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WillTheMarine

Getting into the Business

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Ok, so here's the deal with me. I want to be a pastry chef... I know it's a pretty definite statement, but it's something I've accepted. You see, I've been working on figuring out what I want to do for sometime now. I guess everyone kinda goes through that, I'm nothing special. I just think that maybe I've had a little more time to think it over than most people my age.

It's easier just to tell you where I've been, in order to explain where I want to go. I guess it really started back in high school. I thought I wanted to be an automotive technician. So, like most people I went to a vocational program. I even got a job as a tech. I realized quickly that it wasn't for me. The next time was to go to college. So I went to college at Oklahoma State for three semesters. I changed my major twice in that short period of time and eventually withdrew because I had no drive. I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel I was convinced that I was wasting my time. So then I joined the United States Marine Corps. Of all the professions available to me through the Marines I chose the infantry. Now I have a little over a year left and I'm on my second combat deployment to Iraq. I've had a little time to grow up, and I've been through a lot of grow up quick situations.

One of the things that I always look forward to is going home a couple times a year and baking. A lot of people tell me I'm kinda weird. Simply because I'm supposed to be this tough Marine. When actually I'm just a fairly normail guy with a passion for baking. And yes, I'd call it a passion. I truly love everything about it. I like the fact that you can put a bunch of random ingredients together and create something that can make people so happy. So I'm pretty sure that I have the motivation to do this as a career.

I've been reading through a lot of the post on this site. I few things that everyone talks about is the hours. Early mornings, long hours, and how it's just plan physically demanding. I'd let to think that I can handle that. I'm very, very used to little to no sleep, and very early mornings. I can also spend all day on my feet without really thinking twice about it. So I'm pretty sure that i can handle that portion of the career also.

My problem is, where do I go from here? I've been looking into different schools, and honestly I'm just not sure. I mean CIA looks good, but is it really worth the money. Granted I already have a scholarship and the GI Bill to help pay for my education. So the financial burden isn't really too big of a worry for me. I've also been looking into the FCI. Once again though, I just don't really know.

I don't know anyone in the industry, everything I learn I learn from books and the internet. I really don't have anywhere to go for advice. So that's why I'm here. I just want advice. Advice on anything really. What the industry is like? What to expect from school, and the industry? If I do choose CIA, what's the best why to go about getting the 6 months of experience that is required? Have I missed anything that I should know? As you can probably tell I'm just looking for any information I can get about anything. Any adive at all would be appreciated.

Thanks

Will

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Hey, Will, congratulations on hearing the calling. If it really is your calling, I hope you have a long and satisfying career. First off, what do you mean by 'I want to be a pastry chef'? Do you want to be pastry chef at a restaurant and create plated desserts? Is a big hotel with lots of banquets your dream? Do you love to bake bread? Decorate cakes? Do you want to have the neighborhood bakery where all the kids love your colorful cookies and cute cupcakes? Pastry has a lot of different aspects, so think about which one you want to pursue, then try to get a job in that area. Find a bakery or restaurant that you respect (ideally one that is hiring) and offer to work for free for a week if they are skeptical about your lack of experience. If you have pictures of things you've made at home, those can help in an interview. Prospective employers will want to know that you can work fast, clean, detailed, consistent, try to find ways to relate your previous experience to the kitchen - how you can handle pressure, solve problems, give & take direction.

I didn't go to school so I'm going to tell you that it is not a requirement -I've been baking professionally for 12 years, pastry chef for 9, mostly in independent restaurants, now at a small luxury hotel in Asia. The CIA is a great school, so are the other big expensive ones, but many community colleges have very worthwhile programs at a fraction of the cost. Learning on the job might be slower in some ways, but you end up with more experience and no loans, GI bill or not.

What do you bake? Do you make up your own recipes, tweak existing ones, or follow books to the letter? Will you still be satisfied if you don't actually see the paople enjoying your work?

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Warm welcome to egullet! Heartfelt thank you's for your service to me and mine and our country and planet.

Baking. Mmmm I love to bake also. It's like medicine and harmony and all manner of good juju. First I think you might want to zero in on what kind of pastry chefing you might like best, but you could figure that out in school too. I particularly like to work an oven and bake. I like to make dough and batter in giant jillion quart bowls and pan it and bake it. I'm not so much into plating myself. But lots of pastry folks do lots of plating. Maybe you would like to bake artisan bread? Do you want to go solo and open a business or work in a bakery or restaurant?

Spending a fortune on a culinary education is not necessary in my opinion. My son did this. And when he got out he had a diploma just like every other culinary student that paid a fraction of what he paid. His girlfriend lived near the pricey school. :rolleyes:

But I would recommend that you shop around for a nice school where you can get some good inroads and networking going for yourself. I would recommend that if you stage (pronounced stahj) that it's just within the confines of interviewing for a position or for one or two days. The work-for-free option should conclude with your externship in the last semester of school.

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First I think you might want to zero in on what kind of pastry chefing you might like best, but you could figure that out in school too. I particularly like to work an oven and bake. I like to make dough and batter in giant jillion quart bowls and pan it and bake it. I'm not so much into plating myself. But lots of pastry folks do lots of plating. Maybe you would like to bake artisan bread? Do you want to go solo and open a business or work in a bakery or restaurant?

I can tell you that plating really doesn't interest me too much. I'd be more towards the oven and baking parts of it. And yes eventually I do want to go solo and open my own bakery. This is a goal of mine.

As far as the education. I really want to at least come out of this with a bachelors degree. My mother, who is a pricinpal (You could say that education is kinda important to her), is pushing me in the same direction. So that's why I'm leaning more towards a school like CIA.

Thanks for all the advice,

Will

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What do you bake?  Do you make up your own recipes, tweak existing ones, or follow books to the letter?  Will you still be satisfied if you don't actually see the people enjoying your work?

I usually bake that looks interesting or challenging to me :smile: . But really, I lean more towards Cakes, breads, breakfast pastries. Most times I'll find a recipe that I think looks good. Then I'll either tweak it while I'm preparing it, or wait untill the next time I make it and try something different. I'm just the kind of person who has to add their own twist to everything. I'm also working on putting some of the ideas I have into actual recipes. I just don't have the oppurtunity to try them out right now. I'd like to think that I could handle people you didn't enjoy my work, but no telling how I'll take it when it happens.

Thanks,

Will

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Welcome to eGullet, WillTheMarine!

It's really important that you follow your passion; so many people ignore the one they have, and spend their lives regretting it. You are wise to listen to your heart. If it's important to your family and you have financial help from the government for the tremendous sacrifices you've made, your idea to go to the CIA sounds like it's a good fit. Everyone will be happy that way.

Good luck!

Eileen


Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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Welcome, Will. I too did a switch from web design to pastry about 5 years ago, and finding my true passion has been the best thing I've ever done.

There have been several other discussions/opinions regarding whether or not pastry school is or isn't necessary. For me, it was simply a timing issue, that I would have had to wait about 6 months to enter the program and about 2 years to finish the program. I wanted out of the corporate world within a year, so I decided it would be faster to learn on my own by buying a couple of books on baking chemistry and learning on my own by baking something nearly every night until I mastered the recipes/techniques I needed to start my dessert business.

I also got a job at a catering company for a few months, and even though I was just scooping muffins, making up scones, and baking a few loaves, I learned quite a bit about the industry, how to save time, and such.

So whether or not you choose to enter an "official" school, the most important thing is you immerse yourself in the world of baking. Try to get a job in the industry, even if it's non-paying or only a day or so a week. Plan bakery tours in your town, and travel to other towns and do the same. Try as many pastries as you can, and maybe take notes (either mentally or by writing down) on what you like or don't like. Go to the library and check out a stack of cookbooks. Just immerse yourself in the world of pastry.

That would be my advice.


Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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So whether or not you choose to enter an "official" school, the most important thing is you immerse yourself in the world of baking. Try to get a job in the industry, even if it's non-paying or only a day or so a week. Plan bakery tours in your town, and travel to other towns and do the same. Try as many pastries as you can, and maybe take notes (either mentally or by writing down) on what you like or don't like. Go to the library and check out a stack of cookbooks. Just immerse yourself in the world of pastry.

First off, thanks for the advice. Second, I have bought a couple books that cover the chemistry of baking, I'm currently waiting on them to get shipped to Iraq, but I'm looking forward to reading through them when I have spare time. I'm also hoping to start doing some tours around the bakeries in Hawai'i (that's where I'm at when not in Iraq) when I get back. After my commitment to the Marines is over with I plan on spending some time back home, probably working on my 6 months of experience needed to enroll in CIA. So I plan on sampling and learning as much as possible during that time also. Right now though, I'm kinda stuck in a desert. So I have to do all my learning by reading. Once done, though, I think I'll have enough time to see enough businesses and to learn if this really is for me. Hopefully it all works out.

Thanks again,

Will

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What do you bake?  Do you make up your own recipes, tweak existing ones, or follow books to the letter?  Will you still be satisfied if you don't actually see the people enjoying your work?

. I'd like to think that I could handle people you didn't enjoy my work, but no telling how I'll take it when it happens.

Thanks,

Will

I meant that a lot of pastry jobs feature zero interaction with the clientele, you might be making desserts from 6am to 3pm for a restaurant that doesn't open until 5pm. You don't always get a lot of feedback or get to see the happy faces and clean plates. Usually you can find a server or fellow cook with a major sweet tooth to stroke your ego when you need it, but worthwhile feedback can be hard to find.

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What do you bake?  Do you make up your own recipes, tweak existing ones, or follow books to the letter?  Will you still be satisfied if you don't actually see the people enjoying your work?

. I'd like to think that I could handle people you didn't enjoy my work, but no telling how I'll take it when it happens.

Thanks,

Will

I meant that a lot of pastry jobs feature zero interaction with the clientele, you might be making desserts from 6am to 3pm for a restaurant that doesn't open until 5pm. You don't always get a lot of feedback or get to see the happy faces and clean plates. Usually you can find a server or fellow cook with a major sweet tooth to stroke your ego when you need it, but worthwhile feedback can be hard to find.

:biggrin: Ok, that makes a little more sense. I suppose I could handle that too.

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Will, Are you from Oklahoma? Are you going to be returning to OK? If so, you might want to look into the culinary program at Platt College in OKC. They offer an Associates Degree program which could get you on your way. Check them out at: http://www.plattcollege.org/programs/culinaryarts.htm

Bob R in OKC


Bob R in OKC

Home Brewer, Beer & Food Lover!

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I normally offer the same advice as most you above (community college, workshops, staging, etc.), but here's a chance of a lifetime - he's on the GI Bill! I say that I would lean toward bang for the buck - look at restrictions on the GI Bill and if that means the CIA - cool. If it means a community college with some high end workshops - cool too. Normally "money is not an object" is not tossed around in this discussion when we're talking up to $30-50K.

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Just thought i would throw out, that as someone who worked for a few years in the pastry world before going to school (Johnson & Wales University), that going to school will seriously speed up the learning process, as you are exposed to many aspects and diverse techniques in a very short period of time, not to mention the learning on how to work quickly, efficiently, and cleanly. Of course school is just the beginning, and staging is always important.

Also something to consider which no one seems to ever mention is the pay. I firmly believe that someone who is a marine can handle the long hours, hard physical work, and stress. But for many, all of that combined with a relatively low pay rate especially for someone just getting into the business is too much and people run back out of the kitchen. You really must have a love and passion for doing pastry/baking for 10.00 bucks an hour and in some areas 10.00 bucks is being generous for the first few years. No one likes to mention that profit margins in bakeries, and the food business in general is very small, so wages are usually pretty low. I am not trying to discourage you, just trying to be honest. It took me almost 10 years to pay off my school loans ( this would not be the case for you) and although i am now paid very well, it was a lot of hard work and studying, and travel to get there.

Just some thoughts to consider. :biggrin:


Eric

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...going to school will seriously speed up the learning process, as you are exposed to many aspects and diverse techniques in a very short period of time, not to mention the learning on how to work quickly, efficiently, and cleanly.  Of course school is just the beginning, and staging is always important.

Also something to consider which no one seems to ever mention is the pay.  I firmly believe that someone who is a marine can handle the long hours, hard physical work, and stress.  But for many, all of that combined with a relatively low pay rate especially for someone just getting into the business is too much and people run back out of the kitchen.

I've been waiting for someone to throw some real positives in about school. The more i read throughout the forum the more I think that CIA might really be the place for me. I think it will be a good learning experience on many different levels. And New York is a great place to get exposed to many different types of food.

As far as the pay. I've had this discussion many different times with many different people. I'm a believer that money isn't the most important thing in the world (That statement is almost anti-american :smile: ) Like a said early, my mother was a teacher for many years and is now a principal. From her I've learned that as long as you're doing something that you truly love. It doesn't matter how much you get paid. In other words, listen to your heart, not your bank account :biggrin:. So i'm really not worried about the money. Just as long as I'm not living on the street.

Thanks again,

Will

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Y'know school is great and I am not at all discounting it. I think it will also provide a nice backdrop as you transition from military-ness back to civilian-ness. I can't thank you enough for your service. But for sure regular pastry school will provide a comfy and exciting personal proof box for you too.

However, school is gonna move at a pace that is not all baking all the time of course. So another idea to toss into the idea pot are classes at the World Pastry Forum. Let me hasten to say a couple things. This is not to replace regular pastry school at all--it's just an idea. It is the awsomest thing I ever had the privilege of attending.

As an aside unfortunatley, right after my WPF classes that egullet graciously sponsored for me, insert multiplied thank you's here, I had to attend another convention to learn how to open a bookstore/coffee shop and then I got my WPF pictures locked into technical hades in my webpage and the whole week was so big it's been hard to report on it and open a bookstore at the same time. I just wanna write a book and I feel bad about the non-reporting part but the point I'm trying to make is the classes were pure magic. They would be the treat of all treats to you. What a way to jump start your schooling. God I would love that for you.

I just wandered/floated from classroom to classroom being led around by my nose smelling and watching and floating some more and lights are turning on in the cobwebs of my brain over and over and over. Hey, pastry chefs add the sugar for caramel a little at a time and let it melt then add some more. For meringue they do not wind up the mixer to full blast and let 'er rip, they more slowly gently whip the egg whites. I mean you get to watch them make all this crazy stuff then you get to eat it (!!!) and ask questions. It's like freaking Baking Heaven, ok wait more like Beyond Baking Heaven.

I totally gotta do that reporting. But that would be so cool if you could do those classes and they have hands on classes too. But again, not to replace regular school, to enhance it and really submerge you in all things pastry in a short concentrated amount of time. Extremely satisfying/rewarding. So way worth it.

http://www.worldpastryforum.com/ or click here.

So all that to say, while you are in school, see if you can arrange to keep baking on the side too because there will be semesters without any food classes. Maybe be sure you get living arrangements with a stove & all.


Edited by K8memphis (log)

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As far as the pay. I've had this discussion many different times with many different people. I'm a believer that money isn't the most important thing in the world (That statement is almost anti-american :smile: ) Like a said early, my mother was a teacher for many years and is now a principal. From her I've learned that as long as you're doing something that you truly love. It doesn't matter how much you get paid. In other words, listen to your heart, not your bank account  :biggrin:. So i'm really not worried about the money. Just as long as I'm not living on the street.

Thanks again,

Will

You know, starting teachers where I live make about twice as much as starting bakers do. Teacher pay actually looks pretty good now that I've been working in the kitchen.

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You know, starting teachers where I live make about twice as much as starting bakers do.  Teacher pay actually looks pretty good now that I've been working in the kitchen.

Unfortuantly I'm not the teaching type. So I guess I'll just have to settle. :wink:

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...going to school will seriously speed up the learning process, as you are exposed to many aspects and diverse techniques in a very short period of time, not to mention the learning on how to work quickly, efficiently, and cleanly.  Of course school is just the beginning, and staging is always important.

Also something to consider which no one seems to ever mention is the pay.  I firmly believe that someone who is a marine can handle the long hours, hard physical work, and stress.  But for many, all of that combined with a relatively low pay rate especially for someone just getting into the business is too much and people run back out of the kitchen.

I've been waiting for someone to throw some real positives in about school. The more i read throughout the forum the more I think that CIA might really be the place for me. I think it will be a good learning experience on many different levels. And New York is a great place to get exposed to many different types of food.

As far as the pay. I've had this discussion many different times with many different people. I'm a believer that money isn't the most important thing in the world (That statement is almost anti-american :smile: ) Like a said early, my mother was a teacher for many years and is now a principal. From her I've learned that as long as you're doing something that you truly love. It doesn't matter how much you get paid. In other words, listen to your heart, not your bank account :biggrin:. So i'm really not worried about the money. Just as long as I'm not living on the street.

Thanks again,

Will

I totally understand, money is not everything. I would not being doing Pastry if it were, i am just saying that you need to make sure you can pay your bills, and support your family which is sometimes harder for people making a career transition, but if your cool with that, then go for it! ;-) New york is expensive just like San Francisco(where i first started out after school) and sometimes i had to choose between food and rent. But those were some of the best times of my life that being said.


Eric

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