The pastry chef occupies an enviable position in restaurants because customers rave over spectacular desserts. The pastry chef job differs from a baker’s duties because bakers often concentrate more on breads than cakes, pies and confections. As a pastry chef, you must be a baker, artist, administrator and customer-service representative.
In large operations, pastry chefs supervise teams of bakers, cake decorators and plating artists, and typical tasks include baking cakes and pastries, making frostings and fillings, creating wedding, birthday and anniversary confections and making specialty desserts such as cookies, cannolis, éclairs and cream puffs.
Culinary School Training
Baking is one of the most precise of cooking arts, and small recipe deviations can have disastrous consequences. If you plan to make a career as a pastry chef, you must have an extraordinary level of attention to small details. Culinary training in the baking arts is critical, but some people learn pastry skills as apprentices. Today, many consumers look for desserts with lower fat and less sugar than found in traditional desserts, so a well-rounded culinary education is essential to learn how to make these delicate adjustments and still produce quality baked goods.
- Creativity is important, but good baking and management skills allow some pastry chefs to delegate decorating tasks to specialized cake artists.
- Desserts require extensive preparations, precise measurements, exact baking times and top-of-the-stove skills to make puddings and fillings.
- An understanding of biology and food safety issues is critical because many desserts use eggs in meringues and pastry creams that could cause food poisoning if mishandled.
An associate degree can prepare you with a general culinary education, but you need specific training and experience in baking science. Specialty pastry chefs need training in decorating techniques, customer service and management skills to advance to top-tier jobs in the industry.
Bakers should obtain baking accreditation from recognized authorities such as the American Culinary Federation, Cordon Bleu or other associations. Getting the right training, degrees and accreditations will stand you in good stead so that you can find work at bakeries, hotels, private catering companies, upscale restaurants and specialty cake companies. You might even become an Executive Pastry Chef at the White House or your home state’s official governor residence.
Pastry Chef Salary Expectations
Experienced pastry chefs make more than $60,000 per year, often commanding higher salaries than head chefs in some restaurants. Pastry departments make high profits from luscious desserts because the alchemical magic of mixing flour, sugar, eggs and milk can transform humble and inexpensive ingredients into high-ticket desserts that command attention.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics only lists salaries for bakers, but national averages place pastry chef salaries at $46,861 annually.
- Salaries have recently been rising 5.7% or more each year.
- Pastry chefs in Florida, New York and California command the highest salaries in the United States.
Disadvantages of Seeking a Pastry Career
Although making beautiful desserts sounds like an ideal job to many people, the work is demanding, unforgiving and stressful. People who order special desserts tend to be demanding, and you have probably heard horror stories about bridezillas and their wedding cakes.
- Pastry chefs often begin work at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. in the morning.
- Pastry chefs must meet with customers to discuss desserts for special events, and successful pastry chefs provide elegant tasting sampler trays for these occasions, which can be time-consuming.
- Ordering pastry ingredients often goes through different vendors than regular restaurant suppliers, so pastry chefs must take inventory, order supplies and arrange to store their inventories after receiving deliveries.
- Recruiting staff for demanding pastry jobs can prove troublesome due to high turnover from inexperienced workers who have misconceptions about how hard it is to work with desserts.
- Chocolate and sugar can be very difficult to work with because both respond differently when temperature or humidity changes in work areas. Chocolate burns easily, and cooked sugar confections require precise temperature control. Handling large orders of these products can prove very stressful.
All Pastry Chefs Become Celebrities
Not everyone can become a celebrity chef, but pastry chefs invariably become celebrities in their communities and even within the facilities where they work. Desserts command special attention and generate childlike wonder even in cranky adults. Famous cake artists have increasingly become television favorites due to shows like Cupcake Wars, Ace of Cakes, World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or.
Famous cake stylists include Buddy Valastro, Duff Goldman, Pierre Herme, Jacques Torres, François Payard and Nancy Silverton. Of course, no celebrity pastry chef list would be complete without mentioning Martha Stewart whose name has become synonymous with elegant desserts.
Talented pastry chefs have many career options, and you could start your own confection business, bake cakes for other restaurants, work as a food critic or writer or design astonishing wedding and birthday cakes for upscale clients.