Do you have a sweet tooth and a way with a whisk? Do double cream and melting chocolate make you feel at home? Maybe you should consider a career as a pastry chef.
Pastry chefs are those masters of creation who devise the delectable desserts that you can’t resist at the end of a good meal out. They’re the ones who come up with all those mouth-watering pieces of heaven that call to you from bakery shop windows.
There is more to being a pastry chef than weighing and measuring flour, sugar and butter. There is more to it than stirring in chocolate, caramel and cream. There is a science behind every dessert and if you want to be a truly successful master pastry chef you need to roll up your shirt sleeves and prepare yourself from some hard work.
To start off with you need to attend a culinary school. You need to watch out for fly-by-night schools whose certificates aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Accept that you might have to relocate to find a really good school. Also accept that culinary schools aren’t exactly cheap. But the good ones are well worth it.
Here you’ll learn the science behind ingredients. For example, why they combine the way they do, how they combine and how the basic elements of ingredients influence taste. This will help you come up with combinations of your own one day. You’ll also learn how to produce breads and desserts on masse because chances are good you’ll always be cooking for more people than can fit around your dining table.
You’ll need to complete an apprenticeship. Some people say that this is where the real schooling begins. You’ll get to see how a real kitchen operates, including how different people handle pressure when tempers flare – and they will flare. You’ll get a chance to see how you handle pressure and whether you can keep your hand steady while decorating your 150th cupcake.
Given that the job is quite stressful, you need an innate ability to remain calm under pressure.
You need to be able to work strategically; for example, if a dessert consists of different parts and each part takes a different amount to time to prepare then you need to know where to start and where to end.
You need to be creative because you can’t just slap some cake on a plate, stick a cherry on top and wish your customer well. You need to put some thought into presentation; as the cliché says, we eat with our eyes. You also need to be creative when it comes to devising new desserts; you and your customers will get bored if you keep serving the same thing day after day.
You need stamina and fortitude because you’ll be up at all hours and on your feet most of the day.
Finally, you need people skills. You’ll be dealing with the public and they tend to like service with a smile, but you’ll also be dealing with other kitchen staff and people generally give their best when they’re being encouraged and appreciated rather than shouted at and belittled.
Being a pastry chef is a rewarding career, financially and personally. But you have to be willing to put in the work.