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pastry chef/dessert chef


pastrygirl
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I've noticed some people (such as the NYT in yesterday's article about soft-serve ice cream) using the title 'dessert chef' instead of 'pastry chef', and I'm wondering where this is coming from and why.

I understand how annoying it can be to tell people you're a pastry chef and have them ask you if you can make really good doughnuts (along with all the other silly questions), but 'dessert' is so much more limiting than 'pastry'. I guess dessert chefs never have to be bothered with breads, savory snacks, or anything remotely associated with breakfast? A sweet, if not very well-rounded position :smile: If you are well-rounded in the pastry arts, why would you use a more limiting title? I know we have some cake artists here, and I think that is a great way to describe a specialty, just as chocolatier or boulanger are very specific.

I don't know, something about 'dessert chef' just sounds a little goofy to me, dumbed down somehow.

Anyone else?

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I agree with your view of the title "dessert chef" sounding very narrow and limiting. I'd certainly never refer to myself that way. But that's just me. I'm a pastry chef because I can do it all....from artisan breads to laminated doughs to doughnuts to fancy wedding cakes.

Maybe some people really ARE just dessert chefs. I don't know if it's a title being used interchangeably with pastry chef or if it's a "new" specialty title......

Patissier, Boulanger.......Dessertier? :laugh::laugh::laugh:

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Maybe they might think pastry chefs know nothing of making ice cream :raz:

Exactly! How is "dessert chef" more limiting than "pastry chef?"

Most of what these guys make is dessert; a small fraction of what they make is pastry. Right?

I think you'd be surprised at the number of "pastry chefs" who are promoted from within (mostly at small independent restaurants) when someone no-shows or quits...these "pastry chefs" usually don't know much about anything and are stuck making desserts. In my opinion they can have the title "dessert chef" but certainly don't deserve the title "pastry chef".

Someone who is a pastry chef should know (at least on a basic level) just about everything that has to do with the baking and pastry arts...like chefpeon said, she can bake bread, make fancy wedding cakes, make desserts, etc. Also, a pastry chef is usually a member of the management team.

While I don't know the origin of the term "dessert chef" it does seem to dumb down what a real pastry chef should know.

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Someone who is a pastry chef should know (at least on a basic level) just about everything that has to do with the baking and pastry arts...like chefpeon said, she can bake bread, make fancy wedding cakes, make desserts, etc.  Also, a pastry chef is usually a member of the management team.

While I don't know the origin of the term "dessert chef" it does seem to dumb down what a real pastry chef should know.

But why is that? "Pastry" seems more limited than "Dessert." Granted, there are savory pastries served with other courses (quiches, amuses, pastry-wrapped meat, etc.) but those often aren't the domain of the pastry chef.

Dessert covers a lot of ground. Cakes, ice creams and sorbets, souflés, mousses, sweet terrines, cookies, merringues, puddings, quickbreads, custards, candies ... none of these things is pastry. All are dessert.

Notes from the underbelly

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I think semantics is getting in the way of our understanding of these terms.

A pastry chef IS a dessert chef, but so much more. Breads, laminated doughs, viennoiserie...and everything in between that and what chefpeon mentioned. The term "pastry chef" does sound limited. But it is not.

If you can't make the basic building blocks of pastry, you don't have the background to make all the components which comprise most desserts. Certainly you can put frozen puff pastry together with creams and mousses and fruit and chocolate and make whatever your heart desires and hey!...you're a dessert chef! But a pastry chef knows how to do all of it, start to finish, no frozen doughs, no mousse from a mix, no ice cream from Haagen Dazs, no frozen choux puffs or pre-baked tart shells.

The title is deceptive. Don't take it literally. :wink:

edited to say that I'm sure some whose title is "dessert chef" CAN and DO make all their components from scratch.

Edited by kitwilliams (log)

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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I think you'd be surprised at the number of "pastry chefs" who are promoted from within (mostly at small independent restaurants) when someone no-shows or quits...these "pastry chefs" usually don't know much about anything and are stuck making desserts.  In my opinion they can have the title "dessert chef" but certainly don't deserve the title "pastry chef".

This is very true and describes me pretty well, although the progression of my promotions wasn't as direct or within one company. I would be a bit screwed if I got saddled with running a breakfast buffet.

However, I might as well be called pastry chef because that is the term that people recognize. The same way I continue to call a lot of the newer technique "molecular gastronomy" because it is the most effective way to get the point across the largest audience with the fewest words. The point of language in most circumstances is effective communication.

Basically "dessert chef" sounds awkward because there is already an established term that everyone uses and understands.

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I've honestly not heard "dessert chef" before now, but the idea is seems pretty silly. I think "pastry cook" is a perfectly servicable title that would apply. The term "pastry chef" gets tossed around enough as it is. To me, the phrase "chef", applied in any situation conveys a certain amount of knowledge and experience. I still wince a little when someone calls me "chef" becuase I've gotten to be around and learn from some really amazing and talented masters. For someone to use the same term for me as I use for them is hard for me to swallow. So saying "dessert chef" is pretty laughable. what's next? salad chef? sandwich chef?

Edited by bluebeard (log)
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I've honestly not heard  "dessert chef" before now, but the idea is seems pretty silly. I think "pastry cook" is a perfectly servicable title that would apply. The term "pastry chef" gets tossed around enough as it is. To me, the phrase "chef", applied in any situation conveys a certain amount of knowledge and experience. I still wince a little when someone calls me "chef" becuase I've gotten to be around and learn from some really amazing and talented masters. For someone to use the same term for me as I use for them is hard for me to swallow. So saying "dessert chef" is pretty laughable. what's next? salad chef? sandwich chef?

ditto what you said, bluebeard. i too am uncomfortable being addressed as "chef". when people ask what i do, i tend to call myself a "pastry baker" as pastry "cook" seems wrong since i am NOT a cook and i wouldn't want to offend my talented friends and colleagues who ARE by being called the same! :laugh:

i'll use myself as an example: i have had terrific schooling. good experience in bakeries, large and small. but restaurants - no -- it's not my thing and i have no desire to work in one. another thing i won't do is wedding cakes. i'll bake and fill and frost you the best tasting cake ever, but i won't decorate it. not my thing. i don't have the patience or, to be perfectly honest, the talent. i'll leave that to you experts out there who love decorating. so i keep on with the things i love doing and that my customers love. but i am not the well-rounded, extensively trained in EVERYTHING Pastry/Dessert...whatever-you-want-to-call-it kind of person who deserves the title of Pastry Chef.

so, after all that, i suppose "dessert chef" may be a good designation for those who do just that and don't have the full training and experience of a Pastry Chef.

what does everyone else think?

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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I'm not a pastry chef, I wouldn't insult those who have the education and experience to wear that title by claiming it for myself. However, I do know the fundamentals and I do make all of the desserts for the restaurant where I work and the catering business the restaurant owner and I have going on the side. So I guess if I had to have a title "dessert cook" would be kinda awkward sounding but appropriate (because I do almost all of the other cooking as well). But I'm not really into titles, I just enjoy doing what I do.

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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ditto what you said, bluebeard. i too am uncomfortable being addressed as "chef". when people ask what i do, i tend to call myself a "pastry baker" as pastry "cook" seems wrong since i am NOT a cook and i wouldn't want to offend my talented friends and colleagues who ARE by being called the same! 

I'm certainly not uncomfortable about being called "chef", because, dammit I've EARNED it! :laugh::wacko::wacko::laugh: You do enough time in "the trenches" and you work for the title, believe me. I "wear" it proudly.

I don't think the common layperson will really know (or care) about the difference between pastry chef and dessert chef. It's just more a matter of semantics for those of us in the biz. To me, "pastry chef" carries a little more weight because it's been around for so long and it's based on the french term, "patissier".

As far as terminology and titles go, what REALLY bothers me is when people use the word "chef" so loosely and randomly. To me, it's an earned title. For example, I'll hear something like this:

"My son just graduated from culinary school. He's a chef at Jack-in-the-Box."

Uh, no he's not. He's a COOK. A COOK. NO ONE just gets out of culinary school and becomes a chef. It takes several more years for that to happen.

Oh yeah, another example.......Rachael Ray is NOT a chef! But how many times have I heard her referred to as a celebrity chef?? That really puts a knot in my toque if you know what I mean! :laugh:

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Dessert covers a lot of ground. Cakes, ice creams and sorbets, souflés, mousses, sweet terrines, cookies, merringues, puddings, quickbreads, custards, candies ... none of these things is pastry. All are dessert.

I would consider cakes, cookies, meringues, and quickbreads to be 'pastries' - are you saying only viennoisserie is pastry?

Maybe it's part of the whole popular misuse of 'chef'. The garde manger line cook is the salad chef, the grill guy is the grill chef, maybe the dishwasher is the compost chef....

Whomever said: 'Basically "dessert chef" sounds awkward because there is already an established term that everyone uses and understands.' - exactly, so why change it! It just seems odd. Are the chefs changing their title, or is the NYT just being goofy? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/dining/2...ing&oref=slogin

When I look for a job, I type 'pastry chef' in the search window, its worked so far! Current job = breakfast pastries, jams, breads, desserts, snacks, hotel guest amenities, and chocolates just to keep myself entertained. Last job was desserts, table bread, and mignardises at a dinner only restaurant. Before that, desserts for lunch and dinner, pizza dough for the wood oven, and pastries and jam for Sunday brunch. Pastry chef jobs run the gamut, but I think usually if you are actually the pastry chef (meaning some management/responsibility/menu creation) there is probably more involved than strictly desserts.

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Dessert covers a lot of ground. Cakes, ice creams and sorbets, souflés, mousses, sweet terrines, cookies, merringues, puddings, quickbreads, custards, candies ... none of these things is pastry. All are dessert.

"Dessert chef" is so very silly.

As my (now-retired) French pastry instructor, formerly pastry chef at several of the big 4-star major French restaurants in New York City, described the distinction:

... pastry encompasses everything: mousses, custards, any dessert, ice creams and sorbets, showpieces both traditional and modern (croquembouche, pastillage, sugar, chocolate), cakes, bonbons etc. And they all fall within the sphere of professional competence of a pastry cook/chef. Bread is something a pastry chef must be able to do as necessary but not necessarily a primary task.

... a baker on the other hand deals with bread exclusively.

"Dessert chef" is part of a larger trend in pastry that you don't see as much in the rest of the kitchen: the growing competitive urge to specialize and enhance credentials. I had to talk to a lot of chefs a couple of years ago for a research prjoect for class, looking at this issue. Its a consequence of the marketplace increasingly shifting from pastry cooks who (like their savory colleagues) trained on-the-job on up from dishwashers, to those who (like their savory colleagues, again) went to school (just plain culinary school), to those who exclusively studied pastry, and now to those pastry cooks who can claim special expertise because of taking continuing ed classes at FPS or ICE or who claim to "specialize" in bonbons or ice-cream or plated desserts.

You have chefs and cooks in the mid-range of the market, who have years of experience but perhaps not "top-level," feeling the pressure from new people in the market who are "out-professionalizing" them in this way. I've seen soon-to-be and new grads from "top" schools brashly arguing that the superior nature of their training means they will leapfrog up the career ladder faster than those more senior who might only have experience or "lesser" training. And while they might not be correct, they're probably not entirely inaccurate.

As career paths forward from today always deal with a narrowing of opportunities (there are many more sous chef openings than chef openings, etc.) there is a growing concern among some that the shift in the professional dynamics in pastry which has really only occurred in the last 10 years or so may "maroon" them. And so people I know have taken short courses at ICE or FPS who don't really stand to learn as much as others might, but who are doing it solely for their resume.

(I actually saw a resume once where a pastry chef listed each several-hour demo he attended at several World Pastry Forums -- maybe 20 in all? -- as a separate line in the education portion of the resume, each given equal weight alongside his actual school-based education and several week or month stages.)

It might be silly but it is a real phenomenon.

Brian Ibbotson

Pastry Sous for Production and Menu Research & Development

Sous Chef for Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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Dessert covers a lot of ground. Cakes, ice creams and sorbets, souflés, mousses, sweet terrines, cookies, merringues, puddings, quickbreads, custards, candies ... none of these things is pastry. All are dessert.

I would consider cakes, cookies, meringues, and quickbreads to be 'pastries' - are you saying only viennoisserie is pastry?

I've always seen "pastry" used to describe things made with dough where the fat and starch are kept separate: brisee, sablee, choux, puff pastry, filo, etc.

I've never heard cakes or any of that other stuff called pastry.

Yes, I realize that Pastry Chefs traditionally make all that stuff. But since we're arguing about the appropriateness of a title, I don't see why Dessert Chef is seen as more limited that Pastry Chef. The words themselves strike me as much less limiting.

If the argument is that this goes against tradition, then ok. But you should just say that.

Notes from the underbelly

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If the argument is that this goes against tradition, then ok.  But you should just say that.

okay, it goes against tradition.

also, for those of us actually practicing in the field...either as a job or as a career, it just sounds funny. whether it be semantics or an actual trend expressing job titles, if you're a pastry chef hearing that someone is a 'dessert chef' just sounds stupid. we'll see how far it goes. it's the first i've heard of it.

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It just seems kinda unimportant to me. I'm a hack. I'm a wannabe. Maybe even a borderline poser. I'm not a pastry chef. I'm not a dessert chef. I'm a self-taught cook who happens to really enjoy doing desserts. I read, I research, I experiment, I play, I practice, I have fun. I rarely eat my desserts beyond tasting to know if I'm happy/not happy with the results (and why/why not). People seem to enjoy what I do and I enjoy doing it. That's good enough for me. :biggrin:

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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Here's how I see it, in simple terms.

Calling a pastry chef a "dessert chef" is like calling a proctologist a "butt doctor". :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:

I completely agree, I think calling a Pastry Chef a dessert chef is more the narrow view or lack of understanding of the american public. Many have no idea really what a pastry chef is, they understand baker, chocolatier, etc. But pastry for americans is confusing, is it bread, cookies, muffins? they have no idea of the big picture that being a Pastry chef is... So perhaps media, or less skilled people call themselves dessert chefs, and people go "OK i get it now, you make desserts"

I do not think you would hear anyone address themselves or the media address them as a Dessert Chef in Europe/outside of the states.

Eric

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I'm in the UK and have certainly never heard the term "dessert chef" here - it's just pastry chef/patissier or baker

But the term makes me think of maybe someone who has experience in the whole kitchen that ends up through either circumstances or choice on the dessert section in a restaurant. Clearly in a restaurant you aren't making jams, gateaux, viennoiserie etc - you're just making plated desserts, maybe some breads and petits fours and if you're in a decent place you're making some doughs either for your own section or the larder and meat sections.

But you don't have the wideranging experience, knowledge and production of the traditional pastry chef in something like a club or a hotel, producing viennoiserie, pastries for afternoon tea, centrepieces, wedding and celebration cakes.

I do agree that it's a bit of a cumbersome term but for me it differentiates between someone who has the full classical pastry training and someone who hasn't but still works on a pastry section.

Edited by Fibilou (log)

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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I'm in the UK and have certainly never heard the term "dessert chef" here - it's just pastry chef/patissier or baker

I once had a British Exec Chef refer to the position as the "pudding chef." Don't want to riff on the mental picture that gave me.

It has happened so many times that people hear me say that I am a pastry chef and say,"Oh, so you do the desserts." Admittedly I'm old school, but "dessert chef" sounds contrived compared to Pastry chef.

On completely another note it seems to have gone by the wayside that Chef is not a title you give yourself, it is a title other people call you (meaning, of course, chief.). You are not a chef if there is no one to be chef of.

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On completely another note it seems to have gone by the wayside that Chef is not a title you give yourself, it is a title other people call you (meaning, of course, chief.). You are not a chef if there is no one to be chef of.

Yeah, by the literal definition I suppose I could be called a chef. I just don't feel comfy using that title in reference to myself. For me personally, there is more to the title than the literal definition. I have no problem with others choosing to use it. They know better than I do if they merit it or not. Me, I'm just a cook with a lot to learn.

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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