Plan of Action

Joined Apr 3, 2005
Despite the generally discouraging feeling i tend to get after reading the threads here, i have formulated a plan for myself that i think will work. What do you guys think?

i've worked in the kitchen of a busy chain restaurant (not as a cook), and as a server in a few places.

I work part-time (in addition to my full-time job) at an Italian bakery in downtown Toronto. I help with the pastries and cake decorating. It's not what i'd like to do when i'm done with culinary school, but it's something. I got in as a volunteer this winter simply by walking in and asking if i could help out. I got that idea from someone on this message board.

Near Future:
I'm going to be in Chicago for a couple of months, and to occupy my time, i'd like to at least see, but preferably help out in a fine dining kitchen with a pastry chef or at a bakery.

Does anyone know of any good restaurants or bakeries i should consider in Chicago? . I think this will be more intimidating than my Toronto experience.
After my time in Chicago, i begin classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa for their Patisserie Diplome. This lasts 9 months, and i intend to work in a restaurant/bakery while i attend. i might have to work front of house due to my lack of experience, but whatever. Again, any recommendations of where to look for work would be awesome.

after school, i'd like to work in a restaurant setting as a sous-pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant, using fresh and innovative ingredients, and trying out interesting and unusual flavour combinations while adhering to classic techniques for the basics.

At some point, i'd also like to go to europe briefly to work/volunteer at a traditional bake shop.

Two more questions:
How often do restaurants actually have a pastry chef on hand? I know that the restaurant's size often has something to do with it, whereby smaller places will not require a designated pastry chef.
Do i sound like the kind of person that will benefit from formal, private (expensive) schooling?
I think i'm fairly motivated on my own and i don't feel that i NEED school to inspire me. But i do think it will give me a strong foundation that i could work with.

I hope i don't sound too ridiculous.
Joined Aug 15, 2003
I don't think you sound ridiculous. You sound well thought out. A lot of people jump into things like this without giving it clear and careful thought, as you obviously did. So thats a good thing.

I think that the time in Chicago will serve you well, provided that you can trail in restuarants you like. It might do a lot of things, like change your mind, or re-enforce you desire to go to school, or make you decide you don't need it after all.

I think school is a good idea, especially for bakers and pastry chef. Pastry is a lot more scientific and mathematical and precise that cooking is, so having a base understanding of ratio's and chemicals and reactions, as well as the practical experience of seeing, tasting, practicing these things in a controled environment.

Don't limit yourself to only restaurants. Hotels and resorts often have need for dedicated pastry chefs. But I would say that a very high percentage of fine dining restaurants in the US have a pastry chef. Not all do--but most of the larger ones will.

I wouldn't, if you do decide to attend school, accept a sous chef job right after graduation. You will still have a lot to learn. Work for at least a year or two, as a desert line cook or a pastry/baker person, in places similar to one you would like to be a sous or exec. Develop your palatte, lean about operations, ordering, scheduling, work on your ideas, and put to practical use your time in school. More than likely if you step right into a sous chef position you will not be ready. There is an overwhelming amount of information to learn that thinking you will be ready to be a sous in 9 months is silly. School will give you a foundation, can get your foot in the door for jobs, but ultimately will give you none of the practical real world experience needed for building a career. They don't hand out scalpels to med school grads right away, do they?

Not trying to sound harsh, but a lot of people go into culinary school like they will be chefs right after graduation. Some do. Most are not successful. Some are, but they are the extreme minority, of have years or previous job experience BEFORE they went to school.

Your plan sounds good, and like I said, well thought out. And from reading your post I feel that you realize school is a starting point. Like you say, school lays the foundation. I think you have the right attitude (except for the sous chef part), so like I said hopefully time spent in high end restaurant kitchens will help you determine if you want to go to school or not.
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