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What's it REALLY like?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I am not here on the basis that I am a Professional, or anything in close relations. I am here to ask, what is it really like as a Pastry Chef / Baker. (I know the two are NOT synonyms, don't shoot me! ;))

Here, http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/food-...ntry-live.html , I was caught asking a rather specific question regarding where to live, and furthermore, bake. I have always dreamed of working in a bakery, with the surroundings being that of what I described. (I find French / France fascinating, just saying. :look:)

While doing some research on the matter, I stumbled across a rather outstanding blog by Shuna Fish Lydon. I say outstanding, in that, it really scares me; is this what I really have to look forward to? Will my days be that of the monotonous creation of the same pastries, being pressed for time, while make mere pennies for my (hopefully) craft?

So, what's it really like? What do you all do that makes life worth living?
post #2 of 9
I don't want to discourage you....but you asked for an honest picture of what the life of a pastry chef is like...so I am going to give you an honest answer. Please understand it is not to deter you from your goals but to help you in making your decision.

Yes...the life of a pastry chef/baker is just like what the blog described. Worse if you are an owner.

You work long, long hours on your feet in extreme temperatures. You lift heavy, heavy things all day long. You also lift heavy, awkward things--which if you are like me 5' 3" and small....is worse than the heavy, heavy things.

You also work crazy hours with little time off. And the time you do get off is normally when everyone else is asleep making it very difficult to have a social life, get a haircut....I actually had to have my husband cut my hair a few times because I literally could not get to a hairdresser. Edward--if you're reading this--I know you're laughing at me at the thought of Jason cutting my hair!!!

Unfortunately, yes...after a while you do end up creating the same thing day in and day out because customer demand drives what you do. Where you work will make a difference in what that product is. I own and operate a patisserie in one of the remotest areas in Canada where people really can't afford to pay much for things and like what they know. It's been difficult trying to educate them about a higher quality scratch product and I haven't been able to entirely convince them. They love my croissants...won't pay for brioche, love canneles (if they are free!), hate madeleines, and forget paying $1.00 or $1.25 for artisan chocolates. No way. But they LOVE white bread...love it. Love peanut butter cookies. Love squares and oatcakes. It's a trade off--I make the stuff they love that I don't particularly enjoy making so that I also get to make my gateaux, my confections, my focaccia, my croissants, and my cheesecake. But yes...you do end up making the same stuff day in and day out. When I worked as a pastry chef in a fine dining restaurant I made pies day in and day out. Here's the trick that makes it worthwhile for me...if I have to make stuff I don't particularly enjoy making...or I am sick of making (for example chocolate cupcakes with boiled icing...oh how I am SICK of boiled icing!)--I determine in my heart to make that product (and all my products) the very best work I am capable of. I challenge myself to make the product exceptionally beautiful....and it has to meet that standard. That's what keeps the repeated efforts from becoming routine and boring. Finding joy in the mundane. I peel fresh apples every day...and yet I still take joy in that simple, simple task.

A friend of mine who is also on this site was remarking about cakes and how people want works of art for $50--that is so true. Many people want a sculpted cake just like Duff Goldman or Buddy Valastro would make and they just about go nuts when you tell them it's going to be $500-$1000. There's a limit to what you can charge even if your work is worth it.....especially in depressed economic times.

I have a friend who runs a French pastry shop. He is 43. He looks 73 and has the ailments of an old man. That's what this business does to you. He works 21 hours a day, 6 days a week. I work about the same. These are the tradeoffs we make for this business.

Do you make much money? No. If you go corporate you can but that takes years and years and years of putting your time in. It takes a long time to earn your stripes in in the kitchen. The man I studied with wanted me to do five years MINIMUM and even then that didn't qualify me to work as a "pastry chef". That just got me started...I'd still need another five years of practice work before he felt I was ready. It takes a long time. If you go savoury...you have to work your way through stations. Culinary school or no culinary school you will spend time in the dishpit before even being allowed to peel potatoes for the most part. These are all valuable working experiences.

By the way corporate has its challenges but they're usually not cooking ones as you are normally more worried about the administrative end of cooking....keeping your costs in line. You do very little cooking...at least I did as a corporate chef....your head is buried in your computer most of the time...or dealing with employee problems.

So, yes this life is hard on you. Harder if you are an owner. You do not make much money. In a year and a half as a business owner...I covered my bills and I paid my staff well...I didn't make a cent for myself. Nothing. When I worked as a pastry chef in a restaurant kitchen I made peanuts even though I worked for the best restaurant on the island and was paid the top amount of money a chef was receiving for this area. All I can say is thank the Lord my husband has a good job!

The corporate chef job paid well...but left me unsatisfied. I am an artisan at heart. I'd rather be poor and creating what I love...having my hands in that product every day....than rich and sitting in an office.

What makes it worthwhile? I'm a lifer. I love what I do...and I don't care about money. But I also have the luxury of having a husband to help with the household bills. He is tremendously supportive and encourages me to do what fulfills me in life.

I would suggest you find a good bakery and take a few months this summer and volunteer to work there for free. Get in there and do whatever the chef asks you to do. You want to see and experience as much as you possibly can. Ask questions. This is the only way to discover if this is the life for you. And by the end of those two months you'll know. You'll either hate it...or you'll love it. But you'll know.

I wish you the best of luck in your decision. Please don't be discouraged. But it's important to be aware--you don't want to enter this field hopeful and leave disillusioned because you hoped it would be something different than what it is. It certainly is not glamourous--not that you were expecting it to be---it's hard, hard, physical labour and it comes at a high price. But if you truly love it you'll pay the price and be happier for it.

All the best. I am sure some of my colleagues will chime in soon.
post #3 of 9
being a pastry chef requires a lot of exact/precise measurement and strict adherence to recipes and their methods.

there is considerable difference between being a pastry chef compared to being a baker. bakers just bake, whereas pastry chefs make Sabayon and have advanced knowledge about Emulsification. 

we're as good as our last meal.
we're as good as our last meal.
post #4 of 9
thats pretty deep chefelle, i agree it takes alot time and you have to prove yourself in a kitchen.
Chef it up errrrday!!!
Chef it up errrrday!!!
post #5 of 9
Chefelle pretty much says it all. We've both been pastry chefs a long time and know what kind of toll it can take on you. But if you love what you do, it's worth putting up with all the BS, and there's a LOT of BS.............
post #6 of 9
i do agree with everybody here that its hard work and it sounds really overwhelming. i want to encourage you to follow your dreams, beacause every job has its ups and downs, it makes the work easier if you are doing something you love.

right now im the head pastry chef at a golf course .we do about 90% of our pastries in house. i am extremely lucky and am paid hourly, so in the winter they cut my hours back to 35 per week. it allows me to have a social life, but also, it sucks because i have to get all the work done in that short period of time- by myself, and theres the fact that im only getting paid for 35hrs.

if you're lazy, unmotivated, and lack common sense, you will not last long in this industry.
post #7 of 9
Originally Posted by Coulis-o View Post

being a pastry chef requires a lot of exact/precise measurement and strict adherence to recipes and their methods.

there is considerable difference between being a pastry chef compared to being a baker. bakers just bake, whereas pastry chefs make Sabayon and have advanced knowledge about Emulsification. 

Ehhh, no, gotta disagree with that.  True, bakers bake mostly yeast risen products, and with that being said there is a LOT of knowledge and technique with yeast and the handling of it, with sourdoughs and starters, with biga/poolish/sponges, with manipulating bulk and bench proofing times, with time, moisture and heat, with portioning, braiding and shaping,with laminated doughs,etc.

Look, to answer your original question, bakeries are a profit driven business, gotta make what sells and gotta make a buck on what you sell.  If you get a contract to supply a client with, say chocolate cakes, you do the contract.

Yes this industry pays peanuts, but you have to remember, the people who make money are the people who deal with people.  Think about this statement for a minute and apply it to all the trades and professions you know of.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #8 of 9
Personally I love working as a pastry chef. Compared to being a savoury restaurant chef, the hours are good, the work is more relaxed, but you need to think more. To a certain degree, this industry is what you make of it - I've worked in places where you make no money and work shit hours, but there's also places (like my current gig) where you can make a good salary with benefits, and work 'normal' hours. Another thing I love about being a pastry chef is that you can 'create', knowing that your creations are only about taste, and can forget nutritional requirements... Not to mention, if you're a guy, women dig it.
post #9 of 9
Another thing to keep in mind is that high end pastries are a luxury item. If there aren't high end retailers around your area, good luck selling high end pastries.
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