Expertly designed and delicious desserts are planned and prepared hours before reaching your plate in restaurants. Pastry chefs are in charge of creating the fine desserts as well as pastries, breads and other types of baked goods. They plan dessert menus including dessert beverages, manage staff and create new recipes. The term pastry chef comes from the French word pâtissier.
History and Inspiration
Many pastry chefs study in France, home to some of the most famous pastry chefs in the world. Desserts are taken very seriously in French culture, and the country is considered the capital of fine pastries or les pâtisseries fine. Some students who want to be pastry chefs are inspired by the late Gaston Lenôtre and enroll at the school he founded in Paris. Lenôtre revolutionized the art of pastry making. He invented the concept of upscale bakeries that sell pastries, but rejected the concept of mass-producing desserts.
Pastry chefs can earn degrees and certifications in a variety of settings. Traditional two- and four-year colleges as well as trade schools offer programs that train pastry chefs. Top schools like Johnson & Wales University, the New England Culinary Institute and the Culinary Institute of America offer comprehensive programs, from associate to bachelor’s degrees in baking and pastry arts. Students can take advantage of resources the schools offer, such as financial aid, study-abroad programs at culinary schools overseas, competitions and internships.
Techniques and Kit
Even after budding pastry chefs receives a formal education, they must continue to hone their skills and learn new techniques. Basic techniques include learning how to mix ingredients. Tasks include creaming, preparing biscuits, egg foam and muffins and perfecting two-stage mixing. Advanced pastry preparations include learning how to make custards and garnishes as well as creating artistic designs and dessert construction. Pastry chefs have their own set of specialized tools. During training, students acquire their own pastry tool kit, which includes specialty knives, spatulas, peelers, spoons, scrapers and brushes.
Pastry chefs start out as entry-level pastry cooks, making very little money and putting in long hours. As they gain more experience, they may be promoted to assistant pastry chef. Pastry chefs who man the pastry station in top restaurants not only are responsible for managing the preparation, cooking and construction of pastries; they also manage the entry-level workers and assistants. Consequently, having good management skills is also helpful in becoming a successful pastry chef.
Like most restaurant jobs, pastry chefs spend many hours on their feet, working hours before a restaurant even opens. Restaurant employees wear comfortable slip-resistant shoes, usually clogs. Students in college and pastry chef programs also begin wearing chef clogs during training. So in addition to having stellar cooking skills, pastry chefs must also develop the physical endurance to stand and work for long periods of time.
- “AFP”; French Master Pastry Chef Gaston Lenotre Dead at 88; January 2009
- “Associated Press”; Pastry Chefs Rising Stars of the Culinary World; Michelle Licke; April 2010
- Johnson & Wales University: Baking & Pastry Arts
- Pastry Chef Online: Mixing Methods
- Pastry Chef Online: Intermediate & Advanced Pastries
- Reluctant Gourmet: Becoming a Pastry Chef
- Photo Credit dessert image by Leonid Nyshko from Fotolia.com