Baking and Pastry: Is it Worth it to Earn a Degree?
The lure of the pastry is a tough one to ignore. For people who have found they really like cooking and baking, the idea of becoming a pastry chef is an attractive one. Where to start, though, isn't always clear. A few determined souls know the exact route they want to take, but for the rest of you, the choice between going to school or trying to get a job in a bakery and working your way up from there is a tough call to make.
What Does a Diploma Program Give You?
Formal education -- pastry school -- could give you a comprehensive education that covers a wide range of techniques and pastry types. You can take classes in everything from basic baking chemistry and advanced tools to menu planning and food safety.
Most programs have externships where you work in a restaurant or other related organization to put your skills to use. Your program could be so detailed that you have classes dedicated to specific types of pastry, such as a class on puff pastry or a class on wedding cakes.
What Does Learning on the Job Give You?
Learning on the job -- getting an entry-level job in a food establishment and training from there -- gives you the trial-by-fire approach. You'll find out very quickly if the daily routine of a professional pastry kitchen is what you want.
But you don't get training in anything other than what that establishment makes. If it's a bread bakery, for example, you might not learn anything about cakes or pies. If it's cake store, you might not learn anything other than the exact cake recipes that store makes. In that sense, the training is limited.
How Does Formal Education Compare to Learning at Home or on the Job?
Pastry school is mainly classroom and lab time. You get theory in formal education, and you get exposed to a wider range of pastries and techniques. You have a chance to ask questions and choose an area that really interests you. You also get a chance to practice and learn in an environment where you're expected to mess up occasionally.
If you try to train yourself at home, you're limited to what books can tell you. There are some marvelous cooking and pastry books out there that delve into the world of ratios and how everything goes together in a recipe. But you don't get a chance to ask questions.
Someone who jumps into the kitchen world and tries to learn on the job is limited not only by what the place makes but also by time. No one in an active kitchen really has time to explain baking chemistry to you. You'll just learn the procedures and practice, maybe picking up a bit of food theory along the way in snippets. Most research is done on your own, with those aforementioned books.
Do I Need to go to Pastry School?
Formal education exposes you to more of the field, so you'll probably end up with a better idea of what you really like to focus on. Your job search will be better targeted toward a job you really like. The comprehensive education, too, should give you a better knowledge base that may help you create some neat recipes or discover excellent substitutions. You may also make more connections in school that could help you later on.
On-the-job training puts you in one track and basically doesn't let you move or train until the restaurant decides you're ready. That can be good -- they don't want you messing up, so you know you're doing well when they assign you a more advanced recipe-- but it can also be restrictive and limiting. You can make connections with people there who might be able to help you later (or vice versa -- never underestimate the power of being the person to whom people owe their success). But it's a more restrictive path.
Learning at home leads you only to one of the other paths, really, in terms of job hunting. Either you start baking at home as a hobby and decide to go to culinary school to learn more, or you decide to get an entry-level job in a bakery somewhere.
Do you want to become a baking and pastry arts chef? If you want to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Baking and Pastry Arts, consider ECPI University's Culinary Institute of Virginia. For more information on this exciting program, connect with a friendly admissions counselor today.
It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!
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