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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a working pastry chef at the very beginning of my career (got a 6-month bootcamp in a supermarket bakery, and I've been baking in a country club for the last 3 months). I absolutely love it. This is what I want to do.

I also have no formal culinary/pastry education. I have a lot of "basic" skills that I've picked up from books, youtube, and a couple of decades of home baking experience, but I still have a lot to learn, and I want to figure out the best way to do that.

My options seem to be:

1. Books/more self-directed study? The only problem here is that I don't know how to build a solid curriculum for myself.

2. A few classes? The community college here has a pretty robust culinary program, but I'm not interested in going "back to school" full-time.

3. Just keep working and learn as I go? I have a decent amount of time to experiment, and my boss is a good teacher, but I don't know if I'll get enough of the "theory" this way.

4. All of the above?
 

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I went to culinary school just to get my foot in the door. All the most important things I've learned have been on the job, so if you're already through the door, you really don't have to pursue a "formal" education. Job experience looks much better on a resume than any culinary degree. Maybe enroll in a few classes that pique your interest or can fill in some spots where you feel you need more knowledge. For example, I've enrolled in chocolate and sugar work classes because those skills interested me, but I honestly haven't used those skills very much in the real world. It depends on where you're employed.

Definitely read books....watch videos.....listen to your mentors. YOUR motivation is what matters most. If you're motivated to learn, you will, and you don't need to spend a dime either. In terms of building a curriculum, just pursue what interests you, or read up on items you already make at work so you can learn how to make them better. Also, practice at home. That's something I've done a lot, especially if I'm trying something new. I try to work the bugs out on my own time rather than my employer's.
 

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Yes. All of the above.
As you are so now, remain a life long learner. Always concern yourself with what you don't know/haven't done. The world of pastry/baking is broad and deep. If school wasn't so expensive I would recommend you go but as it is overly expensive, find out what the curriculum actually is at a great program (CIA or Johnson and Wales are two places as well as your local community college) and then follow it on your own. A course might be "cake decorating" or "the essentials of dough making". Whatever the course, use the title and any info you can get about they actually teach to help guide your learning process. What is a novice expected to know? What makes an expert?
There are used copies of the text books all over the internet. There are other books of tremendous value as well so collect all you can. I like Rose Levy Birnbaum? but there are plenty of others.
Visit other bakeries of all kinds and express your interest to the baker (remember to time this well so they have a chance to talk). You might meet a grumpy Gus or two but most will be happy to meet an eager student. If you have access to high end restaurants with a pastry department, see if they will let you stage for a day with the baker. You don't get paid but if you keep your eyes open you can learn a lot.
I think King Arthur flour has helpful courses or info. I can't remember exactly.
Sugar work is part of the field too and offers plenty of opportunity for creativity plus it's beautiful. Pastillage is another area of interest.
Visit the big trade shows, especially the ones who host ACF competitions. In the meantime, the internet has lots of pictures of what can be done in pastry competitions.
Visit small bakeries and factories as well. Note the commonalities and differences.
Learn the subtle and not so subtle differences between various cultural styles. French pastry and Italian pastry are not the same. Vietnamese/French pastry is quite fascinating. Swedish is different as is Hungarian, etc. etc.
Travel the aisles of the supermarket to see what you don't know how to make from scratch. Crackers, hot dog buns, white bread, wheat bread, eclairs, donuts, puff pastry, etc.
Research ALL the different flours (rye, spelt, winter wheat, etc.) and how to use them.
Remember to keep thinking broadly. Any place you work will limit your learning to what they produce but always remember that what you do every day is not all there is.
Personally I buy whatever equipment I need to do things at home. A large slab of marble for doughs and sugar work, pastry bags and tips, cake decorating supplies, and all the rest. If the only reason someone else can do it is because they have a tool, then I should get one too.
if you begin to feel like it's overwhelming and you'll never learn it all, you're doing it right.
 

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I'm a working pastry chef at the very beginning of my career (got a 6-month bootcamp in a supermarket bakery, and I've been baking in a country club for the last 3 months). I absolutely love it. This is what I want to do.

I also have no formal culinary/pastry education. I have a lot of "basic" skills that I've picked up from books, youtube, and a couple of decades of home baking experience, but I still have a lot to learn, and I want to figure out the best way to do that.

My options seem to be:

1. Books/more self-directed study? The only problem here is that I don't know how to build a solid curriculum for myself.

2. A few classes? The community college here has a pretty robust culinary program, but I'm not interested in going "back to school" full-time.

3. Just keep working and learn as I go? I have a decent amount of time to experiment, and my boss is a good teacher, but I don't know if I'll get enough of the "theory" this way.

4. All of the above?
The best place to start is at the beginning, you haven't done that, get a job under a skilled pastry chef so you can learn the trade. Allow 5 to 10 years to really master the skills.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Yes. All of the above.
As you are so now, remain a life long learner. Always concern yourself with what you don't know/haven't done. The world of pastry/baking is broad and deep. If school wasn't so expensive I would recommend you go but as it is overly expensive, find out what the curriculum actually is at a great program (CIA or Johnson and Wales are two places as well as your local community college) and then follow it on your own. A course might be "cake decorating" or "the essentials of dough making". Whatever the course, use the title and any info you can get about they actually teach to help guide your learning process. What is a novice expected to know? What makes an expert?
There are used copies of the text books all over the internet. There are other books of tremendous value as well so collect all you can. I like Rose Levy Birnbaum? but there are plenty of others.
Visit other bakeries of all kinds and express your interest to the baker (remember to time this well so they have a chance to talk). You might meet a grumpy Gus or two but most will be happy to meet an eager student. If you have access to high end restaurants with a pastry department, see if they will let you stage for a day with the baker. You don't get paid but if you keep your eyes open you can learn a lot.
I think King Arthur flour has helpful courses or info. I can't remember exactly.
Sugar work is part of the field too and offers plenty of opportunity for creativity plus it's beautiful. Pastillage is another area of interest.
Visit the big trade shows, especially the ones who host ACF competitions. In the meantime, the internet has lots of pictures of what can be done in pastry competitions.
Visit small bakeries and factories as well. Note the commonalities and differences.
Learn the subtle and not so subtle differences between various cultural styles. French pastry and Italian pastry are not the same. Vietnamese/French pastry is quite fascinating. Swedish is different as is Hungarian, etc. etc.
Travel the aisles of the supermarket to see what you don't know how to make from scratch. Crackers, hot dog buns, white bread, wheat bread, eclairs, donuts, puff pastry, etc.
Research ALL the different flours (rye, spelt, winter wheat, etc.) and how to use them.
Remember to keep thinking broadly. Any place you work will limit your learning to what they produce but always remember that what you do every day is not all there is.
Personally I buy whatever equipment I need to do things at home. A large slab of marble for doughs and sugar work, pastry bags and tips, cake decorating supplies, and all the rest. If the only reason someone else can do it is because they have a tool, then I should get one too.
if you begin to feel like it's overwhelming and you'll never learn it all, you're doing it right.
This is great advice, thank you! I've dabbled a little in a lot of the stuff you mentioned, but I haven't done more than .001% of what there is to learn.

Sounds like I'm on the right track!
 
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