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The Culture of French Pastry


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Discussion in some recent threads lead me to think about the position and status of pastry in France, as well as the reasons why many French chefs are drawn to America and elsewhere. A random collection of thoughts and questions...

Obviously, the long tradition for fine pastry in France is deep rooted, as it has a place in daily life there that one could arguably assert is absent elsewhere. Is this assumption still valid? Has the globalization and homogenizing (some may say Americanization) of culture at large also affected the every day appreciation and consumption of pastry? As we read more and more often, from the New York Times to Gault Millau, French haute cuisine is perceived to be in crisis. Is it possible that French pastry, no doubt still the gold standard worldwide, may eventually suffer a similar fate, and perhaps find itself also in need of a public relations facelift?

For aspiring students of the pastry profession, the system of education, apprenticeship, and working one's way up the ladder (and not to exclude the common inheriting of the profession from previous generations), appear to be based on log held standards, not just in France, but in Europe in general. Is this tradition still holding up? Are young teenagers still looking to commit to a metier at such an early age? Are there any flaws to this system of training? Or is it still considered the ideal? What do the short, accelerated programs, more common here in the US, say about us and the future of our industry here, and what does it say, if anything, about the people running these programs, a few of whom are indeed French?

With a few exceptions (Frederic Robert, for instance, though he is, in a sense, ‘corporate’ pastry chef for the Ducasse empire), we likely couldn’t name many French pastry chefs whose domain is limited to the restaurant kitchen. Why is this? Why do patisserie-affiliated chefs seem to enjoy more recognition? In the culture of French dining, are the expectations of restaurant/plated desserts different from the expectations of take away pastry from a boutique? And just how much respect and status do pastry chefs, in general, find in France? Apart from the ‘branded’ names, like Lenotre or Thuries, is it the name with which the public

identifies, or just the product? Outside the profession, how much weight does the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France hold?

And so I come to the question of the appeal North America (not to exclude the UK, Japan, etc) has. What pulls some of France’s best pastry chefs away from their homeland? Presumably at the top of their game, why does a Payard leave Lucas Carton to end up at Le Bernardin, or a Torres, from a Maximin to Le Cirque? How did Sebastien Cannone, barely in-country, take the helm of the Chicago Ritz Carlton (in his mid-twenties), to later co-found perhaps the most influential pastry school in the US? What does it mean when an all French pastry team, representing the US, goes head to head in competition with a French pastry team, representing France? And what do the likes of Bajard, Caffet, or Brunstein, who visit the US periodically to teach and consult, what do they see in their audiences and classrooms? Are there freedoms here, an excitement here, that no longer exists at home? Are economic issues a consideration (weakened economies, stringent labor laws)? And what about competition or over-saturation? Are there simply too many pastry chefs in France? Apart from importing their styles and techniques, have they managed to inject some of their culture, that attitude and passion for pastry, into ours? Has the awareness here changed, to the point where an Herme could set up shop in a major city and succeed, where Lenotre tried and failed years ago?

No doubt the French dominance and influence on American-born pastry chefs has existed for decades. But are the apprentices and students of these French masters beginning to form their own identity? Where will this generation of American pastry chefs go from that initial inspiration, and will they in turn inspire the work of pastry chefs in France and the rest of Europe? Have they already done so? Perhaps not overturning the tradition of decades of technique, but maybe influencing the spirit of their work? Is this good, bad, or just plain inevitable?

Michael Laiskonis

Pastry Chef

New York

www.michael-laiskonis.com

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Outside the profession, how much weight does the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France hold?

What's that?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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...or simply MOF. Literally, Best Worker of France, an annual honor bestowed upon certain skilled trades, Patissier (Glacier, etc.) being just one. Jacques Torres, for example was awarded the MOF circa the mid 80s, and was, at the time, the youngest to have earned the title, if I'm not mistaken. It's a pretty big deal among chefs, or as I posed the question, is it still a big deal, with regard to public perception?

Michael Laiskonis

Pastry Chef

New York

www.michael-laiskonis.com

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Michael, Great topic. This is something that Steve and I have discussed often.

In counterpoint one might say that Pastry is actually going great guns better than ever before - understanding that most people ever only purchased breads and for special occasions would get a cake or as a real treat would get pastries. Now however (perhaps), our expectations and world view and consumerism and advertising make us believe that we should have pastry, cakes, and chocolates all the time.

In many ways the old French system of apprenticeship kept the numbers of people entering a trade under control and delayed new tradesmen's entry into the marketplace so that they were not really in competition with their predecessor, but supporting him, then replacing him as he phased out of the marketplace. Now the gates are wide open.

I think that the US in particular is a rich, hungry, young naive marketplace which translates to green fields on the other side of the fence that can be cultivated, shorn, etc...

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but will have to work out a better response.

In the US, I don't think that being a MOF means much to anyone since most people have no idea what it is or what you have to go through to get that designation. I don't think that we have anything in the US that is remotely comparable. I do think that it is still very highly valued in Europe though.

Maybe that very lack of structure and oversight is what makes the US such an attractive and lucrative market for young French pastry chefs at the height of their careers. Here is a completely unregulated, unarticulated market without strictures and without the long and weighty history and perceived requirements that will allow people freedom. In lots of ways exactly what the US is all about - freedom of expression, freedom to go out and follow your own vision and to fail gloriously if it doesn't work out. I don't think that there is that freedom in France. It is of course interesting that this very attractive lack of guidelines and structure is something that they complain about and are trying to recreate here. hmmmmmmmm

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Gee Michael so many questions...

Obviously, the long tradition for fine pastry in France is deep rooted, as it has a place in daily life there that one could arguably assert is absent elsewhere. Is this assumption still valid?

I would say, absolutely. You still see people lining up in front of pastry shops in Paris and not just at Hermé or Hediard. I was lining up for croissants and pastries in small pastry shops in Brittany this summer. The French are still eating pastry, and I don’t know many French people who shun pastry because of calories.

Has the globalization and homogenizing (some may say Americanization) of culture at large also affected the every day appreciation and consumption of pastry? As we read more and more often, from the New York Times to Gault Millau, French haute cuisine is perceived to be in crisis. Is it possible that French pastry, no doubt still the gold standard worldwide, may eventually suffer a similar fate, and perhaps find itself also in need of a public relations facelift?

I see no crisis in the world of French pastry. The 90’s were looking a bit bleak, but now, IMO, it's flourishing -- like never before. There may be a crisis in Austrian pastry or even American pastry, but the art of French pastry is going forward thanks to chefs like Hermé, Caffet, Violet and so on and so on. Is Payard in America advancing anything more than his bank account? Don't know. Isn't he just a satellite operation, a French pastry shop that fell from the sky into the middle of the Upper East Side?

Also let’s not forget that all most of the pastry being produced by pastry chefs world wide is based on French techniques. In cooking, there’s also a strong French base. BUT there are other influential cuisines such as Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek etc. It's not like the top pastry chefs in Japan are renowned for their red bean paste confections, or some Greek pastry chef in Athens is making baklava with a twist. High-end pastry is French.

I know people like Steve are often talking about the influence Spanish style is having on the pastry scene. But these influences, certainly in my neck of the woods, are minute.

And as for a public relations lift I have two words for you: Pierre Hermé.

For aspiring students of the pastry profession, the system of education, apprenticeship, and working one's way up the ladder (and not to exclude the common inheriting of the profession from previous generations), appear to be based on log held standards, not just in France, but in Europe in general. Is this tradition still holding up? Are young teenagers still looking to commit to a metier at such an early age? Are there any flaws to this system of training? Or is it still considered the ideal? What do the short, accelerated programs, more common here in the US, say about us and the future of our industry here, and what does it say, if anything, about the people running these programs, a few of whom are indeed French?

I hear there are still plenty of youngsters entering the profession in France, which isn’t the case here in Montreal. The only flaw I see in their system is that the responsibility relies heavily on the chef they end up working with and their repertoire is limited to the pastries and entremets sold in that particular patisserie. But French pastry chefs are encouraged to change jobs often so they quickly end up covering most of the bases. And unlike North Americans who are always looking to transform their career somehow, the French chefs I know are committed to their careers for life. Also, many pastry chefs follow-up their education with a maitrise and government subsidized perfectionnement courses and daily seminars given by people like Bau, Caffet and Perruchon sponsored by chocolate companies like Barry, Valrhona and DGF.

With a few exceptions (Frederic Robert, for instance, though he is, in a sense, ‘corporate’ pastry chef for the Ducasse empire), we likely couldn’t name many French pastry chefs whose domain is limited to the restaurant kitchen. Why is this? Why do patisserie-affiliated chefs seem to enjoy more recognition? In the culture of French dining, are the expectations of restaurant/plated desserts different from the expectations of take away pastry from a boutique?

Because the French patisserie du coin is still quite strong. You hear about the decline of the patisserie de campagne, but you’ll find a boulangerie or patisserie (and often both) in almost every single town in France. The goal of most French pastry chefs is to own and operate their own shop, not work in a restaurant. In restaurants they work in the shadow of the chef. It is a different métier, as much as chocolatier, glacier and boulanger. If you look at the programs of study, they are geared to patisserie de boutique, not patisserie de restaurant, which is a course often followed by cooks.

And just how much respect and status do pastry chefs, in general, find in France? Apart from the ‘branded’ names, like Lenotre or Thuries, is it the name with which the public

identifies, or just the product? Outside the profession, how much weight does the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France hold?

I don't think you can underestimate the title of MOF or Compagnon. These men are Gods in their homeland. Just the fact that that competition exists means there will always be a group of ambitious pastry chefs pushing the extremes to get the title. Look at the sugar pieces Thuries and Michel Roux produced when they became MOFs and look at what the latest MOFs are pulling off. It's very impressive -- even more so than any other pastry competition in the world.

And so I come to the question of the appeal North America (not to exclude the UK, Japan, etc) has. What pulls some of France’s best pastry chefs away from their homeland? Presumably at the top of their game, why does a Payard leave Lucas Carton to end up at Le Bernardin, or a Torres, from a Maximin to Le Cirque? How did Sebastien Cannone, barely in-country, take the helm of the Chicago Ritz Carlton (in his mid-twenties), to later co-found perhaps the most influential pastry school in the US?

Why are French pastry chefs drawn to America? Try James Dean, Ronald Reagan, cowboy movies, and most importantly, money. They’re drawn to America for the same reasons everyone’s drawn to America. But I have met quite a few pastry chefs who have come this way only to go running back. The Valrhona people are pulling their hair out because so many chefs they send to the States have only lasted a matter of months before they go home.

What does it mean when an all French pastry team, representing the US, goes head to head in competition with a French pastry team, representing France?

It means the Americans should be mortified they had to settle for an all-French team to represent them at the World Cup. That was ridiculous. I bet the French had a good chuckle over that one.

And what do the likes of Bajard, Caffet, or Brunstein, who visit the US periodically to teach and consult, what do they see in their audiences and classrooms?

Money. Oh and I guess, awe and respect.

Are there freedoms here, an excitement here, that no longer exists at home?

I think they sense the freedom, but I don’t know about excitement. I think they are often disappointed with the number of customers here who don’t order – or care about – dessert. But I agree with Chefette about fewer boundaries. (I didn’t run into many restrictions in France, besides their lack of appreciation for carrot cake).

Are economic issues a consideration (weakened economies, stringent labor laws)? And what about competition or over-saturation? Are there simply too many pastry chefs in France?

No, there will always be work for good pastry chefs in France, though the salaries are considerably higher in North America.

Apart from importing their styles and techniques, have they managed to inject some of their culture, that attitude and passion for pastry, into ours? Has the awareness here changed, to the point where an Herme could set up shop in a major city and succeed, where Lenotre tried and failed years ago?

Could Hermé set up a shop in Kansas City and succeed? No. Could it work in New York? Maybe. Outside New York? Too expensive and maybe too sophisticated. Americans still like their hulking cheesecakes, no? And considering today’s political climate in the States vis-a-vis France, a French chef would be nuts to take that kind of financial risk. Anyway, Hermé sells a liter of ice cream for $28. How could he compete with Ben & Jerry’s?

No doubt the French dominance and influence on American-born pastry chefs has existed for decades. But are the apprentices and students of these French masters beginning to form their own identity? Where will this generation of American pastry chefs go from that initial inspiration, and will they in turn inspire the work of pastry chefs in France and the rest of Europe? Have they already done so? Perhaps not overturning the tradition of decades of technique, but maybe influencing the spirit of their work? Is this good, bad, or just plain inevitable?

You’ll have to answer this one Michael. Is there an American pastry chef out there making any kind of waves in France. Doubt it. Is there any American chef making any waves in France? Doubt that also.

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Chefette,

I couldn't agree with you more. But I do have a question for you. What is your take on ACF Certification? I recently saw a show on Food Network about the test for becoming a CMC, and I know the ACF is highly regarded in many areas of the U.S. (particularly on the East coast), but how do you feel about it? In Utah, the ACF is NOT highly regarded ( which may or may not be good), but I'd like your take on it. CMC and CMPC are certifications that I felt several years ago were the cream of the crop ( which they may be) but I feel the title CMC or CMPC has been devalued in this country. Almost everybody has heard of Gale Gand and, for the most part,but may not as many, Claudia Fleming, but who knows who Chris Northmore is (A CMPC) ? Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter are household names, but I couldn't even have told you who any of the chefs trying out for CMC were. Many up and coming chefs in this country are more set on becoming "famous", like Emeril, then becoming good, or even better, great chefs. This isn't the case for all of them , but I do feel this applies to many. Very good chefs, like yourself, Steve,Michael,etc.., usually are not publically known names ( although you all should be known, and are, in the pastry community) and I think there should be more of you you want to see American pastry succeed (and are there to help others like myself ) I probably will never be a nationally known name,but I would like to think that I do my best to educate and improve myself, from hands-on as well as a theoretically aspect, and that American pastry will continue to imrove and grow, for that is what is needed for pastry chefs and the like to become more appreciated, which I feel in turn, will create a greater desire to be the best.

Mckay

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I agree with Chefette on this.

On my own opinion, I believe that Europe has a saturation of pastries and fine desserts. There are some places in Europe that have just good dessert/pastry, but in my opinion, most are pretty good and many are excellent.

The US is definately a land of opportunity and especially a great medium to try out new things that maybe with the ranks of Escoffier didn't allow for new or inventive ideas to fully develop. Although you could possibly have the european title, to really make yourself known, come to the US, prove yourself and you can literally be published, get recognition, and feel the pleasure of teaching your craft.

I speculate that also there is such a grunge society that calls plated desserts and pastries such elegant things everywhere in the US and they really are not. There are your mediocre restaurants presenting plated desserts that need work or some help at the least. It is an opportunity to teach the unskilled in proper technique, terminology and respect for dessert, pastry and the art that we all love. To me is is similar to the frustration when people talk about Oregon and they pronounce it Ore-gone. This just plain ticks me off and I feel I must educate people on the proper way to say the state that is so beautiful.

I just believe it is not that they are tired of the European/French way, but excited for new opportunities.

Edited by PastryLady (log)

Debra Diller

"Sweet dreams are made of this" - Eurithmics

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Sorry, but Oregon is pronounced properly with three syllables: O-re-gun with the accent on the first and a short 'e' in the middle. And since when is Oregon anywhere near the Rocky Mountains? Perhaps you mean the Cascades?

Please excuse the side-track. As a native I felt compelled to set the record straight.

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Two quick thoughts:

Mckay--as far as recognition, I think it is important to realize there are two kinds of recognition--professional recognition and popular or public recognition. Historically, most pastry chefs in France, most MOF's, are not popular household names--if they followed the old model--vocational school, apprenticeship, working under the right chef, paying their dues in long and arduous fashion, kissing up to the right political power brokers, trying out for the MOF, earning the MOF, all of this taking place behind the scenes--yes as Lesley said these guys are set--they tour and teach all over Europe especially in schools which still admire and want to emulate what the MOF represents.

This is simplistic--but then guys like Herme and Conticini break through worldwide--they're the anti-MOF's--couldn't care less about not being able to do a pulled sugar showpiece, couldn't care less about the rigidity of the French system, the conservatism, they create freely, they're moved by the freedom of spirit here in the US and they are very good with the media. Remember, Steingarten didn't extoll the virtues of Thuries or any other "old" MOF--he extolled the virtues of Herme, then Conticini and This. The smart MOF's have realized it takes more than being a MOF--that professional respect is not necessarily a guarantee of career success--it is OK, indeed savvy, to seek popular success as well. They've looked at the model Jacques Torres has shown them--he achieved the ultimate in professional respect with the MOF and then proceeded to achieve the ultimate in popular respect. He did not want to follow in the footsteps of the old French MOF crowd and he charted a new course. Known and respected professionally, known and respected popularly.

And with respect to Lesley saying "it means the Americans should be mortified they had to settle for an all-French team to represent them at the World Cup. That was ridiculous. I bet the French had a good chuckle over that one" I'd just add it isn't as simple as that. In fact, I bet the French establishment power brokers--and especially Valrhona and the World Cup and all the MOF's lined up behind Valrhona and the World Cup were the mortified ones. They were hardly chuckling when Michael Schneider and Norman Love and the US/World Pastry Championships got MOF's from several countries to compete in their competition--actually compete. In fact, it was those two Americans chuckling all the way to the bank! No MOF ever competed, ever, after winning the MOF. That never happened in France but it did happen in the US--twice! You got the MOF in France you were beyond competition--as I said you toured, you taught, you gathered in your little circle of fellow MOF's and probably made catty comments about the success of Herme or Conticini. It took two savvy US guys, a lot of pooled US sponsor money, and the hungry US pastry scene to get these MOF's back competing. Remember--that immediately rendered the World Cup less "important" because only very young (non-MOF) French guys competed in the World Cup--the World Cup was a stepping stone to the MOF. All of a sudden, the World Pastry Championships in Beaver Creek now Vegas became where the MOF's moved on to compete.

The French sent a MOF-led team to the US and lost to the French-led MOF team of guys working in the US. That wasn't surprising to me since modern pastry and certainly this competition is built around French principles--it's not like the Spanish pastry chefs are making a curd or anglaise based on some other principles, so really it's not surprising a 300 year tradition is still so strong, still influential. In competitions--the best "at competing" usually come out on top, and nationality will probably become less relevent over time. And since I've competed at this level I'll just say that competing has it's own culture and strategies that is distinct from actual work being done in restaurants and pastry shops. Anything that involves judging panels and imposed criteria is subjective. The best competitors are not necessarily the best pastry chefs. The winning teams in these competitions are the best competitors according to the competition criteria.

Oh, and Herme has already set up pastry shops and chocolate production here in the US with more on the way. Granted it is Herme-lite, no fleur de sel, lychee and rose petals, but the Wegmans boutiques are turning out stuff superior to anything in their areas.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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MOFs are an interesting group of individuals. I worked for two of them. I considered these men crazed artists, not necessarily the most creative pastry chefs.

Also, I never heard a word against Herme or Conticini. Just the opposite in fact. I found there was a lot of jealousy, but also a lot of respect for their fellow chefs. I have always found North Americans much cattier in that respect than the French.

Steve, what are the rules regarding nationality at the World Cup? My big question is how could these French pastry chefs compete for the US? Can you imagine three US pastry chefs ever competing for France! :biggrin:

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Oh, one thing I forgot to mention Lesley--the US/World Pastry Championships--which Colleen competed in twice and I competed in three times--is a French competition. I mean, it was created by two Americans, held in America, but the driving forces behind how it is organized, what it values, what it rewards, is essentially French. Jacques (MOF) is the chairman of the Jury, his right hand, who he most definitely deferred to at times is a Belgian MOF, another key for the organizers was Olivier Bajard (MOF.) So it's essentially Americans competing on French terms, and when the World teams come they're competing on French terms.

That's an inherent problem, though--French taste and tenets are not American taste and tenets.

I expect the organizers to move away from this--or at least give the appearance of moving away from this as the event matures. If not, it will remain right where it is in terms of niche influence and relevence--another option beside the ACF--but both largely irrelevent when it comes to most working restaurant pastry chefs. But it was created and designed specifically with the Valrhona/World Cup in mind.

I agree with you about the respect issue--I guess my point is it is a begrudging respect, a recognition that MOF insularity will only get them so far. That's why in the previous two World Cup competitions Herme first and then Conticini were asked to lead the French team. They're not dummies. It was quite a sight for Colleen and me (we were demoing in Paris that weekend) to see Conticini--a lone large man up on stage in Paris as President of the French jury--lined up with about 25 other pastry chefs, red/white and blue collared MOF's all. And as you know, Conticini's young team won the World Cup.

Rules are established which serve each competition well--usually specifying some term of residency or employment. Sometimes only the Captain has to be a citizen of the country represented--as I believe the case is with the World Cup. French guys have always been on the US team though not as Captain. But each country is allowed a lot of leeway in team composition and selection--one team might have an open competition, very public and very accountable where everyone has to try out--this was the case in France for their World Cup team, their very public tryout was held during the Salon du Chocolat; another team might have one esteemed figure pick the entire team and not even have a tryout competition--this was the case with the US team and Roland Mesnier a few years ago; after widespread, fairly public, dissatisfaction with that closed process as anti-democratic, tryouts were instituted. A core group of US power brokers still ostensibly selects and nurtures the team they want but there is at least a tryout.

That's for the World Cup. I believe the US World event goes by residency primarily--where pastry chefs actually work and for how long. Organizers pick the one pastry chef to entrust in each country--a Bajard, an Adria, in essence they partner with these chefs who guide and then sit on the jury. Of course no American-based pastry chefs will ever compete for France in any event. For that to happen you'd have to encourage Americans to compete in France and then after a while have precedent for a non-French MOF in pastry and frankly, you'll never see that. Competing is hard--frankly you'll see competition decline in France as well. The young French guys are still coming here and don't care about their MOF chances. They see freedom, dollars and a wide-open market here. Soon only US hotel pastry chefs will compete, be they French or otherwise. Which, of course, bears directly on Michael's topic of the culture of French pastry--it's one reason why the MOF is devalued and becoming increasingly irrelevent internationally. It's part of the French insularity. At least Michelin recognizes it's possible to attain three stars in Spain with a Spanish chef at the helm doing Spanish cooking.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Obviously, the long tradition for fine pastry in France is deep rooted, as it has a place in daily life there that one could arguably assert is absent elsewhere. Is this assumption still valid?

I would say no - pastries as well as all specialty-baked goods are becoming more popular. It was only a few years ago that white bread was the standard. Now we have Specialty Cakes, bread, Croissants in our supermarkets, Franchises like Atlanta Bread, Montana Mills, etc. Burger King has breakfast Croissants. Etc, etc. If anything, there is a pastry renaissance in the US. I can't remember the last time I purchased a trade name bread (Wonder, etc) or Baked good. Fresh & skilled prep for baked goods is the new norm. When you think of it - Kripsy Kremes are a fresh and artisanal product.

PS - I'm a team Notter guy myself :biggrin:

Edited by GordonCooks (log)
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Sorry, nightscotsman, had a john denver song stuck in my head today and thought of the Rockies. I am a Michigan transplant of 4 years now. I think the middle "syllable" is just pronounced because people from Washington and Oregon speak slower too. Anyways, back to the topic at hand.

BTW, can you picture Americans competing for France?! :laugh: I can only picture many people from France rolling over in their graves before that would ever happen.

Debra Diller

"Sweet dreams are made of this" - Eurithmics

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Well ... I think it all comes down to the reality of the situation. We don't even have to look at all of France for this. Just take a pastry tour of Paris and prepare to be awed. And then when you have done the pastry tour, try touring all the chocolateries and then the great boulangeries. Oh and if you have the money, go and try some of the desserts they serve at tea time at the Plaza Athenee, or go check out the carte de desserts at Le Bristol. I'll take that any day over a pastry tour of America's greatest food city, New York, where you'll get a slice of cheesecake from Lindy's, a marbled brownie at City Bakery, a macaron from Payard, and some celery ice cream at a trendy restaurant.

Say what you want about innovation in cooking or restaurants, but for pastry, the French are it, and will probably be forever.

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I realize I asked a great number of questions, and just to be clear, I tried not to portray any hidden agenda or bias, but rather honestly and openly attempted to throw some ideas out there, from different viewpoints. I simply don't know the answers to these questions! I'm pleased with what has been written so far, yet I think we've still just scratched the surface.

Allow me to fully digest all the points made, before I weigh in with more, but another thought that occurred to me... Why no French women pastry chefs? I honestly cannot conjure up the name of a single one! Given that we have entered the 21st century, I can't really speculate why that is, tradition or no tradition. And since competition, and its inherent 'French-ness,' has been pushed to the fore in this discussion, how many women competitors preceeded En Ming Hsu in the Coupe du Monde, and has any other woman been part of a winning team?

And perhaps relevant, perhaps not, this just happened to cross my desk today...

The End of Chocolate...

The European Union has ruled that chocolate can contain some vegetable fats, and the French just can't swallow that...

This at a time when here, in the US, we are still trying to turn people on to what real chocolate is!

Michael Laiskonis

Pastry Chef

New York

www.michael-laiskonis.com

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  • 8 months later...

Hello

Sorry to interupt this great topic, but I thought I'd put in my $0.02, one for being an aspiring pastry chef, and also for being a female.

I couldn't help but try to understand why there are hardly any women pastry chefs that are recognized. I recently joined egullet and I've been doing a lot of reading and also noticed many male names comming up over and over and close to zilch females.

I'm curious to know if women, whether in france, US or anywhere in the world really have a chance at being recognized (professionally) as pastry chefs.

Right now I am in the process of trying to find an apprenticeship in the field, and I feel extremely discouraged not only to enter a male dominated profession but also without an invitation. Many trades in Canada seem to be "inviting" females to get involved, unfortunately the culinary arts does not seem to be one of them. Is this worldwide, or just in Canada?

Milena

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In America, female pastry chefs are very recognized--our media and culinary culture has had a very supportive stance--look at the recent James Beard Best pastry chef award winners: Karen Barker, Claudia Fleming, Gale Gand, Sherry Yard. All have written books, Emily Luchetti and Nancy Silverton made names for themselves many years ago so this isn't even just a recent thing. Most of us in pastry in the US and on eG recognize it is a big tent with good people, male and female, doing very good work in many different styles across many different genres. The question is to find the right style and genre for you.

There's no doubt that the pastry profession presents hardships females have to overcome but males have to overcome them as well--but I still think the generalization about there being more females in pastry and baking than on the hot side of the kitchen rings true. Pastry chefs are facing increasingly severe obstacles that have nothing to do with gender, however--I'd be more worried about that than I would about being female, Milena.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I just graduated from cooking school, Milena, with one year in Nova Scotia and one year in Alberta. In both of my schools, the split was very nearly 50/50 in gender. Granted, there are many more men than women in the profession presently, but it is beginning to change.

One evening after a competition, a female from a small-town campus of the NSCC told us of her difficult apprenticeship, . The chef she was apprenticing under told her flatly that he'd been told to hire her, because his superiors wanted to have a woman in the kitchen. He then went on to tell her that she would never make it in the business, and that he was going to personally see to it that he drove her out, because it would be a kindness to her in the long run.

When he retired, five years later, she got his job as the exec. On his recommendation.

For at least one more generation, it will probably continue to be tougher for a woman to make it. But things are changing, and will continue to change. Hang tough, and keep on plugging.

And as often as necessary, come here to vent or learn. :cool:

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Thanks Steve and chromedome!

I do recognize that there are hardships to the profession but none the less I'd rather face hardships in something that I love doing, rather than something I'd hate doing without hardships. I have to admit that I have great romantic feelings about this profession, and hopefully that will remain the same through many hardships to come.

Thanks for your insights, and yes I do believe that things are changing for females thanks to many talented women making this happen.

milena

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Right now I am in the process of trying to find an apprenticeship in the field, and I feel extremely discouraged not only to enter a male dominated profession but also without an invitation. Many trades in Canada seem to be "inviting" females to get involved, unfortunately the culinary arts does not seem to be one of them. Is this worldwide, or just in Canada?

Don't get discouraged Milena. There is an upcoming issue of Toronto Life where they profile up and coming pastry chefs (in Toronto of course - you said in another post that you lived 2 hours away) and they all happen to be female! From my knowledge of pastry in Toronto, you have Heather Pollock (Drake Hotel), Charmaine Baan (Splendido), Joanne Yolles (Pangaea), Iris ?? (sen5es) etc.

You'll have to keep your eye out for the issue (I'm not sure when it comes out).

"Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where all the fruit is?" -Frank Scully
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