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Perplexed Student to-be


tippingvelvet
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I've been in the coporate world for 20 years and would like to switch to a culinary career and do what I love, which is bake/cook. The problem is I have no related formal experience or schooling......(and I would need to keep my full-time job while I obtain either). I live in Northern NJ and have found two part-time training options:

A Certificate Program in Baking Proficiency (Hudson County Community School, Jersey City, NJ) - 6 - two credit courses focusing on Baking I to IV and Food Service Sanitation and Storeroom Purchasing.

Master Class in Baking - (The New School - NYC) - 15 nights of 4 hour sessions starting with the fundamental of pastry, students also learn wide variety of skills and techniques, etc.

The Baking Proficiency program will take me 3 semesters to finish (that's taking 2 courses a semester). The Master Class in Baking is an intensive 3 consecutive weeks.

I've also been looking for an apprentice type position in a restaurant or bakery, but the qualifications always ask for either previous experience or schooling.

Can anyone advise me if I'm moving in the right direction? Should I be doing something else that I haven't thought of???? Is schooling more important than experience? How do I get the experience without the schooling?? How do I decide between the only two training options I've found?? Are they both off base?? Any words of wisdom will be appreciated.....thanks.

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I've also been looking for an apprentice type position in a restaurant or bakery, but the qualifications always ask for either previous experience or schooling.

Find a good bakery/restaurant in your area and BEG to help in the kitchen. This is advice I was given before going to chef school and I should've heeded it.

And there is so much great information to read here, wonderful talented bakers and pastry chefs to consult for advice, and many wonderful books on baking to study.

Good luck. Pastry is a wonderful thing.

B

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One thing I would like to ask you, tippingvelvet, is are you going to be living off of your earnings from working in a bakery or such?

Just want to advise you that baking/cooking/ for a living is very VERY different from cooking in your home.

It's a slog and hot and low paying usually, for starters.

Brioche 57 gives great advice, beg someone to take you on, tell them you'll work for nothing or minimum wage if you can afford it.

2317/5000

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One thing I would like to ask you, tippingvelvet, is are you going to be living off of your earnings from working in a bakery or such?

Just want to advise you that baking/cooking/ for a living is very VERY different from cooking in your home.

It's a slog and hot and low paying usually, for starters.

Brioche 57 gives great advice, beg someone to take you on, tell them you'll work for nothing or minimum wage if you can afford it.

Tan319, yes I would like to live off my earnings from baking. However, there lies the problem.....if I quit my decent paying, full time job, I won't be able to afford my mortgage/bills. I saw a job on craigslist for pastry chef [experience/training required] at a restaurant on Chelsea Piers it paid $11.00/hr. Directly below it was an add for a Coat Check - same restaurant, it paid $10.00 per hour. where's the justice?

In all seriousness, how long does a pastry chef remain at minimum wage and is there a jump at some point to decent wages????? (Assuming this person is hard-working, dedicated and talented.)

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As a reference - what would you consider a decent wage?

per hour and annual?

Benefits?

Insurance?

Retirement?

Vacation?

How much are you figuring your typical pastry cook/chef earns?

What would you expect in terms of benefits?

Keep in mind that coat check job as a reality check.

Like Tan says - why spoil a perfectly good love?

There are several lengthy threads about school, job transitioning, and compensation.

Look them up and read.

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I'm sorry I appear delusional, but apparently I am.

I was not going to compare "decent" with a corporate salary (including benefits, vacation, etc.) but I was hoping"decent" in the pastry business to be around $20/per hour (are benefits commonplace?). Am I out of the ballpark in the NY/NJ Metro area???? Please, tell me if I'm crazy.

Realizing I'd have to work myself up from the bottom, my question remains what are the chances of making a "decent" salary and how long would it take to get into that salary range - 2 yrs, 5 yrs., 10 years??? ( I'm thinking I'd have to supplement my expenes with savings.) Is every pastry person destined to be poor (if not of celebrity status?)

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I've been in the business most of my adult life and I don't make $20.00 per hour. The average pc job makes under $15.00 regardless of experience. We also work much more then 40 hours per week.......mostly non-paid hours. You must be able to work all weekends and all holidays. You can not ask to have them off.

This is a highly competitive field because theres VERY VERY FEW JOBS for pastry chefs! I live in the suburbs of Chicago and I can count the number of pastry chefs working outside of the city, theres so few of us............

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If you work in a hotel type setting you have a stronger chance of getting benefits (paid leave, health insurance)--especially if the hotel is unionized. But you still probably won't approach $20/hr for a long time, if ever. This is true whether you work savory or pastry. A lot of people get something going on the side--doing some catering, selling some cakes, etc--to help make up some additional income.

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I'm sorry I appear delusional, but apparently I am.

I was not going to compare "decent" with a corporate salary (including benefits, vacation, etc.) but I was hoping"decent" in the pastry business to be around $20/per hour (are benefits commonplace?).  Am I out of the ballpark in the NY/NJ Metro area????  Please, tell me if I'm crazy.

Realizing I'd have to work myself up from the bottom, my question remains what are the chances of making a "decent" salary and how long would it take to get into that salary range - 2 yrs, 5 yrs., 10 years???  ( I'm thinking I'd have to supplement my expenes with savings.)  Is every pastry person destined to be poor (if not of celebrity status?)

You're crazy!!!

At the moment, I'm thinking most pastry people are destined to be poor :laugh:

I've been reading a lot of articles lately with people talking about "the passion" of cooking, pro's saying this, and it's quite true, it's often about the passion but at some point one has to make some bucks or have another source of income to make it work.

chefette makes a good point, search up some of the numerous threads here in P&B about switching careers to baking or cooking in general and prepare to get "enlightened" :biggrin:

2317/5000

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I'm sorry I appear delusional, but apparently I am.

I was not going to compare "decent" with a corporate salary (including benefits, vacation, etc.) but I was hoping"decent" in the pastry business to be around $20/per hour (are benefits commonplace?).   Am I out of the ballpark in the NY/NJ Metro area????   Please, tell me if I'm crazy.

Realizing I'd have to work myself up from the bottom, my question remains what are the chances of making a "decent" salary and how long would it take to get into that salary range - 2 yrs, 5 yrs., 10 years???  ( I'm thinking I'd have to supplement my expenes with savings.)  Is every pastry person destined to be poor (if not of celebrity status?)

You're crazy!!!

At the moment, I'm thinking most pastry people are destined to be poor :laugh:

I've been reading a lot of articles lately with people talking about "the passion" of cooking, pro's saying this, and it's quite true, it's often about the passion but at some point one has to make some bucks or have another source of income to make it work.

chefette makes a good point, search up some of the numerous threads here in P&B about switching careers to baking or cooking in general and prepare to get "enlightened" :biggrin:

I would like to add something here, seeing that you're in New Jersey.

I'm not sure how the restaurants in Atlantic City are, I would think that it's not attracting quite as much starpower as Las Vegas but I think that's the closest you're going to get to "corporate" type wages & benefits.

Our own 'nightscotsman', one of the hosts of the P&B forum, went to the French Pastry Schools intensive 6 month course and after graduating now works at The Bellagio Hotel in 'Vegas in one of the best pastry departments in the U.S with what I would call a "living wage" and almost more importantly, more then decent working conditions.

But, I would say he made a few sacrifices, like moving to another city away from people he knew, for starters.

That's the kind of gig I would be shooting for if I were you...

2317/5000

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Thanks all for taking the time to consider my plight and opening my eyes. I had no idea pastry people were so under paid (in my humble opinion). I wish I could lobby to someone so you could all get immediate and well deserved increases!! I just don't understand why at the end of the night, the coat check (with tips) is going to get more money than the Pastry Chef. How did that happen???

Unfortunately, once you're accustomed to making a certain salary (even if you're no longer thrilled with the work) it's very difficult to go backwards (salary wise). If I had someone or something (inheritance, lottery winnings, a 2nd job) to supplement the lower salary I wouldn't hesitate to take the plunge and pursue what I love. But I can't. I will however take some classes, maybe the Master Baking one at the New School in NYC to improve my skills and continue to bake for my friends and family. I'll also pursue working as an apprentice or for free at a restaurant or bakery that'll take me.

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When I worked as a pastry chef 12 years ago, I was earning $8/hour. No benefits, no vacation. Although I probably shouldn’t be, I'm surprised that the salary is still pretty much the same. OTHH, my friend supposedly earned in the $20+/hr range (with benefits) for a well-established restaurant. Note the word supposedly, since he never had enough money to go out on his days off. But mind you, that would be a very rare exception.

Maybe you can set up a cottage industry of sorts. If your company allows it, perhaps you can offer to make special occasion cakes/pastries for your co-workers. Since those little “nasty” things such as mortgage, kids' college fund, and medical costs get in the way, this will give you the opportunity to make a little money doing what you love without leaving a job which allows you to live the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed.

Brioche’s suggestion is a good one. I wish I did that as well.

Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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Not that I want to open a can of worms...but consider what "volunteering" in a kitchen will do for those people who are trying to make a living there. You'd be taking a space, if not a wage, that someone else who depends on the income could have, and giving management excuses for paying lousy wages.

I don't want to discourage you from pursuing something you love to do, but if you can't committ to it wholeheartedly, including the crappy pay...leave it for those who can.

Not an expert, just the wife of a musician who runs into this kind of thing all the time - people offering to play for less or for free take work from the professionals and make it harder for everyone to make a living.

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Thanks all for taking the time to consider my plight and opening my eyes.  I had no idea pastry people were so under paid (in my humble opinion).  I wish I could lobby to someone so you could all get immediate and well deserved increases!!  I just don't understand why at the end of the night, the coat check (with tips) is going to get more money than the Pastry Chef.  How did that happen???

This occurance is all too common with about 99% of restaurants in the world. The front of house staff always make more money than the back of house staff. It seems to be the law of restaurants

The reason for this is that the consumer demands certain price points. If one charged $15 for a slice of lemon meringue pie, the public just would NOT go there. The higher priced menu items that are offered, usually use higher priced/higher quality ingredients.

The front of house staff do a have a certain amount of risk in their wages. Sometimes people do not tip well. FOH staff never know how much they are going home with at the end of the night. A slow night with bad tippers could be significant in wage decrease.

The BOH staff usually have a certain amount of stability in that their wage will stay stable.....but like everyone in the industry knows...you really have to love your work, or else you just won't think that it is worth it. (I have a few staff right now who are questioning whether they are in the right industry) Long hours, no weekends with friends or family, no benefits (usually at restaurant level) and little acknowledgement of a job well done by the customer leads to a fairly ungratifying job. And that's not including the pay. It is a very different way of life. You learn who your friends really are.

I am always careful when i interview new employees (especially those straight out of culinary school) to see how realistic their view of the industry is. To give an example: Out of the 35 people who graduated in my class at culinary school, only 2 of us are still in the industry 13 years later.

Hope you find what you are looking for.

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Not that I want to open a can of worms...but consider what "volunteering" in a kitchen will do for those people who are trying to make a living there. You'd be taking a space, if not a wage, that someone else who depends on the income could have, and giving management excuses for paying lousy wages.

I don't want to discourage you from pursuing something you love to do, but if you can't committ to it wholeheartedly, including the crappy pay...leave it for those who can.

Not an expert, just the wife of a musician who runs into this kind of thing all the time - people offering to play for less or for free take work from the professionals and make it harder for everyone to make a living.

Just want to throw this in the ring re: "volunteering" in kitchens.

Trailing or staging in a kitchen for a week or a few days minus pay is a pretty accepted practice and I doubt it hurts the chances of anyone else getting a gig taken from them.

Management rarely need an excuse for paying lousy wages if they indeed do.

Something VERY interesting to me lately IS the amount of people who have NO experience being hired by restaurants, etc..

It's a two sided sword.

I 've seen people recently who are going to, say, a community college type of cooking course, and they have SO little knowledge of anything!

From blanching to, jeez, you name it, extraordinary waste of time & their money.

These are A.C.F. linked courses too, which makes things even scarier.

But, on the other hand, somebody with some raw talent might find someplace to take off in.

Doubtful but possible.

2317/5000

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Brioche - When you said "Find a good bakery/restaurant in your area and BEG to help in the kitchen."

What exactly did you mean, can you please elaborate. Do I keep my helping to baking related or do I wash dishes if they want?? Do I do this for free or request a salary with my begging??

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At the risk of stepping on brioche57's toes, I think he means to find a restaurant or bakery in your area that you really like (you like their product). Find out who the pastry chef is. Call (during non-service hours if it's a restaurant, or not first thing in the morning if it's a bakery) and ask if you can set up a meeting or come in one day to trail, or basically stand by to observe what's going on.

If you do go in, for heaven's sake, wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty (this is for trailing or if you're allowed to do any work). Don't go in in a skirt and heels or a suit!

Many businesses shy away from unpaid apprentices solely because of the worker's comp/liability issues. God forbid you get hurt, and there's no worker's comp to cover you because you were just an apprentice.

But trailing for even a few hours could give you a clearer picture of what life in a restaurant or bakery is like. Everything everyone here has said is true, in spades. You have to really love it, or else it isn't worth it. If you're in a bakery, expect to work odd hours (I go to work at 5am). There are very very few pastry jobs out there that are 8-5.

By all means, take some classes to improve your skills, and I think the suggestion, at least initially, to offer specialty cakes to co-workers, friends, and family is a good one. If you have a particular interest (say, specialty cakes, or breads), start doing them. Give them away for free, at least to start, and let people know that you're available to do a cake like the one they just tasted, for their next birthday, or party. If you don't think you can deal with the salary cut, it might be the best way to take your hobby to another level without giving up a corporate job.

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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What exactly did you mean, can you please elaborate.    Do I keep my helping to baking related or do I wash dishes if they want??  Do I do this for free or request a salary with my begging??

I don't know...but I'd do dishes for free if someone were willing to take me in, no prob. :laugh: I think that doing the dishes is part of the pastry business, is it not? (I was always under the impression that dishwashers only come in during service, while pastry chefs usually work during the day, but I've never worked in a restaurant or bakery so I could very well be wrong! :smile: )

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Thanks Jen and no toes stepped on. And I agree do the wishes if that's what needs to be done! When I was at Tante Marie years ago (in San Fran) one of my classmates was working at Hawthorne Lane - then one of THEE trendiest restaurants in the City (and very good) well the up and coming star in the pastry department was one of the dishwashers! And as Anthony Bourdain will attest to (and many others here) those dishwashers moving in to the kitchen is not an usual move any more.

Lots of great advice here. I wish I had egullet when I was in the pastry chef mode.

:biggrin:

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This is all good advice for tippingvelvet, to which I must add: Oh, no! We don't mind when people offer to help! Here! Roll out this lavosh! We all hate to do it! Make 200 dinner rolls for dinner service! It's really good practice! How about pulling those 30 creme brulee in the boiling water bath out of the oven for me, huh? Free labor is good! :biggrin:

$20/hour? Surely you jest! I suppose if I did the math, I might make somewhere close to that, if I worked 40 hours a week, but it's really more like 60-70, and it's taken me 9 years to get to this, anyway. I totally agree that in your situation the best solution is to trail, take some classes and do a little pastry on the side. Good luck! Keep us posted!

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$20 an hour, bwaaah haa haaa! BTW, love the name dear, I wonder how many here know it's meaning;) If you are just starting out it would be years before making that.

I have 3 career changers on my hands right now. I used to be VERY sceptical about them, especially those over 45. Then 2 proved themselves to me, and have the dedication to keep learning, despite making 1/3 of what their salaries were before. One is a lawyer/former President of a company...I think they are nuts. But to each their own!

Also, and this is just my opinion, I am not impressed with what my local baking & pastry school is producing student/knowledge- wise. I almost feel like I should just start charging $35,000 per student to come and learn real, valuable skills! Who cares about pastillage and sugarcraft for beginners? Learn it later IF, and only if, you are drawn to it with a passion.

As far as baking and pastry go, I am self-taught, learn-on-the-fly at each job trained. Read, research, experiment, test.

If I were to do it all over again, I would just do stages all over the country, learning specific skills from each place, from whichever chef I wanted to learn from. This is real, practical experience.

Melissa McKinney

Chef/Owner Criollo Bakery

mel@criollobakery.com

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...jgarner53 has made a VERY excellent point regarding being an un-paid worker in an industrial setting. Yes, no matter how small, a kitchen is a dangerous place, especially if you end up working with angry chefs/bakers, imho.

If you are injured during the course of your 'shadowing' you are on your own! Even when a paid employee is injured, it is hell trying to get any compensation, and if you think $10 to $15 an hour sucks, just try being injured and getting on financially!

That said, I now agree that school, for the most part is a waste of money. I am still paying back tuition loans from 14 years ago and the things/methods I learned was topical to say the least.

Working with a good chef or baker and learning from them is the best method (as evidenced by the French method of apprenticships). Remember there are 100+ ways of doing any one thing and each chef/baker has his/her own methods. Listen, learn and remember...

TIME: TIMER: TEMPERATURE!!!

melmck spoke of the moving and working and reading and experimenting method. I think that is a wonderful way of learning. Just look at Charlie Trotter! That is how he did it.

Best of luck to you!

Paula

Edited by Paula Jonvik (log)

"...It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable..." Leopold

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I can only repeat what everyone here has said. I should go back and find that thread from a few weeks ago when someone( jgarner I think) needed a little boost. Alot of people who go through the career change really have some idealized life of a pastry chef floating in their head thanks to the Food network for making it seen more glamorous than it is.

The most I've made in this profession is a little more than $18 an hour and that was at a vineyard & was pretty long hours & was a multiple venue type deal. Outdoor concerts, restaurant service,weddings,catering...etc. Unless you're union at some fancy hotel I would never even think about making that much.

Mel..I hear you about the recent students coming out of cooking schools. The CCA here in the bay area recently sent us 2 students who clearly were not taught the basics yet they came in with these padded resumes stating how much they knew and all the great places they worked. Never mind that most of the time spent at these places was only a few weeks to a couple of months. We had one girl make some peanut brittle because she said she had done it many times at her last job. We gave her the recipe which had a X2 written in parentheses next to the title because it was a double batch. She then doubled that & then forgot to add the peanuts. Ok..we try it again..this time the correct amount & then she burns it. garbage. Clearly can't follow directions & clearly she had never made the stuff before. What are they teaching these kids? If you don't know how to make something you have to say so.

We've had one girl tell us she expects to be paid at least $16 an hour. We barely are making that ourselves and we run the damn kitchen. One guy who was so arrogant that when I told him he really should be taking notes he said he was & then pointed to his head. ok great..and then when the time came for him to do everything on his own one morning he pretty much screwed everything up.

If you're really really serious about diving into this business then do a tryout somewhere..you learn more from on the job training than you do in some school. Everything I learned I learned from my first job. I was still in school & started out as the cashier in a bakery. I then spent 2 hours after my shift helping out any way I could in the kitchen & then after that I went to my evening cooking school classes. It took me a good yr & a half to get in the kitchen. And it took me that long because by that time I had become an invaluable head of cafe staff & they were reluctant to have me leave that position. :blink:

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I have 3 career changers on my hands right now. I used to be VERY sceptical about them, especially those over 45.

Why I wonder?

I wonder if one of the PC's at a very well known restaurant in Berkeley, CA felt the same way. I have never been treated so badly.

:blink:

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The CCA here in the bay area recently sent us 2 students who clearly were not taught the basics yet they came in with these padded resumes stating how much they knew and all the great places they worked.

Interesting point. I was chatting the other day with one of my school classmates, who works at Absinthe here in San Francisco, and she said basically the same thing. They'd had a couple of people come in from the CCA, who didn't know much. One didn't even know how to make pastry cream (she didn't want to bring it to a boil because she was worried that the eggs would curdle :blink: ). OK, if you don't know the difference between pastry cream, which is used in massive amounts in nearly every pastry kitchen, and a crème anglaise, what on earth were you doing in school when you were supposed to be learning? :wacko:

But, we did just hire someone at my bakery, fresh out of the CCA, who seems to be reasonably knowledgeable (OK, she's only been there one day so far), or at least has a good attitude, which is ssooo much in this business!

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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