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I have several questions about culinary school....

Hi everyone!

1. I'am 24 years old and Im dying to be a pastry chef and I now that for some years I will have crappy pay (and thats a little scary to me), but I dont care. Im 24 and I want to go to culinary school for baking/pastry arts. I was thinking I would go for a four year degree(I do have general education credits and would not like for them to go to waste), but Im not sure if that is necessary or not. I would like to be an executive pastry chef eventually though. I was talking to this chef that I work with he isnt a pastry chef, but he said that I should also do an apprenticeship. So I thought it would be a good idea that while in school I could do an informal apprenticeship so that way I can get a solid foundation in culinary education and have experience as well for when I go out into the workforce. Is it possible to do both school and an apprenticeship at the same time?

2. Also I dont want to go to a fancy culinary school or one of those for profit schools (Le Cordon Bleu/ Art institutes) and pay thousands upon thousands of dollars. Are there any public colleges/universities that offer four year degree baking pastry arts degrees besides CIA and Johnson and Wales? I have been looking, but I cant find anything.

3. Also is it important that I go to a school accredited by the American Culinary Federation?

4. Can someone give me the 100% truth about how much a pastry chef really makes if they are not an executive pastry chef? I

5. Is being a pastry chef as stressful as being a regular chef?

6. Will I have a life outside the kitchen? Thanks for reading all my questions! Sorry I have so many.

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  1. I would suggest looking in to the archive at http://eggbeater.typepad.com/

    There are some good posts about pros and cons of culinary school, and some hard cold truths about the industry. Shuna will likely respond with well thought out answers if you pose questions to her. She believes in the art, but is well aware of the pitfalls.

    1. I live in Asheville, NC and the local community college, A-B Tech (Asheville-Buncombe) has a culinary arts program with a two-year associates degree that has a good reputation. They have a baking and pastry arts program. Link below.


      Forest Davenport

      1. 4) between $12 an hour and $45 k. If you're a big star in NY, Chicago, LA, etc or run the pastry department for a group of several restaurants you'll make more, but for a single outlet in a city of a few million, you'd be lucky to get much more. A lot of people in the kitchen will make more than you, I think I usually make about 75% of what the sous chefs make.

        5) Yes.

        6) Maybe. A lot of pastry chefs work mornings, but early hours can be as much of a drag as late ones. Expect to work 50 to 60 hours a week, and cancel all future plans for Christmas, NYE, and Valentines day.

        1. i'd rec working/apprenticeship rather than going to culinary school. lots of folks who go to culinary school end up not being able to work in restaurants because of the combo of their burden of culinary school debt and the reality of low wages in restaurant jobs--ironic, huh?

          depending on what you specifically want to do/execute, the repetition of formulas and techniques you'll get in a job, rather than from the small-scale stuff you do in a culinary class, will probably serve you better in the long run. you will have to push yourself toward more refined and challenging positions at other jobs as you grow your expertise. try to work with pastry chefs you respect in your own area-- you can learn lots of little tricks and recipes from them. you could also check out the offerings of your local community or technical colleges for classes. since we don't know where you live it's kind of impossible to make specific recommendations.

          the thing about doing pastry is that if you are good, you are a little less tied down than a chef who has to put in 60+ at one restaurant. a pastry chef can do the desserts for more than one establishment and have something independent on the side, like wedding cakes or cupcakes or packaged bacon brownies or something. some jobs will pay you by the hour, and you can expect to be doing scones and muffins and such as well as desserts, and some others will pay you by the piece/item-- so if you can only make 5 pies an hour or something you simply won't be able to pay the rent at that rate, but it might be a nice hobby.

          1. If you live in a big city on the east or west coast, I would knock on doors and present yourself as ready and willing to learn the biz. You are going to work 10 years before you see any real money. Culinary shools are great but don't really prepare you for the real world. As I said, start someplace at the bottom and closely observe and see if this is what you really want. I'm not trying to be discouraging but the food business is rough.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

              Well I live in Columbia, SC. I think it will be hard to find a pastry chef here though a lot of restaurants and even hotels use store bought desserts. Then whats the point of culinary schools if they dont prepare you for the real world? Yeah Im going to try and find an internship this summer so I can see what it is like.

              1. re: Want2bPastryChef

                "Then whats the point of culinary schools if they dont prepare you for the real world?" I believe that you answered your own question in your initial post " Also I dont want to go to a fancy culinary school or one of those for profit schools (Le Cordon Bleu/ Art institutes)"
                **For Profit** are the key words; these schools are in the business of making money. I taught at a private culinary school before it was sold to LCB and wouldn't teach there now. The cost/benefit ratio for students is embarrassing and I could not participate in the charade.

                Do as soupkitten recommends, find someone to take you on as an apprentice. Talk your way into a kitchen and learn everything you can.

            2. I lived in a city where there was a Johnson and Wales campus. I had many friends who graduated from their pastry program. Most of my friends have struggled to find employment. Most work at local hotels for slightly above minimum wage. Other make doughnuts at Dunkin'.

              There's definitely great pastry positions out there, but you're most likely not going to find one in a small city. Providence (the city mentioned above) is the second biggest city in New England and friends still struggle finding pastry empoyment.

              1 Reply
              1. 1. You can take a Baking/Pastry Arts Program at many schools. They will often require you do an externship, their word for apprenticeship. You will gain a finesse and expertise studying under the chefs at at an accredited pastry program.

                2. The Baking/Pastry Arts Program are often shorter -- part of a year, or 18 months. It might be expensive, but at least you won't pay tuition and the expenses of going to school for long.

                3. Yes.

                4. I know two Pastry Chefs. One makes 50K at a country club, the other 65K managing the baking and dessert programs for several restaurants in the same restaurant group. They both went to culinary school, and have fantastic skills. They worked in baking/pastry before school, then externed at the Four Seasons and the Ritz.

                5. No, not as stressful. Regular hours. At the restaurant early in the morning before anyone else, leave at 3 pm.
                Not around for the stress of dinner service -- someone else will plate your desserts.

                6. Yes, because of the hours. This is one of the great things about baking/pastry. But you must also establish boundaries so you're not working 70-80 hours a week. Bear in mind restaurant jobs are very hard on relationships.

                Takes a while to get a high-paying job, so apprentice with the most talented and famous pastry chef you can find so that you can learn their techniques. I think this is critical to success. An executive pastry chef won't even talk to you -- usually -- unless you're already highly skilled and have some mastery of technique (or special creativity). You will need to live in a city or near a resort/country club, unless your goal is a bakery business. And be forewarned, most restaurants will start you out at a low wage, not offer you health insurance, and you'll have to work weekends and holidays.

                I'd ask yourself if this is what you really want to do. I've also known several passionate pastry students who burned out, and changed careers when their passion didn't earn them enough money. Good luck to you.

                1. Not a professional but this is something I'd considered doing in passing. You should look into the community colleges in your state. I took classes at one in Oakland, CA, quite a few people were there to get credits and take a few years off culinary school (and reduce cost). The classes were very reasonable and credits do transfer to many schools. I have a friend who learned the basics of pastries/baking by working at a restaurant. She started out low but worked her way up. She learned the basic skills, what pastry chefs do, etc. w/out committing to a high priced education and decided against it. So, while being an apprentice would be wonderful, you can learn the ins and outs of a kitchen by working in one. At that point, you've also got the experience and, hopefully, the attention of the pastry chef.

                  1. I have two friends who did culinary school but quickly realized the working conditions weren't for them. On the other hand, I have a friend who is a succesful and happy executive chef. He started out as a dishwasher in a resort town, skiing was his motivation. It Took about 10 years to work his way up. He did do some community college courses in food safety etc along the way, during the off-season when jobs were scarce. So he basically learned on the job and figured out the lifestyle suited him (he's moved on from the resort town to a big city, has a partner and a kid).

                    1. I think it would be a good idea to get lots of information from actual working pastry chefs. Just this morning, I read the list of the James Beard semi-finalists for pastry. What about writing each of them -- via email, fax or letter --
                      and hearing what they have to say on "making it" in the business, school, training and apprenticeships? Just search out the contact info from the web or elsewhere, then send a fax, or ask that your email be forwarded to the pastry chef. Good luck.

                      Here's the list:
                      OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF
                      Cory Barrett, Lola, Cleveland
                      Beth Biundo, Lilette, New Orleans
                      Amanda Cook, CityZen at Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C.
                      Deanie Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, CA
                      Michelle Gayer, Salty Tart Bakery, Minneapolis
                      Hedy Goldsmith, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
                      Carla Gonçalves, Koo Zee Doo, Philadelphia
                      Kamel Guechida, Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
                      Marie Jackson, Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands, NJ
                      Maura Kilpatrick, Sofra Bakery and Cafe, Cambridge, MA
                      Joe Logsdon, La Mie, Des Moines, IA
                      Yasmín Lozada-Hissom, Duo, Denver
                      James Miller, Cafe Besalu, Seattle
                      Cherie Pascua, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, Honolulu
                      Nicole Plue, Redd, Yountville, CA
                      Michelle Polzine, Range, San Francisco
                      Jessie Prawlucki, Fond, Philadelphia
                      Plinio Sandalio, Textile, Houston
                      Mindy Segal, Mindy’s HotChocolate, Chicago
                      Philip Speer, Uchi, Austin, TX

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Thanks so much Maria!! You have given me excellent pieces of advice. I will definitely contact those chefs. The more info the better...You seem to know a lot about this are you a chef or something??

                        1. re: Want2bPastryChef

                          I think getting the direct contact info, and developing a good letter/note will net you great info from the pastry chefs above. As to your question, I went to culinary school a long time ago, and it changed the arc of my life. Not just the education but the doors it opened, and the calibre of professionals to which I was introduced. I've known a handful of people who have taken the professional pastry program at the CIA. Sincere best wishes.

                      2. I graduated from Johnson & Wales with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. In my opinion Culinary School is a decent option for several reasons. I was a transfer student and got to use many of the credits from my previous education. If you have a degree, the school offers a Garnish your Degree program which is an interesting 'fast track' that focuses on the pastry or culinary aspects of their curriculum. The school is also very good about offering classes that are available at different times that help with doing an internship or working while going to school. The courses are from the ground up. You start with the essentials and build on them. Networking is also great. I met a lot of talented chefs and celebrity chefs doing volunteer work. I was also a teaching assistant and worked at the school while attending. The scholarship as well as the pay allowed me to come out of an ordinarily expensive school with managable loans.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: beerzombie

                          Thanks for your input beerzombie! If you dont mind me asking what is your occupation now? Would you say going to Johnson and Wales helped you land a job? How did you become a teaching assistant while you were there?

                          1. re: beerzombie

                            Hey beerzombie! I'm about to go to Johnson and Wales for the Culinary Nutrition degree. I'd love to ask you a few questions if you don't mind.

                            -Which campus did you do it at? Would you recommend Providence of Denver?
                            -Did many students go on to become private chefs?
                            -Would you recommend trying to take some of the basic classes like anatomy, biology, etc. at a community college to reduce the cost of tuition?

                            Thanks for your help!