The Role of the Pastry Chef
Posted 23 September 2003 - 10:29 PM
I entered my first restaurant kitchen in 1995, not long before Becoming a Chef appeared. It was an amazing ally at the time, and it helped solidify my passions and my goals. Just as I had acquired the basic skills and then having gained the confidence to think on my own, I found Culinary Artistry (and just as it has been a reference of mine all these years, I've seen more than a few tattered copies in kitchens all over the country!). It seems as if the progress and evolution of your writing has eerily mirrored my own development as a chef. And from what I've seen of your new book, the issues you are discussing now also echo the thoughts and questions I have as I look toward my future as a cook/chef/pastry chef.
Switching gears, a topic recently discussed here revolved around the recognition, or lack of, given to pastry chefs, both from within the chef community, and from the media/public at large. Realizing your books have dealt with the industry as a whole, what has been your approach with regard to how much you've covered pastry chefs? Any comments in general as to whether we're gaining recognition and appreciation at an acceptable rate? From the large group of chefs and pastry chefs that you've come to know and work with, can you make any generalizations with regard to personality, temperament, drive, inventiveness, or passion? Are you noticing a growing number of pastry chefs that indeed are thinking like 'savory' chefs, not just in terms of style or execution, but also toward marketing and business-related goals?
When Andrew MacLauchlan's Becoming a Pastry Chef appeared, one couldn't help but notice the similarities to your first two books. What did you think of his book, and did he consult you at all in his research? Do you feel there may be potential for pastry-specific books, written from the same perspective as your work?
Posted 25 September 2003 - 10:12 AM
Great questions/comments/observations -- thanks for posting them! We're happy to know how helpful you've found both BECOMING A CHEF and CULINARY ARTISTRY to your career development -- and hope you'll enjoy THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF just as much!
In the new edition of BECOMING A CHEF coming out next month, we interviewed several additional bakers and/or pastry chefs (including Gina DePalma of Babbo, Marcel Desaulniers of The Trellis, Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread) to get their take on the field.
Emily seemed to share your concern that pastry too often used to go overlooked ("pastry was an after-thought") -- but also observed how that seems to be changing, with more books and TV shows featuring pastry chefs (e.g. from Gale Gand to Jacques Torres). She also said that pastry has become so important in its own right in restaurants that it's unlikely that anyone today would be promoted from line cook to pastry chef (as she was at STARS)!
Andrew helped Lydia Shire open Biba in Boston in 1990, and credits her with respecting desserts as much as savory food -- so much so that she was one of the first chefs to lead the charge in pricing desserts like appetizers. Virtually no one else was charging $7+ for desserts at that time -- certainly not in Boston! Lord knows the extraordinary desserts of pastry chef Rick Katz (ex-Spago and Stars) were worth it!!
The new edition of BECOMING A CHEF goes into some of your questions about the distinctions between personalities that tend to gravitate toward the line versus pastry. In a nutshell, the former ("savory" cooks) tend to love the action and the adrenaline and teamwork of cooking during "dinner rush," while the latter ("sweet" cooks or bakers) tend to prefer having a little more control, precision, and independence. In Myers-Briggs terms, Karen would stereotype line cooks as more ESTP and pastry cooks/bakers as more INFJ -- but she admits that's a pretty broad generalization. (Gina DePalma of Babbo characterizes the differences as, "Pastry is much more thoughtful and, to some, more tedious than blasting out prep for service!"
In the new book, we also differentiate between bread bakers and pastry chef. As bread baker extraordinaire Amy Scherber describes it, "Bread baking is technical, but pastry is more exact." She also jokes that the stereotypes she saw in France were that the pastry chefs were "sugar hounds," while the bread bakers were "Mr. (or Ms.) Natural." ; )
Karen & Andrew