Becoming a pastry chef is hard work. Not only do you have to learn the techniques and have talent, you must also work your way up from the bottom, as most of the industry’s professionals do. However, you do have a couple of options when it comes to education.
You can directly pursue a Pastry and Baking (or similar) degree at one the many culinary institutes and programs across the country. This will take you through the ins and outs of the craft and normally takes anywhere between 8 months to 3 years. Tuition can also vary, depending on whether you go to a private institute or a community college.
Another option is to take on an apprenticeship. This will probably require you to take a basic position at a shop or restaurant. Choose a chef you would like to learn from and then show a lot of perseverance so that you can begin studying under him or her. This can be an incredibly rewarding path, since you will not just learn technique but will get an insider’s perspective and learn tips directly from someone who is successful in the industry.
Finally, you are not limited to taking a degree focused on Pastry. You can also study any sort of culinary art and then specialize. This will give you more flexibility when pursuing your career, as options for pastry chefs can be limited, compared to other types of cooks. You may also want to take a look at business courses if running your own business is something you are interested in.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A FORMAL EDUCATION TO BECOME A PASTRY CHEF?
- Institute of Culinary Education
The School of Pastry and Baking Arts at the ICE in New York offers students the opportunity to obtain a diploma in Pastry and Baking over 6 to 10 months. The program is focused on bringing together a variety of international techniques and allows for externships. Tuition ranges between $33,790 and $38,250.
- International Culinary Center
ICC, with locations in Campbell, CA and in New York City, offers its students a program in Professional Pastry Arts, as well as Cake Techniques and Design and the Art of International Bread Baking. The professional diplomas can be completed in 6 or 9 months and tuition ranges from $32,900 to $39,900.
- The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Washington
The Art Institutes campus located in Arlington, VA, lets students choose to study either a diploma or an Associate of Arts in Baking & Pastry. The diploma takes 12 months to complete and costs $29,133, while the Associate level degree requires a 24 month commitment and costs $46,927.
- Culinary Institute of America
This school has four different locations, offering a variety of levels of Pastry & Baking studies at three of them. You can choose to study in Hyde Park, NY, Santa Helena, CA, or San Antonio, TX. Students also have the choice of pursuing a certificate, associate level degree, or a Bachelor’s degree. Tuition is $13,475 per semester.
- Kendall College, School of Culinary Arts
Located in Chicago, Kendall College offers students an Associate Degree in Baking and Pastry. The school focuses on all specialties of baking and pastry, as well as business aspects of the career. Full-time tuition per quarter is $8,041.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
This is one of those industries where you normally don’t become famous overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and “paying your dues” so to speak. Most chefs start as line cooks, move up to sous chefs and assistants and eventually take on the leading role. So most experts in the industry will recommend that you do exactly that. For example, if you would like to be a chef at a bakery, then become an assistant first and then work your way up. Same goes for restaurants.
Another good tip is that you might have to take a job that is unrelated to your field at first. Maybe you have a list of restaurants that you specifically want to work for, but they are not hiring for pastry related positions. Well, an option would be to become a server or a dishwasher there first, and then express your interest in working with the Pastry Chef. Seeing your skills will encourage the chef to hire you or to teach you the tricks of the trade.
Of course, it also helps to network. When you are pursuing your degree, meet people, socialize, remember their names and where they work, and try to be memorable (in a good way) yourself. Always be professional and portray that image. Finally, go to industry events and conferences, this is your chance to learn and meet other professionals at the same time.