Helpful Road path to being a Pastry Cook

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Joined May 3, 2015
So I am enjoying my time working as a prep cook in the Salad bar department. It has been a long that I have dreamt of being a pastry chef. Although I had related experience at another bakery and restaurant as a bakery assistant but wanted to produce more baked goods, plating for hotels and or catering service for bigger customers' base.
Would this road path to being a pastry cook be possible, if I took this path?
I have similar work experience for more than 2 years and graduated college with a business degree. Although I enjoyed baking, cooking and prep more on the salad bar department. I'd like to concentrate more on the pastry arts field...
I have read a lot of professional books about the fundamentals and advanced pastry and baking.
What kind of career advice you would say for an aspiring pastry cook like me?
 

chefpeon

Kitchen Dork
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245
Joined Jun 15, 2006
My career advice is to really think about what's important to you and not to be shortsighted about it.

I assume you are young-ish. 20's? 30's? I'll answer your basic question first, and that would be yes, working up to the job you want in the kitchen is a great way to go. Getting experience in all areas of the kitchen loads your skill toolbox which greatly expands opportunities you will run into. For instance, a lot of pastry people have garde manger responsibilities as well, so you've already got that under your belt. Since pastry is the way you want to go, look for pastry opportunities. If a pastry position opens up in your kitchen, apply for it. If a pastry cook calls out sick, step up to the plate and volunteer to fill in if you can. Or just keep your eye out for possible pastry positions in other places. Getting experience in a real world environment is more valuable than going to pastry school, especially a for-profit culinary school. I'm not saying culinary school is bad; it does have value (as long as you're not paying a ridiculous amount in tuition with a loan which you'll have to repay out of crap wages), but I've worked alongside more skilled people that didn't go to culinary school than did. I myself went to culinary school, and hindsight being what it is, it got my foot in the door, but most of the real skills I needed, I learned on the job.

That being said, I encourage you to have foresight about your future and what's important to you and what your goals are. You are looking at a career that involves long hours, weird shifts, weekends, holidays, little to no benefits, and mostly crap wages. When you're younger, a lot of that isn't a huge deal and you can bounce back from being on your feet for 12 plus hours, or even work back to back shifts. Crap wages are bearable when you don't really have a family to support and you live in a house with a bunch of roommates. Benefits don't seem that important when you're young and feeling pretty good and your only visit to a medical clinic is to get a flu shot.

But you get older and life goes on. Eventually a family comes along. Maybe you get sick or hurt. Or a financial crisis happens. Or you really start feeling the effects of those long shifts and your feet hurt like a mother. Your wage starts to matter more. Benefits start to matter more, and wondering how you're going to keep doing this job for the long-term really starts entering your mind. That's when a lot of people jump ship; because they realize most pastry jobs are not realistic living wage jobs and benefits are rare and you realize that's not gonna change. Time off matters more because you want to spend it with people you care about or kids that you may have. But you don't get any more time off. You start to realize what a dead end this career can be in a lot of ways.

That's why I say to really look inside yourself and decide what's important. To some people, working in pastry is such a passion, they are willing to deal with what I described above, or maybe they've found a dream job where they DO have a pretty good wage and benefits and respect and some decent co-workers. But that's pretty rare.

I'm as passionate about pastry as I've ever been. But I'm also human, with a lot of aches and pains and limitations due to my age and on-the-job caused repetitive injuries. I also have a family and other interests and as much as I love it, I work to live, not live to work. I couldn't AFFORD to be a pastry chef if I wasn't married with a husband to bring in the money that actually
supports us. That's my reality, but I imagine most of my compadres have similar realities.

The basic gist here is, if you're going to do this, do it with foresight and with your eyes wide open.
 

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