Pastry Chef

By TACP Staff on July 13, 2021

The career of a pastry chef entails creating all types of baked goods in a wide variety of environments. From owning a small bakery to working in world-famous kitchens; a bakery chef can excel in whatever area they might choose. The field is fraught with hard work and dedication, but the list of personal rewards can be as numerous as the hours in a day.

What Is a Pastry Chef?

A pastry chef is a professional cook or patisserie who prepares desserts and a variety of baked goods, like cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, soufflés, truffles, and chocolates. They may also be responsible for creating a dessert menu in partnership with the executive chef. A trained pastry chef creates a wide variety of desserts and bread from scratch, which are precisely paired with the overall menu. In a kitchen, they may conduct food tastings with the wait staff, assume the role of a supervisor in his or her absence, take inventory, determine food costs, develop menus, and create recipes, and assist with scheduling staff.

Pastry chefs may choose to focus on only one area of baking and pastry, such as artisan breads or wedding cakes. Maybe you have been inspired by television shows like Cupcake Wars or Last Cake Standing and want to create complex desserts. Maybe candy or cupcakes hit your sweet spot, or becoming a chocolatier and opening your own chocolate shop is your goal. Whatever your career aspirations, hands-on training is key.

Aside from the importance of training, pastry chefs must also have a number of skills and abilities, like creativity, as pastry chefs create innovative desserts and baked goods that help bring in first-time customers and convert them to regular clientele. They must have expert knowledge of the various ingredients used in creating delicious desserts and breads and how to make/bake them in an appetizing and flavorful way. Pastry chefs must have leadership skills, especially if in charge of all pastry staff in a kitchen. They must know how to motivate others, assign tasks, and have great time management skills so food doesn’t burn and staff isn’t overwhelmed. The job also entails an attention to even the smallest of details, as one tiny change to a recipe can make a big difference in the outcome. They must have good hand-eye coordination when cutting and preparing food, and an exceptional sense of taste and smell.

What Does a Pastry Chef Do?

Pastry chefs work in a wide range of kitchen and culinary environments, such as large and small restaurants, franchise bakeries, industrial bakeries, hotels, convention centers, supermarkets, bistros, catering companies, cruise ships, casinos, resorts and spas; they may be a pastry shop owner, or a personal pastry chef at the White House. Often, the pastry section is separate from the main kitchen in many establishments.

There are also different stages of training for pastry chefs, with most pastry chefs starting their careers as line or prep cooks. Line cooks are usually responsible for one specific part of the kitchen (like the stove or oven), where they will prepare ingredients beforehand and assist the executive chef or head pastry chef with a range of tasks. This is a great way to gain hands-on experience and learn how a kitchen operates and functions.

Depending on the size of a restaurant or kitchen, an assistant pastry chef will work alongside the executive chef or executive pastry chef. Assistant pastry chefs create icings, fillings, and sauces, and may help in the preparation of bread and other baked goods. After gaining a number of years of experience, or for those who graduate from college or culinary school, an assistant pastry chef may go on to become an executive pastry chef. Besides being responsible for creating the menu, an executive pastry chef may also take inventory, order supplies, tweak menu items, ensure food safety measures are enforced and train other members of the staff. They are also responsible for the majority of pastries that leave the kitchen and are served to customers.

No matter the environment, a pastry chef must have a strong work ethic, as the job often requires long hours standing on your feet while performing repetitive tasks. Many pastry chefs start their day very early – around three or four am., and maybe in the kitchen until late at night after clean-up.

Related: Interview with Rick Reichart, Cake Designer & Decorator

Pastry Chef Education & Training Requirements

There are no education requirements to become a pastry chef, although most chefs complete some form of formal training via certificate or degree programs available through technical schools, community colleges, culinary institutes, and four-year universities. Degree programs cater to the many specialties available to pastry chefs. Some programs focus on cakes, some on baked goods, such as bread and rolls. These programs are typically for chefs who aspire to work in high-end restaurants and hotels or be in charge of creating pastries on a cruise ship. Those who would rather work more casually can attend culinary school, or complete an apprenticeship program to gain training and experience.

Individuals who wish to become an executive pastry chef should take their education seriously, as this is a competitive field, and your skills in a kitchen will be put to the test against other job candidates. There are a number of pastry arts schools and culinary arts training programs where you can gain formal training, such as an associate of applied science in baking and pastry arts program. These two-year associate degree programs consist of hands-on in the kitchen and classroom instruction and often require students to apprentice in a commercial kitchen.

Coursework in a pastry chef program may include:

  • Nutrition
  • Cake design
  • Plated desserts
  • Confectionaries
  • Specialty cakes
  • Baking fundamentals
  • Chocolate arts
  • Culinary management
  • Sanitation and food safety

Pastry arts schools and culinary arts training programs allow students to perfect their skills and equip them with the credentials to get the top jobs in the industry. While it is a pastry chef’s skill and creativity that gives them confidence and credence, it may be a degree from a pastry arts or culinary arts school that locks in a job or gets them an apprentice position with some of the top chefs in the world.

While not necessary, some pastry chefs choose to earn certification, which demonstrates their culinary skills. The American Culinary Federation (ACF), provides four levels of certification, each requiring various amounts of experience and education.

Some pastry chefs will choose to explore education options and gain experience by traveling overseas and learning under the tutelage of international food professionals. International programs offer much more than just kitchen skills or degrees; they provide access to famous restaurants and acclaimed chefs. US programs often partner with international programs for work-study reciprocity, which makes studying in another country possible by enrolling in a culinary arts degree program in the US.

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Pastry Chef Salary & Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bakers earned an average annual salary of $27,110 in May 2017, whereas, chefs earned a median annual salary of $45,950. The highest ten percent of bakers; those with a degree and experience earned more than $39,000, and the highest ten percent of chefs earned $75,000 per year. For both bakers and chefs, the level of pay varies by region, level of education, experience, and employer. And, only one in 20 chefs were self-employed in 2014.

Employment of chefs is projected to grow nine percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than average for all career fields. This is true in part because of population growth, but also an increase in income for many people. Employment for bakers is projected to see a seven percent increase from 2014 to 2024, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.

Job prospects for pastry chefs are very good, primarily because of the high turnover rate. Chefs with years of experience and a good education, particularly in preparing pastries, should have the best job opportunities.

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