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Choosing A Pastry School


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#1 nightscotsman

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Posted 19 November 2002 - 02:37 PM

I've been in the process of making the decision to change careers to become a pastry chef for the last year. Having finally made up my mind that is what I really want to do, I've been given the kick in the butt, er... "opportunity" to follow my dream due to my recent layoff. Fortunately this was not completely unexpected and I have enough money saved up to afford to go pretty much wherever I want. During the past year I've done a lot a reading, research and talking to people, but now that it's time to take the next step, I find I could really use a little more advice in making the very important choice of which school to attend. Here's a bit about where I'm coming from and what I've done so far:

I have no professional experience, but I have done quite a bit of practice and testing on my own. I realize that baking at home hardly compares with what a professional pastry cook or chef does, but I have done some fairly ambitious stuff and I'm not coming right out of high school. I do plan on talking with some local pastry chefs about volunteering for a stage (now that I have the time) to get my feet wet.

Right now I'm mostly drawn to plated desserts for fine dining restaurants. I like the idea of dessert being a part of a larger concept and experience as well as the creative possibilities of a la minute plating and presentation. But once I get some training and experience in the real world my focus may well change. I would like to keep an open mind at this point and get a broad exposure to techniques and styles.

So far I've visited the pastry programs at the Seattle community colleges, and while they have a good reputation locally and seem like solid programs, I don't think I would be satisfied with them for several reasons: 1) they are 18 months long and at my age (38) I don't have time to waste learning stuff I don't need and not making money. 2) For community colleges they are ambitious, but not really at the level I would like to be working at. 3) The instructors are connected to the local restaurant and pastry scene, but again, I would like to work at a higher level than that. Having gone to art school to get my degree in graphic design, I know all about "getting out of your education what you put into it", but I also know that connections and contacts are vitally important to getting a running start out of school.

I've also visited a couple of schools in Vancouver BC, and while they look to be very good, I thought their pastry programs were not their strong suit.

Steve Klc has recommended the French Pastry School in Chicago in the past and I would be very interested in hearing more about their program and what makes them special. They are definitely on my list of schools to visit.

I've been looking into the French Culinary Institute and the Institute for Culinary Education in New York and would appreciate any insights and opinions about their pastry programs. I plan to visit these schools as well.

Lenotre in Paris would be a fabulous experience I'm sure, but I know maybe 5 words of French and I'm afraid the language and cultural barriers would hamper my training. Though I haven't completely ruled them out, or the possibility of a post-school apprenticeship in Paris.

After looking into the CIA I've pretty much ruled them out due to the length of the program and the very high cost. But I would be willing to reconsider if I heard some strong arguments in their favor. Same for Johnson and Wales.

Some have advised me to skip school and just apprentice with people I respect, but I really want to get a strong foundation in classic techniques as well as develop some self-confidence (hopefully not arrogance) before diving into a high-intensity kitchen environment.

Are there any other top flight pastry programs that I've overlooked and should consider? Where would you go knowing what you know now?

Thanks very much!

#2 Schielke

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Posted 19 November 2002 - 04:49 PM

Hello? Nightscotsman? We need another Melody cake! G.W. is getting testy, hurry!

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Seriously though, I hope you find the program that is right for you!

Ben
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I have two words for America... Meat Crust.
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#3 nightscotsman

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Posted 19 November 2002 - 05:40 PM

Thanks!

wow, I've put on weight...

#4 KarenS

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Posted 19 November 2002 - 07:20 PM

I am a pastry chef, and I have been one for 12 years. Before that I did savory for 6 years. (which I believe made me much better at pastry). You seem to have a passion about pastry (which is the most important thing). I need to ask you a few questions.
1) How is your physical and mental health? This is a very greuling profession- hard on your body and your mind. Do you think that you could be on your feet for 12 hours? Can you carry 50#?
2) Are you willing to give up your weekends, holidays, and evenings for quite a long time?
3) Can you wake up at 3:30 a.m.?

I would suggest working in a restaurant; remember that restaurant work can take awhile to get used to. Many people think that they aren't going to make it at first. See if you can find a place where you can work as a plater for some time.

Production (which is tremendous multi-tasking and technique), is something you should also try. You may be able to find a place that would allow you help in cookie dough production or dough production).

I went to school (in France) after I had worked every station (plus prep). I was fast and organised as a line cook. One of the hardest things to teach (and learn) is a sense of urgency.

Technique is something learned in school and on the job. I have had cooks straight out of school that were used to spending a lot of time on one cake.
I have had cooks that didn't learn how to do sheet cakes (or petit fours).
If you have the time (and the money) - go beg the pastry chef at the best restaurant that you can think of (and high volumne) if you could volunteer for awhile. My other advice is to go to France.
Good luck! If you are obsessed and passionate you are ready for "the journey".

#5 heyjude

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Posted 19 November 2002 - 08:38 PM

Told ya so.
Make your trips and then make up your mind. There is no way you can't be a success.
Judy Amster
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#6 chefette

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Posted 20 November 2002 - 10:52 AM

Hi Nightscottsman

A young woman was recently asking me about pastry school and Steve thought I ought to post some of the thoughts I sent her. (Just my humble opinion. I know there are many others out there who really should chime in on this - including Elizabeth 11):

This woman has actually had some professional experience, (in a bakery during a summer during college and then working summers at restaurants and coffeehouses during college,) professionals she has spoken with often discourage a "traditional" sort of schooling. One of her concerns like yours is how to 'break into' the profession. By this I think that you have concerns that your skill sets will not be competitive in the workplace.

You might want to consider taking the money you would spend at a school and parcelling it out to specialists to acquire the best skill sets that focus on precicely what you are interested in over the course of a year or so. I would think that a catering company might offer you better financial rewards and opportunities to try your hand at a more varried and decorative set of pastries. Meanwhile, Ewald Notter's school that offers short focused courses head and shoulders above anything you could ever hope to get out of most regular pastry schools, The French Pastry School in Chicago also offers focused one-week courses that feature world-renowned amazing chefs as instructors.

This is not to say that the professional pastry programs offered by schools such as FCI or ICE are not worthy. They certainly familiarize you with the techniques, skills, equipment, ingredients, and recipes commonly used in traditional French Pastry.

My point is, think about what it is you are really wanting out of this and
then think about what your options are and see if plopping down
thousands for one school is really in your best interests or not as a career changer especially.

Another thing to consider when you voice your concerns about gaining a background in Classical Techniques is this: how relevant are these techniques really in modern and developing pastry? This is not to say that you should not have these skills, just that - like food - pastry is changing and becomming less traditional. Part of your investment in the profession should be viewing the field - market research. Know the field, know the competitors, become aware of the distinctions in quality.

I hope that others such as Steve Klc, Lesley C, Patrice, MLPC, etc will add their insights here for your benefit, and that Elizabeth 11 who went out on a limb and dove in to pastry will also weigh in with her experiences and thoughts.

I hope this is helpful.

#7 nightscotsman

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Posted 20 November 2002 - 04:41 PM

KarenS - Thanks for the advice :smile: . I have asked myself many of these questions, which is why it's taken so long to make my decision. I do realize there will be challenges and I believe I have the "passion and obsession" to overcome them, but I also know that no matter how much and research I do beforehand, there will be surprises. I will just have to cross those bridges when I come to them.

May I ask what school you attended in France? I took a trip there earlier this year mostly to research and experience French pastry, chocolate and restaurants and was deeply inspired, though I know I only scratched the surface.

Chefette - Thank you for your advice as well :smile:. Your suggestion about taking an alternate path than a full-on pastry program has been echoed by several other people I've heard from. I can see the advantages of this approach: less costly, more focused learning, specialist instructors, etc. I had forgotten about Ewald Notter and I will definitely look into his school.

I do think learning classic techniques is very important, even if I end up not using them at all on the job. In design school I had a class on letterforms where most of what we did was hand draw classical typefaces and develop variations on classic fonts. When I starting working as a graphic designer, did I hand draw the type on my projects? Of course not, but from that experience I had a very deep understanding about why certain typefaces and letterforms are drawn they way they are and I could use them more appropriately and creatively. In the same way I want to get a very broad and deep exposure to techniques and ingredients so that I can better understand what has gone before and how to eventually launch my own vision.

I keep drawing on my experience going to school and working as a graphic designer, because I think there are many parallels with pastry. One of which is that it is very possible to work as a designer - and even become great - without attending any art or design school, but it is rare that self-taught people get as far as those who have trained with good teachers, and it usually takes them much longer to get access to higher level jobs and respect in the industry. Sure there are mavericks that will always rise to the top no matter what they do. I don't believe that I am one of those people. My successes usually come from hard, focused work in a structured environment. This is why I've been primarily interested in schools with comprehensive programs rather than hopping between specialists, but I've been hearing this advice from so many people that I see I should take it more seriously.

Thank you for the thought provoking replies :smile:

#8 Lesley C

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Posted 20 November 2002 - 09:00 PM

KarenS made some great points about the brutal reality behind the job. One of the reasons I had to stop being a pastry chef is because I just couldn't take 12 hours on my feet anymore, and I was in pretty good shape at the time. Also, the 3:30 wake-up call is something your body seems to fight constantly. And with that kind of schedule, you have little or no social life. I loved being a pastry chef and I miss it every day. But boy...the lifestyle sucked -- BIG TIME.
If your heart is set on it though, I'd recommend going to school just to get the papers and a chance to fiddle around and make some goofy mistakes before setting foot in a professional kitchen, where, unless you meet some brilliant mentor type, you might get stuck doing menial tasks forever. I remember spending time with people who begged me to hire them to learn, and after a few months they would skip out for a better-paying job. So eventually, not to waste any more time teaching on the job, I would only hire pros. It's all a business, with everyone out for themselves. Get training first, at a reputable school with a good placement office. I never had to go out looking for a job, either my teachers or my school placement centre found them for me. And that includes stages in France.
BTW, the older you are (especially over 25) the harder it will be. I once met an excellent French chef who told me his biggest regret was that he didn't start younger -- and he started at 18.

#9 tchorst

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Posted 20 November 2002 - 09:43 PM

nightscotsman,

After 12 years in pastry, I still spend most of my time thinking about it. I took a little time off in the late nineties to take an easy desk job, but still went back after two years. It's something that's in you.

I'm of the opinion that you should get your feet wet before entering a school. I've hired a lot of people out of school who couldn't keep up the pace and enthusiasm for long. I think the drive to seek out good people to work for and learn from shows in those self-taught. For the older career changers, I'd probably be more apt to hire one with new practical experience than a newly schooled cook.

If you know what interests you, seek out those that are the best at it and learn from them. Whether it's restaurant, patissiere, sugar or chocolate work. That's where the specialized schools come in, like the French Pastry School in Chicago. On the other hand, I thought the best thing about a culinary school was the enormous amount of information on hand, both print and from instructors. It's a great memory for me.

Just my two cents, hope this helps...


Tim Horst
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#10 Steve Klc

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 08:03 AM

Fantastic comments all around so far, I'll try to give you a few other things to think about Scots. Karen and Tim have been in pastry longer than I have, actually, I changed careers at 32 and am now 42. Lesley really KNOWS her stuff and among us the only one to have authored an incredible book on making pastry. Chefette changed careers as well, even more recently. So in a sense you're considering the road we already took and looking back, I still feel your desire and wish I had had the option then to discuss things with an assembled crew like this! I hope you realize how lucky you are--from the tone of your writing and the effort you're putting into it--I can tell you do.

I'm wholeheartedly with Lesley on the value of a degree or at least attending a good professional program with a broad general exposure to all things pastry and baking. It does give you a foundation and time to consider all your options--to figure out what it is you actually like and enjoy doing. But Lesley's experiences and exposures have been to schools in France and Canada and come from a era passing us by. The problem at present and in the US is it's not like these ideal degrees or programs exist all over the place, indeed, if they exist at all anymore. Most general schools are underwhelming when it comes to pastry. I've seen, taught and demonstrated at many of the best schools, I'm intimately familiar with the curriculum of 4 of them and I'd have to say that general entry-level cooking education is at a much higher level than general pastry education. And--a serious question you have to ask yourself as an older career-changer--will I ever earn my way out of the financial hole I'm putting myself into by shelling out for tuition? Certainly not by making $8 to $10 an hour.

Schools and chefs have cared more about cooking than pastry, often pastry can seem like the forgotten stepchild even at otherwise good cooking schools with top cooking programs--the CIA, embarrassingly, has a chef, Victor A. L. Gielisse, as the dean of their pastry and baking instruction; at FCI, for instance, it is chef-instructors--not the pastry chef instructors--who teach the professional culinary students their crude, antiquated pastry and desserts, deal with them in the restaurant, with much less focus and resulting level of achievement; and as Malawry has indicated in her very revealing diary--she isn't being taught the bulk of her pastry by a pastry chef at L'Academie, but by her chef-instructors. And frankly, most chefs are neither skilled nor inspired enough to care about desserts. But then it is much easier to cook fairly well than it is to do pastry fairly well, so we're stuck in this kind of self-perpetuating cycle of diminished dessert expectation and appreciation.

First off, as a career changer you're in a different boat than the kids coming out of high school--you're a creative, smart, older professional--and if I were you I wouldn't even consider the factories since you are already way behind the career arc of others in the field--as Lesley mentioned all these French pastry chefs coming to America have been working since they were 13. (I usually don't recommend the pseudo-college multi-year CIA/Johnson & Wales degree experience anyway, but then that's just me. For youngsters, most of the time I recommend going to a real college anyway, getting the best broad traditional university education you can with some emphasis in business, computers, fine arts, design, culture, but work part time in food somehow all the way through, and try to talk yourself out of becoming a chef or pastry chef the whole way through. That gives kids real career options. After college there is plenty of opportunity for you to throw it all away for food.)

But that costs money--and for some younger kids just out of high school without those resources or those options cooking can also be seen as more vocational or like a trade school--but you're not in that category either. You don't want or need an associates degree.

You are, in fact, the typical smart, hopeful, eager student these schools with 6 month short term, full time intensive professional pastry programs hope to attract or lure into their programs--suckers with a not-fully-realized goal and just enough money to dream. (I was one of those suckers, went to L'Academie in '92, and things have worked out ok for me so far; chefette also went off to pastry school, FCI, in her mid-30's.)

FCI (and to a lesser extent L'Academie) are the models for you to consider and in my opinion FCI has the best overall program--better than L'Academie's part-time program and all the other comparable NYC programs. They set the standard which all the other schools and programs must be considered against. Beautiful facilities, fulltime, in and out in 6 months, a restaurant-oriented, classic French but modern-leaning curriculum developed by an elite French pastry chef (Jacques Torres--at 28 he was the best pastry chef in the world and is still revered post-Le Cirque 2000) geared to restaurant work (which is where most will likely work), you're totally immersed in an amazing pastry city surrounded by media and so many of the best pastry chefs in the country and FCI does enable you to potentially network more easily within this community. As you suspect, one of the main reasons to go to school is to get networked--to get the door opened for you a little more easily. As a possible career-changer in NYC, Scots, in addition to FCI I'd give strong consideration to ICE/Peter Kump's, though can no longer recommend NYRS.

(Not for purposes of this immediate discussion, but for younger students who happen to read this thread down the road--in NYC I highly recommend the NYC Technical College for their degree program as long as Francis Lorenzini and Louise Hoffman are still professors there.)

Back to FCI and negatives for you to consider: it is expensive, very very expensive--but at least the expense is not diluted by having to pay for externship clock hours. And despite the excellent curriculum, despite the reputation of the school, despite the location--your experience will still largely depend on who you get as a teacher there--it's not Jacques, who was paid for the curriculum and presumably is paid to give demos and have his name affiliated with the school. So with all this going on for the school--any school--it always comes down to the actual instructor level--who is teaching your class on a day to day basis. And frankly, full time instructors at this and other cooking schools can be less experienced, less successful, less highly regarded within the industry, less likely to be as talented as the best people working in the field: the pay isn't as good as it should be in order to attract and retain "the best", school administrations don't value their teachers or compensate them as well as they should given the high cost of tuition, etc. It isn't easy to get real information and the schools themselves are certainly not going to help you figure this out--they want to cash your check.

On that note, what distinguishes L'Academie most in my mind is the dedication and commitment of their pastry instructor, Mark Ramsdell, who taught me back in '92 and is still there doing the bulk, if not all, of the professional pastry instruction--he's a consummate teaching professional, changed careers himself and is the best thing about that school. Of course, you have to weigh the fact that it is in Gaithersburg, and, well, Gaithersburg, and DC for that matter, is not New York City. (You don't need to go to school in order to land a job making lemon curd tarts or apple pies or bread pudding.) Plus, from reading Malawry's diary I believe they are revamping their pastry program--so check the new cost and time commitment. I'm against this whole "paying tuition in order to extern somewhere" scam as a way of extending your education--your time at the school. I am in favor of the FCI model for career changers--6 months full time instruction, extern on your own time while you are in school. If you go to L'Academie, go there for Mark, but be leery of paying money just to extern. It's still essentially a 300 hour part-time program spread out over 24 weeks--12 hours instruction per week--followed by another 300 hours of externship. But why pay after-tax dollars for an externship earning you back $7 or $8 dollars an hour if you are lucky? You can extern on your own and spend your money elsewhere to much greater effect. (More on that later.)

So, the biggest question you'd have to ask yourself about L'Academie--what are you going to do for the 24 weeks when I'm only in class for 12 hours per week? And if you start working in the field during those 24 weeks to fill up the time--to accelerate your progress--why continue with an externship?

I have to admit I always get a chuckle when I receive the big CIA bulletins in the mail--very rarely will the actual instructor be mentioned. For them, it isn't about the specific course instructor--well guess what? It is. After location, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR. A good, motivated instructor can transcend material or location and really connect with you, really impart knowledge and motivation and get you thinking critically about the difference between good, pretty good and great. So wherever you consider going--be it the CIA or FCI or ?--press them to name the instructor for your course--and then find out from current and recent students what they thought of that instructor, their background, achievements, etc. Is that instructor's own work good--is he/she currently working in the field, doing or creating or only working in the classroom, teaching? Sit in on classes but realize current students don't know anything--they're still hopeful and chipper and stupid--better to ask grads 2-5 years out of the program. Find out how many are working "in the field." Again, this kind of information is not readily made available to prospective students--who'd willingly disclose that only 2 career-changers out of a class of 10 are actually employed doing pastry x years down the road? (I sense the majority of pastry career-changers leave the field, or never really entered it to begin with, finding it too tough to make a living for too little reward.) But you have to consider this--especially if you expect to make a name for yourself and make a living doing pastry rather than as a hobby.

Another comment typically uttered by some giving advice, which I think is a complete crock, is that it doesn't matter where you go to school--it just matters how much you put into it. Sorry, if you choose to go to pastry school at bumfuck community college in a lousy market with a lousy teacher surrounded by lousy restaurants with bitter old frustrated pastry chefs fearing life has passed them by you're screwed no matter how much you put into it. You're hindered not helped and you've wasted your time. That said--I have met very talented, incredibly dedicated teachers toiling away in the hinterlands who you could learn alot from to get you grounded--and then go off to work later in an elite food city.

I agree with the others who have said that you need to get thee into a pastry stage or trailing situation immediately at the best restaurant, caterer, patisserie near you and start seeing what the job is like--this job that you are thinking of chucking away your career for. You have to have this under your belt and it will make your potential school experience more valuable--should you eventually decide to go to school somewhere. We've discussed this here on the site with Elizabeth 11 and others so find those threads so I don't have to re-write that again. Call up Kerry Sear at Cascadia and offer to work for free helping him prep or plate desserts--and if not Kerry, someone else elite or with name recognition. At this point it doesn't matter where or what you actually think--you need to do. Tell these chefs you are older, reliable, professional, willing to do anything to get your foot in the door--and then bust your butt, work quietly, work "small," move quickly and don't ask alot of stupid questions. You will likely work alongside prep cooks from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, who don't speak English and do all of this better and faster than you do anyway, so learn some Spanish. Make the chef glad he gave you a chance.

Now--for another perspective that I'm coming around to as I see the way the industry has changed over the years, as I've seen pastry people make names for themselves--you really don't have to go to school. There are plenty of working pastry pros--schooled or not-- who have lousy skill sets, turning out numbingly routine desserts with little thought or creativity. You don't have to go to school for that. If you are smart and creative and have some cash, there is something to be said for spending some of your money to travel extensively, especially abroad to Spain and France, to taste and eat your way through some of the better restaurants and pastry shops and chocolate shops to develop your palate. Eat classic and cutting edge. You will not develop your palate IN school but outside of school. Meet pastry chefs, write them, talk your way into their kitchens and shops for stages of varying lengths--build up (pad) your resume and absorb all this like a sponge. Start reading French and Spanish pastry books NOW. Go visit Patrice in Montreal and visit Michael in Detroit and Eric Bedoucha at Bayards in NYC and Paul Connors in Minneapolis and Bill Yosses at Citarella and Herme, of course Herme, and Conticini at Peltier and go to Spain and visit El Bulli, from which this new sense of pastry, this synergy of chef & pastry chef all springs, and then Espai Sucre and Rovira and... As chefette mentioned in her post restaurant pastry is changing dramatically, many working pastry chefs and bakers are being left behind, though PA&D, the French and the schools don't want you to realize that just yet. The schools don't want you to hear this, but frankly, they're not keeping up either in talent, staff, techniques, value, relevance or flavor.

And that's where the value of this mixed use approach might benefit you--though laid off, maybe freelance or consult part-time so money keeps rolling in and start working somewhere immediately, for free, to see what the "job" is like; start travelling immediately with a pastry orientation in mind, especially to Paris and Spain for some patisseries and 3-star Michelin meals, write ahead and talk your way into kitchens for short-medium length stages--and then when you have some critical mass under your belt consider taking week-long classes with great people at places like the French Pastry School or Ewald Notter's school. Not that they are all necessarily better "teachers," being a top pastry chef doesn't mean you can teach, but add up a bunch of specialized classes and you have been exposed to a broad general education of elite work conducted at a very accomplished level. And you will have saved a TON of money that you will have spent better elsewhere. (Or which could be invested in yourself--in a small chocolate business or specialty cake business or bakery, etc.)

Bottom line: there's a higher standard out there that general schools are not meeting and that, frankly, most working pastry chefs and bakers are not meeting either. You need to seek out, experience and taste that higher standard--see if you have what it takes inside yourself--the desire, the spark, the ambition, some hope to develop the skills or palate-- and then make up your own mind whether you want to spend your life meeting it, surpassing it or settling for some mid-level mediocrity.

And all of this is compressed for you because you are 38. But I am a firm believer that it is not your age that counts, it is not about paying your dues--it is about what you can do and discovering what you are meant to do. And rest assured there is no one right way to pursue this--so try to find the way that works for you.
Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant
Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

#11 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 08:28 AM

So Steve

1) Would you say that you are actually sort of suprised and taken aback at the mediocre level of most pastry in most restaurants today given the increasing number of talented, artistic, passionate people out there who have experience, who have skill sets because they care, think, went to school, travelled, read, etc???????

2A) Do you think it is the fault of pastry professionals for not putting the effort in, or 2B) do you think the skills and the talent are out there but that people are being constrained by Exec chefs and restauranteurs who do not think that it is worth it to put in the effort and go the extra mile.

3A) Do you think that the reason you get a specuacular, creative, and amusing appetizer and maincourse followed by a huge blob af bread pudding or a slice of cake with a circle of strawberry sauce regardless of whether it makes sense is because of the pastry people or 3B) because of the owners and exec chefs?

4) It seems to me that there is probably more free flying capability out there now than ever before just that it is not given an opportunity.

#12 Steve Klc

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 08:34 AM

1) Yes, but this is slowly changing;

2A) Sometimes and 2B) most definitely yes;

3A) Yes, to a certain extent, because pastry people with less training and experience are being hired for jobs sooner with decreaasing salaries, staff and budget, but I place blame much more squarely on the shoulders of 3B) chefs and owners who no longer are committed to dessert or operate under the delusion they can do an adequate job themselves;

4) Yes.
Steve Klc

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Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

#13 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 08:59 AM

OK Steve, Lesley, Tim, Karen, Michael, Patrice, Meredith...et al

If you were given the opportunity to devise a really worthwhile pastry education for yourself (given that you were between 28 and 35) or someone else at this point in time, what would it be like? What classes would you invest in? What schools would you take those classes at? What teachers/professionals would you pay to receive info from?

What people or restaurants would you try to stage with/at? What would you specifically ask the chef to share with you during your opportunity?

What restaurants, pastry shops, chocolatiers would you visit?

What books would be part of your curriculum? What periodicals should an aspiring pastry person be perusing? What is it that you would be looking for as discriminators to emulate?

What would you specifically NOT do?

How much time, effort, and money do you think you would spend on your program?

What do you think are the drawbacks of changing careers? Do you think it IS possible to "pay your dues" in this field and pull even with respected professionals in the field?

#14 Steve Klc

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 09:14 AM

You do realize how daunting that last post is, don't you chefette?
Steve Klc

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Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

#15 Schielke

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 09:34 AM

Keep these great replies coming please! This is very compelling!

Ben
Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster



I have two words for America... Meat Crust.
-Mario

#16 Michael Laiskonis

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 10:26 AM

There are so many issues here worthy of discussion!

I'm short on time now, but I've quoted myself from a similar thread started over the summer. I would preface this by saying if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would have travelled and staged more when I had the advantage of youth and no commitments; I didn't have the money either, but that is beside the point! But I offer my methods of learning for whatever it is worth...

For whatever success I've achieved (the personal gratification, though elusive to a lot of perfectionist pastry chefs, weighs more heavily than press, or even peer attention and must come first), I attribute tons of luck (meeting and impressing the 'right' people, chefs that have encouraged my enthusiasm for the new), self-motivation, and of course, all the hours of work and trial/error. And I can't emphasize enough the value of being able to taste as much as possible, potentially being geographically-challenged aside.

As for formal schooling, I can't honestly voice too strong an opinion either way. I've seen a range in skills from recent graduates and I tend to look more at personal drive and practical work experience.

I have taken on stages already running pastry kitchens, aspiring pastry cooks looking for experience, non-professionals just looking to learn, and coincidentally, this week took on my first 'career changer', who has no experience, but is looking to enter the field. It will be interesting to see how this works out, for her and for me!

I really have to sign off, but look forward to checking in later and exploring some of chefette's (always!) probing queries!


Wow, lots of great reading here!

It makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking some 8 years ago as I embarked on this journey of a career! I never would have thought that the 'temporary' job in a tiny bakery would lead to where I've traveled since. Following the path of the 'self-taught' or on-the-job trial by fire can be risky, humiliating, and humbling, yet satisfying too. But then someone observing from the outside may say I haven't had much of a life, which may be true, but I'm proud of what I've accomplished...

I will not do a disservice to Steve's amazing posts by trying to add to them, but I will offer some different thoughts...

Lacking the formal technical training of pastry, and relying mostly on books and a ton of trial and error (and tasting, tasting, tasting), I saw some benefit in picking a particular style or individual pastry chef that I aspired to and locking on to their methods and ideas. This allowed me some focus and certain parameters in which to experiment. When I felt I exhausted that particular style (in a training wheels sort of way), I adopted another hero and set to the same task, though applying what I had learned from the previous source. I was free (and a bit ignorant) to keep or toss what was relevant to me. Mind you, this 'method' came to me later, as I wasn't conscious of doing it at the time. While I began reading anything I could get my hands on (the four volume Professional French Pastry series was a constant companion), my first big influence was Andrew MacLauchlin, formerly of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. His first book blew my mind! He was cooking seasonally, minimally, with flavor as the priority, and stunning, elegant presentation that seemed to emerge as a mere afterthought. Once I felt I had 'graudated' Andrew (boy, was I naïve!), I moved to the quite different approach of Lindsey Shere and the Chez Panisse school. Here, again, the flavors and seasons and just the right products tought me more on how to taste, and the effort necessary to preserve that taste that nature offers. A beautiful collection of Le Bernardin-era desserts from Payard in an ancient Art Culinaire made me an instant fan of his. From Payard, I came to appreciate the updating of the French classics, but also I began to study the 'inner' architecture of his desserts. For the time, his plated desserts had some of the most stunning presentations, without resorting to overt architecturalism. I began to understand the interplay and balance of a dessert- just the right crunch, smoothed by a touch of cream, cut by the perfect amount of fruit...

I moved on, and with each 'self-guided tour' I began to feel as if all these influences were beginning to filter through my own thought processes, which, by now, I had hoped, were strengthened by a foundation of accumulated technique. The luxury of time, not caring about my poverty, and working for a chef that encouraged this kind of growth certainly all counted in my favor.

These days I still have my idols, but the learning process has changed somewhat. With experience comes a fair amount of intuition, self-ignited bursts of creativity, and a 'style' that continues to evolve and approach, I hope, greater levels of refinement. But I revel in the fact that this job will continue to be a learning experience and that the lessons most often come from those I consider my peers now.

Being in the position of meeting and interviewing my share of up- and -coming pastry cooks, I often ask two questions: Whom in the profession do you admire most and why? What goals do you intend to reach in two years? Five years? Ten years? Those basic questions can speak volumes about a person. For anyone getting started those are the questions that matter most. And as time goes on, one has to keep asking those questions, because old goals are achieved, or may have to be altered, and new faces and forces become worthy of our admiration. Once asked, one might find the answers to other questions...

...whom do you admire, and what goals would you set for yourself in the near, mid and far futures?


Michael Laiskonis
Pastry Chef
New York
www.michael-laiskonis.com

#17 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 11:33 AM

I think that Eskimo's question about who to look to is a good one. People entering the field do not necessarily have any real perspective and do not know who is who. Everyone is sort of in a big glimmery blob all looking vaguely the same, and an outsider's judgement of who is 'good' and worthy of emulating would be vastly vastly different. For that matter a newcomer's view of what constitutes excellent or modern pastry would be very very different.

Who are the people that aspiring pastry people should be looking to, what elements and styles should they pay attention to? I look back at some of the pastry books that I bought and was all wowed by before I started and now I see that much of what excited me about the desserts pictured was artifice and photography. I think that many things someone inside the field knows to be old fashioned and ho hum look like amazing wonders to newbies who have never even seen it before. I think this is one of the really intriguing elements of professional pastry and a real quandy for learners - that what we have grown up with (especially in the US - and especially outside of NYC) is such a tiny tedious little chunk of what is out there. So much of 'pastry' is the stuff of legends and myths to most people. If french meringue is a thrilling new experience and nougatine is something no one has ever seen before what does that say?

I know I have digressed some from the topic here, but I think that people entering the field need tools and information to help them along their decision paths and to help them make the most out of their experience that they can.

I think Steve Klc for one does not want to see another herd of fresh pastry students rushing out to make eclairs covered with fondant, and huge chocolate layer cakes wrapped in modelling chocolate that are sliced up, served with mass produced sauces purely for color accent, and served with bad coffee. He, and his brethren want to see flavor, texture, temperature, and color used with a creative artistic hand that is in keeping with the food presented by an establishment. I think he thinks many of the desserts being served in many fine establishments are tantamount to getting a corn dog as an appetizer at Ducasse.

#18 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 11:43 AM

I just left a note on Eskimo's thread and had a thought.

Nightscotsman and Eskimo are basically asking the same question about entering the field. The big difference is location. If I understand correctly, Nighscotsman is on the west coast in the northwest? and Eskimo is is DC.

Do any of the others of you reading this feel that their relative locations will impact their best course of action? What are some of the key elements?

Age? Sex? Physical location? Language skills? Artistry? Pastry and Baking Background? Cooking experience (food)?

#19 Steve Klc

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 12:09 PM

What it says is we have to make a better effort at education and raising awareness and being critical of uninspired work, of chefs mailing it in and of chefs not caring as much about dessert as the meal which preceeded it. And we have to do this in such a way that customers and restaurant critics take it seriously.

You are like the Pastry Energizer Bunny, Chefette, you just keep going and going and pushing this into more areas. Your last post was wonderful, by the way, synthesizing and capturing my fears exactly.

But I think part of the problem is we're seeing so many of the classics disappear--without learning the lessons of the classics, what made them "classic" to begin with--they were good. Lesley mentioned this on another thread, which I took exception to in that context, but it really comes into play here. I wouldn't mind seeing warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, on many menus, if it were drop dead good. Same with creme brulee, those eclairs, those crappy American-style layer cakes--but they have to be good more often than not. What good is retaining the "classics," giving ourselves over to stasis, if the classics we have available underwhelm?
Steve Klc

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Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

#20 Lesley C

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 12:14 PM

I’m surprised you guys talk about restaurant work so much. My entire program was “patisserie de boutique.” The “patisserie de restauration” program in Quebec is an option for cooking students interested in taking a specialty course in restaurant pastry work. Interesting. I worked in Yves Thuriès’ restaurant in Cordes, and despite the high level of the desserts produced, I hardly found it as interesting as the pastry work I had seen in patisseries. Here in Montreal, the top pastry chefs aren’t in the restaurants (Patrice aside, of course). Then again, pastry chefs in Montreal appear to be a dying breed. It’s scandalous what’s going on in this city.

Now to Chefette’s questions:

If you were given the opportunity to devise a really worthwhile pastry education for yourself (given that you were between 28 and 35) or someone else at this point in time, what would it be like? What classes would you invest in? What schools would you take those classes at? What teachers/professionals would you pay to receive info from?

I wouldn’t change the way I learned one bit. Two years in patisserie/boulangerie at the Institut de Tourisme et d’Hotellerie du Quebec (government school, therefore education – in French -- is FREE) followed by a third year of chocolaterie, glacerie et confiserie with an excellent teacher, Jacques Noeninger. Stages with MOF in France where I worked like a dog for no money. You have to do a stage in France just to see how fast and well young French pastry chefs work. Beautiful technique! I feel sorry for Americans who have to pay big bucks for a decent pastry education. What do the kids with no money do…the ones who would end up as pastry chefs in Europe? Seems to me the Americans have things backwards. No matter how far the profession has come, cooking remains a blue-collar job.

What people or restaurants would you try to stage with/at? What would you specifically ask the chef to share with you during your opportunity?

I’d just try to find someone who has great technique, patience, and is kind. I’ve worked long hours with some pretty sadistic big-name chefs (w a c k o s) and I wouldn’t want to repeat that experience. I don’t necessarily think apprenticing with a star chef is important if you have strong ideas of your own, which I always did. I’d ask the chef to help me work fast and clean, and put me in some high pressure situations once and a while.

What restaurants, pastry shops, chocolatiers would you visit?

Sorry, but restaurant desserts just don’t do it for me like patisseries, boulangeries and chocolateries. I visited Riederer, Philippe Segond’s place, in Aix-en-Provence last year and I liked all the flashy perfection, even if everything tasted was a bit dull. I love Ladurée because it’s so romantic. Dalloyau used to be excellent, and Fauchon -- in good years -- can be awe-inspiring. I loved, loved Wittamer in Brussels, but Payard in NY left me cold. City Bakery is good fun, modern and original. Hévin, Chaudun and La Maison du Choc in Paris are magical. But there are just so many wonderful little-known pastry shops in France. I remember great patisseries in Orleans, Poitiers and a great chocolatier in St-Malo that were just as inspiring as Fauchon. Poilane is just so French and – pardon the expression – classy. I’m dying to get to Demel in Vienna one day.


What books would be part of your curriculum? What periodicals should an aspiring pastry person be perusing? What is it that you would be looking for as discriminators to emulate?

When I started out I liked Nancy Silverton’s Dessert book and the Patisserie book by the Roux brothers, and they still hold their own. So many of the great professional pastry books are French. At one time Joel Bellouet’s books were terrific but now they seem dated. The first two Thuriès books are still amazing as is the series of Traité de Patisserie Artisanal. L’Art de Chocolat by Pascal Brunstein is inspiring as is his book on petits fours. My favourite Swiss books are from the Richemont School, La Patisserie Suisse, La Confiserie Suisse and La Boulangerie Suisse. Frederic Bau’s chocolate book and Pierre Hermé’s professional books are also inspiring.The Michel Bras book is good but it’s so personal; I had a hard time delving into his very French-specific world.
In English, I like the homey stuff like Baking with Julia. Books like Charlie Trotter’s desserts just make me roll my eyes -- guess I’m a sucker for the classics. The only magazines I enjoy are Thuriès Magazine (I have most of them) and I used to like reading through Le Journal du Patissier (does that still exist?). In the States, I think you have to have a look at Martha Stewart Living Magazine (you’d be surprised how many great ideas I’ve gotten from that mag), and especially the Weddings issues for cakes. Food Arts is great, but Pastry Arts and Design and Chocolatier aren’t my taste.

What would you specifically NOT do?

Steve mentioned a very important point about not all schools being good. I’d make sure NOT to waste time with crappy chefs with inflated egos. Working with a bad pastry chef is demoralizing and a complete waste of time. There are many bullshit artists out there.

How much time, effort, and money do you think you would spend on your program?

Here in Quebec, the best school is free. And I liked the three-year format with stages in between. I also worked mornings during my third year of school -- we were encouraged to.

What do you think are the drawbacks of changing careers? Do you think it IS possible to "pay your dues" in this field and pull even with respected professionals in the field?

Weird question. Much about being a successful chef is about talent (dexterity and really good taste), being at the right place at the right time, and showing people you’re not afraid to dive in and work hard. Also, you have to go into this profession wanting to be a chef, with all that entails. I know plenty of young people today who don’t want to rise above sous-chef status. What’s that all about?

#21 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 12:17 PM

On behalf of Nightscotsman and Eskimo and others who may be thinking of leaving behind their jobs and working in kitchens to make desserts, allow me to pose a few more questions...

Most people doing the career changing thing will probably have a college degree. In the professional world education and degrees give you some level of qualification and even precedence in your profession. Professionals taking continuing education classes are normally required to provide qualifications to take classes. Do you believe that this same thinking applies to pastry and cooking schools?

(my thought is that it does not. The only qualification for getting into a pastry or cooking program is your ability to sign a check or apply for a loan. I see no real evidence that having a pastry 'degree' gets you one iota farther along the proverbial 'dues paying' path.)


As a career changer, how do you think one should approach the profession? Go for a basic job and hope to get noticed? Shoot high for a pastry chef job? Specialize in something like chocolates? Be independent and sell to retaurants or caterers? Should they go to a big place like a hotel, or a small restaurant? Where will you be most competitive? Where is the best compensation?

(I myself am completely at a loss on this one, but I tend to think that you should assess your personal skill set very seriously and think about it from a business perspective. You are making a change to do something for love, but be smart about it, don't try to compete against people who need to do this, or who have been doing it at a higher level since they were 13 years old. The fact is - it will be very hard to compete in terms of ingrained physical know-how, speed, or precision. Career changers might consider what some of their innate advantages and experience are that would be discriminators - do you have strong management or business skills? Are you aware of a niche market that you can leverage, do you have PR skills or connections you can leverage? How can you sell youreself independently or to someone else to get the most joy and financial payback from this decision to change your life?)


I think these are some key questions, but I am sure there are many others. Even if no one has any good answers, it is valuable to post the questions I think.

#22 Steve Klc

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 12:18 PM

Lesley, most of us are in the US, and as you know running a patisserie is a hard life anywhere, but especially here-- you're pressured to use cheap, commercial ingredients--you know, chocolate that looks like chocolate but tastes like, well, icky brown stuff--you're pressured to do wholesale, it's exhausting if you try to do the work yourself and not hire another trained pastry chef, your customers balk at paying what your product is worth if you use real butter--ooohh, like real butter is optional?--and shop on size and price, not quality, etc. We talk about restaurant work because we can't talk about patisserie work, this isn't France or Italy with a strong patisserie ethos. Wait until all your decent patisseries close, sad to say you'll be talking about restaurant pastry work as well.

If and when that happens, let's hope a Wegman's opens in Montreal with an Herme-designed pastry department--at least then you will still have very good pastries.

And Chefette, I hope older career-changers like Scot heed these words of yours:

"You should assess your personal skill set very seriously and think about it from a business perspective. You are making a change to do something for love, but be smart about it, don't try to compete against people who need to do this, or who have been doing it at a higher level since they were 13 years old. The fact is - it will be very hard to compete in terms of ingrained physical know-how, speed, or precision. Career-changers might consider what some of their innate advantages and experience are that would be discriminators - do you have strong management or business skills? Are you aware of a niche market that you can leverage, do you have PR skills or connections you can leverage? How can you sell yourself independently or to someone else to get the most joy and financial payback from this decision to change your life?"

That's an amazing paragraph--I'm still so glad you married me.

Naturally, you'll never find professional pastry programs discussing things like this. This thread, in fact, could be their worst nightmare.
Steve Klc

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Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

#23 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 12:54 PM

Wow Lesley, what a great response. I think that we are all grateful for what you put into that, and it is good advice... Now, as to its practicality in the current market in the US for someone changing professions in the 30+ age range....that is debatable.

I guess Steve already sort of addressed why I speak so much about restaurants, but that is the world as I (and I think most of my compatriots in the US) know it. Removing NYC and possibly San Francisco from the equation, there really are very very few pastry chops, chocolatiers, and boulangeries in the US. Almost all food (including bread, cake, chocolate, etc) comes from the Supermarket or grocery store here in the US. All centralized and made convenient for us. In the last 10 years we have seen some bakeries, artisinal bread places and such pop up, but they are not part of most people's daily food acquisition and consumption patterns. You might stop by and get a loaf of bread for a party or company, or munching on the weekend, or you might be lucky enough to live or work close enough to one that you could procure their products regularly. However, these places are very expensive and the vast majority of people are thrilled to pick up a nice warm soft squishy loaf of Italian or French or San Fran sourdough or whatever at the grocery store (and naturally someone in the back is shovelling dough into molds and making it all look like a variety of breads - it would be hysterical to do a blind taste test - gee is that the Ciabatta or the greek, maybe the baguette? Also, bread is not necessarily part of the daily diet in most American's lives anymore, especially with the whole protein craze.

Most chocolates come from department stores - the closest thing to a chocolatier most Americans ever see (again - outside NYC) is the Godiva or Ethel M shop at the mall or are purchased at the drug store and handed around as token gifts. Most of them are so bad that no one really cares that much about eating them. It is the packaging that inspires the purchase. hmmm maybe these people are smarter than I thought. :rolleyes:

You see a few pastry shops here and there but they have a tiny selection of rote pastry (eclairs, a fruit tart with sort of dry glaze on the fruit, cheese cake, lemon meringue pie, chocolate cake, sometimes something more ambitious), but it looks like they need to sell alot of sandwiches, bottled water and gourmet items to make ends meet. The most successful pastry shop in the US is Mrs. Field's Cookies.

Just about the ONLY place most of us in the US (not NYC) see pastries is in grocery stores, amusement parks, shopping malls, and restaurants. We love restaurants here. That is where we do most of our eating. If we have any desserts or cakes or pastries, especially yummy ones, they are ordered off of menus at restaurants.

Pastry books are sort of fantasy collections of cool-sounding things that we imagine the rich and famous to be served after their caviar and champagne dinners. And think about it - if we are awed by Peche Melba (and what is that except a poached peach, some raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream) and never even have a chance to have one what are we thinking? Come to think of it - most of the things that hold our imaginations in the US involve the miracle of ICE CREAM. (Ask someone what their favorite dessert is and they'll say ice cream.)

Sorry to vent.

Naturally, given this situation, people interested in pastry in the US think first and foremost of restaurants.

:hmmm:

I also think it is worth noting that the demographics in kitchens, and especially in pastry in the US, are interesting. It is my unscientific opinion that most people making pastry and desserts in the US are women - mostly self taught, mostly home style, and that has had a huge impact on the payscale, the standards, the respect paid to the profession. In other countries and NYC, and in the higher-end places (again in my opinion) you see a very different demographic.

#24 nightscotsman

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 01:22 PM

Thanks to everyone for their amazingly thoughtful, detailed and generous posts!

First, to answer Chefette - yes, I am a 38 year old male living in Seattle, though I'm willing to relocate or travel to find the best educational opportunities and jobs. The Seattle market is generally disapointing when it comes to pastry, though the restaurant scene has come a long way in the past 5-10 years. I'm thinking my background in graphic design should help me with both the creative as well as the business aspects of pastry.

People entering the field do not necessarily have any real perspective and do not know who is who. Everyone is sort of in a big glimmery blob all looking vaguely the same, and an outsider's judgement of who is 'good' and worthy of emulating would be vastly vastly different. For that matter a newcomer's view of what constitutes excellent or modern pastry would be very very different.

This is an excellent point (love the "big glimmery blob" imagery - oooh, preeeetty :smile: ). I've tried to teach myself as much as possible through books and magazines as well as tasting wherever I can. mlpc's early experience emulating and absorbing the work of various masters rang a bell with me, and if I look back on what I've done so far I guess that has been my approach too (lately I've been metabolizing Claudia Flemming and Pierre Herme). But not actually being in the business I don't have the contacts with other professionals (other than here on eGullet) to know who is respected and who is just flash without substance. I do read "Pastry Art and Design" which is helpful, but obviously it is difficult and expensive to travel to where these people are working to meet them or experience their product. Steve's excellent and thought provoking post especially will have me considering the balance of school/classes and travel experiences (you mean I have to go back to Paris? Darn :wink: ).

I think Steve Klc for one does not want to see another herd of fresh pastry students rushing out to make eclairs covered with fondant, and huge chocolate layer cakes wrapped in modelling chocolate that are sliced up, served with mass produced sauces purely for color accent, and served with bad coffee. He, and his brethren want to see flavor, texture, temperature, and color used with a creative artistic hand that is in keeping with the food presented by an establishment. I think he thinks many of the desserts being served in many fine establishments are tantamount to getting a corn dog as an appetizer at Ducasse.

Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly where I'm coming from and what gets me excited about doing pastry. I know that this is a business and you have to create product that people want and that sells, but dessert can be so much more that what most chefs are willing to show us. This was also my attitude going into my career as a designer, and I've seen that it can be crushing when your work is compromised by creative directors (or exec chefs) with no vision, but I also know that there are people out there who do care about these things. With hard work, willingness to learn, persistence, commitment and some humility I hope to find these people to work with and learn from them.

Another comment typically uttered by some giving advice, which I think is a complete crock, is that it doesn't matter where you go to school--it just matters how much you put into it.

You are right here Steve. I made this mistake when I went to art school. I could have gone to Parson's or CalArts or RISD, but I chickened out (that and I had no money) and went to a local arts college - not a community college, but certainly not a school at the high end. Although I worked hard, got some lucky breaks and did OK, I know that I could have gone much farther faster had I had the guts to go to a better school. I don't want to make that mistake this time - nor do I have the luxury of youth and time to slowly work my way up. I'm not looking for shortcuts, but the right instructor with the right connections who's willing to take the time and effort to teach from a lifetime of experience can make a huge difference in setting you on the right path.

#25 Lesley C

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 01:26 PM

In Montreal we have many very good pastry shops and customers to fill them (they aren't getting any better though). The pay is usually much higher in shops than in restaurants, so young people out of school tend to gravitate there. I think we have some good restaurant desserts, some very good (hello Patrice :smile: ) BUT chefs just aren't willing to pay good people. They often get a commis to make and plate desserts. I know of one good chef looking for a restaurant pastry chef right now, and he's only willing to pay $9/hour! That's CND $$. Starting salary in a good pastry shop was $10 -- ten years ago! I wonder what salary he's giving himself :hmmm:
I've also noticed that many customers on the fine-dining scene just aren't ordering dessert anymore. In France dessert will always be a part of dinner because people tend to order complete menus. Here, it's all a la carte. It's just too easy to say no to desserts, especiially without a good waiter to sell them.

#26 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 01:27 PM

Quote Nightscotsman: "lately I've been metabolizing Claudia Fleming and Pierre Herme"

:laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

I guess that pretty much covers the spectrum.

#27 chefette

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 01:31 PM

So Eskimo, Nightscotsman... what Lesley C says is true. Less skilled people, longer hours, harder work, less pay, less interest-- important things to think about in making a decision to change careers. I know, I know, that's how it is, you've heard it before, but it will be different this time...or will it?

Why are you leaving a nice skilled profession behind?

#28 tchorst

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Posted 21 November 2002 - 04:28 PM

I've only been viewing this board for a couple of weeks, but the amount of knowledge and help available here amazes me.

I wish that I had found people to help like this when I was looking 12 years ago.

I was a career changer too, with a love of food and a want to make a life out of it. I was forunate enough to have a friend who owned a small retsaurant that was able to give me a taste of what's invloved. And I think it really helped.
I must also preface the rest of this post by saying that it also only really pertains to restaurant work. Although now I look towards the idea of opening a patissiere/ chocolatier shop, I haven't always felt this way.

What instruction and schooling would I devise? For me, one of the most important aspects of pastry derives from my savory background. Like a lot of others, I started off as a line cook. And I went through the CIA as one. Although I admit while I was there I fell in love with pastry work. The fundementals of cooking are a very important aspect of pastry in the restaurant world now. I'm not saying that every pastry cook needs to know how to make a demi-glace, but learning why the caramelzation of the mirepoix deepens the flavor or how the addition of tomato products change the outcome of the product are important tools in the development understanding the science of flavor. I believe I was very fortunate to have done a stage with Craig Shelton right after school, which in turn led to a 4 year association with him that really opened my views on the science of cooking. In a nutshell, I believe that being taught the classics in pastry are important and are a foundation to expand on, but cooking in general has to be stressed also.

Where would I stage? A few places for specific reasons ( and I have to limit them to the states because I heven't been able to travel much)... I already mentioned the Ryland Inn, which I would still do again. It's very hard, but like school you get what you put into it. For a business sense, I'd like to spend time at Charlie Trotters. For patissiere, wherever Pierre Herme is at that particular time :cool: . For sugar, of course I'd like to take a stage role at Ewald Notter's school for a while. And then there are some of our own. From what I saw of Micheal L. at his demo, I think I could learn quite a bit from him. And as well as from Patrice Demers.

What restaurants etc.? I can';t think of any I don't want to visit :rolleyes: I love eating!

What books would I use, and should be read? Because I believe in a foundation to expand on, learning and reading the classics are vital. The French pastry series, Yves Thuries, Michel Roux.... some of it may seem dated, but all of these classics can still be seen in almost all of what we do in some way. Of course Pierre Herme's pro series, I also am found of all of Charlie Trotters books, plus Michel Bra's notebook, and his savory cookbooks. For periodicals I like Thuries' magazine when I can get it, Art Culinaire to see what else is in the world, PA&D to see what is going on here...that's about it.

What wouldn't I do? Dismiss anyone without trying to derive as much as I can from them. They may be crappy, but from them I can learn how not to be :raz: Realistically, I believe there is something to be learned from everyone. It's just picking the ones to model that's important.

How much money, time, effort would I spend? Hmmm.. I've already spent quite a bit of money, and devote almost all of my time to pastry. I don't believe I would change that. Even the couple of years where I took time off from burnout. It helped recharge my batteries and I believe gave me a better focus on what I wanted to produce.

Drawbacks? I think the only one may be a feeling of being behind others in learning. But I think that's a mis-guided notion. I've had some people work for me that had been doing this for longer than I and just didn't give 115%, and other newbies that gave 220%. It's all what you put into it. There's no time like the present to start.

Tim Horst
Timothy C. Horst
www.pastrypros.com

#29 Patrice

Patrice
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Posted 21 November 2002 - 05:04 PM

Wow. this is a great thread. There's some very good advice here.
Like Steve wrote, one of the most important things is to meet other pastry chefs. Don't be afraid to write letters to pastry chefs, ask questions, eat as much good and bad desserts as you can. I really think it's the best way to learn.

Chefette questions:
I'm quite happy of the pastry education I received here in Montreal. It was a very basic one year formation that was perfect to learn the fundamental techniques of pastry: mousse, meringue, génoises, bread...Then , with this basic formation you can start to learn by yourself.

At this moment, if I had the possibility to do a stage it would be without any doubt at El Bulli (restaurant) or Hermé ( pastry shop)
There's some very interesting things going on in Spain right now and everybody who wants to do pastry for a living should check what is going over there. There's some fantastic pastry shops, some incredible chocolatier ( Enric Rovira) some very interesting restaurant ( Espai Sucre, serving only desserts !!! :rolleyes:
Pierre Hermé is one of my greatest inspiration. After so many years he's still doing some incredible stuff. Because he gained success at a very young age, it's the proof that if you work very hard, it will pay off.

Which restaurants and pastry shop I would visit:
The pastry shop I visited and impressed me the more were the Pierre Hermé boutique in Paris and Michel Belin in Albi. Hermé boutique look like a jewellry. Everything is perfect. And he does some very interesting stuff. His new ''collection'' look very interesting. The theme is White. He use: rice, mascarpone with citrus, maple sirup :rolleyes: and white truffle...
I also had the chance to visit Michel Belin shop last year and I was really impressed by what he's doing. Really one of my favorites chocolatiers.

Restaurants: I had the chance to travel a lot and the restaurants that impressed me the most (for desserts) Michel Bras in Laguiole, Pierre Gagnaire and Ducasse(in Paris...)
The restaurants I really want to try right now: El Bulli, Zaytinya ( where Steve is doing some very interesting desserts) and Tribute ( I cant wait to try Micheal other desserts...)

Books, magazines:
I really think reading is of the most valuable way to learn. Personnaly I have a lot of books and not only pastry books; for a pastry chef working in a restaurant, cooking books can also teach you a lot . My favorite pastry books: Frédéric Bau, Au Coeur des Saveurs and Le Grand livre des Desserts Alain Ducasse. Michel Bras is also a must for me...
Magazine: I read a LOT of magazines: Thuriès is better than ever, Art Culinaire, Food Arts, Pastry Art and Design, Le Journal du Pâtissier ( Lesley- yes, it still exist!!!)
Yes, I really think it's possible to pay your dues in pastry and pull even with respected pastry chefs. I'm still very young and I have still a LOT of things to learn but I work very hard and I'm happy to say results are coming...
:cool:
When I started doing pastry ( 3 years ago...) I was dreaming of one day, being able to go to the chocolate show and meet other pastry chefs like Steve, Colleen and Michael. Last week, I not only had the chance to go to the show, I did demo with them!!! :smile: :smile: :smile:
Patrice Demers

#30 Louisa Chu

Louisa Chu
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Posted 21 November 2002 - 06:31 PM

One of the hardest things to teach (and learn) is a sense of urgency.

As a current student - and someone who grew up in the restaurant business - this comment truly struck home.

This thread is full of frightening and exciting insight. Thank you all.