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looking for an opinion or three

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
Okay, here's the deal.
I've always wanted to expand my knowledge into the pastry side of our world. Sure, I can handle the basics, but I'd really love to learn to work with chocolate, pastillage, and pulled sugar properly. I've messed around with it at home, and I'm considering taking a night course offered by a local college.
I have had bad experiences with this route before... the basically useless cake decorating course taught by the "professional" who figures the epitome is a teddy bear cake piped over in multicolored rosettes..
So, recognising that there is a limit to my free time, what's the best way to get a good handle on the basics? Do I go for the night course?
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post #2 of 33
Why not find a pastry chef who would be willing to show you in exchange for some work or services? I taught woman near me some sugar work in my own kitchen at home, she was an amateur caterer who wanted to learn some of the finer points. I recieved in exchange some great home cooked meals which was great since I hate to cook.
Me, I am mostly self taught and most things you can figure out in your home with the proper basic equipment and books. The basic Wilton cake decoration book provides a good workable recipe and directions which I still use today with my 3 apprentices. The best way would be to give yourself an assignment and then build on it. Making a sugar rose for exapmle, then a stem with leaves, then maybe a vase? Start simple, end complex.
This is just my .02

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post #3 of 33

OK, you know...this is going to sound a little weird but...

I would strongly recommend an art course.

Yeah, flat out art. Any kind of pastry or pulled sugar or chocolate isn't worth a **** (if I'm reading your interest correctly) if you can't turn it into a piece of edible art. <emphasis: art>

Then you can mutate that skill into the edible equivalents: Chocolate sculpture/wax carving, Fondant/sculpey...like that.

At the same time you can start learning about how different types of chocolates behave, or pulled sugar or...start searching the search engines for techniques on sugar or chocolate.

I would certainly skip the rosette teddy bear classes at Michael's.

Pastries in general are a different animal alltogether. Then you have tarts, fillings, all kinds of cakes...danish...

The bottom line is you can only do one thing at a time. (the faster you can get through each 'one thing' the faster you can go on to something else <yeah, I get bored easy...but I've been an artist since birth just about...LOL>

If you seriously want to dive headlong into the pastry thing, then I would recommend an accredited school. There you can focus and get training from people who've had many more years of experience to guide you through the behaviour of different food stuffs.

I still maintain the art thing.

April
post #4 of 33
Thread Starter 
Actually, the art course makes sense... thanks for the idea
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post #5 of 33
robinchev
Go to www.pastrywiz.com there is an article there on how to do a pulled sugar rose. And the art course is a good idea.If you plan to do figures a sculpting class would help you to. Sugar work in itself is a continual learning process that takes even professional chefs years to master. The one drawback is that most professional kitchens do not have areas set aside for this type of work so most people do it as a hobby or on the side. If you plan to do sugar work I would start looking into getting the basic equipment because there are some things you will have to have to get started. This is an ancient art that goes back hundreds of years. "The ancient Arabs were doing it in the 13th Century. Ancient Egyptians had sugar art on their feast tables as early as the 10th Century." From Harold Mcgees book "On Food and Cooking. His book has some great information and history on sugar and sugar work if you want to check it out. Sorry this was so long got carried away..
post #6 of 33
Go for the night school classes.
I too, tried to learn sugar pulling from a book ( and a very expensive book at that...) But you need to see someone actually doing it. What mistakes to look for when cooking the mixture, how to get real tartaric acid (not cream of tartar). When to start pulling the sugar after you've poured it, when to stop pulling it. How hot to get it before shaping it, how to form the ridge and pull onto shapes. You can save yourself alot of frustration and time if you learn this from an expert.
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post #7 of 33
What is the course description? What are the instructor's qualifications? If you see the word Wilton in there, get ready for more multicolored rosettes.

I must respectfully disagree with the suggestion to take an art class. This will not teach you anything about chocolate, pastillage, or sugar. You need to know the science and technique of your medium VERY well, before the art can shine through. When you do have that understanding, you will also gain some exposure to other people's sugar/choc work, and you can spin ideas off of theirs (or even imitate them at first, just to see how you do, for yourself). With this confidence, which you only gain through time and practice, you will develop a style all your own.

I don't know about your area, but there are a lot of pastry chefs out there who offer one on one instruction in whatever you might like to learn. I am one such person. I will teach in a student's home, whatever he/she would like to learn in pastry, and charge by the hour. Depending on your budget, you might seek out that kind of specialized instruction, so you learn exactly what you need to learn, and nothing you don't need.

Good luck, and keep us posted.
post #8 of 33

Funny, but I haven't seen a single team on sugar, chocolate, or pastry

challenges using stick figures. :look:

Chocolatiers, pastry chefs, sugar chefs, chefs in general have to have a firm foundation in art skills or an inherent talent. (unless you count that sport cake thing on FoodTV).

It's all about eating with your eyes first.

A chef can't possibly know how their ingredients are going to behave unless they know the basic shape they are intending it to be shaped into. Look at the Disney Pastry Challenge. ALL kinds of engineering problems because the shape didn't hold up to the material.

It's the same with any clay, wax, or any kind of sculpture that you do. Many clay and wax sculptures won't hold up because of weaknesses in the material. So you either have to reinforce it or make something else. You can apply the same basic skill to sugar, pastries or chocolate.

Art also teaches you to stretch your imagination. You have to have an intense imagination to create some of the things that we do.

So, yes, I maintain that if you weren't born an artist, then you need to learn artistic skills somewhere. Obviously it doesn't exclude the food aspect of it.

If we weren't artists then you might as well just pick something up at your local supermarket.

So where DID everyone here get or learn their artistic talent?

April
post #9 of 33
A chef is quite a different thing from someone who is just understanding the art. At first, a basic knowledge of the medium is far more valuable than creating eye catching compositions. From there, if things become stagnant, then of course an art class can't hurt. I just don't see it as the place to start. In an art class you are going to learn about clay and paint, which will not tell you a thing about how your chocolate will behave on a humid summer day.

Where did we get our artistic talent? Good question, April.

I do believe that mine grew out of an understanding of my medium, seeing what others could do with it, and a lot of trial and error too. Most of it today comes from confidence, which allows me to really have fun with the visual aspect of my work. I did major in art history in college, with a minor in fine arts. Do I think it helped me in my career? Maybe in the smallest way, but what I learned there, I eventually would have learned by doing, and by observing other pastry chefs' work.
post #10 of 33
While I agree with you to some degree about the need for understanding your medium above all, I think you underestimate what a solid art class will give you.

Yes, you learn about clay and paint - you also learn to look at things from a design prospective. You learn HOW to look at things. I took a sculpting class partway through my pastry degree - and while it didn't help me understand my mediums at all - I can't deny my showpieces were better for it at the end.
Erik

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post #11 of 33
I think that anyone who excells in our art has an inherent artistical talant.
I personally think this is what seperates the great pastry chef from the good pastry chef. It's like an artist, when you learn enough and you reach the peak, the great works come after that and are usually from the heart. This is one reason I think that themed competitions are not valid. It's like painting by numbers from a piece which you have already done.
Anyway, I don't think an art class will help you when you've learned the medium. I also don't think an art class will help you learn the medium.
The last thing we want to do is wiltonize this art. It's not for the homemaker and won't be.
I'm certainly not against art education, heck, I've thrown pots for years. I've taken numerous welding art classes.
If I had to vote on taking an art class, it would be no. for relaxation.etc. yes.
This also works the other way around, I'm not so sure a chocolate class would be helpful to an artist. These are just my opinion. If I had to9 recomend a class to one of my coworkers, I would probably pick a relaxation class,yoga,etc or something to give you patience while learning.
Oh, I just rememberedan art class in composition that I sometimes think about while designing.

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post #12 of 33
Art in sugar is what you make it. I don't believe that you have to have a background in art to do sugar work of any kind. Thats the reason you practice to realize what can be done with a particular medium and what cannot be done with it. As Chrose once told me in a post when I first came to ChefTalk about sugar work. You just have to let your fingers do the talking. I am a firm believer in CHs statement. An artists is only limited by his or her imagination that can limit your ability or take it to the moon whichever you prefer. I mean did Di vinci take art classes before he painted the Sistine Chapel? I don't know the answer to that but its a good bet he used his imagination to do it..
post #13 of 33

Yes, imagination...

Imagination.

Art classes can help you stretch your imagination like I said. I don't know about any of you, but when I create something I have a firm idea as to what it will taste like, look like in my head. Imagination.

For people not raised around art but wanting to learn pastry arts...yeah, I maintain that it helps to focus on the artistic skills needed to create beautiful things.

A recipe is a recipe. Cakes, frostings, decorations, ...there are very distinct formulas to 'make' sugar (ask my grandma about pulling taffy in our kitchen when I was 5), pull it...that's all a fair bit of chemistry and physics. To make that into art is a talent.

Yes, you need to understand that sculpey isn't fondant, but it behaves the same. Chocolate could be equated to certain types of wax carvings that I've had to do.

What is still boils down to is art. Knowing how to make a mold that can make a large crescent sugar base is not art. The shape of the mold? Duh.

I still maintain that anyone who is interested in culinary arts at least needs to tap into their basic talents and if they need to .... take an art class....

I grew up with art, animation with Don Bluth, before that I would carve any bar of soap, wax that we had in the house or even little putty erasers into things.

It was only recently that I discovered that I could combine my love of creating food into the two.

"The difference between ordinary and extra-ordinary is that little EXTRA"

April
post #14 of 33
April,
I was just giving my opinion. I'm sure an art class wouldn't hurt. I just don't think it would be a priority over a pastry class. This is just how I feel. I thought you were asking were we got our artistic skills from. I also think there is a definate line between art and crafts. Some crafts relate to our art a great deal. I just think this is another medium in art. I think if you want to specialize is some medium, like cocoa painting, then I think this is basically an off shout of art. A painting class would be definately helpful.
I have spent countless hours in art class, only the instructors were artists in the culinary field. I've sculpted, made molds, and casted tallow. I've carved ice, the list goes on and on. I would luv to learn how to blow glass, but I view that as a craft.
pan
I understand your side. This is just a matter of opinion. BTW I can't remember when this was posted, but all of the great masters took classes are got together to see each others style. I remember like it was yesterday;)

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post #15 of 33
Yes, if the choice is art class OR pastry class, hands down pastry.

But if you are looking for a little extra, art wouldn't hurt, especially if you are not artistic.
Erik

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post #16 of 33

Blown glass...not a lot different from blown sugar...

Same melting issues...same injury issues (just ask my cousin)...

But no...not either or...I propose both at the same time. There are a lot of Adult Education Art classes that are held at local High Schools or Colleges.

JUST COOK FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!!

jeez

April
:crazy:
post #17 of 33
Hey all, let me reiterate that I was an art major. I'm nor knocking art classes at all, but just want to put it in a separate place here.

When I went to art school, I had already been working 6 years with pastry, and it did help teach me how to look at things. I just don't see it as a place to start.

I would love to know where everyone else here got their start.
post #18 of 33
robinchev,
unfortunately we have derailed a little. I think that you will find that most pastry chefs, experienced with all the mediums for show in pastry will tell you to take a pastry class. This might take a little research on your part to find something suitable. It may not be out there. Take everyones suggestions and use them to give you some insight on your next move. Visiting a pastry chef might not be a bad idea. We have a person that joins us every other Sun. to do some sugar work. Like Rat,pump and Cr. This is something that you might waste a lot of time on trying to learn out of a book. I think that the medium can be learned from a book and worked on at home. You can certainly get a leg up if you start boiling or melting at home. There are some great starter books out there. I'm not talking about the books with wonderful brilliant pieces on the cover. Start with the trouble shooting books that are more like referance.
Good luck
pan
edit. Sorry momo, I flipped from the hot side because I felt capped. I did not feel like I could put something out, from my heart. I can do that on the sweet side.I guess the passionate, romantic,side, guided me towards pastries. I have to love something to put thought and energy into it.

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post #19 of 33
Such a sweetie! ;)
post #20 of 33
Reading all these responses to the original question "how to expand on my knowledge of pastry arts" makes me really appreciate those who took the time so many years ago to answer my questions about chocolate and pastillage, show me how to temper chocolate by marble, microwave or by the bowl, make real sheets of strudel dough, let me come in early and "practice" with sugar or piping, share recipes and books that were all in a different language so I had to go and get a foreign language dictionary to brush up on my high school french, and doesn't mind a "rookie" following them around taking all kinds of notes and taking pictures with a very cheap camera.

Being young and inexperienced gives one the freedom to make all sorts of mistakes, but having the drive and enthusiasm to not complain about very long hours for not a lot of dough (sorry the pun) and doing mundane things gives those who "teach," like a pastry chef, the desire to show another one's trade. I believe mentoring gives the opportunity to learn a great number of things that a book or a class will not, and to teach a specialized technique. I guess you just have to be at the right place at the right time. Any time someone else wants to learn something I might be doing (or have done) I am more than glad to share my techniques/info/recipes etc because so many have given me my starting knowledge. My culinary school only taught so much about pastry.

Sorry if this is just a rant and rave.......
As for books I love the series by Roland Bilheux, Alain Escoffier, Alain Couet, etc "The French Professional Pastry Series." Old school stuff, but all the basics are covered there.
post #21 of 33
How would art not help with pastry and chocolate? You need an artists eye if you want anything to pop out in 3d, you must first learn how to master drawing it first. I am in agreeance with the art man. Try a few classes, you might learn something new -respectfull, I mean.
post #22 of 33
greenie,
Thread got derailed a little. Robinchev is already experienced in pastries. She wanted to take a class in choco. She has limited extra time. Someone threw out the art class. Noone here was against it. Most of the post were guiding her to the chocolate class. It then somehow got to art over choco. So most of the pastry people were suggesting the choco over art. That's all.
pan

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post #23 of 33
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post #24 of 33

OK, here's the deal...it wasn't "someone", it was me.

Art is what I know to be true. I have been involved with food my whole life. I have also been involved with art my whole life. I recently discovered that you can combine the two. It has mutated a lot since I was young. I grew up with just "good food". Nothing fancy, nothing pretty. Just all good.

Since then the trend to make food artistically pleasing in some artistically abstract way has changed all of that.

Now food not only has to taste good but it has to be presented in some visually pleasing venue. (AKA: ARTISTIC FORM) Piles of strangely prounounced vegitation with equally strange combinations and dribbles of syrups, gravies or 'reductions' on God knows...

I believe the original question was how, under limited time and resources, to learn pastries and 'candy making'. I grew up fixated with watching candy makers at Knotts Berry Farm, my mom's best friend worked for See's candies, my grandmother and I would hand pull taffy and make fudge on almost a daily basis. Then there were the glass blowers (also at Knott's) which strongly mimics the skills needed to do sugar arts now (which is something that I have NO idea when it became popular, but it certainly wasn't when I was young)

So...is it art? Is it food? The point I was trying to make is that a food medium at this day and age is just that...a medium. It's treated as an ART medium. It is now something that now not only has to taste good but look good. Has anyone looked at 1950's or 60's cookbooks recently? I grew up with them. I have grown up with all kinds of 'mediums', clay, chocolate, soap, wax, frostings...some of them edible, some of them not.

That's the point I was trying to make because if you are going to excell I sincerely believe you have to have an artistic and sensual edge. You use your senses and imagination to create beautiful food...at least four of them. You need to be able to envision your culinary creation and turn it into reality. You touch, smell, taste, and see.

If you aren't inherently artistic then take a class.

That's the point and I don't believe it's off track.

April
post #25 of 33
April,
After rereading my post, I realized it was not said correctly,I appologise and
sorry that you were offended. I think it's perfectly clear that you would take an art course over the night course she was considering. I also think there are opposing views and opinions. That's good, that's why ChefTalk is GREAT!

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post #26 of 33

Nope, not offended at all...

Just want to find a way to emphasize what I have learned in my first 50 years. :bounce:

April
Heated debate gets your mind working don't it?
post #27 of 33
Your way too young to be getting in heated debates.:talk:
Now, I pose another thought. I've had a few yrs. at this. As I look and think back, I'm not so sure that I can think of anyone who has stayed or grown in this part of the field that didn't have natural artistic talent. I have had a few great production workers and bench people but when it came to natural talent, they were the ones who could take the oven apart and put it back together. Humm.. I wonder?

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post #28 of 33
Thread Starter 

Thanks!

No... don't stop... derailment and all, I found the thread to be very instructive. Thanks for the time you put into it...it's been sitting idle for me for a while due to life getting in the way..
Sometimes you get more out of just following the conversation than a straight answer would provide.
Not to heat things up any further, but... if...you were going to start with a night course (the local college has several) would you try sugar or chocolate first?
I think I'm going to look for a book as suggested, (any ideas where? I live in Edmonton) and shoot for the next round of classes. There I should be able to barter/beg/borrow some time with someone who has some experience...kinda covering all the bases.
First thing I'm gonna do is hit the link mentioned, and scorch myself once or twice this weekend trying the DYI method. I'll let you know how the disaster unfolds, and you can tell me what I did wrong when you're finished pointing and laughing...
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post #29 of 33

If I had a choice I'd pick sugar. I don't know of a lot of Uni's that offer it.

Of course I'm not looking at major cities.

But I'm guessing that there are far more opportunities to find a willing chocolatier to teach you than a good class on sugar art.

I personally find chocolate easier to handle and use (albeit messier in the long run) so I tend to gravitate towards things I'm not as familiar with.

I keep thinking about my grandma and pulling taffy in our kitchen. Yeah, it was REALLY FREAKING HOT...but it was really fun playing with it. Sort of like playing with The Blob at 180 degrees!

I personally like the idea of blown sugar. I'm certain you can form it into little sculptures like you find in glass blowing shops. You know: the little horses and boats? I just don't have the time or equipment to try it. I think it would be pretty kewl on a cake or as decorations.

Little sugar ice sculptures.

April
post #30 of 33

Ps...

did I mention that I can fix ovens?...LOL :bounce:
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