How to Become a Pastry Chef

By TACP Staff on July 18, 2019

A pastry chef is a culinary professional who specializes in the creation of baked goods and desserts. Their daily activities take place in the pastry department or bakery station within a commercial kitchen. Pastry chefs often supervise the work of other cooks or bakers who are responsible for the preparation of ingredients or other aspects of the baking process, which makes strong communication and executive skills an important trait.

Follow These Basic Steps to Become a Pastry Chef

To succeed in the industry, most aspiring pastry chefs begin by enrolling in a formal culinary program to learn basic food preparation concepts and techniques and then seek work in a commercial kitchen to continue their development. To learn more about how to become a pastry chef, continue reading our summary of important steps below

1. Learn the Basics of Baking & Pastry Art

As the popularity of high-end restaurants increases, the demand for quality pastry chefs also increases. Combining a scientist’s eye for detail with an artist’s flair, pastry chefs create edible art as the crown jewel of every meal. Although pastry chefs do bake, a good part of their job is administrative. First and foremost, you’re responsible for the pastry team in the restaurant. For example, many pastry chefs will bake individual orders, leaving the bulk work of bread and basic cakes to the baking team. A pastry chef’s job is to oversee all baked goods prepared in a restaurant, including cakes, tortes, custards, and soufflés. They also supervise pastry cooks and prep cooks by preparing key ingredients that go into baked goods and desserts.

An executive pastry chef is responsible for creating new recipes and desserts for the restaurant. These recipes require extensive baking experience and a high degree of creativity and technique. It’s been said that if cooking is art, baking is science. Since baking is so exact, pastry chefs must use exact measurements in their creations, recording all attempts and keeping clear records that others can follow.

It’s also important that a restaurant’s menu is harmonious. In that regard, a pastry chef will so work with the executive chef to create a dessert menu that complements the chef’s main dishes offered each day.  As a food executive, a pastry chef must also be food service and health manager, ensuring a high level of food safety and sanitation that meets safety standards for all diners. A pastry chef knows food safety laws and requirements and makes sure that all subordinate cooks are following the rules as well.

Administrative duties are a key part of every pastry chef’s day. He or she must keep track of inventory, monitor equipment, scheduled maintenance, and manage the pastry staff. In larger kitchens, an executive pastry chef may manage a large team of pastry cooks, prep cooks, and dishwashers.

To become a pastry chef, you must have some native talent and the desire to work sometimes long hours in the culinary field. The job requires high attention to detail, an extensive knowledge of ingredients and an artistic background. Most pastry chefs complete professional training at a culinary school. Culinary chefs must also be in good health and have the stamina, as their workday can begin as early as 4:00 a.m.

2. Learn Advanced Concepts & Baking Techniques

All culinary schools teach the same basic skills to prospective pastry chefs. These are the talents that they’ll rely on throughout their careers. Think of them as the foundation of a building on which the creative juices begin to flow. The most common basic skills for every pastry chef include identification of essential ingredients such as sugars, flours, and chocolates; culinary math, including weights and measures; food safety and sanitation; identification and use of basic baking tools; basic cake decorating skills; sugar cooking from caramel to hard candy; and creating frozen desserts.

Once the basics have been covered, all pastry chef students move on to more advanced techniques. It begins with bread and the theory of yeasted dough and includes the science of fermentation, which advances to lessons on cakes and other baked goods. In class, you’ll learn about how to calculate recipe percentages which allow you to increase recipe size while keeping all chemical reactions working correctly. Once your ability to create bread is perfected, you’ll move on to learn such topics as pastry doughs from phyllo to tart, cakes and their many forms, and finally the most creative of the baking topics, cake decoration. The final topic in most curriculum is chocolate making, which involves equal parts of scientific accuracy and creative flair.

Real-world experience might be offered during training or as a formal section after your classroom work. Externships are common, and you may work as a pastry cook for months before graduating to a pastry chef position. Some schools have restaurants as part of their campus where students work throughout their studies. This can give you a leg up on students from other schools without this added benefit.

3. Continue Developing Your Skills & Experience

A great resume takes time, and the least prestigious restaurant can be the most important stepping stone for building a career. The restaurant business is very unpredictable; reputations spread quickly, both good and bad. Once you get a label put on you in one restaurant, it’s very difficult to shake it without moving to another town. Make a plan for moving up in the restaurant hierarchy in your city, then work that plan. Always know where your next step will be after your current job. Do excellent work for every restaurant, and impress every executive chef you work with. After all, they’re the ones who will spread the word about your skills to other kitchens in town.

Your personal brand is a statement of your creativity as a pastry chef. Find what you’re good at, then be better at it than anyone else in town. Restaurants will try to recruit you if you’re known as the best at innovative desserts. Entire careers have been made on simple things like frozen desserts or creative local fruit usage. Find your thing and work it until it pays off.

Building a network is an invaluable tool to advance in this career. The cooks and kitchen workers you’ve worked with are your best connections, especially if you’ve impressed them with your artistic abilities. Building good relationships with these people is the most solid step you can take toward a long and successful career. Pastry cooks won’t always stay cooks. Even some dishwashers go on to own restaurants ten years down the line. Keep in touch with everyone you’ve worked with, if only on a casual basis. Having two dozen solid names you can put on a resume can be the item that pushes you ahead of your competition when looking to move up in the business.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Pastry Chefs

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