How to Become a Pastry Chef

Cooking can be a true art, and creating pastries and desserts requires precise technique, a unique vision and talent. Have you ever checked out a desert counter and fell into the temptation of getting one just because it looked so good? Then, hopefully, you tasted it and it felt like you went to heaven. This is the true gift of a pastry chef, making deserts and pastries that look amazing but also taste wonderful.

There are a few options of career paths for pastry chefs. They don’t only make cakes, although this is also a career on its own; however, they can work in high-end restaurants in charge of the pastry station, or be part of bakeries and dessert shops, you can also find pastry chefs at sweets factories. Many of them might also own their own businesses, whether it is a specialty storefront or working on a per-order basis out of their home.

It is not enough to just love cooking, but you also need to be precise and focused. Pastry, baking and desserts all require very particular recipes and a steady hand for decoration. The reward, a beautiful piece of art every time you are finished cooking.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Deric McGuffey

G2B Restaurant & Brewery

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Deric McGuffey
  • Durham, NC
  • 15
  • G2B Restaurant & Brewery
  • @jdmcguffey

Understanding My Career Path

  • My mother owned her own cake company in my hometown, and I would help her mix on the weekends. When other boys were talking about fire ladders and police lights, I was pulling cookies out of the oven.
  • While attending Georgia College, pursuing arts, I took a job at a local restaurant in order to pay my way and quickly became very interested in the Culinary Arts.
  • After spending about two years working at my hometown restaurant, I decided to attend Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College for a degree in the culinary arts.
  • I was very fortunate to land an internship at one of the best restaurants in Atlanta, and under one of the best chefs. Canoe restaurant fine-tuned my attention to preparedness in all aspects of dessert making. The Chef, Gary Mennie, taught me how to work efficiently, and to never compromise the quality of our craft.
  • After graduation, I moved with my wife from Asheville, back to Atlanta and pursued a job full-time at Canoe. The Pastry Chef, Robyn Mayo, was always eager to teach me how to better my dessert technique.
  • After a year, we moved back to Asheville, and I took up my first pastry chef opportunity at Rezaz in Biltmore Village.
  • Next, I was fortunate in receiving an interview with One restaurant, where I was Pastry Chef for two years, establishing the Bread and Pastry programs. Three months after taking a job at One, we opened G2B restaurant, where I also developed the bread and pastry programs.

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Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
There are many professionals who never attended culinary school or a Hotel Management program. It’s completely feasible to make way in this industry without a formal education. What I took from my time in culinary school, is a sense of order, and learning the basic techniques of cookery. It’s very important for individuals to know that in order to make a life doing this work, dedication is of the utmost importance; starting at the bottom and toiling year after year to attain higher responsibilities is a given, even with a degree.

Apprentice with a Chef who you admire
Be persistent with what you would like to get out of cooking, and don’t settle for anything less. If you’re demanding of yourself, you will eventually be surrounded with like-minded people. Also, expect to make just enough to live on in terms of wages.

Be open
Learn to do anything that is asked of you. Always be looking to help out your colleagues without question and under any circumstance, including the porter. Make sure you actively listen.

Set a goal and go for it
It’s pretty straight forward; seek out where you would like to work and go for it. It might take a couple of years, but if you’re determined, it will happen. It might not happen in the exact restaurant your thinking of, but at one that is of the same standard. Being detail oriented is a huge plus in a pastry kitchen.

Yvette Marie

O Taste and See Treats – Head Baker

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  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Yvette Marie
  • Gilbert, AZ
  • 3
  • O Taste and See Treats
  • @OTaste

Understanding My Career Path

  • Oct 10th, 2011 it was all divine intervention. I experienced a major life change and having no formal training or ability to even bake a box cake right, I started baking from scratch the next day.
  • Within 2 days I was selling, within 5 days I was in 4 restaurants. Within a year I had outgrown my home kitchen.
  • Within 2 years I had a retail store. Within 3 years I was a featured Bakery at Super Bowl 49, which turned into making treats for the Oscars, and that brings up to the current day.

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Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
No. Baking is a true art, and it’s been my experience that all of the book knowledge in the world cannot make up for true craftsmanship. It’s truly a love that goes into the food, and you can taste the difference. I’ve had many staff members who are formally educated pastry chefs and not one has been able to come close to what I do, even with me teaching them at a side by side mixing station; it is close but not the same.

Love what you do
Have a true passion for your craft. It’ll show in your food’s taste and quality.

Be teachable
We all start somewhere and you must be open to learning new ways and methods.

Don’t compare
It steals your creativity. Sure, stay up to date on all things pastry, but figure out what you do well and stick with that. Don’t compare yourself to the croissant guy/gal when you’re the cake guy/gal.

Offer to intern
The art of the intern is dying. As a business owner, I usually hire my interns before someone with a resume full of past pastry experience.

Scott W. Meyer

Arizona Culinary Institute

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  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
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  • Scott W. Meyer
  • Scottsdale, AZ
  • 16
  • Arizona Culinary Institute
  • @AZCulinary

Understanding My Career Path

  • Before I got into pastry, I was a navy interpreter. After eight years, I knew I didn’t want to make a career out of the military, and baking was the only choice I felt passionate about.
  • I had a friend who knew somebody that owned his own restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, and he agreed to let me work for him. I spent seven months working the line at the Mustard Seed.
  • In March 2000, I headed north to Hyde Park, New York, and started classes at the Culinary Institute of America.
  • For my externship (held half-way through the CIA’s program) I worked at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was an amazing experience. The Executive Pastry Chef, Dave Blom, is an amazing pastry chef, and was very generous in sharing his knowledge.
  • Following completion of school, I returned to the Fairmont, where I spent three years as the night baker. I also worked in the pastry banquet department, as well as prepared desserts for the resort’s four restaurants. I was promoted to Pastry Sous Chef in 2006.
  • While working at the Fairmont, I also taught pastry classes at Phoenix College and Mesa Community College. I also did a brief stint in the grocery department at a local Target; that turned out to be rather disappointing when I realized that they didn’t actually produce anything from scratch there.
  • In June of 2009, I was able to finally realize my dream of teaching full-time when I started at the Arizona Culinary Institute. I initially taught Advanced Baking, and after two years I moved to Basic Baking where I’ve been ever since.

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Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I do recommend a formal education. First of all, professional training at a culinary school automatically confers upon a graduate a legitimacy that on-the-job training cannot match. Secondly, culinary schools expose students to a wide variety of methods and techniques. I do believe that working in the industry while attending culinary school is extremely valuable. I always tell my students that they will learn the “ideal” or “textbook” method in culinary school; these methods may change considerably in the industry. Before anyone can take a shortcut, they need to understand the basics, and why certain shortcuts will work, and why others won’t.

Get a job in a bakery or pastry shop
Make sure you like doing this! Get used to peeling apples, rolling out tart shells, scooping cookies, etc. The Food Network does many students a huge disservice; on one hand it does generate interest in the industry, but it also tends to circumvent the less glamorous aspects of cooking and baking. No one wants to watch a show called Scooping 150 Dozen Cookies.

Read as much as possible
No need to buy a collection of cookbooks, there’s plenty of material online, or visit a library. This industry changes constantly, and the only way to keep abreast of what is new is to read.

Learn cooking and baking
Once you are sure this is what you want, enroll in a culinary school that offers both cooking and baking. There are far fewer baking and pastry jobs than cooking jobs, and having something to fall back on if a pastry job isn’t available can be a life saver.

Find a pastry mentor
Once you have a job in a bakery, find someone who can help you. Almost everyone in the industry had someone to help them when they were just starting out, and many people are happy to mentor someone else who is just getting started.

Put yourself out there
Some bakery owners will let people work for free. Not everyone is in a financial position to be able to do this, of course. It is always a good idea to let everyone know that you are looking for a pastry job. Eventually someone will know someone who is willing to give you a chance. That is how I got my first ever job in a restaurant kitchen. Craigslist or other job sites can be good sources for job openings as well. Don’t be discouraged by “experienced only.” Attitude and a willingness to work will go much further than experience. Lastly, be willing to take a job that might give you the opportunity to transition to a pastry job.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Pastry Chef?


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.