Life as a Pastry Chef/Baker ? Please help me out here

Joined Mar 19, 2010
I've been reading some of the questions and posts on here in the past about what its like to be a pastr chef OR baker and to be honest, its scaring me.  I am NOT afraid of getting up early, or working long, abnormal hours.  I absolutely LOVE to bake and
new, delicious desserts, and I love to decorate cakes.

I am definetely planning on getting a bachelors degree in baking/pastry arts and management from the Culinary Institute of America, which maybe will help me a little?  Nothing is scaring me about the replies besides the money.

I want to get married, and have a few children.  So I definetely need a decent paying job, even if when I do get married my husband has a well paying job.  But will I be able to make enough money to, say, rent an apartment? Or support myself before I start my family? And after?

Please, give me some guidance.  I am so passionate about baking, cake decorating, and dessert making.  I am NOT afraid of early, abnormal hourse, physical work, or monotony... just the money aspect.  Please!
Joined Mar 24, 2009
Well, not to burst your bubble, but........pastrychefs are not known to be the best paid in the business. Even less if you are a woman. It is also not the position that there are alot of openings in, just because when someone gets one, they usually don't let it go, cause they are so hard to find. Count yourself lucky if you can negotiate a salary/income in the high twenties.

On the other hand, it can be rewarding and very creative if you are allowed to do so. Many times thats the part of the business that gets cut back first. It also depends on where you live as to the payscale of pastrychefs in your area.  Be sure to check that out too.

Good Luck, 
Joined Mar 19, 2010
Would it make a difference in how much you would get paid if you have a 4 year degree?  I know that in the teaching world, those with Bachelors degrees would get almost double what someone without a degree, doing the same exact job, would receive. 
Joined Mar 16, 2005
In the restaurant industry or in a private bakery business capacity, not a chance in hell.  Perhaps in a unionized sort of environment, I wouldn't care to guess.
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Joined Dec 16, 2008
 A Bachelor's degree would be a good thing if you want to try to achieve a higher paying job which generally means going to the corporate side of the food industry (R+D, Education, Mgmt).  To work in a small bake shop or become a pastry chef, you do not need a BA.  If you want an escape route, that BA could make it easier for you.  
Joined Oct 10, 2005

If I read through your post, you look like you are planning out your career, and educating yourself about the hospitality business.

Take your left hand and pat your right shoulder, you're doing the right thing.

Now, as to some of your questions...

I get very sceptical about "degrees" in manual trades.  No matter how you slice it, baking is trade--not academics.

Education is very important.  Most bakeries are semi-automated and you will find workers there who only know part of the process of say, making a braided bread. It is highly unlikely that you will find a bakery that will teach every technique from breads to pastry to confectionary.  So school here is important as it is their mandate to teach this--if you don't learn the curriculum, out the door you go.

A bakery's mandate is to make money, and working o.t.j. will teach you how to work fast, effecient, and clean.  You might not neccesarily be shown the right technique, but you will work fast enough enough.--If you don't work fast and efficient enough, out the door you go.

Neither area--experience vs knowledge--out-trumps the other, both are equally important.  Where and how you gain your knowledge and your experience is the least important thing an employer considers, but it is very clear to an employer after a day or two of watching you what your level of skill, experience, and knowledge are, and it is on this that salaries are based.

What most bakers/ o/o are looking for when they hire is experience, school doesn't do much to impress or dis-interest them, and as far as degrees go, it's just an eye-rolling action.  For the first day or two they will watch you like a hawk and what they see with their own eyes will either impress them or make them ask you to leave.

A baker is not a finite postion, you don't become a baker and stay on the same job doing the same thing and earning the same salary year after year.  You find your niche--breads, pastries, cakes, confectionary, etc. and specialize.  Most people usually hang up their own shingle after a while, thier own business.
Hope I could be of some help.
Joined Feb 5, 2010
my question is: how do you plan on having a family if you are working these long hours on the weekends too and on the holidays.?
How do any of us?  If it's important enough to you, you make it work.

As far as the money thing goes, it really depends on where you end up and the skill set you bring to the table.  I happen to work in a super corporate environment and, at least for our fine dining facility, we don't hire without a culinary degree or a SIGNIFICANT amount of experience.  We're union though so we do compensate for that requirement.  Is it a ton?  No, but it's enough that we all live within blocks of the ocean and can choose to or not to have roommates.
Joined Apr 2, 2010
I also have been thinking about this money thing. I have wanted to be a pastry chef as long as I remember and I plan to go to CIA, but my being so young, my family has been wanting me to get a more "practical" plan. I absolutely love baking and decorating but i want my family's approval.


Joined Mar 2, 2006
CIA is not necessary, it is in fact a glorified trade school. What matters is your experience and skill. If you are just starting out I would recommend you work in as many places as you can to get that much needed experience. Stay a year at least in each of them, learn as much as you can and then move on to the next. Be prepared to make little money for a long time and kiss those holidays and weekends goodbye. You will learn to like mondays off-better parking at the mall, no crowds, never a line at the bank-your paycheck will be too small to go by itself.

If this is still something you are considering I would try to get a job in a bakery or pastry shop first to see if you like it. If you LOVE it then go for it, if you just like it maybe something else would be better suited to you.
Joined Mar 19, 2010
Thanks everyone, I know your not trying to "scare" anyone, just being truthful.  I really am passionate and am ready to give up some things in order to enjoy my career.  I can't imagine spending the rest of my life in a school teaching kids or an unwelcoming hospital.  And about the CIA thing... I, personally, wouldn't mind just going to a 2 year certificate school just to learn some tricks of the trade, but the only way my family is allowing me to become a pastry chef is to get a four year bachelors degree.  And that's something that I can live with.

13withbigdreams:  You seem to be in almsot the exact position as I am in all of your posts (that I see, anyway).  The way I see it, if its something you love, just do it.  Tell your parents that its your passion.  Show them tv shows like Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes or really anyhing chef related and just show them that its more than baking cookies... its a real art! Even make some cakes, decorate them, experiment with pastries.  When you can, get a job at a bakery.  You've got to show them your dedicated to this, and its not just a "cushy" job (WHICH IT DEFINETELY ISNT!)


Joined Nov 16, 2009
Family and work can be compatible, if you want it, you make it work.  we've got a bunch of kids and a bakery, work through the night every Thursday night.  Our home and bakery are attached, so it makes it very convenient, we don't even need a sitter at night, if the baby wakes up I leave my husband and the crew working, take care of the baby and get right back into the fray.  I only send the kids to a sitter twice a week, the rest I do when they're at school or after bed time.  Anything is possible if you think out of the box!  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif
Joined May 11, 2010
Honey, if you love it - do it.

I wake up in the morning and dream about baking, and I read cook books before I go to bed. You have to live and breath it to do this job. Baking and cooking is the work of passion. If you have a true passion for the art and the knowledge (and there is a LOT of science) it will carry you to where you want to be.

There is, however, a misconception about baking as this sweet, romantic job but the truth is that it's damned hard work. Like most of us in the field, I get up at 3:30 am to work 9 hours days of solid physical labour. I come home stinking and filthy and exhausted. Napping and showering will become a major part of your life!

As far as the family part... I'm still trying to figure out how to work that in :p Let me know if you figure it out!

With all my heart - best of luck to you
Joined Mar 10, 2006
Anyone who has spent time in a professional kitchen will tell you that a degree in culinary arts/pastry does not guarantee that you know how to cook. It may (i stress may), give you a leg up, but it isn't a given.

For the most part, working in a kitchen is about one thing: consistency. Mindless repetition of the same things until you get fast, clean, and efficient (I think someone already said this). This true of both savory and pastry.

Also, like was said above, if you love it, do it. But:

Go to craigslist in your local area (or any area), and go to the Food service area. Count the number of jobs that are for pastry. There probably aren't many. While this isn't an exact representation of the job market, its a good benchmark.

Optimistically, you can expect $25k per year starting out. Maybe less. Do you want to go spend $80k on school, only to get out with an expected salary of $25k? Doctors/lawyers can afford expensive student loans because there's a pretty good chance they'll get paid back for it all. That isn't the case with foodservice.

I was in the same boat 4 years ago. What I decided to do was to work for a bit. I found a job (a terribly paying one at that), and worked. And worked. And worked. And I loved every minute of it, but at the end of it, I realized that I didn't really need what the CIA was offering, especially not at their price.

Before jumping in with pocketfuls of cash, try to get some work in a bakery. See if it's really for you, and then you will be better able to make a good decision. There's absolutely no rush to go to school if you want to be a baker. It will always be there if you change your mind


cooking is not something i find to be worth dumping a fortune into for education. as said, it is not something you can expect huge returns from out of school. keep in mind community colleges offer culinary arts programs too and for much much less.

i was always able to cook and bake well, so i went to culinary school... even then, i took the bare minimum to see if it was indeed something i wanted to do. (something you can do at a community college) i love it, so i piled on as many classes as possible. many found out it wasn't for them, so they did not return. (a few even dropped out mid way through the semester) i think only 10 out of 40 people from my class continued on.

at least for those who dropped out, they only spent maybe $500 in classes, uniform, knives, and books.
Joined May 5, 2009
Best part of being a baker is you can eat the Cake yeast then test eat your cheese danish and bang..the old yeast eats sugar and produces..wellll we all know what it makes.  You can make good money in the F&B industry after 10-15 years.
Joined Oct 28, 2005
Community college is your best bet.  The one I went to was only $13 a unit at the time, and all my instructors were great.  The school was accredited with the Culinary Federation, and you get out of it what you put into it.  I can't see spending $100k and then get out and make $10 a hour (if you are lucky). 

I've had two interns from the CIA, and they were great.  But, I've also had people that supposedly worked and trained in France, and they sucked.  

You have to love it, it's not an easy profession.  No glamour, long hours, underpaid, etc.  But, I can't see doing anything else.  You can make it work if it's what you want.
Joined Apr 9, 2009
If at all possible, i would avoid the 4 year degree and do community or a 2 year program. Im a pastry chef in a high end restaurant and i also work at a cafe during the day. I pull about 70 hours a week of physical and stressful work. And due to school loans, i'm still struggling to pay things off. This field doesn't pay well, but the passion makes up for it. Not a day goes by that i say to myself "i have to make this again?" I love it. plain and simple! Gain experience while you can. See if bakeries or restaurants around you will let you come in and help for little to no pay, just for you to gain some experience. It will pay off in the end. And the education is important. School will teach you full circle the things you need to know. I was prepared because of school, but sometimes it doesn't feel like it was worth the money. At the end of the day though, it's worth it. Its so worth the screams from chef, that intense dinner rush, all the craziness and stress. You look back and feel accomplished! And you can do things on the side. If i have time, i make cakes for people for a small price. It's good experience and fun! It's all about the passion though. I think you'll hear that from every chef in the business. If you're heart isn't in it, get out. Its not something you can really find. its there or it isnt. Pastries run my life... It's awesome! So if you really want it, go for it!
Joined Mar 19, 2010
Thank you everyone for all of your answers.... they are really helping me realize that this is my passion and I really couldnt imagine doing anything else.  And about that 4 year bachelors degree.. well, my parents will only let me become a pastry chef if I get one because it does involve at least a few business classes so I could wind up say managing or owning a business, and (this is my parents speaking) if I decide its not for me, at least I can say I have a bachelors degree in something.  Thanks everyone!
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