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pastry chef recognition


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#1 alanamoana

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 08:42 PM

p.s. excuse the misspelling in the title, you can't edit that, or can you?!

I don't know if anyone has started a similar topic but this is a little bit of a rant, so bear with me :smile:

Does it bother any of the professionals out there when they read a restaurant review and the pastry chef's name isn't mentioned?!

I understand that some restaurants don't have a true pastry chef or the executive chef does the desserts as well, but don't you think that it is worth mentioning in the review? It is difficult enough to get the same recognition that the executive chef gets and I know there may be some competition, but pastry chefs are running their own departments and have some of the same pressures to be creative as the chef.

Similarly, when you read Food and Wine's "Ten Best New Chefs" every year...the fact that there are few women and fewer pastry chefs boggles my mind. I know women are a minority, but that's changing and I think pastry chefs deserve some kudos if what they're doing is worth praising in a review.

My mentor (who happens to shy from the limelight) has consistently received better reviews than the chefs of the restaurants where she's worked. Granted they mentioned her name in her reviews, but I'm talking about people just starting out...it's the ego boost they need to stay focused in this game where burnout rules.

(you can read into this as much you like, it may be a bit close to home :unsure: )

I'm not sure if this is the right section of the forums to start this, so if I'm off target, please let me know. I'm new and slightly addicted (as I'm on vacation).

Anyone have opinions? Qualifications?

Edited by alanamoana, 14 August 2003 - 08:43 PM.


#2 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 08:59 PM

Does it bother any of the professionals out there when they read a restaurant review and the pastry chef's name isn't mentioned?!

I'm not a culinary professional, but it bothers me.

Two things to look at might be why pastry chefs are ignored, and what can be done about it.

Most pastry chefs are ignored because they suck. I think in order to have this conversation against a meaningful backdrop, we have to recognize that there aren't thousands of pastry chefs out there who deserve recognition. Faithfully executing variations on the CIA pastry repertoire does not deserve recognition. Then again, there aren't so many savory chefs who deserve recognition either.

As to why creative, original, inspired, talented pastry chefs who deserve recognition don't get it, there are probably a few reasons. The position of dessert at the end of the meal leads to a lack of focus on the part of reviewers and consumers. The technical aspects of pastry are pretty demanding and there aren't a lot of folks who can really recognize technically correct and incorrect technique. Reviewers don't tend to get chosen for their seriousness about pastry, and there's a general template for reviews that the uninspired writers use that includes only a sentence or two of space for pastry, wine, and service discussion. Where this template came from, and why it persists, are interesting questions -- but rest assured, wine professionals are just as annoyed by restaurant reviews as pastry professionals are.

What to do about it? Well, recognition is a two-way street. There are some critics, like Tom Sietsema at the Washington Post, who make a serious effort to recognize pastry excellence. They deserve recognition, and if they are recognized by the professional community, awards organizations, and readers -- and if the reasons for that recognition are made clear -- then other writers will copy the new template, learn the new vocabulary, and refocus their efforts. Also, pastry chefs can do more to de-ghettoize themselves, but I'll let someone else speak to that.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#3 alanamoana

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 09:21 PM

Most pastry chefs are ignored because they suck.

i agree with you 100%. but when the reviewer does take the time to write something positive, then the person behind it should be recognized. i've read too many reviews that spend the first half of a review disparaging the customers in a restaurant, or how uncomfortable the seats are (i won't name names, but Michael Bauer of the SF Chronicle).

also when you say "de-ghetto-ize" themselves...i can't imagine what you might mean :blink:

mind elaborating for the laymen out there?!

p.s. sorry to the northeast for the power outage :sad:

#4 Skwerl

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 10:00 PM

De-ghettoize? Are you suggesting that pastry chefs who carry a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other should drop both? *laugh* Or should pastry chefs unite and go on strike until the architects and artists of the sweet course get the recognition and pay they deserve? I think the TV Food Network is doing a lot for the field by showing the NPTC and Torres so that people can see the work ("...the agony of pastry...") that actually goes into it. Every time I tell someone I am into pastry, they always say, "Oh, so you can make cinnamon rolls and Danishes?" or cheesecake. That term, "pastry," has been perverted into a Wal-Mart word. I would venture to say that 90% of the world doesn't know about life outside the cake mix. I wish there were a way to persuade more people to go out *just* for dessert. To me, it makes more sense to go to a fine restaurant and spend $10-15 on a masterfully crafted dessert than $35+ for a savory meal consisting of a slab of meat, the same old garlic mashed potatoes, and a couple mini carrots. Maybe it only makes sense to me because I'm into it, but I think the world could see the light. If restaurants start seeing more sales and interest in dessert, the pay and stature will surely rise in proportion. Spread the news- Pastry rocks!
Josh Usovsky
"Will Work For Sugar"

#5 chefette

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 07:03 AM

Quote Fat Guy: " Most pastry chefs are ignored because they suck"

Well, lots of culinary professionals suck, but perhaps we are not really in any sort of position to judge whether anyone actually sucks at what they do, more that what we are sent to consume sucks. This could have nothing to do with the abilities of the people producing the sucky desserts. You frequently have very little latitude (as has been discussed by pastry chefs elsewhere on eGullet) and find yourself producing stuff that you would never ever eat yourself or recommend to anyone.

I don't think I suck, but for a while where I worked I had no choice but to produce incredibly sucky desserts at high-end places where this was just an embarrassment.

This all has to do with the power structure and decision tree in any restaurant. There is also some bizarre perception on the part of many culinary professionals that pastry is basically beneath them not worthy of their efforts or attention. People assigned to pastry feel cheated since they are not allowed to chop parsley and grill slabs of meat in front of hot fires like the 'real cooks'.

#6 Steve Klc

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 07:17 AM

Wow, alana, for a newbie you sure know how to just jump into the fire with a broad, interesting, potentially controversial, topic. Kudos to you. You are not off target. Despite the claims being made in certain pastry magazine circles, our profession is not growing, is not stronger than ever, we're not making more money, our salaries are not going up, our value is not being more and more appreciated by the dining public. The reverse is true--it's easier than ever to get by without a real pastry chef, desserts are getting worse not better, salaries are not rising, job satisfaction is not growing.

The job still largely sucks and we're still largely under-appreciated. So what else is new? Most blue collar service industry jobs are under-appreciated.

Shaw has nailed this pretty well--especially the media and restaurant critic angle. If we can't convince the dining public to care about dessert why should a restaurant critic care more about dessert and who the pastry chef is?

Here's the bottom line as I see it:

Pastry chefs have to do a better job positioning themselves in the marketplace, work harder to distinguish themselves, re-define their relationships with their chef, the media and their customers, and speak openly about what it means to be a "pastry chef" versus just a "baker;"

We need to re-define the notion of "dessert"--a few scoops of ice cream, a brownie, and a bread pudding are not dessert--mailing in tired perfunctory classics is a ticket out of the profession because any old chef can outsource stuff like that or have his dishwasher make that. There's only room for a few very good Americana-style "pastry chefs" anyway, and frankly, Karen Barker, Emily Luchetti and Nancy Silverton have that media niche already sewn up;

Bottom line--we have to do better, more interesting, more creative work. Our basic "Barker/Luchetti/Silverton" work has to be better--we have to stretch beyond what they do. If you work in that style you 1) have to rise at least to their level because home bakers can make this stuff and 2) we have to stretch our skills and our staff better to get beyond that level of form, achievement and palate interest. Our internal standards for ourselves have to be higher, and more of us have to be prepared to walk off the job and make things happen for ourselves elsewhere rather than to settle for a job with minimal equipment, poor ingredients, poor appreciation and support by the chef, etc. merely to pay the bills.

This begins by talking openly about how many poorly trained underpaid people are in the position of "pastry chef" in so many restaurants and how underwhelming the level of desserts are in those restaurants, even in high-end restaurants. And much of this has to be laid at the feet of the chef and owner in those restaurants unwilling to hire, pay and retain talented people in that position. More restaurant critics have to realize this and speak up about this--as in the Shaw example of Tom Sietsema above. So we have a responsibility to make critics care about this.

But in order to do that, to have any hope of that, we have to give the customers in our restaurants reason to care about dessert. For if they don't care, why should the critic care? We have to restore dessert to its once essential place in a complete dining experience and back that up with dessert which follows in the style of the cuisine. Not do the desserts we "know" how to do, not desserts that are "classic" or "French" or predictably tired CIA/ACF forms, but desserts which match the presentation, style and spirit of the food.

And, of course, whatever we do has to be good. Delicious and good. And not enough of it is.
Steve Klc

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

chef@pastryarts.com

#7 alanamoana

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 12:08 PM

Ever since I got into pastry I realized so many of these problems. I wanted to be the crusader, super-pastry-person who did the things to make us recognized...but then...I got bogged down with work and the same ole' s**t that happens all the time. Being marginalized by the entire management team in the restaurant, etc. etc. etc. You all know what I'm talking about. I guess in reality, I'm just too much of an underachiever :blink:

But I think talking about this helps to see that I'm not alone, that we're not alone.

Steve, you're absolutely correct when you say that there are certain pastry chefs that have a particular niche sewn up. They leave little room for others. I would have to say that the organization "Women Chefs and Restaurateurs" also does this in a subtle way. It seems to me that the same people who started this organization are continuing to be the ones recognized by it. Where is all the new blood that they are supposedly mentoring and helping to lift above the average?! But I think this is more of a feminist issue.

Back to pastry...

I think so much can be said about the quality of the professionals (or lack thereof) in the business, but what about the customer whose taste hasn't evolved past the brownie sundae? I think "chefette" is correct in saying that pastry tends to get pushed aside and people do think that they should be cooking meat and don't see the challenges of pastry.

Maybe more places like Chickilicious in NYC will open to showcase desserts. Let's hope we can adjust the palate of our customers to a) order dessert and b) try something new.

An afterthought: What about the chef's whose portions are so huge that nobody in their right mind (or stomach) has room for dessert?! Then we get blamed (or our egos get crushed) when sales are sub-par and we don't feel like we're earning our salary?! UGH :wacko:

#8 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 07:36 PM

I have to take it down a notch-cause I'm not doing fine dinning(not by choice). I deal with the guys that are only above average in their own little neighborhood.

This topic is so huge and so entangled I hardly know which points I want to make. But I'll stab at a few.

I get tired of fighting daily ON the job and trying to provide an excellent product. When you do good work, the guy left to plate it f-s it up at every turn. NO ONE wants to plate pastries- it is the truely "shit job" in the kitchen. But as far as making desserts- I see them run scared every time I ask for assistance, not as you'll all described as "not wanting to". I can't tell you how many places where the head chef cuts the wedding cakes cause no one else has any experience with a cake.

There's no basic understanding of baked goods in average kitchens. I constantly see breakfast pastries stored in the refridgerator for weeks-then served. No one understands why the client isn't eating it........it's crap. Same with cakes and tortes, they don't get covered, their held too long, etc... But kitchen after kitchen no one cares to do it right. They sweat over their nightly specials and only see the entree as important.

It's a big revolving situation. Which came first the crappy dessert or the customer who wouldn't buy a crappy dessert.

But no chef ever looks in the mirror and wonders why they have no dessert sales. They don't even think about the money they could have made.

Over all in most kitchens dessert is just a huge hassle. A large majority of places (taking all restaurants into account here)are very happy doing ice cream on all events. And they even f---- that up! They scoop it the day or two before and let it sit uncovered in their busy freezers.

It's all depressing (at this moment in my head). There AREN'T pastry jobs!!! NO one wants us on their staff. When you do well and recieve accolades.......your punished by the hot side who now are jealous instead of congradulatory (were always the enemy with-in). Am I jealous about not getting reviewed? I'm relieved........that just buys me more time to work there before the chef gets pissed off that I'm getting to much notice and taking some of his kisses that blow in the air. Knowing that your doing good work comes with-in. I don't care how good it taste or looks, I know when I've slam dunked something and when I stuggled and when to kick myself and when to praise myself. Attention is nice but the minute you place value in it, you've lost.

I can't blame people for not buying desserts out. I don't. At least with a package of oreos you get a good value and know what your getting.

Pastry chefs---------it's a lost cause, we've lost the battle....and I don't see things getting better in the future.

Edited by Sinclair, 15 August 2003 - 08:15 PM.


#9 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 08:04 PM

Sorry, I'm back (i have some more rant left in me).

First, this business (pastry) isn't big enough and healthy enough for us to nock each others work. I understand the monitors here are in the top etchalone (which I can't even spell) of this career but for many reasons some of us can't devote our entire lives to our career or may realize that there's more to life and want to experience some of it before we die.

"positioning themselves in the marketplace" equals self- employment or unemployment for the newbies.

"poorly trained and underpayed in the postition of pastry chef".........If I had balls I'd consider myself kicked in them!

My god, some of you all think we have alot of choices.......I'd love to de-getto myself but I can't get a second spatula or god forbid a second bowl to my half broken mixer. I have two choices take it or leave it. The more of us who leave it just make things that much worse.

Try thinking about what it's like in "the norm" restaurant, have you forgotten? It's lovely to talk about el bulli and the laundry....I aspire and work my ass off just like everyone else to do the best I can and constantly learn........but lifes road hasn't blessed me that opportunity (yet) and I have to slum to make a living so I can keep on growing.

#10 alanamoana

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 08:34 PM

i guess i figured i would touch a nerve (or two :blink: ) by broaching this subject on-line. i apologize to the non-professionals out there (but you should read this to gain a little insight into our "ghetto-ized" ranks).

wow, sinclaire, i couldn't have put some of that better!

so, to pose another question which steve and "fat guy" answered a little already...what can we do as professionals to make this better?!

i have to admit that i don't help the situation very much. i have been working in the business since 1995 (which really isn't very long) and due to the overworking scenario, i've ended up quitting every year and a half to two years to take anywhere from 3-6 months off before starting another job. it's the only way i can unwind. i really take my hat off to those of you who continue to work without vacations, time-off or a "normal life".

another problem is the quick promotion. just to toss this in...it is much more difficult to become a sous chef than it is to become a pastry chef. the pastry chef quits/gets fired/whatever and the next person in the department regardless of qualification gets "promoted" to pastry chef. most of us aren't smart enough to say NO. we think it's a great opportunity, but what happens when this goes on and on and the person in charge ends up having less experience than the people we hire to plate desserts?! ugh...talk about a catch 22. i know i jumped into being the boss way sooner than i should have. now it is much harder for me to go backwards and take a job as a line cook to work for someone i really admire (of whom there aren't many, unfortunately) where i think i can learn more.

this just gets deeper and deeper...

#11 Fat Guy

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 08:51 PM

De-ghettoize?  Are you suggesting that pastry chefs who carry a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other should drop both?  *laugh*

lol -- no, what I'm talking about is the phenomenon of pastry-as-appendix. Pastry chefs complain about the way they're marginalized, but what do they do to combat it? They make bigger, sweeter, taller, wider, heavier desserts -- and they put antennae on them. Obviously, sometimes you have to make compromises to make a living, and not every employment situation allows for flexibility, but even in the restaurants where the pastry department is well-funded and supported, how many pastry chefs really attempt to make themselves and their work an integral part of the meal? As a conceptual matter, the whole division between sweet and savory is impossible to support. How many pastry chefs are working from that premise? Not enough, I assure you. As long as dessert is a too-sweet gooey thing tacked on to the end of a meal, it will remain in a shrinking ghetto. Those pastry chefs who understand the need for less sweetness, better integration with the meal, introduction of pastry technique elements into the savory courses, and partnership with the savory chef are the ones who are going to define the future of the profession at the highest levels. It can't be done all at once or by any one person. But there are small opportunities to take advantage of, and that's where it starts.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#12 alanamoana

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 09:06 PM

i guess i'm posting a little too much on a topic i started (i feel as if i should baby it :smile: )...but it is interesting to read everyone's opinions...

fat guy, thanks for being so eloquent. i do know what you mean. in choosing to work with pastry, one of my goals was to try to match the dessert to the savory menu. i always feel strange going to an asian inspired restaurant and getting what amounted to an ice cream sundae (albeit using green tea ice cream), or the ubiquitous ginger creme brulee (not that it's bad, just that it's tired).

matching the desserts can be a rather difficult road to follow over the long haul...to be innovative, etc. i was just working in a "mediterranean" themed restaurant (think moroccan, southern france, italy, etc) and there were only so many variations of baklava i could do :wacko: (just kidding...sort of). but to stick to it and keep the flavors fresh and interesting is definitely a goal i have. but if you read the last post i wrote, i do give up a little easier than others (call me spoiled). right now i'm in hawaii for seven weeks :raz: (recovering...sure).

oh, but do i love a good antenna!!!!!!!!!!!!! :laugh:

#13 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 09:32 PM

I'd like not to post this but I'm going to anyway. I'm good at biting the hand that feeds me too :smile:

"How many pastry chefs really attempt to make themselves and their work an intregel part of the meal?"

Do you have any idea how few chefs there are that ALLOW us to even speak up and offer to "add" something to "their" menu!? VERY DAMN FEW! Wake up, where there's an ego there's trouble working with it.

I'd love to participate! I HATE having to see and tasting items that are below pare and not be able to voice up my assistance! BUT that's the reality of how the kitchen works. "Mind your own business" is survival. Rule no.4 don't offer what isn't asked of you, cause it ain't your business.

Yes in your defensive you mention those pastry chefs are the ones who will define the future of this profession at the highest levels. "Small opportunities" start and end with the head chef........well actually the owners. Cause it's all about the dollars.......and that's a subject of it's own, but the real bottom line as to why things aren't better. It's not that there isn't potential but you can't get your foot in the door to get anyone to listen to you.

#14 Fat Guy

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 09:47 PM

"Mind your own business" is survival.

If someone's primary concern is economic survival, why choose to be a pastry chef? Surely, there are easier, less arduous, more stable ways to make a living. I'm assuming that anybody who bothers to be a pastry chef -- and has the mental capacity to post about the state of the profession on an Internet message board site -- loves the craft enough to push a few limits despite the risk of getting slapped down.

I'm no pastry chef. I'm a writer, and I understand completely that sometimes you have to compromise in order to make a buck. Just like a pastry chef, I could make more money and have greater job stability as a garbage man. So if somebody wants to pay me to write stupid crap, and I don't have any other work lined up, I'll write the stupid crap for them. But there are always opportunities to do good work even under ridiculous constraints. Maybe I can slip one really good sentence into the stupid crap -- enough so that you know it was written by me, or at least by someone with a brain. The same thing is possible in the kitchen. If the exec chef and the owners are too stupid even to have a conversation about it, work around them in subtle ways. If dessert sales are increasing, they're not likely to complain even if they don't appreciate what's going on.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#15 tan319

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 10:23 PM

I'm no pastry chef. I'm a writer, and I understand completely that sometimes you have to compromise in order to make a buck. Just like a pastry chef, I could make more money and have greater job stability as a garbage man. So if somebody wants to pay me to write stupid crap, and I don't have any other work lined up, I'll write the stupid crap for them. But there are always opportunities to do good work even under ridiculous constraints. Maybe I can slip one really good sentence into the stupid crap -- enough so that you know it was written by me, or at least by someone with a brain. The same thing is possible in the kitchen. If the exec chef and the owners are too stupid even to have a conversation about it, work around them in subtle ways. If dessert sales are increasing, they're not likely to complain even if they don't appreciate what's going on.

Fat Guy makes a great point here.
I constantly get ribbed about doing an "oreo cheesecake' or a 'turtle cheesecake', you get the point. Lot's of chefs, cooks consider this kind of stuff incredibly mirthful.
Screw them.
I get some Oreo crumbs and put them on something totally subversive (to them) just to F--- with their heads.
The one thing I would do if I was in a shitty position is get out of it.
I left a 30k + bonus' gig once because the chef was just intolerable. Truly an idiot. I went and cooked savory for awhile, with some people I liked. For 1/2 as much money. For awhile. It hurt my wallet till I found something else but I had peace of mind.
I suggest to you, Sinclair, with the utmost respect, if your situation is really screwed up and you're that unhappy, you should leave it ASAP.
Do something else in the interim, if you have to. I can't imagine you not feeling a load off your mind.
2317/5000

#16 tan319

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 10:25 PM

Wow!!!
What a thread...
We have to fight the fight every day.
I've been going thru this a bit too, I have to admit.
I've consistently gotten better reviews for my desserts then the chefs have gotten for their food, usually w/o a name check. It bothers me a bit, but usually it rolls off my back. The only time I got really pissed is when I gave a recipe for a dessert that was published and my chef got the credit for it!
I took care of that quick! :angry:
Right now, I'm working with my chef and the owner at the main restaurant where I P-chef to get our #s up. This is going to involve some heavy duty server ass kicking but we'll get there, I pray.
I'm also working the publicity angle. This involves getting to know your local food writers. I'm also thinking about doing some research into maybe doing some teaching classes thru some of the local media. It couldn't hurt.
While we have to know what we can sell in our places, we shoudn't be afraid to do stuff that we want to do, as specials, to see how they sell, and to incorporate techniques that we want to try into components of desserts that are maybe a safe bet.
I've spent a considerable amount of time this summer wondering if I wanted to keep doing this. A hot as hell cooking space, humidity in it that rivaled what I just experienced in a short visit to Washington,D.C. last week, shitty and erratic business overall all damn summer had me thinking, fuck this, it's crap, no one else aspires to the level that I do but, for some reason, I feel rejuevanated.
Last weeks cover story on El Bulli ( sorry, Sinclair :sad: ) in the NYTimes mag, tonights episode on Trio, on FTV's 'Into the Fire', the special I did this weekend, have me considering the possibilities...
WE have to keep getting back up off the floor, whether we're "slumming it" or working in a big name, well known joint. The last big deal place I worked at was an appalling mess, pastry wise. So , I said screw it and got the hell out of there before it could make me nutz.
It makes me sad to read how some of you are letting those 'meat cookers' get you down. What's that commercial about 'never let'em see you sweat'?
If most crews see you getting bugged they're going to ride you all the way home.
I had a sous chef suggest an 'ice cream sandwich' to me the other day! I laughed and walked away. I know it was well meant but jesus! What was this guy thinking? Thank god he has no input. I just have to smile, shake my head and let it slide.
Sorry to ramble.
Sinclair, alanamoana, I hope things get better for both of you soon. Sinclair ,I especially hate to read you so bummed. I wish there was something I could say. I'm sorry if I'm coming off as overly optimistic or something like that. I guess I got a second wind and am thinking about pro-activity and what I can do to make things better. It's hard to keep going sometimes, I know it is, but what else can we do?
2317/5000

#17 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 10:46 PM

And so I keep going too. I'm obviously not working for the job stablity (I have none)........I just want a decent job as a pastry chef. There's so few, and there's less and less everyday. Right now I'm only working part-time, the opportunities aren't there. I left a great paying (could have opened some real doors for me) job a couple years ago. I learned to leave screwed up positions since then and I'm totally happy being part time working for a terrific young chef even though it's a limited and handicaped job. (Thank-god I have a spouse who brings home a decent pay check.) It's hard on the ego to step back, I still long for more intensity in my work-but I keep on looking.

Trust me, they never see me sweat and I push like you wouldn't believe and kiss butt more that I'd like to admit. I'm a chubby, lost my looks, middle aged female in a young male dominated profession. I've fought many a fight and I keep on. I understand the ropes. But damn it, I hate being beaten down by my own.

There are reasons why things are the way they are. YES I whole heartedly aspire to make things better and help others along too. But we can't all be elite and I still have to knock on doors daily.

Fat guy "work around them".....I'm talking more basic then that. First they have to be open to hiring a pastry chef. I'm a freelance pastry chef. I'm first hoping to get them to think about "why" they should hire me (have a pastry chef if only as a temp.). They're all happy buying pies for 3 bucks each, they think they gone "upscale" by buying in some gelato.

Yes I do my best to do good work under constraints. I challenge myself everyday to do something new in any way I can sneak it in (often working off the clock and buying in ingredients and equipment with my own money). Sometimes the constraints are so great that I can barely do the work (total truth). If I complain, they don't need me- they'll to back to buying in. That's why I can pat myself on the back and don't need a critic to tell me I'm o.k., I survive-

I'm open to a good conversation and I don't wish to offend or shut down the lines of comunication. But I'm screaming lets talk to each other and not down to each other. The kitchen is divided enough-lets not break ourselves into good pastry chefs and bad.

Edited by Sinclair, 15 August 2003 - 11:01 PM.


#18 tan319

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 11:12 PM

I'm sorry but I'm missing the "elite' thing.
What do you mean by it?
And I don't understand the bad/good chef thing. I must have missed it.
Steve and Fat guy are mentioning the trend towards less sweet and incorporating savory elements into dessert. I would think like vinegar reductions,etc., as one example.








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#19 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 08:40 AM

"but we can't all be elite", I can't sell what the top guys can. Yes I want to learn about what the best of the best are doing. But the trickle down effect isn't trickling as fast as some of the East coast e-gulleteers think or push. Foam is something mid-westerners laugh at. There's like 4 restaurants in the mid-west that can sell foams. Savory into desserts....NOT READY YET.

I think step 1. is educating head chefs on desserts. Make them care, make them have a reason to care.

Dealing with the average neighborhood hot shot chef- he doesn't know what panna cotta is, what's a tuile, etc... They know cake and ice cream. I struggle to educate them but it's an extremely slow process. Move too fast and you offend them or make them uncomfortable. They have their set ideals of what dessert is and you (the pc) have to fit into that, like it or not. The huge portions I thought started at a steak place by the owner (not a chef- yet alone a pc). Are you telling me a pc started that? WHO?

Even when these guys try to sell desserts they struggle. They can't figure it out. I worked with one place that was trying. They set out one slice of each of their desserts on a silver tray then garnished it with purple kale leafs with a strawberry on it and told the waitstaff to walk it around.
Yeah I'm going to talk that place into less sweet desserts that blend with their menu.........

I come in and make desserts after the head chefs been selling his scarie gross attempts at dessert. They don't realize the damage that's been done takes along time to correct. Maybe the place puts a little money into hiring me, but then they don't follow thru. I have to work with this chef who comes over and tells me how he doesn't need to follow recipes and proceeds to teach me his techniques.

"Elite" meaning there's only so many top places. Only so many jobs where this conversation about reviews can happen. I love coming here and reading but in general many of the monitors are in the 'elite' working situations. Only so many chefs and non chefs visiting here that can relate to this level of conversation. I have e-gulleteers privately messaging me questions their too embarrassed to post. I still run into basic problems and questions, I'm sure not past the Silvertons, Gands and Luchetti's. And from what I read here I don't see too many others that are either.

Doing excellent pastry work is alot harder then it appears (Fat Guy). There's so many aspects- it's overwhelming at times. There's only so many pc's brilliant enough to hold expertise in alot of areas of pastry.

Edited by Sinclair, 16 August 2003 - 08:43 AM.


#20 Fat Guy

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 09:01 AM

I travel plenty and am fully aware of the limitations of the American palate, the near-complete lack of creativity at most restaurants (even the ones that claim to serve creative cuisine based on fresh, local, seasonal, blah blah blah), and the thick-headedness of most chefs. But there's a difference between a challenge and an excuse. People can and will be educated by good food, slowly but surely. The same people who eat at boring restaurants at home, they come to New York on vacation and they eat at Gramercy Tavern and they love the desserts -- they go home raving about them. You think if they were served those same desserts at home they'd reject them? Jose Andres in Washington, D.C., is pitching right to the upper-middle market in a city with an unimpressive culinary history. He doesn't allow that to halt his creativity -- he knows how to be creative within the bounds of what people with average tastes will enjoy. Likewise, Steve Klc, as Andres's pastry chef, does the same thing. Steve's desserts are plenty sweet, but not one-dimensional and cloying. They incorporate savory ingredients in a subtle manner -- just enough here and there to give a hint of extra dimensionality. And he is spread thin, doing the desserts for several restaurants in addition to running a private business, teaching classes, and participating more than a little bit on eGullet. It can be done. It's not easy, it can't all be done at once by everybody, but every little bit of work you do to push the ball uphill is helpful to everybody.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#21 bripastryguy

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 11:13 AM

Just to throw my 2 cents in, since we're all bitching.....(voicing opinions)

I used to work for a major restaurant group in NYC. They had 8 restaurants when I worked for them in the capacity as Assistant Corporate Pastry Chef, now they have 11, they've expanded to other cities and are even getting into the hotel market.

We used to make all the desserts for all 8 units out of one of the restaurants downstairs kitchens and had everything delivered by van. While I was there the company built a commisary bakeshop kitchen across the bridge in Long Island City. In construction which was I guess was set up by my immediate supervisor, the corporate executive pastry chef (head brownie baker and number cruncher). It seemed that little if any emphasis was made for pastry. We got thrown into a little corner in the back of the kitchen, while the bread bakers had state of the art setup, we had shit. Even the pastry chef of the company forgot where he came from and didnt give his fellow pastry chef (me ) any of the necessary equipment to complete the job. For example: We made 30 gallons of ice cream a day which got delivered in pizza carriers (he felt no need for a freezer truck, but the restaurants all complained that there ice cream was to soft or melted when they got it).

This company since my depature has grown by leaps and bounds. They choose a very talented chef, Morand Dare to replace me to increase quality and production. He eventually got tired and frustrated when answering to the immediate supervisor who by no means was in the same league with him. He (Morand) had to answer to this guy who was in no way in any position to tell him what desserts he should make....The man had no creative vision and had lost his passion for pastry a long time ago. Morand eventually left the company frustrated and bewildered. I think the new man on the spot is Lincoln Carson, good luck to him, I think he'll need it.

What I'm trying to get at in my long winded rant, is that adversity is what we are all up against and its how we handle it and rise to be better culinary professionals then the hacks that get the recognition. I , in most of my career have never been given the respect I deserved and most of all earned. I know n my head and most of all my heart that every guest leaving the restaurants I worked for was saved from :remembering a bad waiter, over cooked steak, no water, more bread, to hot or smoky dining room, dirt in the salad, etc.... by these few simple words "Comp them dessert"
I guess we are the savoirs of the restaurant industry, remember Joan of Arc.
"Chocolate has no calories....
Chocolate is food for the soul, The soul has no weight, therefore no calories" so said a customer, a lovely southern woman, after consuming chocolate indulgence
SWEET KARMA DESSERTS
www.sweetkarmadesserts.com
550 East Meadow Ave. East meadow, NY 11554
516-794-4478
Brian Fishman

#22 alanamoana

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 12:00 PM

bripastryguy...i know who you're talking about and have read about their expansion. if you're in new york, we should start an eGullet dessert tasting tour of manhattan. that would be interesting. maybe we can involve fat guy to do some writing about it?! actually, fat guy, i'd love to talk to you about writing. not that my skills here are in any way highlighted to my advantage... :blink:

sinclair, don't be discouraged. it seems to me from what i can infer from your posts that your geography has you a little defeated. don't feel alone, even in new york, a supposed food center, it is difficult to get new and different dessert ideas across to the customer. you'd be surprised. but you have the right attitude in a lot of ways. i wish i could be as dedicated as you. i feel lazy...too lazy to try new things sometimes...too lazy to argue anymore...too lazy to try, period! but you give me inspiration to try harder when i get back to new york! i have to do better.

i've seriously considered getting into teaching in order to give people a better idea of what's going on. schools are good and people who choose to go to them have the right idea, however, they're a little unrealistic. i don't want to scare people, but i'd like to give them a little dose of reality (and i don't mean the kind you find on t.v.).

i guess what i'm trying to say, yet again, is that there are so many facets to our business and i know that we can be a little self-centered...but this is what we know, what we love and what we live every day. more of us need to be a little bit of an overachiever like steve klc and get into as many aspects of the business as we can in order to push the limits. use the internet to get/spread information, write about our experiences, make great desserts, support our peers, anything to make us feel we made the right choice :smile: .

also, i think it was sinclair who wrote that she's getting private messages from other eGulleteers who feel they can't write on the open forum, please, please, please, everyone whether professional or not, please write with your ideas and opinions and questions. that is what this forum is for.

i don't think we'll ever reach an "end" so to speak, but we're definitely getting some really great, albeit emotional :biggrin: posts which are opening my eyes!

#23 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 05:28 PM

It can be done. It's not easy, it can't all be done at once by everybody, but every little bit of work you do to push the ball uphill is helpful to everybody.

I do work to push that ball up the hill in many ways.

I've had this similar conversation more then once online where you can communicate with more professionals then in any other way, I know of. I think if you really want to do good Fat Guy start this topic with the savory professionals and push them to move that ball up a notch. The topic of desserts or pastry chef made items in the savory menu never gets addressed seriously by chefs. The small futal attempts I've seen -never went anywhere, no one ever really responded but pastry chefs. I write with passion on this topic, but I can assure you all that I sleep well, none of this torments me. I'll just keep posting and keep talking maybe someday someone will hear me and that will make it worth while.

I'd like to know why an equal percentage of sales don't return to the pastry dept. from what they generate? Perks being-man power, equipment and ingredients.

Why isn't dessert more seriously covered in Culinary Schools? No one can tell me it is! Its a % of their sales and no one give a s--- if they make any money on it or not.

Why aren't managers noticing the lack of sales and asking the chef "how come he's not returning better numbers on this part of his meal?". "Why are we willing to sell a less then average dessert when we pride ourselves on our high standards and quality?" "Why are we selling a scoop of ice cream for a dollars profit when we could sell any other dessert for 5x the profit?". I'll never understand that- chefs would scream if management sold hamburgers for banquets but no one notices that their selling nothing for dessert. As soon as the entree's down they clean up the line and go home. Why? Cause thats the end of their meal.

P.S. The lack of creativity or so you wrote fat Guy might not be that. I'm often forced into average results due to time constraints. I work in my off hours mentally to plan out creative and good desserts....we don't have the same "down time" that line cooks have after they've prepped there's always something that need to be done in the pastry dept.. Do any of you fellow pc have time in your day to experiment? I can't take the time or the ingredient waste, so my creativity has to be kept well with-in my known boundrys of success because whatever I do, their eating it-it's not play time and it's not landing in the garbage. And like it or not there's a certain percentage of clients that want that rocky road gob of sweetness you laugh at. Serious work is for serious restaurants- and it's a real small market.

Edited by Sinclair, 16 August 2003 - 05:32 PM.


#24 tan319

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 08:26 PM

But there's a difference between a challenge and an excuse. People can and will be educated by good food, slowly but surely. The same people who eat at boring restaurants at home, they come to New York on vacation and they eat at Gramercy Tavern and they love the desserts -- they go home raving about them. You think if they were served those same desserts at home they'd reject them? Jose Andres in Washington, D.C., is pitching right to the upper-middle market in a city with an unimpressive culinary history. He doesn't allow that to halt his creativity -- he knows how to be creative within the bounds of what people with average tastes will enjoy. Likewise, Steve Klc, as Andres's pastry chef, does the same thing. Steve's desserts are plenty sweet, but not one-dimensional and cloying. They incorporate savory ingredients in a subtle manner -- just enough here and there to give a hint of extra dimensionality. And he is spread thin, doing the desserts for several restaurants in addition to running a private business, teaching classes, and participating more than a little bit on eGullet. It can be done. It's not easy, it can't all be done at once by everybody, but every little bit of work you do to push the ball uphill is helpful to everybody.

Fat Guy again makes an excellent point.
I have to compare this again to music, if you'll pardon me.
Years ago, bands like REM or the Cure couldn't get arrested on the radio, yet were selling out arenas before any major airplay hit.
My point is, there were people who told radio station programmers, 'people want to hear acient Lynard Skynrd and Doors music, not any of this new stuff. All of a sudden ,radio gets a song that they feel strong about, it get's played and all those concert goers are listening to the radio.
I'm in New mexico (not Santa Fe) and people are eating foams. I don't list it in the menu description ( mainly because the nimbuams at night still ocassionally have a problem w/ the charger) of the dessert it's served with, i like to think of it as a little something extra. I've had home cooks call me there who want to learn how to do this. I realize how lucky I am and I'm not trying to be contrary. I'm just saying people will eat just about anything, as long as it taste's good, no matter where they are.
And, do any of us REALLY have to tell the chef everything we're doing, dessert wise? As a special? Can't we just do it and before service or at luchtime, have them taste it and tell them 'This is my special tonight?
Sinclair, I try to get my production for the 1st part of the week out of the way, so I have a day or 2 in part to prep my specials,work on new ideas, etc.
"Elite"... If 'elite means working in a place where people for the most part do care about food, then I guess I'm in an elite place. But it seems to me we are still struggling to get the recognition, all of us, that we deserve, while other people in town get more press, etc. We'll just strive to do better and better.
I have a hard time believing that there isn't somebody in your neck of the woods, Sinclair, and again I say this with respect, that doesn't care about food and see 75% of the big picture. That wouldn't let you run with the ball. That isn't a psycho or a jackass overdosing on testosterone. Maybe it's just going to take a little more time to find them, as hard as that is.
I think unless we're in a really great place, we are always going to have to endure stupid suggestions at times from owners, managers and sadly enough, even our chefs.
The thing we should not be doing is running away from it or letting us go into an abyss of despair.
If the chef can't trust you to do it, or rather WON'T trust you, and is forcing you into doing the kind of stuff that makes you hate your job, LEAVE IT!!! Just get out of there.
And if they don't give a damn about the horrible %'s his ideas are selling and they won't give you a chance to do your thing or support your vision and talk to the servers about their lousiness, GET OUT OF THERE!!!
In an above post, I wrote about a well known place that I idolized, it was an icon to me. i drove 60 miles to Santa Fe and 60 miles back, 5 days a week to work there. As the "production guy" with maybe a chance to move up into the top position. The P-chef was nice but in another world, which meant being oblivious to the fact that 75 % of his menu wasn't selling. And the chef had his own agenda, which meant ignoring the pastry department.
Why stick around that kind of bummer?
know what you mean about the lack of equipment. I don't have a table in my whole shop that's level. I'm cooking on portable gas burners. I wish the owner would get me an ice cream machine. So I can sell ice cream and sorbets to the ice cream eaters and get the numbers up more and make him some bucks. That the other place where i work would get a REAL ice cream machine, instead of these cuisiniart home ones. I'm not lying, I swear to god it's true.
It's a struggle but like I said before, I'm up for it.
tan319
P.S. why are people afraid to post stuff about 'Non-elite' subjects?
PMing about stuff they're embarrassed to go public on?
I don't think I've ever seen anyone get smacked down here?
On second thought, It seems I've seen plenty of threads on "simple" things. I like to read them all. I think we all do. That's what makes this place great.


:biggrin:
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#25 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 09:22 PM

I'm in a different position then most of you. I've been a pc at clubs, not restaurants. I've always worked with a weekly or bi-weekly changing menu plus all the extras which tend to be way more time consuming then ala carte desserts and I'd often have to adjust my menus downward (simplier) for lack of time from the constant last minute demands. In that type of job-no I didn't have to tell the chef anything and I also couldn't count on him backing me up in any shape or form. Freedom usually comes with compromises.

Now- I'm still not doing the "norm." pastry work. Freelance is get in and get out work. What you can produce is harder because you have nothing at hand pre-made. Everyday is like starting a new job. I now do work for chefs making what they want, it's not my department anymore (it involves constant compromises). But I'm really enjoying it. It's alot of flying by the seat of my pants stuff- makes everything I've done before look easy.

Just saying that this job comes with lots of different expectations for the pc and handicaps I get pissed off when I see knocking of pc's, this isn't a lazy cooks easy route to a pay check. Sure we're not all great, lord I feel inferior when I see what some pc's can do. But I still pull a measely ole rabbit out of my hat from time to time. If my clients want oreo cheesecake f-you, that's what I'm making fat guy. That's not degrading or making less then, we still do our best.

Quit your job tommarrow Tan and see how easy it is to find another comfy gig. Once upon a time you could leave a job when you had enough and find another with-in a couple weeks -it ain't so anymore boys. In Chi town even the lousy bakeries all drying up and closing down. The economy seems much worse then I see published, everythings down to bare bones around here. Pc's are the last to get hired and the first to go.

Just for once I'd really like to understand the hot sides motives for not pursue employing a pc in their kitchen in every kitchen!? I guess I wear blinders cause everyway I look at it, it's a win win situation for a kitchen to have a pc..........why doesn't everyone see that? Get us in the kitchens fat guy, then we'll talk about tweeking our menus and goals!

#26 alanamoana

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Posted 17 August 2003 - 12:02 AM

there's something to be said about just going into business for yourself. there's nobody to compromise with, no one to steal your spatulas, etc.

options:

1) teach classes at people's homes...you know there are still yuppies out there who love to have a glass of wine and think they're learning something
2) translate the connections you make teaching classes into catering opportunities...make desserts for people's cocktail parties, wedding cakes, ice cream to-go, cakes, cookies, anything
3) translate all the involvement you have with these people as market research into opening your own version of Chickilicious (nyc restaurant serving only desserts...tastings of desserts, prix fixe dessert menus, etc)
4) make the desserts that you want to make!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
5) become a dessert mogul and make millions and millions of dollars :laugh:

now that's a win-win situation all around. as my mom tells me every day, you aren't really doing anything unless you're working for yourself!

#27 Michael Laiskonis

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Posted 17 August 2003 - 02:54 AM

Yikes, I lose power for a couple of days, and I return to find this! This is the kind of thread that makes me happy to be part of this little community we have.

Where to start... I think we've split the discussion into two parts: recognition within the industry and recognition to the outside world. I don't know if these are two separate battles or one large conflict. Addressing both at once, I may at times simply summarize what others have already pointed out, but these are things that I think about and work toward and, generally, lie awake at night obsessing over...

1. Doing good work and keeping in touch. Obvious, right? Refine, refine, refine. Make your crunchy textures crunchier, your ice creams smoother, your tuiles and chocolate garnish thinner and finer. You don't necessarily have to be 'innovative'. We are all working in different markets and at different price points and for different clientele; it's a given that what sells in NYC might not go over in Alberquerque. What I can produce for a hundred covers and sell at $12 a pop, won't be practical in a hip, high volume tapas-oriented restaurant in DC. Making your stuff better than any other place in town is the only way to start. Good tasting, attractive, and consistent pastry is essential. Keeping yourself up to date with developments, be they across the street, across the country, or across the globe keeps us envious and hungry and inspired. And look beyond the surface- dismissing Adria because "foams don't sell in Peoria" is missing the point. You can integrate the ideas and concepts behind what these chefs are doing on every level of production. I don't know how else to say it, but that you must strive to make each plate, cake, or bonbon better than your last. And it does have to be a 24/7 job for as long as you can handle it. Sure, the names you see on a monthly basis- Payard, Torres, Gand, Silverton, etc.- while they don't toil away at all hours in the kitchen now, I'd bet they did at one time. And then one could argue that the remaining balance of their time is filled with phone calls, recipe development, photo shoots, and the like, but more on that later.

2. Spread your vision. So you are doing your best work, you're not spending too much money, and you are running things cleanly and efficiently. It all starts with your fellow employees. If you have assistants, make it so that they are excited to come to work every day. Whether they are making your bases or simply plating your ideas, make sure they believe in you. Care for them and teach them well, and get them to suscribe to your vision, because they will be your true legacy. As for the chef, you are still working under his or her overall vision, yet hopefully you are being given some autonomy and trust. Ask for guidelines, so you know how far to push them. Know what is expected of you, so you can exceed those expectations. When given an inch, take a mile; give them tastes on a daily basis, talk about things you've seen and want to try. Make every simple assignment a complex one. Make yourself irreplacable. Don't forget the little things- turning in your inventory early, typing up those menu changes instead of scrawling them down on a torn sheet of notebook paper. Be the golden boy/girl. I understand it can be a rare kind of relationship, but if the chemistry and support ain't there in the kitchen, you're not going to find it outside the kitchen. It's a great feeling when your chef brags about you to other chefs.

Ah yes, outside the kitchen.. the front of house. The servers are your conduit. They must taste each dessert and they must know every component and ingredient. If they love it, they'll sell it, because it is in their own best interest to increase the check average. Sure, we all know the career waitrons who'll never give a shit. Find the two or three who care, who glance at a copy of Food Arts now and then, the ones who know an Hermes tie from and Herme macaron, the ones who know the difference between fleur de sel and Maldon salt. If they like what you are doing and they buy into your vision, they are going to know why Blumenthal or Bras or Balaguer influenced that dessert and they are going to convey that to the guest. Buy them a beer or a glass of wine once a week and find out what the guests are saying about this dessert, or why that dessert isn't moving. Get over the the BOH/FOH differences; they must be your allies. And you have the benefit of learning some of the insight from the guest's perspective.

And don't forget the maitre d' and sommelier (ok, if you have them). Know what is on your wine list, make sure your somm or wine buyer knows your desserts. Heck, increase your own knowledge of wine, so that when you unveil a new dessert, you can say, "hey, I think we should order the Lustau San Emilio Pedro Ximenez sherry, because the caramel-malt-nut flavors in the dessert would work really well with it," or, "with the rhubarb component in this dessert, the acidity of a Bonnezeaux or a VT from Alsace would work better than a cloying Sauternes." Encourage your somm to put together a matching program- it doesn't have to be cheesy, just having the option and the inventory available. Feel confident and comfortable bitching and moaning if they serve a moscato with your chocolate dessert!

Perhaps only in those "elite" environments, the maitre d' can be your most valuable FOH asset. At their best they are your (and the chef's, of course) representative out on the floor. In a best case scenario, the chef, pastry chef and front man are a trio, a visible team. And as one once described his job to me, a good maitre d' simply stands in front of the food, believing in it much like a gallery owner or museum curator. Make sure you find support there too.

While you are not likely going to match the executive's chef's salary, at least try to put yourself in a position where you can command the same respect, as someone who efficiently runs their own department, and exercises creative control.

3. Beyond the kitchen. Is your name on the menu? Do you have business cards? How many regular guests do you know by name or by sight? If you have the opportunity to walk the dining room, by all means, clean yourself up and get out there! If you are doing the best work you can do, people will want to tell you how much they loved it and ask questions. I work in an open kitchen; it was bizarre at first. And while there are still times I just want to hide and do my thing, I see it as a unique opportunity. I'll put certain components and garnishes on the counter in full view just to impress and start conversations. Guests will want to know how that was made, and what exactly is that? This winter, if you put Buddha's Hand on the menu, keep a whole one, and see how long you can snake through the dining room, showing off this crazy piece of fruit!

Say yes to every ludicrous substitution and cater to every paranoid food allergy. Do you have a couple who dines in house on a weekly basis? A guy who drops a cool grand on that '82 Petrus? The cute couple who just got engaged? Have one or two VIP desserts- a surprise, something off the menu, two or three bites, something that makes people feel good. A pannacotta, a fruit soup... easy. Pay attention. Remember the crazy guy who only likes a Grand Marnier soufflé with extra creme anglaise, but also recognize the woman who has had everything on the menu and be prepared to whip up something new, just for her. Earn yourself some fans. At the same time, make sure they know who is responsible for it. You overhear that someone is going to Spain? Tell them they have to go to Cacao Sampaka and Espai Sucre. Give them the scoop. Tell them about that kooky eGullet website. Let them know you are down with what's up. Build a following among your regulars. They'll come to think of you whenever they think of pastry.

4. The outside world. The kitchen staff is now curious about what you'll do next, the servers are happy because the guests are buying and loving everything, and chef is happy because the percentage of covers ordering dessert is well above 50%. Word of mouth is spreading, and you even have a good amount of late tables and bar traffic coming in for dessert only. Pastry cooks at other restaurants in town want to come and stage for a day. On your one night off you go out to another restaurant and see a copy of something you did last month. You are the big PC in your town or burg.

If your restaurant or establishment has been open for awhile, chances are you are well in between the review cycle. But some local food writer catches wind of the buzz you are creating, and gives you a call... "We're doing a story on such and such..." Respond immediately. Chefs are notorious for being behind schedule and unorganized. They want one recipe, give them three. Keep your recipes on your computer- easy to access/edit and they can be emailed instantly. When the piece finally comes out, follow up with a thanks and an eagerness to work with them again in the future. Better yet, let them know when they have a story on their hands. Update your local press when you launch a new menu, or when you discover some new ingredient. Hype the local farmer who's getting you those beautiful peaches or that seedy asian market that is likely a chef's playground. You see some story in the NY Times of a chef using tobacco in desserts? Give the scoop to your local editor, saying that you can top that! They run a wire service bit on Pierre Herme using salt in his desserts, invite them into your place so they can taste something that you're doing, demonstrating why it works. It's simply about getting on their radar.

If you live in a modest metropolitan area, you could probably name a half dozen daily, weekly, or monthly publications with limited, local circulation. If you don't know the food editor or writer by name, it's time to do some homework. Know their phone numbers and email addresses; know who they think is good and not so. They need you to generate interesting copy, and you need them to get some attention. Use them. Same goes with your local radio and television stations; if you or your restaurant has something to promote, give it a shot. They all love free food- especially dessert.

4b. Take your show on the road. So you may not get an invite to Aspen or the Masters in Carmel, but once you get a fair amount of notice, you'll get asked to do all sorts of events- it might be a class for the church ladies, or a big charity gig. If your higher ups are willing to donate the food, you should be willing to donate the time. At first, say yes to everything. You'll learn a lot about setting up a demo and speaking to people the more you force yourself to do it. Doing a walk around tasting for two hundred across town will gear you up for the eventuality of shipping boxes of food to the next state to cook onsite for six hundred. It will come. And then you can be a bit more selective of the events you do. It is really important to talk to the people, and to work hard on how you present yourself. A lot of chefs phone it in with these kind of things. Challenge yourself- it will be noticed.

5. Going national. It's sad but true. If you read about a chef in one of the glossies, or even Food Arts or Nation's Restaurant News, chances are they have PR representation. I vividly remember the day my naivete and innocence were shattered when I realized that many of my chef heroes made the big time with the help of publicists. I was under the delusion that chefs acheived fame simply of their own merit. Well, merit obviously plays a major role (though we all have our own lists of famous chefs who shouldn't be!), but good PR can be beneficial in at least getting your foot in the door, and getting on the radar screens of the big boys. Even if you find yourself with those resources available, it will still require a lot of work on your part. The deadlines are shorter, the restrictions tighter, and the competition for that space is more fierce. And then you have to keep pressure on the firm that represents you, reinforcing your vision and goals. You may want to be in Art Culinaire, but left to their own devices you might be lucky to surface in Restaurant Business. Just like the local press, the national press need us too. And despite what the evidence within the industry shows us, there is a slow creep of interest from the media. Whether it will boost the profession outside the big names... I don't know.

So yeah, as Fat Guy noted, it all begins with not "sucking". I think it helps to have some kind of vision, something personal. And professionalism, both in the kitchen and out is key. There is also a lot of necessary motivation and work outside the kitchen, which I think FG meant by the word "de-ghettoize". It's not difficult, it's just a matter of commitment.
Michael Laiskonis
Pastry Chef
New York
www.michael-laiskonis.com

#28 nightscotsman

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Posted 17 August 2003 - 06:35 AM

Wow, Michael - thanks so much for inspirational and educational post! You really should write a book or at least a longer article on the subject. I've been reading this thread as someone just starting out in the pastry field with very mixed feelings. A small part of me is still questioning if I'm nuts and doing the right thing, but now that I'm on my way I'm more strongly convinced this is for me.

The thing that needs to be said here is that being a pastry chef isn't really all that different from a hundred other professionals who feel they don't get the recognition they deserve. I know - replace the words "pastry chef" with "graphic designer" in most of the above posts and they would still ring true, for the both the good and bad points. Part of what you have to ask yourself is what kind of recognition you want and why do you want it? Do you want the ego boost of seeing your name in print and a pat on the back from the exec chef, or do you want to promote your work to further your career, make yourself more valuable to current and future employers, bring in more customers, and help bring notice to the profession in general? Of course we would all like to feel appreciated, but to rely on outside praise for our sense of self-worth is the road to heartache and bitterness.

Michael's points about self-promotion are spot on. It truly is a fantasy if we think we can just put out wonderful desserts and the world will beat a path to our door. There is no profession anywhere that works that way. And as much as we may sneer at many of the Celebrity Chefs, they have done a huge service to chefs everywhere by bringing attention, legitimacy and respectability to the profession. We have a small handful of pastry chefs willing to do the work to put themselves out there at that level, and whatever their motives or real level of skill I say "congratulations and go for it"! Ultimately they will end up helping us all.

#29 tan319

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Posted 17 August 2003 - 10:22 AM

Quit your job tommarrow Tan and see how easy it is to find another comfy gig. Once upon a time you could leave a job when you had enough and find another with-in a couple weeks -it ain't so anymore boys. In Chi town even the lousy bakeries all drying up and closing down. The economy seems much worse then I see published, everythings down to bare bones around here. Pc's are the last to get hired and the first to go.

I have to clear a few things up here.
Firstly, I've meant no malice in what I've written and hope it's not been taken that way by anybody, especially you, Sinclair.
I don't work what I would call a "comfy" gig. I don't call 10 bucks an hour particularly 'comfy' bucks.
I P-chef at 2 places, one that is horribly run but that has a lot of heart, and another that is pretty well run.
At the aforementioned one I often have to wait around till a store opens so I can get eggs because someone forgot to order them. Or go grocery shopping for milk at 5 or 6 am.
The other one has all the unlevel tables and crap. Crappy ventilation and cooling.
Servers that SUCKKKKK!!!!! For the most part. But I do end up selling a respectable # of plate's though. Enough to keep my job.

I have lucked out once or twice when I was unhappy with my working conditions and fell into another gig. But those were usually resumes that were already out there and got picked up by a manager or chef again. I've also quit a gig because of shitty conditions and done something else, like cooking breakfast at a fajita joint then ran off to another low paying gig at a savory place in the afternoon. , just to make ends meet. I have a family to support, you know, I'm not just huffing off because someone pisses me off. When conditions become intolerable or a chef is impossible to deal with, ie; I can't look them in the eye because they're so clueless and I don't have a shred of respect for them, that's when I go.
I only suggested getting out of a place because you (Sinclair) have seemed extremely unhappy and stressed and have written about it here. I guess it worried me that you seemed so morose and beat up.
But good on you if you can work under crappy conditions sounds (crappier then mine) and clueless chefs and still be able to do it.
And BTW, all summer I've felt like I've had a bulls-eye on my back as far as the P chefs being the first to get the boot subject goes. That makes me VERY uncomfortable. It's also one of the reasons I keep my other job.
2317/5000

#30 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 18 August 2003 - 08:16 AM

[quote name='tan319' date='Aug 17 2003, 10:22 AM'] [quote name='Sinclair' date='Aug 16 2003, 09:22 PM']
I only suggested getting out of a place because you (Sinclair) have seemed extremely unhappy and stressed and have written about it here. I guess it worried me that you seemed so morose and beat up.
[/QUOTE]
No, I'm the happiest I've been in years. Yes, I've gone thru alot over the years....but I'm in the best place possible. Being freelance is like being self employeed. I'm just pointing out reasons and experiences hoping that someone reading this who hasn't been in our shoes will learn and maybe open up.

Yes, I do have issues that are near and dear to me and I'll push them out there until I can't type any more. I drag things out of the closet because until somethings are addressed and thought about, nothing will get better. If just one chef reads this thread and walks away with a better understanding of the pastry side we've done something good.

One thing I'll always be frustated about is how little attention is given to desserts by the hotside and management. I'd like someone to address this seriously with the masses of chefs out there that aren't working in "elite" restaurants. Attention in this regard: having a pc on staff. I don't understand why they don't care about making a profit on desserts? Shouldn't they care about the quality of every item they serve their clients?
Obviously I've worked at places that have (to some degree) or I wouldn't have been hired.
I had one place that used me for their weekly buffets and ala carte menu then only sold ice cream on their banquets. How totally stupid that looks finacially (to me). Their explaination was they wanted to keep my hours down. Full time-making their banquet desserts would have paid for everything else.

Having a pc on staff doesn't always have to mean complications. I try very hard to always make my work something that doesn't demand more attention or work from the hot side. But it's still a "battle" (for lack of a better word) to teach and show chefs this. Often I'll have a chef cut me off mid sentence when I'm suggesting something "new" to them. "New" as in different they how they've always done things. I'd like to figure out how to comunicate better and break down the barriers between pastry and the hot side.

For instance (this is something I've seen at EVERY club I've been at), I'm at a place that's bastardizing morning pastries. They have a line cook baking off fruit breads (that are beyond horrid) and they buy in packaged danish and serve it in the package. Nothing ever gets eaten off the platter by the clients and they hold and re-serve this over and over. They do similar with their cookie trays (for golf outtings lunchs). They use a brownie mix (that's fine) but they never have the same guy bake it off. I've seen it vertually raw, burned, stuck in the pan, etc... and they hold their cookies for weeks at room temp.

From my experience when things aren't being eaten it's usually because they're not good. But from the chefs perspective they think these items aren't being eaten because no one is hungry or no one eats danish anymore. So instead of looking at why no ones eating and improving what being offered the chefs go the other way and think "why bother" if no one is going to eat it (yet alone pay for a pc to make these items that aren't going to be eaten).

I think to some extent we're like witch doctors (sorry I couldn't think of a better example) to chefs. They really don't understand our work and fear that we'll be difficult and more demanding upon their kitchen.

I have no interest with "recognition" from from anyone outside of where I work. Recognition from with-in is everything. Just being treated at part of the group, the whole team is what pleases me now. (p.s. I have it).

Edited by Sinclair, 18 August 2003 - 08:30 AM.