The New Bakers Dozen
Roles of pastry chefs

The The Bakers Dozen: Roles of pastry chefs
By pastryeh on Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 01:42 pm: Edit

I am currently enrolled in a pastry program, and am writing an article for the school's newsletter about the changing role of the pastry chef, particularly over the last few years. I'd be really interested to hear what anyone has to think about the way the industry has changed, the shift in the importance of the pastry chef in the kitchen, etc. Thanks in advance for any insight anyone is willing to share!

By W.DeBord on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 07:37 am: Edit

Well, would your article be based on fact or fiction? I'd have to say from my view point working as a pastry chef at a private country club I can't support your theme. In fact the only "hopeful" view I see of my job is written in magazines like chocolatier and pastry art and design who do their best to promote attention to our work but haven't suceeded to make that a reality.

I live in the burbs of Chicago and quite frankly there are very very few jobs for pastry chefs outside of the city. We have been replaced by commercial products for several reasons and I don't see that trend changing in this increasingly tight economy. I work for the wealthiest people in the Chicagoland area and still we have people who when planning their party request only ice cream or cookies for dessert so they can save a few pennies on their meal of lamb chops.

By W.DeBord on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 07:53 am: Edit

As far as respect or attention among our peers on the hot side of the kitchen....the private clubs are all staffed my Mexican citizens who are not formally trained as chefs. Over the years many skilled workers and students of cooking schools have left this business seeking out better pay and working hours in other fields leaving a void that only illegal workers were willing to fill. In my experience many unschooled chefs don't understand the work/skills involved with baking since they tend not to have any personal experience baking and this tends to polarize the two areas causing friction.

Although my view isn't what you wanted I still feel it's my responsibilty to tell you the truth. To perpetuate a lie or a false view of this industry in the long run won't benefit you our future chefs.

By ghb on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 07:59 am: Edit

I agree with W. DeBord--while pastry demands a higher degree of skill (and higher pay) than, say, prep or line cook, it's one position an owner can and will cut in order to save money. There are frozen upscale commercial products they can buy that are cheaper and easy to use, and customers (especially those who aren't accustomed to fresh, "from scratch" goods) will be perfectly happy with them.

I work in a fairly small town with fewer than a dozen upscale restaurants, and of those only a couple employ even a part-time pastry person (the rest buy their desserts or are tiny places where the chef does a few desserts). I like where I work, but I do feel like I have to hang on there because there are so few other options in town.

By ghb on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 08:00 am: Edit

Add to that the fact that our local supermarket chain has reportedly hired none other than Pierre Herme to consult about opening upscale patisseries in their stores and the local pastry chef really starts to look like an endangered species! Actually, if they open these patisseries, I may end up there at some point. At least the grocery chain offers health insurance and vacation time.

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 12:13 pm: Edit

pastryeh never mentions that the shift in importance is necessarily for the better she/he could have meant for the worse W. DeBord.
Maybe this is the fact which pastryeh is trying to determine?
I agree with DeBord, the role of the pastry chef is diminishing due to poor labor pool, an ever increasing supply of prepared products which can be made to look good with a bit of work, and of course $$$.
I also believe the division betweeen pastry chefs and the hot kitchen is due to ignorance of the staff in the hot kitchen the majority of the time; although I am not a pastry chef, I can and have had to do pastry chef work. If anyone is going to be above average in this industry you cannot limit your abilities. At work or life.

By Yankee on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 06:24 pm: Edit

I'd like to know what "shift" pastreyeh is talking about.

Overall, I agree with DeBoard and ChefManny. There will always be labor trends for the good and bad, but I would like to think that the overall movement in food trends are for the better.

Sure there is a increase in pre-made stuff. Why not if you are in a small market and have no space or payroll for a pastry chef? The smart pastry chef will open a place that sells high end pre-made stuff.

But, there is also a big demand for quality in other markets. Right now my plated a la carte stuff sells for between $7.50 to $9.50, wedding cakes at $9.00 per person. I can't see us ever charging less, nor can I see our customers paying that for pre-made stuff. Our banquet business is also thriving, which is what really keeps us in the black. My products are a value added service.

You have to make and find your own opportunties and keep on top of the changing marketplace. Bitching about all that is wrong with our business is useless.

By The Baker on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 07:04 pm: Edit

I agree with what everyone is saying.
Where i work there are 6 restaurants in a few blocks of each other
and we are the only one with a full time pastry chef.
the others either buy premade or have some salad guy do it.
and the only reason I work where i work is that we cant buy good quality stuff since we are Kosher Vegan and Health food.(no white refined sugar etc.)
but it gets harder and harder to come up with new stuff.

By Panini (Panini) on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 09:47 pm: Edit

Yankee, holy cr-p! Start looking for property, I'm on my way! $ 9.00 per.port. on Wedding Cakes.I'll contract you out at 28% net. Better yet, you run it, I'll fund it.
I must agree with you, bitching is so unproductive. I saw this trend comming 10 years ago. It fell under the label cross-train. Yea, have the pastry cooks help out the hot kitchen but forget to tell the cooks where the bakery is located, specially at plate-up. I can remember the days of being nice and relinquishing my staff to banquets to plate. Then running around like an idiot and never getting any help back.
I thank God for those small properties who buy my product.
no refined white sugar?hum?

By W.DeBord on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 08:41 am: Edit

Bitching is unproductive but the truth is productive.

The trend in creating media chefs has created awareness and interest. I also think pastry magazines are great at creating awareness, but it's a false image, as if everyone is focused in on pastries (in a world thats not buying pastries outside of the grocery store).

Purchasing of desserts by restaurants is not a trend at all, it's the norm.

Our dieting nation, will eat 16 oz. steaks and smoke cigars to rebel will buy tons of oreo's and icecream at the grocery store but won't stop by a bakery for a treat or order dessert at a restaurant.

I kind of think we did some of this our-selfs. When people come up to me to compliment my pastries they always say, "their so pretty, BUT THEY TASTE GOOD TOO", as if their truely shocked. I've had to build trust with my clients to eat what I make. That saddens me a great deal and makes me wonder what happened and how did we contribute to it?

By MarkG on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 11:12 am: Edit

I can tell you what happened. Chemicals. Not to put down an industry but if you want good tasting desserts, pastries, etc., don't go to a grocery store or bakery that uses artificial icing, artificial butter, artificial coloring, artificial dough, etc. I have been to too many RBA conventions where the talk of "mouth feel" is a hot topic for artificial icing manufacturers. I know customers like this stuff but when you can't go to a bakery and buy product made from eggs, butter, flour and sugar, you're going to lose that taste that I remember when I was a mere youth, slobbering on a "Danish" or a Pecan Schnecken. People get used to good "mouth feel" and adequate flavor. When I buy a something sweet to eat, I want to lose myself in the flavor and the freshness of it. I want to be overwhelmed as I take each bite....


By MarkG on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 11:13 am: Edit


My wife came back from a grocery chain store visit with "butter croissants." They were putrid and, when heated in a toasteroven, they left splotches of grease all over the plate. My kids spit the stuff out as they took their first bite and were relieved to hear they weren't mine. (My wife still hasn't explained why she bought them.)

That's partly why restaurants do a weak dessert business. They don't care what their product tastes like, just the cost and ease of serving and storing. If people are satisfied with the garbage they get in bakeries these days, they'll be satisfied eating that stuff at the end of a meal. I can't tell you how many potential clients I've lost because they wanted desserts that could hold in the retarder for 10 days.

Well, let me get down from my high horse....


By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 11:33 am: Edit

DeBord, we have done this ourselves. The food industry has re-educated the palates of Americans and has trained Americans to accept convenience foods and fast foods as the norm.
This is why some parents are against the fast food giants opening food courts in elementary and middle school, by the time kids get to high school now all they know as "good food" is chemically produced crap!!!
There is no doubt this is our fault! Almost every article you read now in food related magazines is about research development chefs creating foods with more chemicals then actual foodstuff.
I made fresh chicken tenders for my kid one day and he says,Dad these are almost as good as McDonalds, I wanted to smack him!!!

By Yankee on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 12:56 pm: Edit

McDonald's isn't going away anytime soon.

Rather than •••••, why not buy some stock? We are now getting hit with the Krispy Kreme craze. Those franchises make more money in a day than most Mickey Dees locations. Again, pony up for a franchise or buy stock.

If you want to fight fast food, start at home with your own kids. Teach them how to cook and eat well. Their developed palates will keep them away from that crap.

I tell people the only fat people I ever saw in Europe were other Yankee tourists or the teenagers lined up at McDonald's for their Royals with Cheese. It was really sad.

Yes Panini, I charge that amount. Actually I think I'm going to bump it up to 10 pretty soon. But, I have a captive audience and only make 3-4 of these things a year for people who rent the joint out for thier wedding. No economies of scale, all custom and stratch to order, I have to charge that to make it worth it. I've seen stuff out here priced up to $15 per head.

By Yankee on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 01:07 pm: Edit

We are actually looking for a spot to open. But, you may want to stay in Texas. The cost of living, plus overhead and labor out here will kill you. Not to mention the "rolling blackouts." I also filled up the car yesterday with $1.219 a gallon gasoline. I paid that much in Maui two weeks ago.

Our PG&E bill at the restaurant went from $8,000 a month last year to over $20,000 in March. Tell me how any small shop could deal with that? It's nuts.

Whatever. Why do people in Texas hate us out here so much? The 49ers/Cowboys thing is getting a bit long in the tooth, isn't it? (Seen that US postage stamp of "The Catch" from the "80's" collection? I just about fell over laughing. No wonder the post office is losing money again. Idiots.)

I digress.

By Grwall (Grwall) on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 02:35 pm: Edit

While you were digressing, I did a little math. Your gas price works out to $.34/litre. In Alberta, our last hike runs gas to $.745 per litre which works out to $2.71 per US gallon!

What's really annoying is we produce the damn stuff!!

Power and gas prices have jumped incredibly as well although we haven't had any blackouts (yet). I do expect a lot of closures in the next year though.


By peachcreek on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 04:01 pm: Edit

The sad state of pastry chefs is that how many restaurants can afford one? If you go to the foodservice food shows, it seems that the big push is for the pre-made desserts. They look great even if they taste like a wad of Crisco. Unfortunately, how am I supposed to compete with the guy down the street buying the "Snickers Pie" or cr#p like that and pay you folks what you need?

By Panini (Panini) on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 04:51 pm: Edit

I have no dislike for Californian's. I really like it out there. I wasn't being sarcastic,I was serious. Have friends there and visit ofter.
Paid 189.9 for 93 here yesterday. Power is just about to split up for trial basis here. I stayed away from the new companies, but I expect there will be major problems.I could just see myself standing there with my product melting waiting for the new guys to come restore my electric, listening to the guys from PG&E laughing.
A N.Y. Giants fan

By Rc_fleming (Rc_fleming) on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 05:33 pm: Edit

I was under the impression that pastry chefs were in great demand. Aren't hotels, private clubs, and in desperate need of pastry people. even at the lower ends don't chains like marie calandiers have to have people make their pies?
I've heard that the trend in the food and service industry is going to tend towards convience/fastfood mega marts and small specialty shops to take up the slack. In that case there will still be niche for pro pastry, albeit a smaller one.
Isn't it also possable to attach real bakery on to a supermarket to produce quality goods. I hope thats what Herme is going to do.
Is there anything that can be done to keep the pros fromed being drowned in a sea of Crisco and powdered sugar?


P.S. Yankee where did you find $1.22 a gallon gas in SoCal. Here in the S.F. Valley its already broken $2.00 a gallon in most places.

By Yankee on Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 09:25 pm: Edit

Oops, I must have been dreaming.

That was 2.219 I paid for self-serve 91 octane. I paid 2.259 for the same stuff in Maui two weeks ago. Seems to me that it must be a lot cheaper to haul gasoline into San Francisco than all the way out to Maui. But, guess not.

I walk two blocks to work, and my wife commutes about four miles round trip. I feel for people who have to spend hours on the road each day.

Best of luck with power deregulation. It is such a mess out here it's not even funny.

My point about crappy food is simply this: there will always be a market for it, period. All you can do is work to keep the scratch side of things heathly. Promote and produce quality stuff. The people who appreciate it and will pay for it will find you.

Isn't Trotter opening to-go places around downtown Chicago?

By Panini (Panini) on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 03:41 am: Edit

yes, your right, that's the bottom line. Ya know, it's harder to find Chef's that will pay for the quality,but it's worth in the end. That too is also a small contributing factor to the lack of good products. The Chef's usually do not have an understanding of baking, so they buy in. The bean counters have these guy's so bonus driven they don't want to deal with any of the cost. Let's face it, the crap is mass produced and pretty consistant.anyway, have a good one

By W.DeBord on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 06:39 am: Edit

Well I can't agree with somethings mentioned (what's new). First we have a supplier who sells VERY GOOD baked goods. Where's he buying it, contracts with local bakeries and other places (cause some of it comes frozen). I needed petite fours desperately last winter (too busy to make my own) he got them from a place in the city...they where very good and looked great. I've needed cookie dough and that was great not all the stuff being sold is garbage, some of it is coming from local shops at dirt cheap prices.

Train our kids, my mom was a pro chef and never bought us junk. As soon as we got to school we traded our homemade stuff for ho ho's and twinkies (the kids who never had homemade stuff went crazy for it). I still like alot of the "****". I think you fooling yourselfs if you think it's all garbage.

I had pastries at many places that tasted horrible. Each time that happens it drives people further away from scratch which is unreliable.

By W.DeBord on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 06:57 am: Edit

I say, we are blaming the other guy. We need to look in the mirror more and admit the truth more. I understand why the stuff at my local bakery stinks....they hold it night after night in the freezer (yes, I understand why and what has driven them to this).

The world is harder then it seems like it should be considering all of our convienences. We work sooo many hours and come home to play super parents raising super kids. Convienences cost ALOT of money, we choose where to save a few pennies and time. Who has the time to make an extra stop on the way home?

I think we need to re-think what were selling (make what they want) and stop blaming our customers for having bad taste.

Grocery stores in my area tried "gourmet bakeries" they failed big time! I looked alot, the only items I bought were breads...too expensive and not consistantly good.

I also get pis***-off at all the bakeries that don't put their prices out front. If I have to ask them, I guess I can't afford it and leave!

By W.DeBord on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 07:02 am: Edit

Back to the original question....pastry chefs are going the way of the dinasours! What gave you the impression they were in great demand Rick? Read the help's what 20 chef jobs to 1 pastry at half the pay of a chef?

Maybe one day the Mom and Pop stores will be valued but right now their still being crushed by the super stores. The market hasen't turned around yet.

By Yankee on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 11:36 am: Edit

You might want to check out Steve Klc's piece in the May issue of Food Arts. Note Andre Renard's comments near the end.

By panini on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 12:52 pm: Edit

I disagree with everyone, I think everyone is out of their minds, I had a tooth worked on today and don't even know why I logged on.
The bottom line of any industry is DOLLARS! The business was always a cash cow and now things have changed. I don't think many people go into business to put out crap, they do it to make money. That's the bottom line. One must choose to have a quality product and forfit some bottom line and labor dollars. There are some that choose to go the other route.
A lot of the bakery side has been hurt by nobody wanting to risk going into business. It was to comfortable in the 70's ,80's to stay at hotels and clubs and make a comfotable living, meanwhile the franchises were putting all the family owned bakeries out of business. We only have ourselves to blame. SO TO ALL OF YOU OUT THERE BIT--ING, GET UP OFF YOUR ASSES AND OPEN A BAKERY!!
Sorry, the pain medication kicked in.
have a good one

By Rc_fleming (Rc_fleming) on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 03:00 pm: Edit

I thought that pastry chiefs were in great demand because I've heard on this forum that there is a lack of trained or even decent pastry chiefs in the job market. Also take alook at the banner at the top of the discussion. I must have overestimated the size of the pastry chief market.
I also like a lot of the 'junk' out there (cheese burgers chili dogs etc), but at some point you have to draw the line. For example at my local Costco they sell La Brea Bread baked on site, fresh and decent cookies cakes and crossiants, but just a couple yards away from that they sell tubs of premade mashed potatoes, and precooked tritips all ready to reheat. It kinda makes me think of buying someones left overs.
I've read that some of you don't wholesale to restauraunts, but that seems to be the way to go since alot of places are not interested or cannot afford to have their own pastry department. But then again you have to sell them on the idea of scratch made items, and that might be more diffulcult then educating Joe Public.
As for opening a market it just seems to be a matter of offering convinence to the customer. It seems to me that if the customer isn't going to buy a freshly baked from scratch cookie, they probally aren't going to buy a thawed this morning cookie form the same place. Look at the Gelsons chain of supermarkets. They seem to have a pretty brisk bakery department, and they make from scratch. I guess if you can't beatem join em
I was wondering how you sell your product. Do you go out looking for new accounts or do enough come to you? And also for pastry people in restaurents, how to you get your public to try new things and broaden their horizens.

By Panini (Panini) on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 07:21 pm: Edit

You go out an hit the bricks when you first start out, then business comes to you through networking.
I've just had a great brainstorming session with a friend that has a 5 star chop house that I sell to. In attendance, owners, managers,chefs, front waiters and back waiters. Some of the problems with selling desserts is actually making the decisions. The guests have already made many ,app.,sal,entree,wine,etc. The feed back from the waitstaff was that the customers are usually content and comfortable and in conversation and don't want to think about anything at that point.
We decided that the chef and I will sit and pair desserts with entrees. When explaining entrees the front waiter will also describe special dessert pairings and they are specially prepared. We know that selling dessert with the entree is not the norm, but if this was to catch on it would make forcasting easier and also increase sales. We'll see.
RC There is plenty of opportunity in this industry, but it might mean that you might have to be mobile to capitalize on it.

By Rc_fleming (Rc_fleming) on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 08:28 pm: Edit

Just like any other business you have drum up clients and get word of mouth going for you, right?

Panini, that dessert pairing idea sounds pretty ingenious. Entree and Desert pairing is something I would have never thought of before and I wouldn't know where to start. Maybe you should pair through the wines. But please keep us posted because this is a really interesting concept.


By Panini (Panini) on Friday, May 25, 2001 - 09:27 pm: Edit

The wine came up numerous times but we decided to stay away. I'll pick up the essence of the underlay of the entree in the main product and garnish complimenting the entree sauce. It's actually really great to put my brain and taste buds to work again. I'm working with a gen-x self taught chef.His degree in biology sits in his desk. It's invigorating sp?. I think we compliment each other well, although it did take an hour for him to get comfortable with me. He was walking on egg shells with the old dinasour. I'm getting an education on newer products and vegies, and he really interested in the classical aspect I fire into his thoughts. Rambling, sorry

By Rc_fleming (Rc_fleming) on Sunday, May 27, 2001 - 02:19 am: Edit

Hehe old dinsaur...
Ya' certainly got your work cut out for you. I've never which desert goes better with beef. It would be easier for ethnic food since their are traditional desserts.
I'd have to pick a dessert that fits in the context of the flavors of the dishes....
Though I'd probally go through the wine drunk at the table and prepared in the food. That way I'd have a common thread of flavors to build apon. Even looking at the classic sauces, the only ingredients that usaully make it into desserts are the alcohols and the rare use of fruit and suger.If the steward is recomending wines he can recomend desserts off of that.
Sounds like you've got a good coop going with the chef. I would have so much fun doing something like that. Plus you get to do a lot of tasting.

PS I dont mind if you ramble, its informative and enlightening for novices like me.

By chefgbs on Friday, June 01, 2001 - 06:50 am: Edit

As an executive chef with zero baking/pastry experience who has been looking for a pastry chef for 3 months, it seems to me that there is a shortage of pastry chefs. I was quite proud of the fact that we made our own desserts, breads, and wedding cakes. I always gave my pastry chef help when she needed it as she always gave me help when I needed it. Not all chefs are egotistical @sses. Some of us realize that the last thing that we want to do is prepare all the things you guys do. I miss my pastry chef since she went chasing the money.

By W.DeBord on Friday, June 01, 2001 - 07:45 am: Edit

How bad was the pay that your pastry chef left looking for more money? People don't leave good jobs for more money unless they can't get by on what is given.

You sound like a decent chef so something had to be wrong for them to leave....

By vbean on Wednesday, June 20, 2001 - 05:29 am: Edit

I have been cooking since 1983. Savory for six years before going to Pastry. I see a lot of the problem is that chef's do not try to help the way that their community eats.
A chef that thinks that the answer is to buy McDonalds stock is a moron. Read the book Fast Food Nation. Mad cow disease came from people who think like you. Just grow it, serve it, and give it to me cheap-but don't tell me how.
Just make me some money.
I take my time to talk to cooks, it is part of who I am.
Go to the farmer's market (or wherever you shop). Get the best, freshest, and most local that you can find.

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