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Choosing A Pastry School


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So Eskimo, Nightscotsman... what Lesley C says is true. Less skilled people, longer hours, harder work, less pay, less interest-- important things to think about in making a decision to change careers. I know, I know, that's how it is, you've heard it before, but it will be different this time...or will it?

Why are you leaving a nice skilled profession behind?

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I've only been viewing this board for a couple of weeks, but the amount of knowledge and help available here amazes me.

I wish that I had found people to help like this when I was looking 12 years ago.

I was a career changer too, with a love of food and a want to make a life out of it. I was forunate enough to have a friend who owned a small retsaurant that was able to give me a taste of what's invloved. And I think it really helped.

I must also preface the rest of this post by saying that it also only really pertains to restaurant work. Although now I look towards the idea of opening a patissiere/ chocolatier shop, I haven't always felt this way.

What instruction and schooling would I devise? For me, one of the most important aspects of pastry derives from my savory background. Like a lot of others, I started off as a line cook. And I went through the CIA as one. Although I admit while I was there I fell in love with pastry work. The fundementals of cooking are a very important aspect of pastry in the restaurant world now. I'm not saying that every pastry cook needs to know how to make a demi-glace, but learning why the caramelzation of the mirepoix deepens the flavor or how the addition of tomato products change the outcome of the product are important tools in the development understanding the science of flavor. I believe I was very fortunate to have done a stage with Craig Shelton right after school, which in turn led to a 4 year association with him that really opened my views on the science of cooking. In a nutshell, I believe that being taught the classics in pastry are important and are a foundation to expand on, but cooking in general has to be stressed also.

Where would I stage? A few places for specific reasons ( and I have to limit them to the states because I heven't been able to travel much)... I already mentioned the Ryland Inn, which I would still do again. It's very hard, but like school you get what you put into it. For a business sense, I'd like to spend time at Charlie Trotters. For patissiere, wherever Pierre Herme is at that particular time :cool: . For sugar, of course I'd like to take a stage role at Ewald Notter's school for a while. And then there are some of our own. From what I saw of Micheal L. at his demo, I think I could learn quite a bit from him. And as well as from Patrice Demers.

What restaurants etc.? I can';t think of any I don't want to visit :rolleyes: I love eating!

What books would I use, and should be read? Because I believe in a foundation to expand on, learning and reading the classics are vital. The French pastry series, Yves Thuries, Michel Roux.... some of it may seem dated, but all of these classics can still be seen in almost all of what we do in some way. Of course Pierre Herme's pro series, I also am found of all of Charlie Trotters books, plus Michel Bra's notebook, and his savory cookbooks. For periodicals I like Thuries' magazine when I can get it, Art Culinaire to see what else is in the world, PA&D to see what is going on here...that's about it.

What wouldn't I do? Dismiss anyone without trying to derive as much as I can from them. They may be crappy, but from them I can learn how not to be :raz: Realistically, I believe there is something to be learned from everyone. It's just picking the ones to model that's important.

How much money, time, effort would I spend? Hmmm.. I've already spent quite a bit of money, and devote almost all of my time to pastry. I don't believe I would change that. Even the couple of years where I took time off from burnout. It helped recharge my batteries and I believe gave me a better focus on what I wanted to produce.

Drawbacks? I think the only one may be a feeling of being behind others in learning. But I think that's a mis-guided notion. I've had some people work for me that had been doing this for longer than I and just didn't give 115%, and other newbies that gave 220%. It's all what you put into it. There's no time like the present to start.

Tim Horst

Timothy C. Horst


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Wow. this is a great thread. There's some very good advice here.

Like Steve wrote, one of the most important things is to meet other pastry chefs. Don't be afraid to write letters to pastry chefs, ask questions, eat as much good and bad desserts as you can. I really think it's the best way to learn.

Chefette questions:

I'm quite happy of the pastry education I received here in Montreal. It was a very basic one year formation that was perfect to learn the fundamental techniques of pastry: mousse, meringue, génoises, bread...Then , with this basic formation you can start to learn by yourself.

At this moment, if I had the possibility to do a stage it would be without any doubt at El Bulli (restaurant) or Hermé ( pastry shop)

There's some very interesting things going on in Spain right now and everybody who wants to do pastry for a living should check what is going over there. There's some fantastic pastry shops, some incredible chocolatier ( Enric Rovira) some very interesting restaurant ( Espai Sucre, serving only desserts !!! :rolleyes:

Pierre Hermé is one of my greatest inspiration. After so many years he's still doing some incredible stuff. Because he gained success at a very young age, it's the proof that if you work very hard, it will pay off.

Which restaurants and pastry shop I would visit:

The pastry shop I visited and impressed me the more were the Pierre Hermé boutique in Paris and Michel Belin in Albi. Hermé boutique look like a jewellry. Everything is perfect. And he does some very interesting stuff. His new ''collection'' look very interesting. The theme is White. He use: rice, mascarpone with citrus, maple sirup :rolleyes: and white truffle...

I also had the chance to visit Michel Belin shop last year and I was really impressed by what he's doing. Really one of my favorites chocolatiers.

Restaurants: I had the chance to travel a lot and the restaurants that impressed me the most (for desserts) Michel Bras in Laguiole, Pierre Gagnaire and Ducasse(in Paris...)

The restaurants I really want to try right now: El Bulli, Zaytinya ( where Steve is doing some very interesting desserts) and Tribute ( I cant wait to try Micheal other desserts...)

Books, magazines:

I really think reading is of the most valuable way to learn. Personnaly I have a lot of books and not only pastry books; for a pastry chef working in a restaurant, cooking books can also teach you a lot . My favorite pastry books: Frédéric Bau, Au Coeur des Saveurs and Le Grand livre des Desserts Alain Ducasse. Michel Bras is also a must for me...

Magazine: I read a LOT of magazines: Thuriès is better than ever, Art Culinaire, Food Arts, Pastry Art and Design, Le Journal du Pâtissier ( Lesley- yes, it still exist!!!)

Yes, I really think it's possible to pay your dues in pastry and pull even with respected pastry chefs. I'm still very young and I have still a LOT of things to learn but I work very hard and I'm happy to say results are coming...


When I started doing pastry ( 3 years ago...) I was dreaming of one day, being able to go to the chocolate show and meet other pastry chefs like Steve, Colleen and Michael. Last week, I not only had the chance to go to the show, I did demo with them!!! :smile::smile::smile:

Patrice Demers

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When I am not working, many evenings I can be found in the book store. I love to read (food writers, cookbooks, magazines, novels, etc...) I anticipate new cookbooks hungrily.(I just bought Paris Sweets and Nancy Silverton's Sandwich book). I read Saveur, Food and Wine, Food Arts, and Gourmet (it is so much better since Ruth Reichl became editor). I look at Chocolatier and Pastry Art and Design. I never buy them- they are kind of boring to me. I am not interested in inedible garnishes, or desserts that are triangles on top of a circle, a stick and a tower with 5 dots of sauce. I like desserts that are pretty- at the same time you look at it and go "yum, I want to eat that".

I was very lucky to meet Nancy Silverton very early in my career. I think I used to know all her recipes in her dessert book. She has had a huge influence on pastry in the US. I worked at Spago in 1984, and later at Postrio. Nancy let me come and work at Campanile and at La Brea when they opened their first big "factory". Her ovens and retarding tunnels were so amazing to me! She has always been very giving of her knowledge.

Working at Spago changed my life- it really propelled me on my pastry journey. There are people out there that really are mentors.

You will not make very much money for a long time. Eventually though you CAN make a very good salary. With all the "business stuff" that I am not terribly fond of (well, it is a business!); I still have many days where I am "like whoa, I really love this and what can I make next?" I talk to purveyors constantly, always looking for something fresh and good. I go to farmers markets whenever I can. I read menus online, a various restaurant reviews from all over. I try to check out new places (and yes, my next vacation is going to be to Spain- lets pray that the oil spill does not do much damage).

I have learned over the years what I won't do anymore. I won't work 100 hour weeks for cheap tyrants. I won't work for evil, angry, and unhappy people. I work in kitchens where people are treated with respect and dignity. I don't tolerate sexual harassment. As a manager, I don't tolerate swearing. It is offensive to many.

I respect (and make) American desserts too. I have met pastry chefs "that don't make fruit tarts" "that don't make pie" "that don't make American layered cakes". I make them because I love them too. American desserts are part of who I am as a Pastry Chef in the US.

I also no longer give up my life to my job. If I am finished in 8 hours I do not feel guilty about going home

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For late starters to catch up is a possibility but it depends in what. There is so much dexterity involved and to be good you just have to work FAST. So when you learn, I think you have to look for a program with a very solid base you can later build on. I'm always in awe of chefs -- sweet or savoury -- with strong technique. No one here has mentioned sugar work, which is still huge in France. There is a side to this profession -- a very elitist side -- where you become more of an artist. When I worked at Thuries, the people with the most clout were the sugar guys, and the best one of them was 17 years old. That's all about God-given talent. Pierre Herme would be Pierre Herme no matter who he apprenticed with. That's why it's important to find out who you are and what you can add. Otherwise you're just copying the person you learned from, and then, what's the point? It's just a job. I've seen young chefs completely stiffled working under big names.

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Hello Everyone-I have been mentioned, but I haven't introduced myself to this forum.

I do live in Washington, D.C. and I am looking at a career change. Colleen asked why would one who has a skill set and a job change careers and move toward something where one has an excellent chance of facing low wages, bad hours, etc. In my case I think it has a lot to do with something as naive as feeling interested in and really good about what you do. I have a comfortable job and I do it quite well, thank you, but at the end of the day there is nothing to report. I went to work, I worked, I socialized, I had lunch and I really don't care about the subject matter behind my employment. In the moments of low workload at my job I am searching out pastry-related information on the internet and drawing cakes and desserts and day dreaming ideas for chocolate decoration and whatnot. I am not considering the finer points of issues that interest the company for which I work. I've always been an adventurous person traveling far and wide and never really all that shy (maybe nervous sometimes, but not shy :blush: ) and I am from a place that consistently requires a lot of a person (Alaska) and when one is from such a place, I think it makes one inherently resourceful, purposeful and directed in a way. In short, a career change into this profession does not really scare me--not doing it because I'd be scared and chicken out, that scares me. I think a certain part of a person dies when someone quits due to adversity. Also, I can always use a little more character. :rolleyes::raz:

Besides, I have had a number of jobs and I can tell everyone from experience that every job has a part of it that can suck beyond anyone's imagination. It depends on the person to make it work and the only job I have walked away from was baiting long-lines for fishermen in Southeast Alaska: In short, rotting fish on the old lines. Pulling the rotting fish off. Putting the squid on. Untangling the lines. Finding rotting fish heads in the tangled lines. Smelling rotting fish and fish heads. Smelling squid. Hands and arms and chest covered in squid ink. Smelling bad coffee wafting from break room. Smelling bucket of hot bleach water poured on floor to kill all other stenches and keep floor clean. Throwing up. Quitting on spot. Can pastry really be all that bad? :biggrin:


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Actually, Rebecca, you've just made peeling potatoes or dicing carrots sound downright glamorous. You have real potential, within our little eGullet community and when you begin your career change. Good to have you aboard.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo


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In short, rotting fish on the old lines. Pulling the rotting fish off. Putting the squid on. Untangling the lines. Finding rotting fish heads in the tangled lines. Smelling rotting fish and fish heads. Smelling squid. Hands and arms and chest covered in squid ink. Smelling bad coffee wafting from break room. Smelling bucket of hot bleach water poured on floor to kill all other stenches and keep floor clean. Throwing up. Quitting on spot.

Yikes! If that's what it takes to be prepared for work in a professional kitchen, then I'm doomed. :unsure:

My first love was graphic design. coming out of high school I was completely passionate and obsessive about it and yes, I had very little social life while I went to school and during my beginning years of long hours on the job. But I loved it. I wanted to do everything - no detail was too small to be finessed and no project too ambitious to be tackled. Flash forward more than 15 years and I still care very much about design, but it's hard to shake the feeling I'm just making pretty pictures, and it just doesn't seem as important as it used to. For the past couple of years I've transitioned away from design toward more programming, production and usability on Web sites. Interesting and important work, but I can see where that track is headed and I just don't see myself happy there. This is actually not an uncommon scenario amongst graphic designers. The field does tend to be youth oriented, trendy and superficial which can begin to feel inconsequential as one matures. Am I just "burned out" and need a break? Possibly. But right now and for the past couple of years, I've dreaded going into the office and struggling to care about what typeface a headline is set in, or what the visited link color should be on the web site we're working on.

My interest in pastry did not start until a bit later, after I was on my own for awhile. But unlike some of the other hobbies I've been into over the years, my involvement in baking and pastry has only grown and deepened. Often I would find my self at work watching the clock until it was time to go home and work on the cake, or pie, or dessert that was my latest project. I love the hands-on craftsmanship of it, the ingredients, the sculptural and visual creativity. I also love the science of it, which still feels like magic to me, when a set of specific ingredients is combined in a certain way to create more than the sum of it's parts. And of course I love to give people the delight of a well made dessert when all the aspects are working together: flavor, texture, temperature, presentation and how it flows from the previous courses into complete experience. That is something you never experience in graphic design - the direct giving of pleasure - as you mostly never actually meet your audience or get to see them experiencing your work. Pastry becomes much more like a performance in that way.

I've seriously considered the big career change several other times in my life, but each time it just didn't feel right. I still had the fire in me for design and there were so many things I wanted to do. Well, I've done those things and the fire has died down. I feel like this is something I have to do, and that if I don't do this now, I never will. I think everyone keeps a list in their heart of "things-I've-always-wanted-to-do", either consciously or sub-consciously. I've worked through many on mine, but a career in pastry has slowly worked it's way to the top of the list. It's time.

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