is becoming a pastry chef the smart move?

Discussion in 'Professional Pastry Chefs' started by xmezzaluna717x, Aug 20, 2010.

  1. xmezzaluna717x

    xmezzaluna717x

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    To all professional pastry chefs, basically, is it worth it?  I really want to be a pastry chef but the salary worries me a lot.  Is it worth it to you to work long shifts every day, on holidays, for low pay because you are passionate about it? Or would it be smarter for me to keep my baking as a hobby and go for a different career, like a nurse?

    I'm very passionate about the pastry arts, and I have been all my life.  I create my own recipes, have worked with all kinds of italian and french pastries, cake decorating etc. I'm only 15 but I do have to start thinking about college and careers. I dream of being a pastry chef, but my family and friends tell me that i'm going to regret it and it would be smarter to get a job as a nurse or teacher and keep this passion as a hobby.  Help??

    *I know this is the forum for professional pastry chefs only.  I thought I might get better answers here because I'm asking for opinions from pastry chefs, and if they regret it or are happy they chose this path.  if it has to be changed toa  different section, thats fine too though :)
     
  2. foodpump

    foodpump

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    From what I hear, nursing hours are crap, but the pay is good and there are benifits.

    Pastry Chefs very rarely make enough to survive, and the only benifits are coming home smelling like cake.

    Are you willing and experienced enough to make this decision?

    I'm not talking about passion here. 

    Do you have what it takes to work crap hours for close to minimum wage for the next 5 years, with no financial back up if you get sick or hurt?

    You can always keep baking as a hobby, do cakes on the side and "rent" yourself out on holidays to catering people. 

    But if you work f/t as a pastry chef, very rarely will you find time to dabble in other jobs to earn some side income.

    It's a tough decision, and one that should be made with a lot of thought.  
     
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  3. rat

    rat

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    Well if you like working every holiday and weekend, long hours, having cooks hate you because you are pastry, sociopath chefs, being the first in and the last to leave at night because people eat muffins first and dessert last then go for it.

    If you like doing mad wedding cakes, creating works of art from sugar, fat and chocolate, eating chocolate chip cookies right from the oven, warm bread oozing with butter, then go for it.

    I would really recommend you try it out first to see if it is something you really want to do. Keep your options open though. It is nothing like you see on TV.

    I don't know if I regret doing what I do or not, it has afforded me the opportunity to work in other countries, meet awesome people and   do some fun stuff. There are other careers which I think are appealing but having to do something else seems weird to me. If I could choose again I would have been an architect-I build great gingerbread houses.
     
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  4. jellly

    jellly

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    My two cents....

    I worked a career once with great benefits, good pay, room for advancement and co-workers I really liked.  The only problem, I didn't enjoy the work and after pushing myself to stick with it for years, I felt trapped.  That was no way for me to live.  Everyone's priorities are different and people with families to care for sometimes can't take the risks they might want to.

    But for me at least, changing my career to the culinary world was the best thing I could have done.  I love my work, it's exciting and challenging and most importantly it makes me happy.  

    It is a tough decision for you to make, but you are at the age where you can try something out to see if you like it and change it if you don't.  These days, most Americans throughout their 20s go through many job changes.  Some of the hurdles you mention can be overcome.  

    I work in Las Vegas, where the wages and benefits for pastry cooks and chefs are better than some other locations.  Since many of my friends work in the industry, we all have crazy hours and work weekends and holidays, so that really isn't a big deal to me.  Spend some time thinking through why you might want to pursue this career and what might hold you back.  See if the pros are worth it to you and if the cons can be overcome.
     
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  5. cremedelacreme

    cremedelacreme

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    It all depends on how far you are willing to go.... if you are that passionate then follow your dreams i live in the UK and if you work in the UK or EUROPE as a pastry chef then you are the most highest paid because pastry is a skilled job...not that cooking isnt but cooking is an art pastry is a science....

    Good luck and all the best for the future.
     
  6. paulaspencer

    paulaspencer

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    I agree with Jellly and rat. I think it depends on where you want to go in life in the next year, five years and beyond. There are so many places you could live and experience. What about entrepreneurial aspirations? Big city or small town? Close to home or world traveler? Sometimes it helps to think about the big picture and if any of these other variables would affect your ability to do what you love.
     
  7. chefpeon

    chefpeon Kitchen Dork

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    The only way I can "afford" to be a pastry chef is because my husband is the one who "brings home the bacon". I couldn't do pastry if I lived on my own.....the wages are just too low. At least where I live. Jelly makes a good point that if you live in Vegas, or perhaps bigger metropolitan cities, like Chicago, NY, and LA, you stand a better chance of making better money. I suggest when you are able, get a job in a bakery or restaurant and see what it's like to work in those places. It will give you a better perspective of the "real world", something that culinary school does not.

    And speaking of culinary school, that's another can of worms.

    Personally, although I love what I do, I wish I had chosen a different line of work.......one that I can support myself on.
     
  8. chefelle

    chefelle

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    Well said, Annie.  I can do baking and pastry because my husband has a good job that pays the bills.  I'd probably have to live in my shop to get by if I didn't have him to support and help me financially.  I also have a Bachelor's degree and a Master's in an entirely different field so I do have a backup plan if I get sick and tired of working for slave wages. 

    Pastry chefs are also largely being phased out in favour of a frozen product in alot of areas.  It's really sad but true.

    Due to the popularity of shows like Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Hell's Kitchen, etc it seems the market is getting saturated with people with a desire to work in this field.  Finding a full time job in baking and pastry is difficult...I actually had to create my own job by opening my own patisserie.  That's a completely different story...but let me suffice to say...if I thought being an employee was challenging....it was nothing compared to owning my own shop!  At least as an employee I made a little bit of money...as an owner....well...let's suffice to say everyone got paid BUT ME and I worked the longest hours! 

    With that said...there are other areas in the world where you could probably get full time work in this field for slightly better pay.  I know Chef Ed has mentioned that they are crying for good pastry chefs in Florida....and Jelly mentioned Vegas. 

    But it is all true...the pay is not great, the hours are long, the work is physically demanding, and you and your family will have to sacrifice significantly in order for you to be able to work in this field. 

    But if you love it...really love it...none of these things will bother you that much.  Best way to find out?  Go work in a fast paced bakery for a summer.  Volunteer to help out during the Christmas rush.  If you still love it...then this is probably something you could pursue for a lifetime.

    Others have listed some of the "perks" that you can take advantage of such as travelling and working in kitchens in other areas of the world, etc....so there are definitely some fun and exciting aspects as well. 

    Best of luck to you in your decision.  I think you're very wise to be carefully weighing all of your options now. 
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2010
  9. pastryev

    pastryev

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    I was reading every-ones reply and just want to let you know i signed up to chef talk so that I could say a little something .I know you're asking the professionals go with your  instinct and don't second guess your self if you want to change jobs because thing really didn't work out ,so you write a new chapter in life but i can tell you that you will never re grate looking back and saying, what would pastry be like if i went that route.

    If you are clear on what you want put all your heart in it and practice ,practice,practice  you can be at the top of your game . Only after doing things for some time and picking  the little things up in the industry though other people you really get the point of "I've done my time " if your like me I started at the age of 15 worked as a dish washer went to prep cook but when i was asked to make pastry i was in another world i didn't go home smelling like the dishes or seafood anymore I was Happy and really couldn't believe i was getting payed for doing it  .The one thing school or anyone else for that matter doesn't tell you is if you can make yourself well rounded and be very good at it. you can make good money but you need to know very clear your self worth(so that if you say you can do something you do it and get a good price for doing it)and what you bring to the table you will have to work hard at this and always be your own motivator .You become what your environment is .YOU set the standards,You set the motivation ,others will soon follow and before you now it your at the top just remember to have fun along the way Because time is something you don't get back so make it count for you.If your happy ,happiness follows
     
  10. blwilson2039

    blwilson2039

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    I just joined this site and am glad I did. I also wanted to reiterate all the above responses about becoming a pastry chef. I was 41 when I got into the field, tired of my old career (I didn't like many of my clients, either - they were so darn cheap). I, too, would not have been able to get started without some secondary income. You do have to work very hard for small wages until you get some recognition and can finally land a fat job. However, get ready for - as was also mentioned above - egos, bad tempers, sociopathic chefs and cooks and being treated with less respect because you're "pastry". I've seen it all. My last job paid $38,000 which finally allowed me to pay my bills, and I found out my predecessor was making over $40K. I got fired because my boss looked for ways to call me out on the most ridiculous stuff. I did wedding cakes as well, and they were never good enough. Never mind that they gave them away to book the weddings, but they did look nice. Everyone else I worked with said as much. I've never had a boss who held me to a different standard than everyone else. So, you see, it's not the most divine environment, but there are good places to work as well. I've had jobs that I loved, and a few I couldn't stand. The last one was the worst. Getting fired was a good thing for me.

    Now, I'm planning on putting together all that I've learned and starting my own business doing the farmers markets. That will give me the freedom to do what I do best on my own terms. Especially artisan breads, which is big right now. It may end up morphing into a bakery, but I decided to hold off to have some fun with what I do.

    I wish you luck, but do go to work in a bakery for a while to see how you like it. As much frustration as I've experienced in the past, you'll get that in other professions as well. I love what I do. End of story.

    BW
     
  11. chefstephanie

    chefstephanie

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    I've been in the restaurant field since I was 15yrs old...& like you have been passionate about creating recipes & art with food as my medium. I was discouraged by friends & family to pursue my career as a pastry chef.....for the same reasons you listed. Yes in general the pay isn't as beneficial as a nurse, but the end result is! You bring happiness to others with your desserts & cuisine. Think about your favorite birthday cake & how much joy that brought you & your guests. You will always remember that moment....this is why us chefs love what we do! We create not only beautiful, tasty treats, but we create timeless moments of joy & happiness. The kind you'll remember a lifetime. That's the legacy you'll leave behind in your career. Sometimes money doesn't give you full satisfaction...it's the want & desire to please others that's satisfactory! That's what it boils down too. I feel blessed to have a talent & a gift as an artist & you should as well. I encourage you to live you're life the way you want to live it! My father taught me something that I'll take with me always & that is..."If you love what you do for a living, you'll never have to work another day in your life"! BTW...I made $31,000 last year and I'm only 29yrs old...I lived very comfortably & traveled a lot this past year. You can have a good life being a chef...this field is growing & growing fast! Go to a culinary school...I recommend Le Cordon Bleu or Culinary Institute of America. Also, you can become part of the American Culinary Federation which is a way to always network....a BIG support system for chefs! Countless competitions & even Olympic teams! This would be a great career choice & any chef would tell you it's worth it!
     
  12. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Smart move Yes. It is harder to find a good pastry chef,a big but here. Every pastry chef I have ever known had an inborn gift in his or her hands. All were extremely artistic. You cant teach this to someone they either have it or do not. You can teach how to make everything and ice it and assemble it , but to decorate it ? That comes from within. and again you have it or do not.
     
  13. paneman

    paneman

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    I am a professional Pastry Chef of 25 years. I have worked, taught professionally all around the world. I have opened 5 diamond properties and have worked up to a nice level of pay. I started when there was only 3 culinary schools in the U.S. It is much different now than it used to be. With the economy the way it is right now, just makes it tougher. The biggest thing that has really kept my career going was being flexible in moving to where the jobs were. That kept my career evolving. Just lately, my position was eliminated along with several others in a TOP NOTCH resort in Florida. I was apart of the opening team. 9 restaurants, 150,000 sf of convention space, 1500 guest rooms and I lead the best performing Pastry team I have ever been apart of. You would think that, how could they even think, to not have an Executive Pastry Chef leading such a large operation. Well, I refer to the above, economy. This company also has a track record of cutting back in ways that don't make sense. They don't lay a lot of importance in food operations etc etc. This is probably the largest hotel corporation in the world. ok, enough of that. next; let's explore the availability of pastry products for this kind of market. A restaurant/hotel can really buy anything they need the put together a dessert menu, albeit mediocre, in any restaurant/banquet operation. Remember, labor is always the biggest expense.

    In all the people I have hired and worked with, I always lay importance in desire, passion etc. you have that I see, good for you.

    This kind of work will absorb your every waking minute. If you want to be successful doing this. Don't get married, forget Christmas and any other holiday where people travel, dine, vacation and so on. Plan to work a minimum of 50 to 55 hours a week, every week, and as you progress in your career take that number and add another 20 hours to it. Plan to be connected to your phone, emails, covering shifts that are not covered by your staff.

    This is a true and honest lowdown on the life of a Pastry Chef........not a celeb or other glamorous vision of what this industry is.

    I wish you wiseness in your career direction.

    Dolcidio
     
  14. sarahg

    sarahg

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    That is a fantastic and wonderful reply.  Young lady, I would say that if you only read this response to your question, you will be very well advised.  Just excellent, Chef Stephanie!!!  
     
  15. flipflopgirl

    flipflopgirl

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    I am a retired nurse (22 years Labor and Delivery) pulled down anywhere between 50-70 k per year, depending on how much I wanted to put into the bank vs the soul.

    Did not see the need to pay off 2 student loans so skipped the fancy culinary degree (OBTW it cost MORE than my BSN) and worked in some very nice bakeries (what I didn't get from there, learned on my own)

    Always scheduled my duty very light on shifts during holidays and always took the week off before a massive, fancy wedding cake was due.

    Either career will be hard on your body, had to retire my RN after 2 lumbar fusions, still do the occasional catering gig and of course dessert buffets and the second generation wedding cakes (what can I say, those brides became like family and just cannot turn their daughters away)

    So...you can have your cake and eat it too ;-)

    mimi
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  16. pcieluck

    pcieluck

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    My two cents

    Pastry chefs, from my understanding, do average a higher salary than other chefs.

    I've only worked with one pastry chef in my entire career. It seems to be in low demand to have a dedicated pastry chef. The restaurants I've worked for making their own deserts and breads were having them prepared by the same people preparing meals, often a pizza guy or their garmo.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012
  17. phil brain

    phil brain

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    I am the head chef of the restaurant I work in. I'm the first to arrive and last to leave. My pay, compared to the building trades, is crap. My hours are long and tiring. I continue to go back, day in day out, week after week. Why? I do it because I love it. It's more than just a job that pays my bills. When I was 15, not sure which way to go in life my dad told me that it doesn't matter what you do in life. As long as you enjoy it. If you enjoy what you do then you will never work a day in your life. He's was dead right. I didn't find cooking until I was 21, and fell into it completely by accident. You do get some bad days in any job, but as long as the good out weighs the bad then who cares? Do what interests you, and what you love doing. Remember what is money if you aren't truely happy in life.
     
  18. laurenlulu

    laurenlulu

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    I had to chuckle a little when I read this, I was doing pastry and loved it but the pay/time ratio stunk. I decided to go to nursing school, oddly enough, thinking that the same needs within me to nurture and comfort (formerly with cooking/baking) would be met while doing the responsible thing by being able to sustain our income if my husband was unable to. Head vs heart dilemma. When I finished my anatomy/physio/prerequisits and was ready to apply for the program, I was offered a job that I hadn't even applied for doing what I love. What are the chances of that?? That was my moment of truth, moment of clarity, divine intervention, and I got back into the kitchen. Now I get to cook *and* do pastry and my soul is satisfied. I will never earn enough to be wealthy but as they say, money isn't everything.
     
  19. flipflopgirl

    flipflopgirl

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    With the average wedding cake (just for clarity we'll say it is fondant covered, white cake, buttercream filled with basic decos), depending on where you are and your target market (LOTS of variables, no? ;-) costing out at anywhere from five to fifteen dollars per standard serving, you can have a good steady income (say nursing) and create sugar masterpieces (megalomaniac?) if you properly budget your time.

    Before anyone starts to complain, I am not a gypsy (scab) baker.

    Family member owns a bar-grill and am welcome to use his kitchen anytime (thanks bro).
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2012
  20. nits

    nits

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    Hi

    I am a pastry chef.  My advice to you is do it! yes the hours are long not to mention the split shifts but once you gain and develop your skills  you can always move on to teaching pastry like i have.  I am now teaching pastry at college, working all those hours and split shifts was worth it or else i would not have the skills in which i possess today.    There is also a shortage of pastry chefs and the pay is very good!  Not sure where you have had your advice from but pastry chefs get well paid once you have mastered the art, so the younger you start the better for you...if you still want to be a pastry chef go to college learn the skill, i did my Diploma in professional cookery level 1 - 3,so i  learnt both pastry and cookery.   Could of stayed on to do my foundation degree in CA ( if you want mangement position ) i chose to put my skills to use.  Anyway cookery is big now, you will never be out of work and you will be able to work your way up.d  We all have to start somewhere, nothing is easy in life.    Advice, be very selective about where you work try and work for the big companies such as Great Western, Puma Hotels, Savoy Group, Barclay's, Claridges, Hilton etc......if you can your'e on your way....you can then move on to teaching but even that is hard work!