How to Become a Pastry Chef
Brittany Bardeleben is the production sous chef at Dahlia Bakery, in Seattle, Washington. She has been a pastry chef for 12 years in the Seattle area.
Brittany studied baking and pastry arts in the culinary school at South Seattle Community College.
What kind of training is required to become a professional pastry chef?
Initially, you need to go to culinary school for a pastry certificate. I took a two-year program at South Seattle Community College. While you are in pastry school, or shortly after graduating, it is a good idea to apply for an internship in a bakery or restaurant. This isn't necessarily a requirement, but it will help you get a foot in the door when you are looking for a job in the pastry field.
Why did you decide to become a pastry chef?
I come from a long line of great cooks and bakers. My grandmother's specialty is fruit pies, and I used to love to help her make them when I was a kid. I never seriously considered it as a career until I was 17 and working as a counter girl at a small bakery/cafe. I remember watching the head pastry chef ice a cake from across the kitchen. I thought to myself, that looks like such fun AND she gets paid to do it. I went home from work that day and told my parents I was considering a career in baking. They were really supportive; my mom immediately began looking into culinary schools. Luckily we happened to have an excellent program right in our own backyard. I began my first courses at South Seattle two months after I graduated high school.
Are there common misconceptions about your profession?
Not too many that I can tell, but you get the occasional person who thinks we are just baking cookies and playing all day. In a sense we are, but it's also a lot of hard work that can be very stressful at times.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get to work around 6 a.m. and check on the bakers to make sure the morning bake has gone smoothly, then I check my email. We have 10 restaurants, a large catering department, and a retail bakery, so there is usually plenty that requires attention from myself, the head pastry chef, or my fellow sous chef. Then I get to work on placing orders for the day and organizing the walk-in. After all this is finished the fun begins: actual cooking! Recipe development in particular is something I focus most of my kitchen time on. My work day is usually about 9 hours long, about 45 hours a week.
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
Again, the recipe development and the satisfaction that comes from creating something unique and delicious. I also really like working in kitchens in general. Your colleagues are usually a salty crew, and tend to be a lot of fun to work with. I'm never bored.
What are your least favorite aspects of your job?
I'm not going to lie. The hours and time spent on my feet gets to me occasionally.
Is there anything you would have done differently while studying to become a pastry chef?
Had it been possible, I would have tried to do an internship while in school. Unfortunately, I had two jobs at the time, and there weren't enough hours in the day. I think it would have enriched my culinary school experience though.
What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?
I skipped college completely so I could get right to work, but I would recommend business and Spanish classes.
What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as a pastry chef?
Those who are thick skinned, eager, energetic, and have a genuine passion for the industry.
What personality traits do you think might hinder someone's success as a pastry chef?
You will never get anywhere in this business if you are lazy, sensitive to criticism, or afraid to make mistakes.
What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a pastry chef?
Be ready to throw yourself into your work. The more time you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Attend chocolate tastings, cookbook readings, or public chef events. Go chat with the growers at a farmers market. Get to know the people that make up this industry. And of course, when you get home, do lots of baking!