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dreams of being a french pastry chef


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I wanted to throw this out there in hopes that maybe I could find an answer, a plan, advice, some way of doing this...I have searched around here at various threads and found a lot of wonderful great advice, but frankly I am still a little scared, mostly of being a laughing stock at the idea. Most of the people in my life with the expection of my husband and best friend of 17 years only knows this...but...

I WANT TO BE A PASTRY CHEF... A FRENCH ONE!

There I said it...I admit. So? go be one you may say. Ok, well enough, but I am almost 39 years old and all the profiles of great chefs I have read started when they were way young. I don't have to be famous, I don't have to be rich. I just want to spend my life making great pastry. It makes me happy to see people go MMMMMMMM....and smile when they eat my cooking. I sneak home from work to check my bread rising. I am home today to study croisants, I bake every waking minute that I don't have to be at my miserable job. (I am a computer tech) I don't even need money except enough to pay the rent maybe, I am not into fancy clothes or cars....I just want to bake....in France. French pastry makes my heart sing. I soothing peace washes over me when I bake. I can stand there for hours and hours without flinching just making dough, hunting down ingrediants....

My husband and I are looking into moving to Denver to go to Johnston and Wales in October, then hope to move to France and work when we are done. I want to volunteer in a pastry shop or hotel kitchen somewhere before we go to gain some insight and experience (staging, I think it's called) I been too scared to ask a chef, don't want to be a pain, or to be laughed out of the place. But I also realize some guts are needed here....

Is this too crazy at 39? Is there someone on this board with a simular story? How did it work out? Any "pearls of wisdom" you would be willing to share?

Thanks for listening.....just wanted to take the first steps in getting it out there...

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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I know that chromedome here on eGullet did something very similar at a similar age. I too have been thinking about a career change (but not in France!) but can't afford to quit my dread job right now. I'm 38 and my carpal tunnel/tendonitis sometimes screams at me "no, no!" but I still think I could do it. I spent 4 days cooking for 24 people (with 1 part time assistant) a couple of months ago. It was a lot of work but I enjoyed every freakin' minute of it. I felt almost rejuvenated at the end of the time, really. I am quite certain that some type of culinary job will be my "second career" in the next 5 years. If it's your dream, then live it!

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Hello! Well I am making a career change and I am even older than you!! I suggest you take a good course. If you are in Europe then there are plenty of fantastic options. There is a great school in Switzerland and of course in many other places. Do it fast, it took me 6 years to decide and I regret the time lost!!

Edited by Lior (log)
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I am about in tears as I read your words of encouragment. I almost started out of high school to go to culinary arts school, but life had other plans. I dreamed all that time of going. Everyone I know thinks I am crazy (exept my husband, who wants to be a chef) for wanting to chuck a computer career for something that has the potential to be not as profitable. But they don't understand its not about the money....it's about doing what I love. Its about not spending 40+ hours out of the week miserable. I live in the US, so I move to France is going to be tough, but that is a few years away and we have lot of time to prepare and learn what to do. Right now getting my foot in the door is the main thing. And getting my butt to Denver to go to school. I get to leave in October (our lease is up then, and we get time to save a bit of money) I can't wait....I am itching to go....

Have any of you volunteered in a bakery? If so, how did you approach the chef?

Thanks again for all your love and encouragment.

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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One of my favorite passages in Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" goes something like this:

Q: If I start now, do you know how old I'll be when I'm finally proficient at baking/painting/dancing/playing piano?

A: Yes. Exactly as old as you'll be if you don't. So get moving.

Notes from the underbelly

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If you are that passionate about your baking then go for it. What do you got to lose. I just now figured out what I want to do and that is being a chocolateir. Weather it be working for someone or opening my own place, I just want to make chocolate confections. I to page thru all the books and dream up different things I can make.

I'm 52 years old so don't ever think you are too late to start at anything. Follow your dream and keeps us posted.

:smile:

Rena

Edited by renam (log)
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hi,

about 2 years ago we opened a french patisserie in cologne/germany (there are only 4 or 5 in the whole of germany). since we are quite sucessful (people ripping the petit gateau off our hands) we are openeing two more stores in cologne, including one chocolatier shop where you can actually see the chocolate beeing produced. in these last two years we dealt with a number of people, some beeing amateur bakers, french professional patissiers and several german pastry chefs.

my two cents are that you CAN do it (we currently employ a 40 year old former insurance salesman who is doing very well) even though it will be hard work. our head pastry chef is japanese and is very very strict, but if you want authentic products you have to do it that way. on a recent trip to paris we went to a lot of patisseries and found that we are on a very good way.

i dont want to discourage you but if i were you i wouldnt try working in a patisserie in france it will be very disappointing unless your technique is advanced, your french is near perfect and you have a high frustation tolerance level. the french are difficult to work with, the ones i met were arrogant and all of them were primadonnas.

my advice: come to germany do a pastry master course its only 5000 euros and it takes one year, after that you will have quite a few contacts and might make it to france more easy. they have a nice student exchange program with the compagnon du devoir in france which is an origanisation of journeyman who work all across france...

if you need further help, just give me a message

cheers

torsten schoeneich

toertchen toertchen - patisserie artisanale

Edited by schneich (log)

toertchen toertchen

patissier chocolatier cafe

cologne, germany

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No pearls or wisdom but just wanted to say good luck and go for it. It took a bad health scare last year for me to say, I don't like this job anymore even if it pays well. I have figured out several ideas that would thrill me and am trying to find ways to make one (or more) of them work. I can't imagine how spectacular it would be to be a pastry chef in France. Best of Luck!

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Hello,

NO SHAME WHATSOEVER! I think that it's great to want to be a 'French Pastry Chef,' if by that you mean an unqualified commitment to great products, flawless technique, a wonderful palette, and making things that first and foremost TASTE GOOD!

As for as books to read, I would go ready 'A Meal Observed' about a reporter's dinner at a Michelin 3 Star, that has an intern working in the pastry kitchen after writing to all the best French restaurants, so it's possible.

Another thing, think very seriously before laying down the $$$ to go to school, look around your area to see if you can work for free to see what the Life is all about. But if you do, look into the French Pastry School OR Notter School which I think would work well for you, if you wanted to take that kind of leap, plus they are around 15k less than where I went to school.

Do not fall into the trap that you have to go to school, it is nice, but NOTHING beats working in a real kitchen AND having true passion.

Not all the French are jerks, etc, etc...some are...but then again, so are Americans, Germans, Japanese, South Africans....that's a human thing, not a 'french' one. As a matter of fact, spent last week working very closely with one of the best french pastry chefs in the states, and it was one of the most pleasant and wonderful experiences of my own pastry career....so there you go, just another perspective.

Good Luck!

Edited by readingrilke (log)
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I don't think you can become a French pastry chef unless you're French but there's no reason you can't be a pastry chef in France. :raz:

Just kidding. Go for it! I'm 40 years old and I'm cooking in a restaurant plus we somewhat recently added a catering division (not catering the restaurant menu, it's "we do what you want even if it's not something we usually do") which has become busy enough that we're going to have to hire somebody to take over my post at the restaurant if it keeps going (no more pesky customers interrupting my cooking :laugh:). I've never been to culinary school and never cooked in a professional setting until about 5 years ago (unless you count a couple years in the prep kitchen at a hospital about 20 or so years ago). It's more work and less money than my former "career" but I'm happy and have no plans to return to the "easy life".

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I was 43 when I went to live in Paris while going to pastry school at Ferrandi. This was a career change for me, as I was formerly a windows application developer.

Now I make chocolates for a living! :biggrin:

Whether you choose to go to school or not, you CAN do it if you really want to.

Some useful links...

ESCF Ferrandi Culinary School

Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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I took the plunge when I was 49 and went to culinary school here in NYC. I left a 20 + year

career in the fashion industry to follow my dream. Now, I have my own little business!

Granted, I'm not making French pastries, but I'm baking and making clients (and myself)

very happy!

Who was it who said "Youth is wasted on the young"? It's a most applicable addage, because

not all of us have the confidence to explore our passions at an earlier age.

I say, hats off to all who have the moxie to go out there and give it a go!

www.onetoughcookienyc.com

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I (and other culinary school graduates I know) have come to the realization that there is a vast difference between cooking for pleasure and cooking for work. While I am all for following your dream, your dream may not include the realities of working in a commercial/retail operation.

I too had a dream of becoming a pastry chef. I went to school, worked in kitchens and, as much as I love it, I realized that cooking for a living does not suit me (at least not at this point in my life). And it's not that I don't have a "passion" for it, that word that gets thrown around so much in this industry.

Sometimes I still dream of opening my own place. Who knows, it may still happen, but for now I cook for family, friends and an occasional client, and, for me, it's better this way. Talk to people in the industry, new and old. Try to get some candid feedback about what's it's really like. Getting a job is a great start, it will tell you things that school never will.

I'm not sorry I went to culinary school. Some of my closest friends are people I went to school with, and I learned things I will use the rest of my life.

My advice is this: Follow your dream, but realize it may take you somewhere other than where you thought you were going.

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I was 42 when I got laid off from my Pension Consulting job. Now I'm a chocolatier. I like to tell people that now I use the other side of my brain. The first thing I did when I lost my job was take a week long "career discovery class" at the CIA Greystone in Napa CA. It was exposure to all aspects of pastry including bread and chocolate. The week long class gave me some idea of the skills I felt I lacked in terms of getting a job in the industry.After that I decided to go to a six month culinary school-specifically pastry. I had thought about it for years, but never had the nerve to give up a good salary. School was good for me but is certainly not for everyone. In the beginning it was like boot camp. In the end it was a great experience.

I've also taken several classes at the Notter school. As someone else said, it's a great alternative to pick up some skills from top chefs without the huge expense.

I've worked a several jobs (usually starting at 4AM) including stages at a restaurant, and a bakery/chocolate shop. I now have my own small chocolate business and at this point in my life it's what's for me. You may be able to get a position at a local bakery or supermarket without training. It really depends on what they need and how persistent you are. Taking a few basic classes wouldn't hurt.

One last thing: in my past life, when I would meet someone and tell them what I did for a living, their eyes would glaze over. Now they get all excited and ask me if they could be my taster. You can't beat the joy of seeing someone enjoy a great piece of chocolate.

Good luck to you in whatever path you take.

www.cheri-pie.com

Life is too short. Eat good chocolate.

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I think it is important to maintain perspective with this. When I hear "you can't" or "you might be suprised" or other words of caution, while true in certain circumstances, they may not be applicable to all situations. For example, are we talking about working in the pastry factory of the Belaggio, or a pastry shop in downtown New York, or a Mom and Pop shop in the rural lavender fields of France. Each has different demands.

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Thank you everyone for your wonderful words of encouragement, advice and support. I do plan on voluneering in a bakery as soon as I hone my skills a wee bit more (I currently bake every sunday for 14 of my husbands co-workers) and I want to get some more home practice in, maybe a weekend course at French Pastry School in Chicago, before I volunteer somewhere. (as to not make a complete fool of myself!) I love French pastry in particular, but if I wind up making other kinds I would love that too. I have given chocolate a thought. That would be fantastic! (I am pea green with envy!) I would go now and volunteer, but for some reason Oklahoma is very low on "quality" pastry shops places to volunteer. Most people go to supermarkets for cakes and such....

I also realize it will be hard, sucky at times maybe. But ever since I was being pulled out of my classes in High School to design cakes for the Home Ec. department, I dreamed of being a pastry chef, fear has kept me from it all this time. I am determined to not let fear win this time. I am going to bake and do it for a living. The ultimate goal is my own shop, maybe work in France only a few years once my husband and I are out of school.

Thank you everyone, thank you! You have no idea how much the words of advice and encouragement has meant.

edit to add: now if I can just keep from eating my product....hmmmmmm....LOL :rolleyes:

Edited by CKatCook (log)

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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greenbean raises some valid points but I think most of that is more related to individuals and their specific situation than the industry in general. Cooking for work and cooking for pleasure are not the same but it's not that big a gap between the two if you position yourself carefully. That requires being honest with yourself and seeking out the situation you want to be in even if it slows down the process of moving up in the ranks to where you see yourself eventually. Even then, it can become tedious at times but that's true whether you're doing something you enjoy or something you hate. Kinda like if you love chocolate and hate liver, if you had to spend all day every day tasting one it would become tiresome at times either way but at least with the chocolate it's something you actually like.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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greenbean raises some valid points but I think most of that is more related to individuals and their specific situation than the industry in general. Cooking for work and cooking for pleasure are not the same but it's not that big a gap between the two if you position yourself carefully. That requires being honest with yourself and seeking out the situation you want to be in even if it slows down the process of moving up in the ranks to where you see yourself eventually. Even then, it can become tedious at times but that's true whether you're doing something you enjoy or something you hate. Kinda like if you love chocolate and hate liver, if you had to spend all day every day tasting one it would become tiresome at times either way but at least with the chocolate it's something you actually like.

But how does one go about positioning themselves carefully? Right now I am looking up every industry magazine, article, book, etc. I can get my hands on to learn more about the business itself. Where can I find the best information about the industry to make good informed decisions? (I read Egullet's fine posts, from fine people, but other than that I am lost)...

Thanks!!

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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But how does one go about positioning themselves carefully?

Well, a little soul-searching, a lot of research and a bit of luck help but what I was not-so-elequently getting at is that it doesn't have to be "now that I'm doing this as a job I don't like it so much anymore". It may take time and money (or the lack thereof) to get where you want to go but you can get there. Best case, your research into yourself and the industry will lead you to the right door and all is warm and fuzzy. Worst case, it leads you to a wrong door and you have to move on a time or three (all the while gaining valuable experience and new perspectives on how to do things). Eventually you will find what you're looking for without the job dread that makes you start to hate the thing you loved.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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But how does one go about positioning themselves carefully?

Well, a little soul-searching, a lot of research and a bit of luck help but what I was not-so-elequently getting at is that it doesn't have to be "now that I'm doing this as a job I don't like it so much anymore". It may take time and money (or the lack thereof) to get where you want to go but you can get there. Best case, your research into yourself and the industry will lead you to the right door and all is warm and fuzzy. Worst case, it leads you to a wrong door and you have to move on a time or three (all the while gaining valuable experience and new perspectives on how to do things). Eventually you will find what you're looking for without the job dread that makes you start to hate the thing you loved.

Oh, I get it..(finally)...there is no clear cut path, which is very different from the computer field where I currently am...

I am just so excited. I have wanted this for a very long time, I just want to make sure I am going about this career change in the right manner. But I am discovering that this may mean different things for different people, different stories.

Thank you once again everyone for your inspiring words....

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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