How To Become A Pastry Chef: Pastry Chef Salaries and Job Description


People who love cooking and who want to pursue a creative career might be interested in a career as a pastry chef. Pastry chefs get to create a variety of desserts and pastries on a daily basis. It’s the perfect career for someone who enjoys cooking, and particular for those who enjoy preparing baked goods, cakes and desserts.

What is a pastry chef? The typical pastry chef is a professional baker who prepares pastries, cakes, breads, and other baked goods and desserts. They typically work in bakeries, cake shops and restaurants – but there are actually quite a wide variety of jobs available for trained pastry chefs.

How To Become A Pastry Chef

If you’re considering a career as a pastry chef, you might be wondering “What’s the first step I need to take?” Before delving in into the details, would-be pastry chefs should realize that there are a number of different educational and career options available to them.

Broadly speaking, there are four ways to begin your journey towards becoming a professional pastry chef. The first is to start off as an apprentice, working in a kitchen. Typically these apprenticeships will involved a lot of menial labor and repetitive tasks, but it’s a way to get your foot in the door in a professional kitchen.

The second option is to obtain a Certificate in the pastry arts. These certificates will typically be earned over a period of 6 months to a year and are not considered college-level education.

The third option is to pursue an Associates degree in the pastry arts in a culinary school.

The fourth option is to pursue a Bachelors degree in the pastry arts.

All four options are viable, but you should know that some positions, particular those in more corporate settings (casinos, cruise ships, hotels and private clubs) will require the higher levels of education. The salary you can earn as at the entry-level can vary significantly depending on what level of education you have in the pastry arts.

A trained pastry chef can work in a variety of places – the obvious ones are restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. However, there are also potential careers available in areas like catering, food product design/food labs, and food criticism. Some pastry chefs may even be interested in becoming teachers and mentors to future chefs. Each career path requires different levels of education and practical training. In addition, salaries and opportunities for advancement may be different depending upon where you choose to work and what you choose to do as a pastry chef.

How Much Does A Pastry Chef Make?

Entry Level Pastry Chef Salary $26,000
Assistant Pastry Chef Salary $39,000
Executive Pastry Chef Salary $60,500

A pastry chef’s salary is determined by several different factors, including, but not limited to the establishment where he or she practices the craft, level of experience, the highest degree of education attained and the amount of specialized training received.

Statistics show that entry level pastry chefs typically get paid about $26000, and according to Salary.com, an assistant pastry chef (early-mid career) on average gets paid around $39500.

As you develop in your career, you’ll potentially have the opportunity to become an executive pastry chef – the median salary level for an executive pastry chef is about $60,000 according to the same source.

Obviously, after gaining the requisite experience, some pastry chefs will then choose to start their own small businesses. It’s hard to pin down the success rate of pastry-related small businesses, but the income upside to owning your own business is obviously quite considerable.

It’s also worth noting that pastry chefs, and chefs in general, that choose to work in more corporate environments like casinos, private clubs, and hotels tend to get compensated much better than their counterparts who work in restaurants and bakeries. The downside to this is that it’s typically harder to build name recognition in the culinary world if you’re working in a larger, more organized corporate framework.

Culinary workers in large cities also tend to get compensated far better than those who work in small towns. Places like New York and San Francisco remain hotbeds for culinary excellence, and salaries will tend to be significantly higher in large, cosmopolitan cities for this reason.

Depending on your exact experience, it may also be possible for you to shift over to the non-pastry side of the culinary world after working as a pastry chef. Positions like sous chef, head chef, and executive chef may be available to pastry chefs who have the right kind of knowledge and experience.

Pastry Chef Educational Requirements

Pastry Chef Educational Requirements

It’s not too difficult to take the first step towards a career as a pastry chef. As with any job or career, the first step is always to determine if this is the right path for you. If you don’t have a love for food and a passion for making desserts, cakes, and other baked goods, then this isn’t the right choice for you. This is doubly true given the relatively low salaries that typically accompany this particular career path.

Many pastry chef positions, even some at entry-level, demand at least an Associate’s Degree in Pastry Arts. However, a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastry Arts might be a prerequisite for certain other positions. Practically every pastry chef job will, at the bare minimum, demand applicants to have completed a certificate or diploma program.

That being said, many culinary and cooking-related jobs allow for non-traditional educational and career choices. For example, it’s entirely possible for someone to start off as a dishwasher and work their way up towards a job working in the kitchen. Still, it’s important to remember that baking is much more of an exact science than other forms of cooking, and as such, many positions will prefer some level of education in pastry making. It’s probably easier to work your ways towards a position on the non-pastry side of the kitchen if you’re starting without any qualifications.

Many people familiar with the industry recommend that those pursuing a pastry chef career begin their education with anywhere from a six-month to one-year apprenticeship or internship under the tutelage of an experienced chef at a local restaurant or bakery. Experts believe this is an essential step to help potential pastry chefs get a feel for the business and determine if this is the career they wish to enter into before investing a great deal of time and money on an educational program.

For those who have completed an internship or apprenticeship and still believe becoming a pastry chef is their intended path, their next step will be choosing which educational program to apply for or enter into. This decision will be reached based upon what type of career one wishes to pursue.

Completion of a certificate or diploma program could be enough to land someone an entry-level job. However, if an individual has designs on landing a job in a more corporate environment like a hotel, casino, or private club, graduation from a collegiate-level program will likely be necessary. This coincides with the fact that positions in these sorts of places tend to pay significantly more than restaurant or bakery positions.

Pastry Chef Training and Career Paths

How long does it take to become a pastry chef? It varies according to the training track you’ve chosen for yourself. It could take as little as 6 months or as long as 4 years.

The most basic pastry chef educational track is the certificate program. Students will receive instruction on the art of baking and pastry creation. A diploma program will typically include specific courses germane to baking and pastry creation, but may also require that the student pass general math and science classes. Certificate and diploma programs are often offered at trade or technical schools and can usually be completed within a year or less.

Those studying for an Associate Degree in Pastry Arts will enroll in courses providing instruction in baking and pastry design, but will likely also take more in-depth courses on subjects like food safety, nutrition, menu development and cost control. In addition, participation in an internship might be required for graduation. Associate degrees are often awarded at community colleges and can usually be completed in two years.

Instruction in Bachelor’s Degrees in Pastry Arts programs often includes baking and pastry design courses similar to those offered in Associate’s Degree programs. However, study will likely also involve topics such as management, restaurant law, food purchasing, and marketing. It usually takes four years to complete a Bachelor’s Degree program in Pastry Arts, which are most often available at culinary arts institutes. Applicants to any pastry arts program will, in most cases, need to have earned a high school diploma or the General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

Staff experience, accreditation and adequate facilities are other considerations future pastry chefs should consider when deciding on which educational or training program to attend. It is critical that the institution’s faculty is comprised of experienced pastry chefs, and that the establishment has either Culinary Federation and/or Cordon Bleu Accreditation and is equipped with industry-standard kitchens.

Is it possible to become a pastry chef without going to school? Yes, it is. The title “chef” literally means “boss”, and anyone can rise to that title even without formal education. However, education may make that rise go much quicker for you. Or, if you have opted to be the boss/chef in your own pastry business, what academic training gives you is confidence that comes from the knowledge that you will assimilate. You can go it your own way, or learn from the accumulated experiences of those who came before you so that you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you come across the challenges and problems that you are bound to come across.

Aspiring pastry chefs should also keep in mind that the culinary world treats reputation and pedigree very seriously. Being the pastry chef at chain restaurant may pay better than the same job at a highly regarded restaurant – however, the latter could lead to much better career opportunities in the future. As with most other artistic or creative jobs, there is often a trade off between artistic/creative integrity and salary/comfort.

Schools that Offer Pastry Arts Programs

There are a lot of accredited culinary schools in the United States that offer certificate, associate or diploma programs in Pastry Arts, the most noteworthy of them are:

Institute of Culinary Education, NY
International Culinary Center, NY and CA
Le Cordon Bleu, 15 campuses across 10 states
The Culinary Institute of America, NY, CA, and TX

Training tracks for becoming a pastry chef in other countries, such as Australia and the UK are very similar to that in the US. As a matter of fact, Le Cordon Bleu’s “mother ship” is in Paris, and it has campuses in both London and Australia, so the training you’ll get in any of these locations would be more or less the same.

Working as a Pastry Chef

A pastry chef’s job description will often be dictated by where he or she is employed. Daily duties will usually involve more than designing pastries and baking cakes and breads. Other responsibilities might include putting together dessert menus, preparing a restaurant’s dessert budget, supervising a staff or working in close cooperation with fellow pastry chefs and kitchen staff, purchasing ingredients, and training assistants or interns.

Many experienced pastry chefs believe their working hours are the greatest challenge they face. Regardless of where a pastry chef works, baking and pastry preparation often begins during the very early morning hours. In addition, shifts could last well into the evening and could exceed twelve hours. Jobs in the culinary world often involve extremely long hours, and don’t always compensate accordingly. That’s why passion should always be a big part of deciding to embark on any sort of culinary career. This isn’t a typical, comfortable 9-5 job. The hours are long and the salaries are comparatively low.

Characteristics and traits that could serve pastry chefs well include organizational skills, diligence, patience and precision. Pastry recipes often include numerous ingredients, which have to be mixed exactly to make the finished product look and taste the way it should. This process is time-consuming, requires concentration and often involves some trial and error.

Pastry Chef Career Progression

As a pastry chef gains more experience and their skills improve, he or she might be able to pursue employment opportunities in fancier restaurants or be considered to manage a staff of cooks or chefs. A typical career path might be as follows:

  • Entry Level Pastry Chef
  • Assistant Pastry Chef
  • Executive Pastry Chef
  • Executive Pastry Chef of a entire restaurant or hotel group

In addition, a talented pastry chef’s may want to transition into being small business owners. Obviously there is a risk factor involved in starting any kind of small business, but there is also potentially to earn substantially more as a business owner when compared to a salaried position as a pastry chef.

Additional Tips

A pastry chef must also have stamina and be in good shape as the job requires being on one’s feet for long periods of time. Pastry chefs will also need to be willing to work long hours, and in particular, chefs rarely get time off during holidays and weekends – these times are usually when restaurants and other food-serving establishments are at their busiest.

A career as a pastry chef can be extremely fulfilling for the right kind of person, but if you’re not truly passionate about making desserts and baked goods, you might want to consider another career path. The job has long hours, doesn’t pay that well on average, and typically involves working on weekends and holidays.

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