Pros and Cons of a Baking and Pastry Career
Working with baked goods and pastries is one of many options in the field of culinary arts, and three of the most common careers to consider are baker, pastry sous chef and pastry head chef. Here's a quick look at each of these options:
|Baker||Pastry Sous Chef||Pastry Head Chef|
|Career Overview||Bakers mix together various ingredients and then bake them to create pastries and breads.||Pastry sous chefs assist a head chef with everyday kitchen activities.||Pastry head chefs are in charge of a kitchen and often manage a baking staff.|
|Education Requirements||Apprenticeship program or culinary school training||High school diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree||High school diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree|
|Program Length||0-2 years||1-2 years for an associate's degree, 3-5 years for a bachelor's degree||1-2 years for an associate's degree, 3-5 years for a bachelor's degree|
|Certification and Licensing||Certification is usually optional||Certification is available but only sometimes required||Certification is available but only sometimes required|
|Work Experience||None for entry-level positions||2-8 years||2-8 years|
|Job Outlook for 2012-22||Below average growth (6%) compared to all occupations*||Below average growth (5% for all chefs and head cooks) compared to all occupations*||Below average growth (5% for all chefs and head cooks) compared to all occupations*|
|Median Annual Wage (2014)||Roughly $24,000*||Roughly $40,000**||Roughly $42,000 (for all chefs and head cooks)*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com.
Bakers work in a wide variety of settings including, but not limited to, bakeries; other possible employers could include grocery stores and restaurants. As a baker, you'll typically work under supervision, preparing, mixing and baking a variety of ingredients to create many kinds of bread and pastries. Becoming a baker can often be a solid springboard for moving up into higher positions in the kitchen.
Although many entry-level baking positions don't even require a high school diploma or a GED, others may ask that you've attended a culinary certificate or associate's degree program after the completion of high school. Some jobs will require you to have a certain number of years of experience in the field, while others may not. It will sometimes be necessary to attain a professional Food Handler card from your state. This can usually be accomplished online by paying a small fee and taking an exam.
Here are some examples of desired qualifications, as described in a handful of job listings posted by potential employers in October 2012:
- A California resort and spa connected to a hotel chain was searching for an entry-level baker to work directly under supervisors for an hourly wage.
- A Las Vegas casino hiring a part-time baker required a candidate with at least 2 years of experience, knowledge of weights, measures and equipment; formal training was preferred.
- An Arizona employer sought applicants with three years of comparable experience, able to work any shift; Retail Bakers of America certification or formal baker's training was preferred.
Earning your certification from the Retail Bakers of America (RBA) can help you stand out in a job market experiencing very little growth. In fact, there are certain employers who may require that you earn your certification with the RBA. There are currently four different levels of certification that you can earn depending on your professional needs and the career you want: Certified Baker (CB), Certified Journey Baker (CJB), Certified Decorator (CD) and Certified Master Baker (CMB).
Pastry Sous Chef
A pastry sous chef's primary purpose is typically to provide assistance to and help the head chef run a pastry kitchen smoothly. This can occur in a wide variety of settings like restaurants, casinos, cafeterias, food manufacturing facilities, banquet halls and catering services. Assisting a head pastry chef can be a solid way to earn the experience and knowledge you'll need to eventually become a head chef yourself.
An apprenticeship, schooling and on-the-job training are all usually necessary in order to become a pastry sous chef. Although some jobs allow experience in place of technical or culinary degrees, others may not bend in requiring an associate's or master's degree in baking and pastry arts or a related field. Many positions will have specific requirements for applicants, such as knowledge of a particular kind of pastry or baking method.
The following job listings from the fall of 2012 describe pastry sous chef positions and the qualifications these employers were looking for:
- A Las Vegas casino and hotel asked for three years of experience in high-volume kitchens and banquet halls. One of these years must have been spent working for a hotel with at least a three-diamond AAA Rating (these ratings go up to five diamonds).
- A vacation inn and spa in the North Carolina Mountains was seeking a pastry sous chef with four years of experience and a culinary arts degree.
- In St. Louis, a high-end hotel was looking for an assistant pastry chef with strong interpersonal skills and a willingness to maintain company confidentiality.
There are various ways to stand out when applying for pastry sous chef jobs. In the modern job market, technological prowess and computer skills have increasing value. Being proficient in the latest kitchen technologies can be a solid way to get ahead. Computer literacy and knowledge of software programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and even PowerPoint can not only be useful, but sometimes a requirement.
Pastry Head Chef
As a pastry head chef, you'll have a host of responsibilities in the kitchen. Typically, you'll need to make sure that the daily activities of the kitchen are in order and run smoothly. Everything from quality control to hiring and firing staff members may be up to you. A pastry head chef may answer to a general head chef or supervisor in certain cases.
To become a head chef, an associate's or bachelor's degree in baking and pastry arts, culinary arts or a related discipline like hotel management is often required. Many positions ask that you have years of experience in the field; specific areas of expertise might also be needed to qualify for a head pastry chef role.
In October of 2012, the following were postings from employers seeking head pastry chefs:
- A wholesale New Jersey company that makes breakfast pastries was looking for a head pastry chef to assist with company expansion.
- A head pastry chef with a culinary degree, at least two years of experience as a supervisor and the ability to create spreadsheets was sought by a large resort and casino in Arizona.
- Expertise making classical western and continental desserts, as well as a bachelor's degree, were required by a Miami-based line of cruise ships. The employer was seeking a head pastry chef who would supervise the pastry department and answer to the cruise line's head chef.
One way to stand out as a head pastry chef is to earn various certifications and work experience that can provide a boost to both your resume and professional mastery. For example, you could become ServSafe Certified as a manager by the National Restaurant Education Foundation. The American Culinary Foundation (ACF) offers apprenticeships and the option to become a Certified Master Pastry Chef. You may also consider earning a National Certificate of Achievement from the National Restaurant Associate Education Foundation.
Becoming fluent in a second language such as Spanish can also open a lot of doors in the market. There are a number of employers who prefer bilingual head chefs who are able to communicate with non-English speaking customers and staff members. This can be useful to companies that are expanding into new markets or simply have a diverse clientele.