Attend Culinary School to Start a Sweet Pastry Chef Career

by Joe Cooper
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

There are over 1 million restaurant chefs in the U.S., plus a few hundred thousand personal chefs. If you're a chef who specializes in something like pastries, competition can be tough with those kinds of numbers. However, career benefits are sweet. Want to know the necessary ingredients to become a pastry chef?

The First Step: Culinary School

Finding your niche in the pastry world may not be easy, but it is exciting. From the heat of the kitchen to a dazzling array of colorful desserts, there is never a dull moment in the career of a pastry chef.

The first step in any pastry chef's career is undoubtedly culinary school. Here are some examples of degrees available to future pastry chefs at culinary school:

  • Baking and Pastry Certificate
  • Diploma in International Baking and Pastry
  • Associate's Degree in Applied Science Culinary Arts
  • Bachelor's Degree in Culinary Arts

The culinary education of a pastry chef begins with a scientific background in biology and physiology. The history of pastry and the culinary arts is included. But it's not all books and history. A pastry chef program involves hands-on training too, where students learn how to create delectable desserts like pies, tarts, sorbets, candy, soufflés, and other sweet favorites.

It can be exciting and fun, despite the hard work. Pastry chef Angie Boyd suggests that fledgling chefs "read, read, read" to continue their culinary education. The learning required of a pastry chef doesn't end with culinary school.

Starting out as a Pastry Chef

Salaries are humble for the pastry chef just coming from culinary school. A job as an assistant or line chef in a restaurant or bakery can pay only $30,000 per year. With a few years experience, pastry chefs can make $55,000 per year depending on the kitchen. Personal chefs and head pastry chefs at prominent restaurants or hotels can make upwards of $60,000 to $70,000.

The Daily Life of a Pastry Chef

Once a new pastry chef has graduated culinary school, the work continues (and sometimes, gets harder). A pastry chef's day often starts well before 7:00 a.m. Breakfast items must be prepared immediately. Then the desserts start, first for lunch, and by mid-afternoon, for the dinner shift. A pastry chef must be on his or her toes, all day, attending to the delicate craft of pastry creation, as well as any crises that arise.

Variety in a Culinary Career

Culinary school prepares chefs for the heat of the kitchen, and specializing as a pastry chef creates a greater variety of career paths. In a pastry chef's culinary career, jobs can be found at bakeries, restaurants, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, higher learning institutions, and even independent businesses.

Maybe you'd like a job as a pastry chef at a corner bakery, thriving in the fast pace of an intimate setting. Or work toward a higher profile pastry chef position, in a hotel restaurant or seaside resort. You can also be a pastry chef who specializes in wedding cakes, enjoying the stability of the $40 billion-a-year wedding industry.

An Auspicious Culinary Career

One pastry chef, Thaddeus DuBois, likes the variety his culinary career affords him. Mr. DuBois' first stop wasn't culinary school; he studied piano and composition instead, working at a bakery part-time. He then started his culinary education at a culinary institute on the east coast. After culinary school and some experience in the industry, he worked as a pastry chef at a resort in Atlantic City before opting for a more auspicious culinary post--the White House. He was the first family's pastry chef for 18 months before returning to his former job. How's that for variety?

Worth the Effort

With all the work it takes to be a pastry chef, some pastry lovers will find it suits them just fine. When asked about the low point of her culinary career, pastry chef Angie Boyd replied, "Low point? With chocolate and sugar--there is no low point."


About the Author

Joe Cooper is a freelance education and technology writer and edits medical literature. He holds a bachelor's in American Literature from UCLA.

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