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Becoming a Baker


abooja
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It sounds like your plan should be both trying to get experience from the real world, and taking any classes you can squeeze in. Then of course to continue your practice baking at home.

We offer an intership at my bakery here in Seattle, and we usually expect about 20 hours/week for a duration of about 3 months.

We get a lot of people who are "home cooks" applying for the position, and while I think it is a great way to learn, we are looking for candidates with a little more experience. The position is intended for people who have knowledge about pastry to refine their skills so they can be marketable and pursue their goals. We just don't have time to teach as we are very small. So we are cautious when we interview candidates and tell them that this is not cooking school.

I usually respond best to candidates when they are able to tell me about their goals, like why they are considering the position. I also ask what they know how to bake, and what they LOVE to bake. I think it would be good if you approached bakeries and tried to set up an appointment to discuss your idea. Tell them a little about yourself, and really since you haven't gone to cooking school, you're going to have to speak with confidence and honesty about your skills. If you've only made puff pastry once, that's not a skill.

So after the appointment, try to get them to try you out for a few hours in the kitchen. That way they can see how you work and asses how much of an asset or liability you will be to the team.

Also, think of this as very valuable knowledge. One way isyou could think about how much cooking school would be and then figure out how much you'd be earning in the internship that you don't have to pay for cooking school.

Good luck!

PS I was 36 when I started and I'm 41 now. You can never be too old ;)

Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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Bakeries are always short of people willing to work and comply with punctuality and hard work. In short I would not offer myself as volunteer because bakeries are just one of the few business not affected by recessions nor depressions.

Is this actually true? Are there fewer and fewer bakeries in my part of the country because of the economy, or because demand for premium products has diminished, or both? :unsure:

Yes it is true but much of the recent closures is by small or smaller bread manufacturers due to unprecedented price escalation of ingredients. I as a former Baking industry executive have written few articles on baking subjects and still contains many useful industry links around the world and I am sure you would find interesting and or informative my old industry blog http://australianbakers.blogspot.com/

I am talking about from an industry and professional point of view not just baking artisan breads and so on as a true baker you must develop the skills you may be asked to work for not the ones you bring in that is a a contentious point but it is the real world of baking.

In later years and when you get to own a bakery or proven your skills you may call the shots but until then its all learning experience as an apprentice baker.

If not you ca develop your own business from scratch provided you have the room to bake bread and sell at Farmers market for instance. May be too costly initially but is is a humble start.

Then again you have drive and motivation to become a baker which in itself is plausible.

Good luck!

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Abooja, it sounds like you just need to go for it, you're not going to know what you want until you try it out. Apply for any reasonably interesting pastry/bakery job and see if you can win them over with your enthusiasm. In the meanwhile, visit all of the local places, hang out and have tea and a cookie and watch what really goes on (if you can see into the kitchen at all) and consider if it excites you.

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For my diatribe on what it's like to be a pastry chef, click here.

The last person that told me "I love to bake" only lasted 3 days til she quit. She really thought she knew what she was in for, but she did not. My boss keeps kidding around with me, saying "What did you DO to her?" But I didn't do anything....I just wanted her to work! When she saw what work really meant, she realized she didn't love baking that much. I hope you just dive right in, get a grunt job in a cafe, bakery, or patisserie, and experience the true work environment. That will tell you all you need to know about whether you should get into this industry or not. :wink:

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For my diatribe on what it's like to be a pastry chef, click here.

The last person that told me "I love to bake" only lasted 3 days til she quit. She really thought she knew what she was in for, but she did not. My boss keeps kidding around with me, saying "What did you DO to her?" But I didn't do anything....I just wanted her to work! When she saw what work really meant, she realized she didn't love baking that much. I hope you just dive right in, get a grunt job in a cafe, bakery, or patisserie, and experience the true work environment. That will tell you all you need to know about whether you should get into this industry or not.  :wink:

As I used to say to my husband, who now says it to me, "There's a reason Roman slaves made the bread."

And all those Masterpiece Theatre/Upstairs/Downstairs series? Oddly, it's never the nobility who're down slaving in the kitchen.

I've never been able to figure that out. :laugh:

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This is why eGullet is such a fabulous place. Where else could I get insider information about the baking business from so many helpful professionals? While much of what I have read is even more disheartening than I suspected it would be, you have provided invaluable information that will help me make some tough decisions. Thank you so much. :cool:

While I definitely still need a job, I'm now not so convinced that it needs to be in a bakery. There are many ways to skin a cat. I most definitely have no desire to be a pastry chef. My pre-thread fantasy never had anyone ever calling me that, nor did it involve large kitchens of the hotel and restaurant variety. I envisioned a small, local M&P (to use the lingo) where I'd be the grunt for a little while, perhaps work the counter, and eventually get to dabble in actual baking. I'm now fairly certain that, while this is a plausible scenario, I would have to accept it as a end unto itself, not necessarily a means to anything greater. I'm still not completely certain, but I don't think this, in and of itself, would satisfy me, monetarily or otherwise.

Interestingly, two of the last few posters have presented two glaringly opposite experiences. One gal went to pastry school, worked her butt off for years in professional kitchens and has the scars to prove it. The other gal did not go to pastry school (at least, not long-term), worked her butt off in her own home and rented kitchens, got some notoriety on the farmer's market circuit, and now owns her own business. One proclaims to be burned out. The other appears to be quite happy. Please forgive the armchair analysis, but if I had to choose Door A or Door B, it wouldn't take even a millisecond of thought.

I know things aren't as simple as all that. One has to be extremely talented, connected (not in the mafioso sense, though I suspect that would help!), fortuitous, hard working, outgoing, etc, etc for it all to come together, and in all likelihood, I still might not even own a profitable business at the end of the day. But if I adjusted my goals and were willing to accept just supplemental income from baking, that might be doable. If I kept at it and got really lucky, or fell into some money, it could become more than that one day. I could live with that.

But I have to start somewhere, and this is the troubling aspect, as I see it. Until now, I saw things as very black and white. Either I got another dreaded procurement job, sitting in a cubicle, or I worked my way up the ladder, for a pittance, as a baker. I could never see myself putting in my 9-5 during the week, then walking my cakes door to door on the weekends, hoping someone would buy them. It was always just the one job or the other. It was a horrible decision to have to make.

When my husband wondered whether or not setting up a kiosk in the mall (in lieu of or in addition to) a farmer's market presence would be possible, I bemoaned the fact that starting such a business would be extremely difficult, at best, while also theoretically beginning a new 9-5 job. (These days, they're actually 8-5.) I have no idea if the kiosk idea is even viable, but the point is, I'm now thinking that a more local job with somewhat more flexible hours, and one which does not require a grand new wardrobe, is more conducive to my starting a side business. Working the bakery counter at Wegman's, were I lucky enough to even get that close to the fun end of the store, could be my main income, and might give me the flexibility to do more baking. The job itself no longer has to involve baking or be a means to a baking job, but simply provide an income of some sort while I pursue other things.

What do you think? Am I being unrealistic? :huh:

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For my diatribe on what it's like to be a pastry chef, click here.

The last person that told me "I love to bake" only lasted 3 days til she quit.

Wait, you mean there's more to it than hanging out eating cookies all day? Bah!

Love the diatribe. I had an extern who told me he went to pastry school because although he had been thinking about computer science, he thought there would be less homework in the pastry program. He also admitted to failing cake decorating - I wasn't surprised. One of those who really helped prove the theory that free help is not always worth it. Maybe I was too hard on him. Maybe.

Is that a ham and cheese pastry from Besalu in your pic? :wub: James is my pastry Jesus, whatever that means. Sometimes I do miss home :sad:

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When my husband wondered whether or not setting up a kiosk in the mall (in lieu of or in addition to) a farmer's market presence would be possible, I bemoaned the fact that starting such a business would be extremely difficult, at best, while also theoretically beginning a new 9-5 job.  (These days, they're actually 8-5.)  I have no idea if the kiosk idea is even viable, but the point is, I'm now thinking that a more local job with somewhat more flexible hours, and one which does not require a grand new wardrobe, is more conducive to my starting a side business.  Working the bakery counter at Wegman's, were I lucky enough to even get that close to the fun end of the store, could be my main income, and might give me the flexibility to do more baking.  The job itself no longer has to involve baking or be a means to a baking job, but simply provide an income of some sort while I pursue other things. 

What do you think?  Am I being unrealistic?  :huh:

This might be the path to take. If you can afford it, take whatever employment you can (part or full time), learn and start planning.

As for the wardrobe, most places will provide hats/hairnets, aprons and jackets, you'll just have to get yourself the white pants.

In most states, you will need some sort of sanitation certification to work handling food. In some states it's handled by county government, in others by the state. At any rate, it will be worth your while to get your food handler's card in advance of looking for work. (my county has the study materials online, you go in, take a 20 question test, pay $12 and get a card, very simple)

I forgot to mention that my local community college offers a culinary degree for about $4,000. I don't know if they allow you to just take individual classes, or if you must take the whole program. Anyway, you may have some low-cost classes available to you at a local college. And, colleges have placement offices to help you find a job...

You can also buy the books used at the CIA and Cordon Bleu on eBay or Amazon, and study them at home. The LCB uses Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen. I believe that the CIA uses Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft by the CIA. (I could be wrong, I attended LCB.) Anyway, we read the book and made the recipes at school. The only exception was in advanced artisan breads, we used materials prepared by the instructor based on BBGA materials. If a person were diligent, they could do pretty well studying at home.

Bo Friberg's The Professional Pastry Chef and The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef are also excellent books that contain all of the knowledge you need to get started.

As for a kiosk in the mall, as a former district manager for several chains of mall-based stores, I can tell you that the rent will be the highest possible in your area, with plenty of add-ons like common area maintenance fees, a percentage of your gross take as part of the rent and much more. I will also warn you that unless you can get a supply of hot water, you may not be allowed to sell food at all -depending on the health department in your area. So, you may not be able to run the business from a kiosk, and may need a small regular space, which costs more.

There has been a sharp decline in mall shopping in the past decade, so, I'd look long and hard at the mall itself before making a commitment greater than maybe just November & December when all of the temporary stores like Hickory Farms (which used to have a full service store in every major mall, year round) appear and disappear. Maybe you have a great local mall with lots of people buying snacks year round. If so, run with it!

While you are starting out and learning, I'd start keeping a journal and start researching people in your area in terms of what baked goods they buy and where they buy them. Eventually, the market research will pay off.

Bon chance!

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I think I love you, Lisa Shock. Thank you so much. I am just starting to research food safety certification and the like, thanks to you. The other information is also extremely helpful. I have some CIA books that my mother bought me years and years ago when she visited their restaurants, but none of them are baking books. I will buy and study all of those books, at some point. Thank you!! :cool:

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I most definitely have no desire to be a pastry chef.  ...  I envisioned a small, local M&P where I'd be the grunt for a little while, perhaps work the counter, and eventually get to dabble in actual baking.  I'm now fairly certain that, while this is a plausible scenario, I would have to accept it as a end unto itself, not necessarily a means to anything greater.  I'm still not completely certain, but I don't think this, in and of itself, would satisfy me, monetarily or otherwise.

But I have to start somewhere, and this is the troubling aspect, as I see it.  Until now, I saw things as very black and white.  Either I got another dreaded procurement job, sitting in a cubicle, or I worked my way up the ladder, for a pittance, as a baker.

I'm a little confused as to where you want this ladder to lead, what the greater thing is. To having your OWN mom & pop bakery where you 'dabble in actual baking' but this will be $$ and otherwise satisfying because it is yours?

I have a friend who opened a bakery in Seattle about 7 or 8 years ago now, started out working his ass off. He is incredibly talented and gifted and the bakery has become very popular, weekends there can be a line out the door all day long. So he is still working his ass off, maybe making enough money to support himself & wife (also a baker there). All this time, I have been hoping he would show the rest of us how easy it is, have some simple secret to success, but it still doesn't look easy, and that is one of the main things that terrifies me about opening a place. If someone so talented works so hard for so long, how can I ever expect to be successful? That, and at one job being the one to call the chef in the mornings when I'd open up and find something wrong - the new oven is broken again; the ice machine is not working; the dishwasher drain backed up and there is brown water all over; the reach-in chillers on the line were warm and everything inside is spoiled. There is always something, and it is often expensive. So in your fantasy bakery you'll buy all new equipment so nothing breaks down? Might help, but that'll add another several $K to your opening costs. Baking jobs don't pay enough? How much will you be able to pay when you are the owner? Labor is a huge, huge portion of your cost, one reason why my friend does most of the baking himself.

Still, see if you can find a job, give it a year, and go from there. If it really is love, you'll know.

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I most definitely have no desire to be a pastry chef.  My pre-thread fantasy never had anyone ever calling me that, nor did it involve large kitchens of the hotel and restaurant variety.  I envisioned a small, local M&P (to use the lingo) where I'd be the grunt for a little while, perhaps work the counter, and eventually get to dabble in actual baking.  I'm now fairly certain that, while this is a plausible scenario, I would have to accept it as a end unto itself, not necessarily a means to anything greater.  I'm still not completely certain, but I don't think this, in and of itself, would satisfy me, monetarily or otherwise.

Well, now I'm confused about what you want to do. Or maybe you've answered your own question?

Interestingly, two of the last few posters have presented two glaringly opposite experiences.  One gal went to pastry school, worked her butt off for years in professional kitchens and has the scars to prove it.  The other gal did not go to pastry school (at least, not long-term), worked her butt off in her own home and rented kitchens, got some notoriety on the farmer's market circuit, and now owns her own business.  One proclaims to be burned out.  The other appears to be quite happy.  Please forgive the armchair analysis, but if I had to choose Door A or Door B, it wouldn't take even a millisecond of thought.

Both of these posters have real, live work experience in this field. One with over 20 years, having seen it mostly from the employee perspective. The other, as a new bakery owner, sees a different perspective. You need both for a balanced viewpoint. This is what the life is like. There was a thread a long time ago from Melissa McKinney who blogged about opening Criollo bakery; it is quite a good read. Do a search for it and read it through. She told it like it is. No sugar coating.

The job itself no longer has to involve baking or be a means to a baking job, but simply provide an income of some sort while I pursue other things. 

I'm confused again! What was it you wanted to do? I'd say go get the job at Wegman's and see do you like it or not; can you do it or not. Having higher aspirations in this economy won't get you a job, but when things improve, having that production experience from a supermarket gives you an idea how things work and you won't be a drain in a new shop. You'll know how things are supposed to be scheduled, baked, finished, packaged and this will be valuable to an employer. Or you'll decide you don't like this industry and you won't pursue it.

Like the Nike commercial said, Just do it.

Good luck!

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I will simply describe my first 3 days in my towns very old family bakery...actually my mother worked there for a while in H.S.

first day I panned rounds of cookie dough (chinese choc chip)

second day started with "mold patrol" then I spent a long time gluing doilies to cake rounds

third day got interesting, I got to squirt jam onto Linzer cookies

I am sorry to say that on the 4th day I woke up at 4 am and said what are you freekin nuts and went back to sleep.... hey I was 19

and it doesnt take long for that sweet almondy smell of a bakery to make you gag

but as to finding you a Job....are there any full service hotels in the area? thats one option I havent seen mentioned

tracey

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Interestingly, two of the last few posters have presented two glaringly opposite experiences. One gal went to pastry school, worked her butt off for years in professional kitchens and has the scars to prove it. The other gal did not go to pastry school (at least, not long-term), worked her butt off in her own home and rented kitchens, got some notoriety on the farmer's market circuit, and now owns her own business. One proclaims to be burned out. The other appears to be quite happy. Please forgive the armchair analysis, but if I had to choose Door A or Door B, it wouldn't take even a millisecond of thought.

I gotta be truthful and say this upset me a little. After having spent nearly 20 years in the baking business one gets burnt out a bit. There isn't one baker (or pastry chef) I have known that has been in it as long as I have and not experienced it. This is not to say I don't like what I'm doing. I do, otherwise I'd get the heck out. But it's tough. It's not like I "dabble in baking all day". You can't just "dabble" and make a career out of it. Also, bear in mind that the person who is happy and owns her own business hasn't been doing it nearly as long as I have. That makes a big difference.

Whether you go to pastry school or not is a moot point. The point is that this is a tough business to be in, and you can't have these fantasyland visions about it. The whole point of my blog entry that I referred to in my previous post is to get you thinking about the reality of the baking business. The kind of job applicants who don't do their homework about what the food business is like, are in and out of my kitchen so fast I should install a revolving door.

I don't mean to sound negative at all. I wouldn't do anything else for a career....it's all I know, and it's what I'm good at. But it's not for wimps. It's not for dabblers. I have my whole heart and soul into this business and every day I work to perfect my skills even more than the day before. I've created my own job security by being good at not just cakes, but laminating doughs, slapping bread around, mixing all sorts of doughs and batters, merchandising, purchasing, scheduling, planning, managing, training, babysitting, etc etc etc. You can't just jump into a baking career and say, "well, I only want to do X". You gotta learn to do it all, or you're just not valuable enough to a potential employer. Then to add to that, owning your own bakery is another thing altogether. If you think the hours are long as an employee......yipes...being an owner is worse. You don't own the bakery. The bakery owns you.

:wink:

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You can't just jump into a baking career and say, "well, I only want to do X". You gotta learn to do it all, or you're just not valuable enough to a potential employer.

To a certain extent, I think you can choose between bread and sweets as a specialty, just as some choose chocolate as a specialty, and if you hate decorating cakes, there are jobs that involve few or no wedding cakes. You know, you have your cupcake bakeries (hopefully soon to go the way of bagel bakeries), your bagel bakeries (well if it were still the 90's), your artisan bread shops, your cake shops. Some do a little of everything, but some are more specialized.

But yeah, more skills are generally a good thing if you want to make a career of it and not be too limited in your job options. The industry is small enough already. I might not be in Bhutan if there were more than about 5 decent pastry chef jobs in my hometown, having already had two of them.

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To a certain extent, I think you can choose between bread and sweets as a specialty, just as some choose chocolate as a specialty, and if you hate decorating cakes, there are jobs that involve few or no wedding cakes. You know, you have your cupcake bakeries (hopefully soon to go the way of bagel bakeries), your bagel bakeries (well if it were still the 90's), your artisan bread shops, your cake shops. Some do a little of everything, but some are more specialized.

But yeah, more skills are generally a good thing if you want to make a career of it and not be too limited in your job options. The industry is small enough already.

Yeah, that was my general point.....having a specialty and trying to find a job in that specialty is a lot harder (especially now), than if you have a larger skill set and you have a wider range of jobs to choose from. Of course we all want to follow our bliss, but we still gotta pay "the man". :laugh:

Ha.....you're right about cupcake bakeries.....that's a phenomenon I don't quite understand and another thread altogether! :laugh:

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I have also often thought about how I could make a living from something I love doing. But there is the catch. I love 'baking at home'. I am in my own house, baking what I choose and no one tells me off when the cookies all come out a different size and I have changed the recipe because I felt like it.

I can use good ingredients, no industrial cake mixes, no synthetic flavoured jams, no blocks of waxy vegetable fats and if I don't feel like baking because the weather is nice outside I can make those choices.

For me baking in a commercial environment would just not be the same. I would like to think I could hack it but I know I couldn't. There are a load of reasons why I would be no good to anyone running a bakery and it would frustrate me to be so useless to them.

If you have had a long think about what skills you would need in a commercial environment, and believe you have them, then that's different, but I don't think that home baker to professional baker is always a natural progression.

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While I definitely still need a job, I'm now not so convinced that it needs to be in a bakery.  There are many ways to skin a cat.  I most definitely have no desire to be a pastry chef.  My pre-thread fantasy never had anyone ever calling me that, nor did it involve large kitchens of the hotel and restaurant variety.  I envisioned a small, local M&P (to use the lingo) where I'd be the grunt for a little while, perhaps work the counter, and eventually get to dabble in actual baking.  I'm now fairly certain that, while this is a plausible scenario, I would have to accept it as a end unto itself, not necessarily a means to anything greater.  I'm still not completely certain, but I don't think this, in and of itself, would satisfy me, monetarily or otherwise. 

As others have suggested, this is anything but "a plausible scenario." And it also falls in line with the discussions about why taking on apprentices and people with no experience,... in other words, dabblers... can be a totally losing proposition for serious business people trying to run a business.

Forgive me if I sound harsh here, but nearly everything I read from you here sounds way too drifty, despite the patina of "goals" and thinking everything through and looking at all your options. Words.... Words and more words.

As someone noted above, even though plenty of folks here with real experience in the business have offered help and wisdom, you are nearly completely dismissive while at the same time appearing to solicit advice.

First you say you envision working your way up in some way, being "the grunt" somewhere, because you're just that serious about getting into baking. But now you've realized that wouldn't satisfy you "monetarily or otherwise."

So okay, check.... One down....

Interestingly, two of the last few posters have presented two glaringly opposite experiences. One gal went to pastry school, worked her butt off for years in professional kitchens and has the scars to prove it. The other gal did not go to pastry school (at least, not long-term), worked her butt off in her own home and rented kitchens, got some notoriety on the farmer's market circuit, and now owns her own business. One proclaims to be burned out. The other appears to be quite happy. Please forgive the armchair analysis, but if I had to choose Door A or Door B, it wouldn't take even a millisecond of thought.

I'm unclear, again, what your armchair analysis is.... You compare two people, one who "appears to be quite happy" and one who "proclaims to be burned out," and from that you have decided to choose which? The person who is "quite happy," presumably.

:blink:

Well sure. It doesn't take ten years of psychoanalysis to decide that if one had to choose between being burned out or being quite happy that one would choose to be quite happy.

I'm at a loss, though, to figure out what exactly you learned from that example.

But here, you seem to clarify that a little with this....

I know things aren't as simple as all that. One has to be extremely talented, connected (not in the mafioso sense, though I suspect that would help!), fortuitous, hard working, outgoing, etc, etc for it all to come together, and in all likelihood, I still might not even own a profitable business at the end of the day.

But by DOING WHAT? So far, I haven't seen anything that's given me a concrete example of exactly what you would be doing. Truly. You talk a lot while saying very little concretely.

But if I adjusted my goals and were willing to accept just supplemental income from baking, that might be doable. If I kept at it and got really lucky, or fell into some money, it could become more than that one day. I could live with that.

Boy, what I wouldn't give for "falling into some money" or even just getting lucky, which I guess is the same thing, isn't it.

But I have to start somewhere, and this is the troubling aspect, as I see it.

Frankly, after reams of writing, you're getting to the crux of the issue.... Yes, you DO have to start somewhere. And clearly that IS the troubling aspect of it for you. So much so that you talk yourself out of starting at all. So much so that whenever anybody offers a response other than a generic "you can do it if you want to do it," which is essentially a response that falls into the category of success-by-affirmation, you put up road blocks and sigh and suggest that well THIS is not what you had in mind. Which gets us back to the beginning. Because after going round and round, it's still not clear what you do have in mind. Although the more you write, the more it seems to be "I want to own a place where I can run the cash register and dabble in the baking now and again but only if I can make money at it."

Until now, I saw things as very black and white. Either I got another dreaded procurement job, sitting in a cubicle, or I worked my way up the ladder, for a pittance, as a baker. I could never see myself putting in my 9-5 during the week, then walking my cakes door to door on the weekends, hoping someone would buy them. It was always just the one job or the other. It was a horrible decision to have to make.

Well, think of the starving children in Afghanistan.... I'm sorry, that sounds really sarcastic, and I guess it is, but the more I read, it's the thing that keeps coming to mind.

When my husband wondered whether or not setting up a kiosk in the mall (in lieu of or in addition to) a farmer's market presence would be possible, I bemoaned the fact that starting such a business would be extremely difficult, at best, while also theoretically beginning a new 9-5 job. (These days, they're actually 8-5.)

8-5? It sounds as if you believe those are extreme hours to work.

Do I really have to spell out anything beyond that? My husband has a "9-5" job that is more like an 8-8 and even more job. My baking days are anywhere from 10-15 hour days.

I'm assuming that in your mind your apprenticeship would only fall within the parameters of what you consider acceptable hours....

I have no idea if the kiosk idea is even viable, but the point is, I'm now thinking that a more local job with somewhat more flexible hours, and one which does not require a grand new wardrobe, is more conducive to my starting a side business.

Sure.

Working the bakery counter at Wegman's, were I lucky enough to even get that close to the fun end of the store, could be my main income, and might give me the flexibility to do more baking.

"Lucky".... and "might" -- just two words that sort of convey something here that you might want to think really hard about.... And I don't mean by that that you should hope that you will perhaps get lucky or that you "might" do something, but that these two words suggest a lot about the basic fallacy at work in your thinking.

The job itself no longer has to involve baking or be a means to a baking job, but simply provide an income of some sort while I pursue other things.

I confess I'm both totally flummoxed and more certain than ever about the sort of gestalt going on here.

What "other things" are you going to be pursuing in your quest to be a professional baker while not being involved in baking or getting a baking job?

What do you think? Am I being unrealistic? :huh:

Unrealistic about WHAT?

Here's what I am beginning to think, and again, apologies if it sounds hard, but I don't think you actually want to be a baker. I think you want to do something else, but I'm not quite sure what that might be.

(sorry, edited for screwy html stuff)

Edited by devlin (log)
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As Isabelle Prescott and now devlin kindly point out, the problem here doesn't really seem to involve baking. Perhaps an appointment with a career counselor would be helpful. We are just a bunch of folks who like to cook and eat.

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Rather than react to some of the more vitriolic responses to my, I thought, friendly and respectful queries, I'll just say thank you to everyone for your input. I obviously didn't make it at all clear that mine was an evolving concept, and this thread more an attempt at information gathering than a desperate plea for help, a pat on the back or, certainly, an opportunity for public parsing of my words. At any rate, I have made some decisions that I think I can live with and am going to try to implement shortly. So, thanks again.

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Rather than react to some of the more vitriolic responses to my, I thought, friendly and respectful queries, I'll just say thank you to everyone for your input.

I wouldn't so much say our responses were vitriolic, but rather emphatic in our verbiage that this business really isn't for "dabblers" or casual career seekers.

Speaking for myself and some others, I can say that after working as long as I have in the baking business, you get a bit cynical. And for good reason. We work HARD, and the money isn't that great. People like myself stay in it because we love what we do, as tough as it gets. We are people who wouldn't be caught dead in a cubicle or an office. We need to create, produce and see the end result of our labor. We also crave the occasional "yum, this is the best X I've ever had" from the customer. This is what moves us. We're in it for the long run, and as much as we complain, it's the only thing we do, and what we know.

Personally, I have had so much experience with job seekers; both career changers, and pastry school grads. Unfortunately, I have to say that with both, probably 10% have ever lasted in the kitchen with me (and believe me, I'm a NICE boss). The people that I've hired and kept are mostly the people that know the business and have no romantic notions about it. What struck several of us about your posts is that you seemed to have some unrealistic romantic notions, and we felt it was our duty to say, "hey, what you visualize and how it really is are two completely different things". 'Cause REALLY it is. Baking at home and baking for a living are NOT the same. Not even remotely.

We weren't trying to discourage you, only give you insight, which is what you requested. We also questioned you because you seemed to be going back and forth and every which way on what your actual goals were. We were confused.......vitriolic...no.....asking for clarification...yes.

Whatever you decide I hope it works out for you and especially any future employer. If you decide to start your own business I wish you the best of luck.

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Just to second Annie, above. I didn't see any vitriol here, and although I suspect I'm one of the folks here the vitriol message was intended to target, no, no vitriol at all. Frustration, yes. Exasperation, finally, for sure. And also actual sort of affrontedness on the behalf of someone else regarding the little business about happiness versus burnt outedness that went on in one of those messages that felt fairly dismissive and frankly a little rude. So yeah, no, not entirely respectful exchange from your end of the conversation at all.

If you want advice, then you have to take it as it comes, it seems to me.

When I first started getting my business together in a sort of preliminary way, and even before, my husband used to come home from work, after I'd been working on my feet for hours, having stoked and tended the wood-fired oven all day, having mixed several massive and heavy buckets of dough (and in the beginning by hand), having worked it during the day, having shaped the 60 loaves, set them to rise and whilst waiting to clean the oven to actually bake them off, and he'd invariably walk into the bakery with a great big smile, and say, in all seriousness, "Hey! Are ya havin' FUN???" And each time, I could cheerfully have shot him.

Because here's the way it works for me.... I never intended to be a bread baker. And right now I'm still in the process of tearing down and rebuilding my wood-fired oven because the guy who built it was a moron, and then I'm having to totally reconfigure what sort of business I want because realistically there really is no way to make much money at all making artisan breads and I know I have to do something in addition to the breads, and so, just as I've done in the past, I am working hard to learn something else as well, in this case, wedding cakes.

I started out as a college English teacher. And then when my husband started being transferred all over hell and creation for his job, I decided (we decided together) that that was the better plan because he could make way more money than I could. But that meant I had to figure out what to do with my life all over again. And while I was in the process of doing that, I started to cook and to bake. And for some damned reason I still don't understand, bread turned into... I don't know how to describe it... a challenge, a thing I wanted to learn how to do better than anybody else... or no, scratch that, because the competitive thing only comes as a sort of afterthought, or in some moment of insecurity in the face of a thing you think MIGHT be better than yours,.. but so anyway, what I really wanted more than anything else was to make the sort of bread I dreamed of eating but couldn't find anywhere.

And so I worked at it. I worked really hard at it. And I read everything I could get my hands on, and I baked bread til the cows came home. And then I began to wonder whether I might make a business out of it. And so I started to plan. Part of that plan was to convince my husband that it might be a viable thing to do. And that wasn't easy. Especially not in the beginning when the bread I made was better than a lot of bread, but not great. And even when he began to note that he thought the stuff was great, I was absolutely sure it wasn't. For awhile he thought I was just being insecure about my abilities. It took a long time to convince him it didn't have anything to do about insecurity. It had everything to do with knowing when a thing is right and when it's not.

So, the questions.... Should I get a deck oven,... should I rent somebody else's space,... should I build my own oven and my own space,... who'd buy it,... or, where could I sell it.... And for how much? Stuff like that. I made bread and more bread and I took notes every inch of the way and I gave the stuff away and worked and dreamed bread. I still don't know why I was doing it. I can't even call it a passion. It's just something I felt overwhelmingly compelled to do.

Was it FUN? No. I can honestly say hardly any of it was fun. It was hard. It was maddening. It was frustrating. It was embarrassing a lot of the time. It was all so totally elusive and scary. And I felt like a total fuckup and doofus most of the time. And it was work. And so every time my husband would walk in the door and say, "Hey! Ya having FUN?" Well I wanted to kill him.

Sure, there were a lot of moments of tremendous gratification and satisfaction, and in small moments I had fun. Overall, though, it was scary because I didn't know why I was doing it and it was all overwhelming. And I didn't have anybody to teach me whether I was doing anything right. I was doing it all strictly by the seat of my pants. And it wasn't until I started making consistently very fine breads that my husband began to see what I was on about. That was, what,... four/five years into it, from the beginning of my experimenting. And now he's one of my biggest fans.

He's finally stopped asking me whether I'm having fun because he finally gets it. And he's stayed up plenty nights with me as I've finished off the baking, sometimes til midnight and beyond, when he has his own job to get up to in the morning, because he is that dedicated to my thing now. And I think he finally gets that it's not "fun." But the whole of it, the thing itself, and especially the final product, THAT's fun. My clients are frankly absolutely sure that my bread is the best bread in the world, and these are folks who've travelled and eaten a lot of bread. And a whole lot of my clients are my husband's Italian colleagues who appreciate a good bread.

What'm I saying? There are many times I wonder whether what I'm doing is worth it. There have been a few times I've wondered whether I should even bother rebuilding my oven. But then I think it would be like losing a limb. And it's not that I think that limb is a whole lot of fun, but it's for sure a thing I'm attached to :biggrin: and that feels pretty crucial to the way I live.

Sigh.... What to say from here.... We all approach these things in our own way. I work best alone. I don't know that I would be a good fit in somebody else's business or kitchen. So there's that. I'm a total tight-ass perfectionist. And even as I wish I had someone standing in front of me telling me what to do and how to do it, if it's not possible, then I get on with it myself.

And so here's some advice abooja, which is what you came here for.... From everything you've said, it appears as if you don't actually see yourself as a professional baker, as you suggested you wanted to be in your opening message. I don't know by now whether that's true or not. Only you can know that. If it's true, then bake. Bake what you love or feel compelled to bake. And then you're sort of on your own. Only you can know what you want to bake, and only you can figure out how to sell it and where.

If you don't want to bake but want to be involved somehow in the food industry, then you have to figure out for yourself what that means. Do you only want a part-time job working a pastry counter in a bakery? Will it give you the money you want? Will it give you the satisfaction you want?

Or maybe you should consider buying a franchise of some sort. One of the bread franchises. Something like that.

The glaringly obvious thing that several of us have noted, though, is that even as you were asking for advice, it didn't seem to any of us that you actually had any clear notion of what you really want to do. And as you began to note that perhaps it would be enough to "dabble" in baking, well it was sort of hard to know how to advise you. When all the possible options offered to you were met with your assurances that, well, THAT wouldn't work, then forgive us, but surely it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that your attitude might be off-putting at best. There really isn't any room in the professional world of bakers for "dabblers." Dabbling really is for home baking. And that's fine. I dabble too.

I also know for a fact that many professional people or artists or what have you don't think of their work as fun, and many of them/us don't think of ourselves as being happy happy happy, particularly. We do what we do because it's what we do and couldn't imagine doing something else. Or wouldn't want to. Most of us feel burnt out at some point or another. That's not a failing. That's just human nature. It happens. It doesn't mean we're not dedicated to what we do. It means we're human.

So, best of luck to you. I hope you can figure it all out.

[edited for a little clarity hither and yon]

Edited by devlin (log)
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