Pros and Cons of Becoming a Pastry Chef
A career as a pastry chef can allow you to use your creativity and kitchen talents, and it can be a solid choice if you love to bake. While becoming a pastry chef can be rewarding, it's important to know what to expect in order to decide if you can take the heat.
|PROS of Becoming a Pastry Chef|
|Opportunity to exercise creativity*|
|Many places to work (hotels, restaurants, bakeries, country clubs, etc.)*|
|Can work in most geographic areas*|
|Variety in daily work*|
|CONS of Becoming a Pastry Chef|
|Slower-than-average job growth (expected 5 percent increase from 2012-2022)*|
|High risk of injury (burns, cuts, slips, etc.)*|
|Can be stressful*|
|Work on weekends and holidays*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
A pastry chef is in charge of the baked goods and desserts in food service operations, such as restaurants, bakeries, hotels, and country clubs. You might also work in the kitchens of retirement homes, schools, and hospitals. The pastry chef should be skilled at creating recipes for, as well as making, breads, cakes, pies, and all types of desserts. In a small operation, the pastry chef may also be in charge of making pasta. Many pastry chefs pride themselves on their showpiece creations, including sculptures made of sugar, salt dough, or chocolate.
While the kitchen where a pastry chef works should be clean, it is usually hectic and can be hot. Pastry chefs, like all food preparation personnel, often put in long hours. While you may work 5-day, 40-hour weeks, you will probably be in the kitchen on weekends and holidays and have to take time off on less busy days.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted good job opportunities for chefs and head cooks of all types from 2012-2022, even though it expected slower-than-average employment growth, at five percent. The BLS said jobs would be available because many workers leave the occupation and must be replaced. However, competition for jobs at fine dining establishments, where salaries are higher, is often fierce. The majority of job opportunities were expected to be at restaurants, according to the BLS.
As of July 2015, Payscale.com reported that the median annual salary for entry-level pastry chefs ranged from about $24,250 to $50,350 as of July 2015. In the same year, mid-career pastry chefs earned median salaries of between $30,573 and $57,455, while late-career pastry chefs generally earned between $30,270 and $77,165. The median annual salary in May 2014 for chefs of all kinds was $41,610, as reported by BLS.
What Are the Requirements?
While some pastry chefs train on the job, starting at the bottom and rising through the kitchen ranks, the BLS stated that most have an associate's or bachelor's degree from a pastry arts program at a community college, technical school, or culinary arts school. Students explore the theory behind pastry making and gain practical experience in a pastry kitchen. You can learn to make cakes, crepes, custards, puff pastries, mousses, and meringues. Additionally, you'll practice creating a variety of sauces, syrups, and creams as you strive to produce delicious tasting and aesthetically pleasing treats.
Students also learn about sanitation and safety procedures. Moreover, these degree programs usually include business courses, such as cost control, purchasing, and human resource management.
Other Useful Skills and Qualities
A pastry chef must be passionate about cooking and creative in developing recipes. You'll need a streak of daring when it comes to new techniques. Pastry chefs who work as supervisors must have strong leadership skills and be able to motivate others. Knowledge of a foreign language may be useful.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Good business and organizational skills are qualities frequently mentioned in job advertisements for pastry chefs. Most employers want some formal training and job experience. Here are a few profiles from job postings on Monster.com in March 2012:
- A company in Hawaii was looking for a pastry chef with good decision-making and communications skills to oversee operations. The ad called for a creative thinker to design new breads and desserts.
- In Michigan, a company advertised for a pastry chef with experience making artisan breads and desserts in a hotel or country club. The ad specified at least two years of experience was needed.
- A Texas restaurant desired an executive pastry chef with at least five years of experience and a 2-year degree from a technical school to run dessert operations. The posting said the employer wanted someone who could lead other chefs with a positive attitude as well as create innovative new desserts.
- A restaurant in Kansas City, Mo., advertised for someone with a high school diploma and at least one year of experience to run its bakeshop. In addition to possessing good organizational and communications skills, the chef needed some experience creating showpiece work.
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
Becoming a pastry chef is challenging, and sometimes you need to push beyond basic training in order to stand out. Finding an experienced pastry chef who is willing to mentor you and help you hone your skills can be invaluable to your career. You may want to expand your kitchen boundaries through foreign travel. Chefs who have worked and studied in other countries can bring new perspectives to a pastry kitchen.
Earn Professional Certifications
If you're interested in becoming a pastry chef, you should investigate the various certifications offered by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). The ACF has four levels of credentials based on a chef's education and experience. All require written and practical exams. To earn the highest level of certification, the Certified Master Pastry Chef, you'll have to pass an 8-day evaluation from your pastry chef peers.
Other Career Options
If you want to skip the formal schooling and go to work right away, you can learn on the job as a commercial baker. You might make tortillas in a factory, bake breads for a food manufacturer or a small craft bake shop, or make wedding cakes and cookies in a supermarket bakery. Most of these establishments offer hands-on training.
The BLS predicted that bakers would experience no or very little job growth from 2008-2018. While many stores sell baked goods, the BLS noted most products are baked off-site at large commercial bakeries. However, the BLS pointed out, there will always be a demand for skilled bakers of specialty products. The median salary for a baker as of May 2010 was about $23,000.
Food Service Manager
If you don't want to limit yourself to the pastry kitchen, for about the same salary and amount of training, you could become a food service manager. In addition to working with chefs, servers, and kitchen staff to ensure that food service is up to par, your duties would include inventory management, cost control, and maintenance and upkeep of the kitchen and its equipment. Hours can be long, and sometimes you might work seven days a week. While many food service managers train on the job, an increasing number hold 2- or 4-year degrees in food service or hospitality management.
The BLS predicted these jobs would grow by about five percent from 2008-2018, and there should be many openings to replace managers who leave the field. The median annual salary for a food service manager was approximately $48,000 as of May 2010.