Interested in a career as a pastry chef? Let us ask you a question: are you an early bird or a night owl? If you can comfortably declare that you are, in fact, both - with buckets of stamina, heaps of creativity and an artistic flair second only to your super-fertile imagination, then a career as a pastry chef just might be for you.
Working as a pastry chef isn’t as simple as making the odd pudding and getting to hang about up to your elbows in chocolate all day. The work is hard, the hours are long and the starting wage isn’t spectacular. Don’t run off just yet - although working as a pastry chef is tough, it is one of the most rewarding of all the culinary arts. Before you throw out your spatula and sell your saucepans, let us guide you through what you can expect from a pastry course, and the career that can follow.
More than just pastry
As a pastry chef you are responsible for much more than just pastry. Your job could include all manner of delicately balanced and complicated desserts as well as cupcakes, custards, ice creams, souffles and tortes. A pastry chef needs to be a dedicated, hard-working individual with plenty of artistic ability and creative flair.
Many restaurants, bakeries and patisseries will expect their pastry chefs to arrive for work at 4am, preparing and assembling desserts well in advance of service. You’ll be expected to use all your creative flair to produce not only delicious, but truly beautiful, creations that are as much of a feast to the eyes as they are for the taste buds.
Starting a pastry course will open your eyes to all the elements that you need to master. As well as specific techniques you will learn a lot about the structure and biology of the delicate foodstuffs you’ll be working with. Nutrition, flavour pairing and structure will also play a vital role in your studies.
By choosing to study under the tuition of an expert in a test kitchen environment you welcome into your life a seasoned industry professional who is there to offer not only support and guidance, but, almost more importantly, critique. By working under a master baker you’ll benefit from their years of experience, and you’ll no doubt find that your knowledge and understanding of the subject grows rapidly.
A day in the life
Your course leader probably won’t expect you to start work as early as a professional pastry chef, but each day will be long and jam-packed with activity. Your day may start with a talk or lecture, followed by group work, or menu development. Later you’ll no doubt have some time in the kitchen to hone your practical skills, and this would usually be followed by a critique of your creations. You may produce some written work or undertake a quiz to test what you’ve learned.
When you’re not at your course, you’ll want to fill your world with inspiration. Visit famed patisseries and restaurants in your local area, scour Pinterest and other websites for ideas. Put together a scrapbook of notes and images, possible flavour combinations and structural considerations to try out later in the kitchen.
Once you have completed your course, you may decide to continue to develop your skills by undertaking another course, you may opt for an apprenticeship, or you may dive straight into working in a restaurant, bakery or patisserie. You also have the opportunity to start your own business, and may chefs-in-training look to do a basic bookkeeping or business course to get them started.
Once you’ve gained some experience, you’ll find that your wage will increase. Pastry chefs are highly sought-after in the restaurant trade, and a skilled and experienced chef can expect to earn upwards of £40,000 a year.
Some fabulous facts
Roland Mesnier was the Executive Pastry Chef for the White House for a staggering 25 years. During this time he created desserts for every gala and state dinner; and never sent out the same dessert twice.
The Mantecados La Muralla bakery in Malaga, Spain holds the world record for the largest pastry in the world. Their epic ‘’polvoron’ - a type of shortbread - was over 16 feet long and weighed a whopping 660lb!
The ancient Egyptians were the first civilisation to get to grips with pastry, using grain meal and flavouring their creations with honey, fruits and spices.
By Carrie Barclay