Pastry chef vs Regular Chef

Joined Jan 22, 2004
One of the biggest factors in being able to attend culinary school is feeling confident in being able to get a job upon graduation that at the very least pays enough to support my family. I feel that my general interest and natural talents are pulling me towards the "Culinary arts" course, but I've read alot of posts concerning how flooded this profession is and how low the starting salaries are. Since I have not yet actually signed on the dotted line, I was wondering if I should perhaps consider taking the pastry and baking arts course and become a pastry chef instead. I think I could be just as happy doing this as becoming a regular chef, but I'm not sure if becoming a pastry chef holds any advantage or disadvantage as far as learning difficulty, job competition and starting salary range so If anybody has any information they wish to share it would be appreciated.

P.S. I've already visited and comparing notes with people I've talked to I think their estimation for pastry chef salaries were a little high and they only listed salaries for Sous Chef and Executive chef not Line or Prep which is if i'm correct where most people start our after school?

P.S.S Sorry, if I'm coming off as a bit of a whiner, It is a huge decision at this stage in my life (30) and I am trying to make the most informed decisions possible before taking the leap. :lips:


Joined Jan 16, 2004
I'm in the same boat as you. I'm 29, married with two kids, and a mortgage. 10 years with an IT job, and tired of being a desk jockey. I'm now enrolled at the local community college taking Culinary and pastry courses to see what I like.

I'm also interested in the salary differences. I'm just trying not to second guess myself at every turn. Me and the Wife are having nervousness some, but it is what I love, so I hope it works out.
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Back in the late 70's early 80's I got into IT just for the $$'s and have over 10 years experience with it . Although computers are an integral part of our lives, I still fail to find soul therein. During the 90's I took up the chiropractic profession which is also flooded (you need to see me 3 times a week for the next year or else you need surgery!) and over politicized within.

I have a teaching background and plan to return to it at the high school level. Sure, I'm taking a big hit on salary in comparison to IT but it's steady work into which I can inject some personal style. Therefore, like cooking, teaching is infinite. And at least there'll be some sort of retirement waiting for me down the enlighenment road. In returning to physical science there's real contentment and I'll live longer as well.

Do what YOU love and *#@* the money otherwise you'll regret it.
Joined May 26, 2001
Don't limit yourself to only one side of the kitchen; if you find you hate the side you're on, you'll have a harder time switching once you start working.

If you work hard in school; learn all the school has to offer you AND MORE; make friends with the instructors; and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the work and desire to learn more to everyone who matters -- you will get a job that gives you a good start in the industry. And you will make the opportunity for continued coaching and assistance throughout your career.

Yes, the schools are full. But most of the students will not make it in the business because they are not looking for the positives, but only see the hard work and low pay. If you really want to learn and get ahead, and work hard to do so, you'll have a solid career. It may take time until you find the right outlet for your talents and interests -- that makes you enough income -- but as Koko said (and all the other professionals here will agree): If you really love it, DO IT.

Just remember that there is so much more to this industry than grunt work in restaurants. Learn all you can, and start thinking about how you can combine your love of food with all your other life skills to find your niche.

(I'm telling you this from my own experience: started restaurant school at age 46, externed in a four-star NYC restaurant, worked in some very good restaurants, managed a manufacturer's kitchen, consulted, and finally have found my perfect job combining food and words. If you want it enough, you can do it.)
Joined Jul 28, 2001
I agree with Suzanne,(can't believe I just typed that!!!!)
To be a good pastry chef you really have to have a feeling for both sides, especially when pairing foods.
:D There is an old saying that a hot chef is lost in the pastry shop but a pastry chef can walk right in and take over the hot
Salaries in this profession are horrible to begin with, especially those with experience. Even a hundred grand to a chef who has years of experience is disheartening.


Joined Jan 16, 2004
I am going for the Associates in Culinary and Certificate in Baking and Pastry to get a little of both. Now to find a job where I can get experience in both. Bye Bye Computers!

Thanks to all of you I may have it figured out. Now to tell the wife.

Joined Nov 13, 2003
like i have always been told "if you do something you love you will never realy work a day in your life." i am finding this to be true. like you i am trying to to join the culinary elite. i unfortunatly cannot make up my mind either about wich side to go on. i LOVE to bake, but i love to be creative as well. unfortunatly baking is almost an exact science. i do enjoy it though. i am still debating, for the time being i am earning my associates degree in hospitality mgmt and culinary arts. after i graduate i plan on attending another school where i can develop my baking skills more. my situation is somewhat different though i am a single 22 yr old guy who has devoted everything i have ever done to eventualy becoming a chef. i can give you some advice though just a few things that have helped me.... do every extra curicular event possible by doing this i have had the privilage of working with people such as executive chef Travis Smith (head of the US culinary olympics team :eek:!!!!!). do your best to set yourself apart from the crowd without alienating yourself. try to learn as much from your teachers as possible. learn from their example. if given the chance to play a "chef of the day role" treat it as though it realy is your kitchen and your classmates are your emloyees. and most of all nomater what happens just keep on keepin' on (lol). one thing you need to remember and i remind myself of all the time, a chef needs to be creative, an artist, a leader of the pack, a freind at times and a hard nosed and stern manager at others, most of all a chef needs to be a person not an evil dictator. it will be your kitchen someday just remember how you felt when you were starting and never ever loose the trust of your crew. never belittle a member of your crew in front of the other members. keep everything that is between you and a member of your crew in private (as much as possible) and more than anything else dont loose the love for cooking man thats what its all about! good luck and i hope to see you as a brother in a chefs jacket one day :chef:


Joined Jan 16, 2004
Well, I got laid off from my IT job friday night, so now my wife and I decided that I should go to school and get a job in a field I want instead. I have an interview at the Renaissance Grand Hotel Wednesday, and an interview for an ACF apprenticeship in a great country club here next week. Anybody else know of a good place to start out for a hard worker with a family in St. Louis?

Joined Feb 12, 2004
While the baking aspect is an exact science there are pleanty of creative outlets for a pastry chef. Such as decorating the perfect cake using icing, fondant, gumpaste, etc. and your imagination.

I have an AOS in Baking and Pastry Arts and have been working as a pastry chef for almost 9 years. It is harder to find a job as a pastry chef in my opinion. I have been looking at the job market lately...I found a great new position but I have to move. Whereas if I were a culinary chef I would have certainly been able to find work without having to move.

For me though there was no choice...I have never wanted to do anything else. :chef:
Joined Jan 26, 2004
I agree with Chefgoo, being a pastry chef can be really creative. Yes, you have to follow the recipe to get a cake that has the exact texture and taste, but then the only limit is your imagination when it comes to pair that cake with a sauce or other ingredients that will create an outstanding plate.

To respond to the original poster, I recently decided to change career and I believe I found my calling as a pastry chef. I decided to skip going to school due to time and money and I am trying to learn as much as I can by working in restaurants. The pay is meager, in the Bay Area an accomplished pastry chef can get $40,000 a year (unfortunately $24,000 is the average). I am lucky that I found a job for $12 an hour, with only 5 months experience, baking morning pastry and then making evening desserts.

What I realized after working these 5 months as a pastry chef is that I LOVE my work, and since life is short, I'd better do what I love that languish at a better paid job.


Joined Apr 9, 2004
I look at the industry, after 22+ years and wonder what anyone married with a family would be doing considering this WAY OF LIFE! Yes WAY OF LIFE. Sorry to shout, but thats what it is. I think many neophytes need to realize this. You are signing up for a way of life. Think honestly about the time you will need to put in to achieve your goals. If you dont know. You need to find out fast. Yes there are many people in culinary schools. How many are still in the profession after 2 years? LOL not 10% of the graduates. Many do not understand the commitment. many look at the glamourus side of our work and are slapped across the face by the reality. many think they will be a Chef after graduation. Very few are. Very few are able or willing to work as hard as required by our trade.

As far a pay rate? Pay rate is commesurate of talent and work ethic. I have made a fine living in the culinary arts. Remember, very few start at the top of the ladder. This is true for IT or Culinary Arts. Get a plan of finances, goals for advancement to avoid the duldrums. Find a direction! That Said, I can Highly recommend learning how to bake. I have been Pastry Chef for Hyatt Hotels, HATED IT. I think Its mental repetitive strain. Same thing OVER AND OVER!!!! AGHGGHGHHH!!! LOL. That Said, I do bake for my Place. **** its a great skill to have. Fabrication for profit rocks, my brothers. As a Life, been there, done that...hated it. Hot line is different every night. But lets look at the larger picture. If you want to be the "Chef", then you will over see all ops, not just one area right? To maximize your earning potential, you need to be a business man and manage both of the biggest costs in a food service establishment- Food and Labor. Creativity is swell, but the more profit you can turn, the more you make.

That Ranting and rambling said, Find a direction. always work on the PLAN and GOALS. Remember that to be truely successful, you need to understand our way of life, understand how to manage the business end, manage the family end. Pastry Chef vs. Chef. To me its 6 of one or 1/2 dozen........
Joined Apr 14, 2004
I agree with Chef Bubba (at least, I think I do). There are jobs out there that will allow you to have a hand in both sides of the kitchen. Are you going to CIA- it sounds like it from your description of the programs. I would have loved to recieve the baking/pastry degree as well as my culinary arts AOS, but in my heart of hearts, I knew the passion for it (pastry)was not there- I am a savory type of gal (ooh that sounds bad! :chef: ) You, however, from what your passions sound like, are one of the very rare breed of chefs that can excell at both. Good luck to you and let us know what your final decision is.
Joined Feb 14, 2006
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A desserts and catering

I have worked both sides of the kitchen and some front house and unless you enjoy creativity and love to make customers happy no matter what you are cooking then do both practice with the pastry and keep cooking in the end you ll discouver a happy medium or open up your own place and do both cause in the end thats where cooking and baking lead me and 6 of my colleges. have fun creating
Joined May 16, 2003
Is anyone familiar with a term for a non-pastry chef?

I've frequntly heard the term "regular" chef but that seems to imply that pastry chefs are irregular and that doesn't seem right.

Joined Jul 28, 2001
Some of the largers houses/Hotels will have an

Executive Chef
Exec. Sous Chef

Banquet Chef
Garde Manger Chef

Exec. Pastry Chef
Pastry Chef
Assist. Pastry Chef
Head Baker
now3 I'm old so things may have changes and this does not include many other chef. Saucier etc.
Smaller operations, restaurant follow a different chain of command
Joined Apr 7, 2006
Hi, i'm new to the chef talk form. I am very intested in becoming a chef. But the problem is I like to bake and grill and all of the other stuff. I am in my Junior year in High School. I would like some suggestions from real chefs on which would be more fun to do when I grow up? I have heard either way I go I will be working most of the day. But I really enjoy cooking, so it is worth it.

Thanks, Mastacook:chef:
Joined Feb 16, 2006
I think the term you are looking for may be "savory" for a non-pastry "chef". The word COOK seems to get overlooked. Every person that picks up a whisk or a saute pan and gets paid for it is not a "Chef".

As for payscales and starting salaries, IMO, if you are not in a kitchen because you really love it and want to be there, your future there will be short. Very, very few places are going to start a culinary grad at a great salary, in a super position in "money factory" kitchen purely by virtue of a culinary degree. And, I have seen one or two that have tried that with disasterous results. Being a COOK and ultimately a CHEF is a process. It takes work and practice and discipline and, at least, a small amount of natural talent. It is no different than any other industry. No one starts out as a sucessful, business savvy CEO. IMO, there is a huge myth being spread and encouraged by culinary schools.

And it is not about anything as trite as "paying your dues". It is about gaining skills, knowledge and aquiring the ability to identify, admit and learn what you DO NOT already know. School is a start. Just that. And it comes with a "starting salary" in most cases (and in my experience ALL successful cases.). EVERY successful chef that I know was in a kitchen as an employee by the time they were 17 to their early 20's. But I do believe that you can change your career to the kitchen and should if it is your passion, but, if you expect miracles and stardom you are in for a big surprise. Don't believe everything that your culinary institute's PR firm writes in the brochure.

This thread has made me think about my first day in a professional kitchen, making a dreadful clam chowder for a friend who was a chef in a restaurant and half of his staff was drunk. And yesterday, 20 years later, making some of the highest end food in the market I live in, doing a magazine photo shoot (probably for the cover), and organizing how to do a clients b-day party in a competitors restaurant because we are too booked to handle his 120 guests and 25 piece band but he still wants my lobster. Ahh, 20 years later, an overnight success.
Joined Mar 12, 2006

i am not sure about the market situation in the US. However in the international hospitality business, qualified pastry chefs are very much in demand.

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