … School teaches you that ingredient function and that science and chemistry so that you understand what’s happening.”
The skills needed to succeed in the pastry arts can be taught thoroughly in an academic setting, where students can learn the role of different ingredients and the importance of precision. A supportive environment to practice these skills is critical.
Train and Practice Your Skills Under Experienced Mentors
Chef Colette Christian, an Escoffier Chef Instructor and Certified Master Baker, explains the importance of being intentional and motivated when you embark on a career in the pastry arts. “You have to have a good foundation, set realistic goals, and then not get discouraged.” A large part of the foundation she refers to is mentorship.
Christian, who trained under former White House Pastry Chef Albert Kumin, encourages her pastry students to work in as many fast-paced, respected professional kitchens under the guidance of experts as possible.
Mentorship is critical when you set out to become a pastry chef. You need to be able to watch masters at work, practice skills and receive feedback, and ask all the questions you may have. Good mentors can help you set goals, guide your next steps, and even create networking opportunities for you.
In culinary school, mentorship comes in many shapes and sizes. In your courses, experienced Chef Instructors take you under their wing to help you overcome obstacles and lean into your strengths. During hands-on industry externships, an important piece of many culinary curricula, accomplished professionals welcome you into their kitchens, where you can get a taste for being a chef in the real world.
Your learning shouldn’t stop when you graduate from your chosen program or complete your externship. The best pastry culinarians always strive to improve and learn more about the pastry arts to keep their skills sharp and stay competitive. Many decide to certify their skills.
What Certifications Are Required to Become a Pastry Chef?
Certification can make you stand out from other job applicants when you’re looking for a position in the pastry world. In fact, some executive chefs won’t consider applicants that are not certified.
Having your skills certified shows that you’ve gone above and beyond for your career and invested time into your growth. Certification makes your skills undeniable.
Certified Master Pastry Chef and Director of Culinary Industry Development at Escoffier Frank Vollkommer knows a thing or two about dedicating himself to his craft. A self-described lifelong learner, he says, “I think that competition and certification both represent opportunities to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and to learn a lot.”
Common Pastry Certifications
The American Culinary Federation is a reputable certifying body that offers many pastry arts certifications.
Certified Master Pastry Chef Certification
The most prestigious of these is the Certified Master Pastry Chef certification. This shows that you have mastered the pastry arts, and it is one of the most respected culinary certifications in the world.
Certified Executive Pastry Chef Certification
The Certified Executive Pastry Chef certification indicates that you have many years of experience in the pastry arts and have also worked as a supervisor to other chefs.
Certified Pastry Culinarian Certification
The Certified Pastry Culinarian certification shows that you understand the basics of the pastry arts and requires both experience and education to obtain.
Master Baker Certification
The American Society of Baking also offers certifications. Master Baker is the most difficult designation to get; this certification is reserved for the most distinguished and masterful pastry culinarians.
Certified Baker Certification
The Certified Baker certification shows that you have the skills required to produce commercial baked goods.
What Are Your Next Steps?
Becoming a pastry chef requires dedication and a whole lot of practice. There is so much to learn about the science of baking, and you won’t develop the sharp skills necessary overnight. But with enough practice, the encouragement of seasoned mentors, and a structured education, you can embark on an exciting career as a pastry chef or even start your own enterprise!
It’s never too late to pursue a career in the pastry industry. Start your journey to becoming a pastry chef with a degree or diploma from Escoffier. Request more information about our pastry and baking programs today.
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