April 5, 2021

Thinking about a career as a pastry chef? It’s an exciting (and delicious) career path!

A pastry chef makes pastries and desserts like cakes, pies, custards, and glazes. They may have to make these items in bulk, and each one has to be equally delicious and attractive. They may also make some bakery items like bread, rolls, and croissants.

Pastry chefs can work in small bakeries, busy restaurants, and huge hotels. Sometimes a pastry chef is a department of one, responsible for the planning and execution of the dessert menu. In larger establishments, the pastry chef may be a supervisor of a pastry team.

A restaurant manager’s dream pastry chef is made, not born. They are a combination of several important ingredients — just like a recipe. If you’re missing one or two elements, that’s okay! You just need to practice the skills you don’t have yet to become a “perfectly baked” pastry chef.

Start with Kitchen Chemistry Competence

Baking and pastry are unforgiving. Unlike culinary arts where the cook or chef can often taste as they go, pastry must be precise from the beginning. You won’t know if there’s something wrong with a cake or loaf of bread until it comes out of the oven, and by then it’s too late.

Smiling pastry chef with beard holding paddle with loaves of bread
Baking is a science. Ingredients come together to create a chemical reaction that transforms a dough into a loaf of bread or a batter into a cake. So pastry chefs must prove their technical proficiency in order to get the job.

Employers often prefer that bakers and pastry chefs have a degree or certification, though it’s not always required. One study showed that 57% of employers either prefer or require that bakers have certification.1 One hiring decision maker in that same study said, “If we were to hire a new baker or pastry chef, we would most likely hire one with a degree.”

Graduates of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts pastry programs complete coursework in baking math, sanitation, basic cakes, pies, and pastries, menu planning, and much more. This education will prove to the hiring manager that the applicant has baseline knowledge of baking principles. Plus, investing in education proves to restaurant managers that you’re serious about a career in pastry.

Culinary student following food styling technique on computer

Add a Sprinkle of Industry Experience

Some positions in baking and pastry will be entry level. These positions will often be called a “baking assistant” or “pastry cook,” rather than “pastry chef.” But in a high-end restaurant with a robust dessert program, the pastry chef may need many years of experience to be considered.

Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone“I think it’s important to have a good grasp of the basics — various mixing methods and refined knife skills, [but] I believe a lot of refined pastry skills are learned in the workplace.”
Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone

Even if you begin pastry school at Escoffier with no experience, you’ll have at least one job to put on your resume by the time you graduate. That’s because all Escoffier students must complete an industry externship before they receive their degree or diploma.

These jobs in real bakeries and kitchens let the student practice their skills and see the kitchen brigade system working in real-time. For some students, the externship position can become a longer-term employment opportunity. For others, it’s an educational stepping stone that moves them one step closer to their end goal.

Female baker in a bakery making bread from dough
Remember — baking and pastry students do not graduate as pastry chefs. Cooks must earn that title through a combination of education and experience. But studying these foundational skills in pastry school may help graduates to progress through their careers more quickly as they reach for that ultimate position of pastry chef.

Mix in a Business Mindset

A pastry chef is often in charge of the dessert menu, which goes beyond just the tastiness of the desserts. The dessert menu must be profitable to be sustainable. So the pastry chef has to be able to manage food costs, portion control, and inventory to prevent waste and spoilage.

White pink flower shaped dessert cake with petals
At Escoffier, Baking & Pastry Arts students study Menu Design & Management and Food and Beverage Cost Control. This coursework includes purchasing, receiving, inventory management, and price analysis, which will help graduates design recipes that earn more than they cost.

Pastry chefs may also have a team to manage. So they need to be effective communicators and supervisors, able to delegate work and make corrections diplomatically. Escoffier baking and pastry students working toward their associate degree will take Business and Professional Communications, which will help them improve listening and conflict resolution skills.

Those communication skills aren’t all about delegation, though. It can be just as important to know how to ask for help. Honesty with yourself — and with your team — is how you continue to thrive and grow as a pastry chef.

“I always like to hire candidates who prioritize team work, pull their weight, and help their coworkers,” says Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone and former Pastry Chef at the Five Diamond rated Sandpearl Resort.

Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone“A pastry chef should be able to ask for help or clarification, communicating comfortably with peers and management.”
Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone

Pastry school graduates will continue to build these skills as they progress through their careers.

Don’t Forget the Self-Motivation and Dependability

“I can never stress enough how attitude and self-motivation are the skills that cannot be taught, and something a department manager will always look for,” says Escoffier Pastry Arts Instructor Denise Spooner.

A manager or leader isn’t always available to find solutions. “Sometimes you have to find the best solution and make educated decisions on your own to move forward,” adds Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Thoa Nguyen.“Better to be proactive.”

Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone“I always look for people who are self motivated. In the hotel and restaurant industry, there is usually a limited amount of pastry staff, so it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand.”
Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Anastasia Malone

Also, never underestimate the value of showing up everyday, on time and ready to work. It may sound basic, but a pastry chef is a vital part of the team, and a hiring manager needs to know that you can be counted on.

Top It Off with a Dash of Creativity

Pastry chefs must be able to execute a recipe, but they may have to create their own inventive new desserts as well.

Pastries and desserts are expected to taste great and look attractive. They may require intricate piping, delicate icing flowers, and carefully molded chocolate. All this decorative work requires creativity and a deft eye.

Mousse cake with red mirror glaze, chocolate decor and fresh raspberries on black background
Pastry chefs may also be asked to come up with creative uses for “extras.” Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute explains, “It happens more often that not that an executive chef will come to you and ask if you can do something with a particular ingredient that is either in excess, or may not be fitting in well with the culinary menu. Controlling waste is critical in restaurants, so by being adaptable and creative, you can help expand your offerings while helping control waste and loss within your restaurant.”

Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute“Be creative with your inventory!”
Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute

How can applicants prove their creative and decorative chops to hiring managers? As you progress, take plenty of photos of some of your prettiest pastries and most clever creations. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with a well-taken photo you’ll be able to show off that perfect cake.

The Recipe for the Perfect Pastry Chef

The foundation for all of these skills is a baking and pastry arts education that covers the fundamentals of the craft. Escoffier graduates explore how to bake the perfect cake, but they also discover why these recipes work. With the knowledge and guidance of expert Chef Instructors, bakers and pastry chefs can experiment with recipes and find their own baking style.

Take the first step toward a future as a pastry chef. With programs in Austin, Boulder, and online, pastry students can get their education from almost anywhere in the world and get started on the baking career they’ve been dreaming of!

If you’d like to learn more about baking and pastry careers, try these articles next:

Source: Oliver Wyman Culinary Survey March 2017 and Analysis