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Do you really need to go to school to be a pastry chef?
Yes, to be a "certified" pastry chef you do.
However, you then go on to say that baking is your passion. Are you wanting to be a baker or a pastry chef? Those are different certifications.
Does it really matter if you go to school or not?
Nope. You do not gain "experience" in school.....only technique. Experience is earned when you are on the job.
I would more break it down like this. If you really like baking yet do not have any work experience in the industry then I would suggest to get out there and just get a job at a bakery to learn the ropes and get the experience. Once you have a couple of years under your belt, that is the time to decide direction and if it needs schooling. To become a pastry chef you need to work the industry first for a few years as a pastry cook, then go to school to get training and certification, and then get hired as the pastry chef. Schooling is over-rated unless you have experience. Just because you went to some cool school and got certified does not give you a step up from someone off the street unless you have prior work experience in the field.
Ever wondered why mom and pop donut shops close at noon?
As for school ..... @Fablesable has offered golden words of wisdom that stand true in many fields.
You can learn everything you need to while working- yes. True. You can also learn bad habits.
Perfect your trade, dive in with full force and learn technique. Learn to critique and criticize correctly. You will learn and be expected to set standards high- and you can carry that with you into your work. You can gain so much skill in a short period of time and all of that information links together so you are actually educated about what you are doing- you will have facts and a plethora of information in your mind- not just, well this worked once...
It's a sacrifice but it is worth it. In the beginning it was hard to transition from school setting (the regiment, high standards) to job that was relaxed and self taught. People like to diminish the school experience- but I am proof that it's work it.
I am not bragging about myself when I say this, I am explaining why school is worth it to me. I land every interview I get, I am sot after. This is my first season in my current position and I am the third highest paid in my kitchen- as a pastry chef. I have 2 assistants, I make my own decisions on what I put out.
And I only graduated from culinary school 6 years ago. This is something not just handed out. Go to school. Apply yourself. Change your life. Do it.
Did you ever hear that phrase " learning starts in the kitchen". Well it's true. You may have graduated school but you will be surprised in what you have to do for your first job.
I suggest that you that you go to school for Atleast a year and learn the basic techniques, the terms, the basic method and just have the atmosphere of the kitchen, and then just teach yourself the rest if the way. I believe that the best way is to teaching yourself because that is when you know you really have the passion for it because giving up is easier.
I've had employees that already graduated from culinary school and thought it was a waste of time. I've known other chefs, banquet chefs and pastry chef that never set foot in culinary school and have the positions that they have just from hard work.
But I would say this much regardless if you go to school or not everyone starts at the the same line cook position. It's all up to you to go further.