How to Become a Pastry Chef without Formal Education
If you enjoy playing with dough, mixing sugar and butter and coming up with elegant dessert presentations and a knack for creating artisanal wedding cakes that looks as good as it tastes, you probably would want to know how to become a pastry chef professionally.
The Traditional Road to Becoming a Pastry Chef
Many people believe that formal education on baking and dessert making is required to becoming a professional pastry chef.
If you’re taking this route, you’ll have to enroll in a culinary school and specialize in pastry. After earning your degree or certificate, you will then have to go into apprenticeship.
This is an on-the-job training where you’ll be able to apply the theories you learned from school. In some cases, an apprenticeship program could last for 2-3 years.
After graduating from your degree and apprenticeship, you can now apply as a full-fledged pastry chef in restaurants, bakeries and other related establishments.
You might also want to gain certifications from the American Culinary Federation. This will help enhance your credibility and marketability as pastry chef.
The key advantage of getting formal education is that the school could help arrange your apprenticeship program and get you a job after graduation.
Taking the Road Less Taken
However, getting a degree from a culinary school can get very expensive despite its advantages. You can still become a pastry chef by cutting some corners, doing your own legwork and being open to learning in a real-kitchen setting, all without the aid of formal education.
Take for example Caroline Schiff, a pastry chef who carved her name in the food industry by working as shadow for other well-known chefs without the aid of formal education.
She started with an unpaid internship and hopped her way from a small food establishment to a larger fine-dining restaurant.
Later on, she opened her own shop and proved that if one wants to become a pastry chef “you just put your time in at restaurants and learn by doing” –Caroline Schiff.
You just put your time in at restaurants and learn by doing.
Given that you already have the penchant for desserts and have some basic knowledge in making them, how do you set yourself on track to becoming a pastry chef without getting formal education?
Here are the ways:
It’s great if you already have a solid knowledge base for pastry making and that you’re genuinely passionate about desserts. Pastry chefs need to know the chemistries of food, how to take precise ingredients measurements and mixing in the correct order.
On top of that, a pastry chef needs to know how to make desserts visually appealing, so you must have at least some creative bone in your body.
Pastry chef Rachel Miller writes about the physical and mental demands to being a pastry chef which include working long hours, being on your feet all day and brainstorming on new pastry recipes.
Also, pastry chefs have other out-of-the-kitchen duties like conceptualizing desserts to go with the whole course, coming up with new dessert ideas, communicating with suppliers, taking inventory and so on.
If you’re dead set to making a career of being a pastry chef, you must learn and adopt these important skills as they will come in useful on a daily basis.
2. Become an Intern under a Pastry Chef You Admire
Internship helps hone your skills and knowledge under a more experienced chef. Being under the wings of someone who knows what he’s doing gives access to real time lessons and techniques.
Consider this: you may already know how to bake, but you probably don’t know all the techniques.
You actually learn from practice and not just from mere theories. You are actually being in exposed to an environment where you see yourself working in the near future.
But remember that your apprenticeship may not be paid to start with. You need to know where you stand with this set up so you can sustain your dream of becoming a pastry chef through other means.
Apprenticeship normally doesn’t require formal hours so you have better control of your time and work elsewhere so you can bring home a paycheck. Your aim with apprenticeship is to get as much experience as you can and time is your only investment.
Interning for a chef you admire is another important factor when deciding which kitchen you’d like to work in, albeit unpaid. Some bakeries, restaurants and dessert shops may not accept interns if they already have a good amount of manpower, but take your chances and send a letter to your favorite chef and see if you can trail him in the kitchen for a number of days a week.
Expressing your intent means you are proactive in wanting to advance yourself in this industry and the chef might need extra hands in certain days. This is clearly a win-win situation for the both parties: you learn from the expert free of charge while the chef gets some help at no cost.
3. Study in Between
Make use of spare time growing your pastry knowledge. There’s a wealth of resources that can help you learn more about the pastry business.
Online courses, webinars and reading materials could extend your knowledge on safe food handling, baking techniques and food chemistries.
Suffice to say, the more knowledgeable you are, the easier it is to market yourself and your products.
4. Consider Entry-level Pastry Job Positions
You won’t become head pastry chef overnight but you can go up the food chain by starting from the bottom. From this position, there will be no other way to go but up.
This might mean putting up with grueling work hours and doing non-pastry related tasks like peeling vegetables and dishwashing, but it keeps you in the zone of expert pastry chefs where you will learn valuable lessons and techniques from.
Consider sacrificing more hours, working weekends and in holidays because this is when pastry are more in-demand and when you may get the opportunity to chip in and actually bake breads or make desserts.
5. Earn More Experience and Grow Your Career
Working in various restaurants and establishments will enrich your experience and skills as pastry chef. This will ultimately look good on your resume.
If you’ve been working in a small café or restaurant for some time and see that there’s no more room for growth, consider uprooting yourself and finding better opportunities for growth and learning.
Apply for bigger restaurants or explore other fields of pastry and dessert-making to enrich your knowledge.
You might also want to put up your own business instead of working for one. Consider opening up your own bakery or accept orders for wedding cakes from your home. When you become your own boss, you’ll be able to set and work with your own terms.
If you have the passion for sweets and penchant for making breads, cakes, cookies and other forms of pastries, you are one step ahead to becoming a pastry chef. You could go to school or learn directly from the kitchen. One thing remains certain though: it takes time, effort, dedication and commitment to become a professional pastry chef, but the rewards are all sweet in the end.