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What do you do?


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I'm sure this has been done before, but I'm having a hard time using the search function....

Anywho, wondering if folks would mind briefly describing what they do (if professional pastry-related) for those of us curious about various aspects of the industry.

I'm also particularly interested in the shift. As a future student, I'm interested in working mornings, but I'm thinking that may completely cut out restaurants. Any truth to my thoughts?

Hopefully this isn't repost hell for anyone.

Edited by hosinmigs (log)

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

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I know there are threads like this, but I'll be darned if I know how to search for them. For future reference though, with a title like the one you've given this topic, nobody is ever going to be able to find it again. It is a bit vague! :raz:

I attended culinary school in San Francisco. I worked in San Francisco restaurants for four years and then took a little time off. When I was ready to work again, I moved to New York City and worked there for four years in several restaurants. Most of my experience is in "fine dining" type restaurants. I'm now back in California and I'm not working in restaurants anymore. I'm an instructor at a culinary school where I teach baking and pastry basics to students who are studying culinary arts (the full "cooking" program, not just baking and pastry).

Although it isn't the rule, when starting out in the industry, it is best to be able to work whenever, wherever and for very little money. I know that during my first interview, I never even asked what hours I would be working or what my pay would be. I just showed up for work when they told me and took whatever paycheck came to me. Only after gaining some seniority, did I even dare to ask for days off or ask for a raise.

After becoming a pastry chef, the biggest thorn in my side was dealing with employee demands for specific schedules, ridiculous pay, etc. I found that culinary school (regardless of where you get your education) was not preparing people for the realities of the restaurant business. You'd be amazed at how many prospective employees ask for Monday through Friday, "nine-to-five" shifts and then demand more money than they are worth. I know that the industry doesn't pay well, but there is something called "merit-based pay" and many of these people were barely worth minimum wage.

Of course, there are different businesses with different needs. If you need morning shifts, you can work in a bakery or cafe...but it is no guarantee you'll get a schedule you'll like. If you want to work in a restaurant, the first position often offered is the "plating" position. This is plating up the desserts which are prepared during the day. A beginning position and very vital to the restaurant, but often shunned because of hours and because people feel they aren't learning anything. This is far from the truth. To find a GOOD plater is very difficult. The skills involved may not be what you learned in culinary school, but coordination, speed, the ability to prioritize, to work under pressure, etc. are just as valuable. One often has to be a plater for a while before working your way into a production position.

Particularly for people changing careers, the question to ask yourself is if you're ready to work ten to twelve hour shifts with no real break, standing on your feet doing repetitive tasks...day after day in less than ideal working conditions. It sounds discouraging, but it is the reality of most restaurants and most food related businesses. Of course, I live in Silicon Valley and there are plenty of food related jobs within Google which would offer good benefits, schedule, working environment...but remember it is only one company and it is basically a glorified cafeteria job.

The best advice is to know yourself and know what you are willing to do in order to learn this business. Find out what your ultimate goal is and what you need to do to reach that goal. Then, do whatever it takes to get to the finish line. The problem with most people is that they aren't willing to do whatever it takes and/or they really don't know what they want to do with their knowledge.

There are so many people who say "I really like to cook or bake, I think I'll go to culinary school and maybe get a job in a restaurant and maybe start a business". Then they find out that cooking in a restaurant is a lot harder and not as fun as cooking for friends and family at home. They also find out that you often do the same things over and over until you're sick of them. They might not learn a broad range of things. They might not have done any research and don't realize how expensive it is to start a business. The list goes on and on.

So take what I say with a box of kosher salt (as I'm a bit jaded on the business :blink: ) but at the very least, be very realistic with yourself.

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I have been baking as a professional in one way or another for over 30 years. I am a baker and cake designer. Umm, my son has attended culinary school recently so current job placement is fresh in my mind due to his searches--although he's savory not pastry. He has worked in all kinds of places including some 5 star/diamond places. A lot of his positions have been restaurants within hotels. Umm, I don't think you'll have any difficulty finding morning shifts for pastry chef-ing. Restaurants within hotels have the most security and benefits.

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I triple ditto everything alanamoana has said. I'm in the "Jaded Club" too. :laugh:

I've done ALMOST everything in the industry, and have worked every shift. Uber-early mornings, swing, days, graveyard, AND sometimes two shifts back to back (in my bakery managing days).

And let's talk weekends, shall we? It's been the rare instance where I regularly got a weekend off.

And depending where you are, holidays are quite the opposite. I've worked in some establishments where holidays were the busiest time of year.

Let's see.....I've been an artisan bread baker, midnight scone maker, a management mover and shaker, and a lead cake decorator. Hey, it rhymes! I've worked wholesale and retail. I've done catering. Supplied desserts to high end restaurants. Fried donuts for skiers. Worked in a pie factory.

Worked in bakery/cafes where I filled the entire dessert case and maintained it. Two places I haven't worked and probably never will: Hotels and grocery stores. Oh, I haven't worked at a resort or country club either.

My favorite jobs were being head pastry chef/cake designer at a high end cake shop, and the two bakeries where I got to fill the dessert cases with anything I felt like making. When I have a job where I am allowed to be creative and no one is breathing down my neck, I'm a happy camper.

The job I hated most was the management job, mostly because I got stuck doing office crap and I hate office crap! I've always been in this business because I like to interact with food....not paperwork!

For sure, it's not in your best interest to be picky about your hours. If you are, then you reduce your job possibilities down quite a bit. Most restaurant jobs or food jobs offer hours that aren't real attractive to people who have other commitments, like family, or if they want to have any kind of regular social life. Luckily when I worked all those crazy hours and long hours I had no family OR social life!!! :laugh:

Now, I only work three days a week....Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 4:30 am til about 1 pm or when I'm done. I was working full time, but gave that up, mostly due to a toxic work environment that stresses me out. I bake cookies, muffins, scones and assorted pastries for a bunch of wholesale accounts (mostly espresso places). I have two assistants and one boss who is a lot like the absentminded professor who happens to be married to Cruella DeVille. Did I say toxic work environment? Yeah. :raz:

I do cakes, occasionally, when I feel like it, "on the side". Usually I'm too tuckered out from family duties and the gang at Cruella and Co. to pick up an offset spatula and ice a cake though.


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alanamoana - Is being an instructor where the big bucks and easy hours are at?  :raz:

(Seriously, I'm not aware of how much instructors make -- I'd guess at places like CIA it must be pretty good.)

hehehe!! i might have been disillusioned into thinking that...it certainly isn't true and it is just as hard as a restaurant job in some respects. of course you don't have to make sure that everything is done perfectly for dinner service or stuff like that, but you have to keep a sharp eye on all the students ALL the time. they're always trying to slide something by you...bastards!! :laugh:

the hours are better, as i'm only part-time. i only teach when the culinary students hit their baking and pastry section (fourteen days total). i'm only on my first batch of students as well. so my song could be changing at any time.

next week, another class hits b&p, so i have a 7am-12noon class and then a break and a 6pm-11pm class. this only overlaps like that for about four or five days, so not too bad. i live close enough to go home and take a nap in between if i need to.

every school is different. this school is new, so everyone is working on getting their sea legs. they have very high expectations. they would love it if all of the instructors were certified master chefs or some other certified someting or other. i don't have any certifications but i bring REAL restaurant experience to the table that some instructors haven't had in a while, if ever (no different from a place like the cia where some of the older instructors have no clue to what's going on in the outside world anymore). i try to use that in my lessons if i can. but i'm still learning everything myself.

this is a great learning experience. i think it is another aspect of my "calling" that i have to master in order to move on with food. i look forward to (hopefully) sitting in on some of the savory classes to enrich my knowledge of food and wine. there's only so much you can read or watch from the other side of the kitchen. sometimes you gotta sink your knife into it. of course, i'm being very idealistic...how many people do you know that want to hang out at their place of employment on their days off?! :blink: but it is nice to know that the opportunity is there.

there's an ancient chinese saying (i love saying that) that goes something like this:

jiao xue, xiang zhang (the chinese have these four word/character sayings for everything)

it means (approximately): whether teaching or learning, both increase/benefit.

sort of like being a teacher, i can learn just as much as the student. and that's as philosophical as i'm going to wax this evening!

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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