The New Bakers Dozen
Is school needed?

The The Bakers Dozen: Is school needed?
By Cindy on Friday, April 07, 2000 - 06:39 pm: Edit

I've been reading your posts over the last few days,and I'm questioning my need for school. I've applied & have been accepted to school for a Baking/Pastry certificate. After reading these posts I wonder if I should just seek out a bakery and do on job training instead. I'm known for cheescakes for the most part & sell them to friends. I do other desserts & am sought out for them. I also do breads too. I make my own starter for sourdough and bake sourdough bagettes. When I told the admissions person what I've done, he told me I'd be able to find a job before graduation. Now, I'm thinking I might not need it at all. I'm moving to Chicago in July & it looks like Ms DeBord works in that area. I'm curious what the job market would look like for an unexperienced, but eager novice baker/pastry person as opposed to a grad of an 8 month certificate program. Thank you

By W.DeBord on Friday, April 07, 2000 - 08:51 pm: Edit

I'm sorry, you mentioned my name but I don't have an answer. I have never been in your shoes nor have I looked for a job lately. I would think you could find a job pretty easily but I don't know what kind of pay you could recieve. This time of year is hiring time at country clubs. Where I currently work no one has a certifcate or cares whether you do or don't. You keep your job by doing it daily.

By cindy on Friday, April 07, 2000 - 09:13 pm: Edit

I'm sorry , I didn't mean to put you on the spot. I figure until I move that I'll just work on what I have for the people I know and when I move then worry about if it's good enough. I have recipes for some interesting things, I've just never been brave enough to do them-if so, for who. I'm just going to work on a portfolio. I'll be moving to Waukegan, so maybe the industry won't be too saturated like it might be here. I'm walking distance from J & W, so I'm not even going to try here.

By pam on Friday, April 07, 2000 - 11:01 pm: Edit

Can I ask you why you picked Waukegan? It is not an area that has any fine dining restaurants or good hotels.The closest is probably Highland Park for restaurants. If you are willing to go downtown you will be able to choose what type of place to work at. The thing about school is that you will have a bit more to offerwhen you are first hired. You will still start out at the bottom but maybe a step or two up or even more if you have the touch.You still need to be getting work experience now & when attending school . That is the most important.I can give you approx job salaries if you can tell me what are you looking for. Pastry cook? Have you worked in a kitchen before?Can you follow a recipe without the prep directions & know how to cook by various methods,or will you need this instruction? Do you need health insurance? How far from Waukegan are you willing to drive? Will you work nights?Let me know

By cindy on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 12:36 am: Edit

I'm a Navy spouse, thus Great Lakes. The school I'd be going to doesn't have an internship which I think is odd. So I think maybe I'd just look around and see what's out there without school. I have no real experience other than what I've mentioned. I want to try to work at something I like, I've worked at something that paid well & hated for 5 years. I'd be willing to go into the city & evenings. I grew up in McHenry co, so I kinda know my way around the area. I can do some production in my own kitchen, but never outside. I know some methods, I don't think I have to be led around. I'm unsure what you mean about prep direction. I know when to cream, sift dry ingredients, the temps for yeast and basics of gluten managemnet.I don't need Ins & willing to work cheap as long I can pay for child care with what I make.

By jeee2 on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 06:31 am: Edit


""I'm curious what the job market would look like for an unexperienced, but eager novice baker/pastry person as opposed to a grad of an 8 month certificate program."

W.Debord put it well, no-one cares whether you have a diploma or degree or whatever, its 100% results based. After more than 2 yrs I just had to show my trainee how to do the croissants again this morning, some people are slow(in the head) but its not a race and he works like a lunatic.
Start cheap, it eases the pressure and gives you time to learn, maybe $9hr.(w/ bene's).

By W.DeBord on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 07:50 am: Edit

Cindy you couldn't live closer to me with-out being my neighboor. I work at the country club that is RIGHT next to the base. Our course ends touching the medical building, hint hint... I also live in McHenry Co.

So let's talk about this again...Unforunately I doubt we are looking for anyone in the kitchen. Almost all of our wait staff comes from the base. I thought you could get cheap baby sitting through them at the base (I think our girls all have). We definately are hiring wait staff. The shifts are 10 am to 3 pm and 530pm to 10pm. They will really bend over to work with your schedule. This includes one free meal with each shift. MAYBE work out a deal to work in the kitchen when we need help (I could talk to manager about that and feel it out)? They are desperate for help and will match the rate anyone else offers you, around $10.00 (wait staff recieves no tips).

Let me know if your interested. As far as only in a pastry position that option is limited in this area.

By W.DeBord on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 08:28 am: Edit

There are a couple of bakeries I could mention and some other country clubs too in this general area. After re-reading your posts I don't think it will be EASY for you to get a hands on in a baking position. Baking positions are not entry level. Most of the country clubs buy their pastries so you can't even watch any baking. I really don't know if a bakery will let you bake, you might have to start in another position.

BUT I can't be CERTAIN, maybe you'll get lucky and find just what your looking for. I'll try to help you if I can.

By cindy on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 11:58 am: Edit

I'm just trying to get an idea what's out there. I was going to start school in August, but since I'll be moving in July-I figured that was too close. I don't even know where I'm going to live yet! Could be base housing or with my family in Crystal lake for a while. Perhaps when the summer workers are gone, that's when I'd be looking to start. I found some bakeries in Waukegan I might look into, might even look at grocery stores as a last choice. I thought I could work on learning how to make laminated doughs and other speciality items from "The professional cook" and an in depth book on pastry until I move and keep a portfolio. Thanks for your help

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 06:30 pm: Edit


I can appreciate how difficult the decision to go to school or directly into industry can be. When I decided to move from my previous career into being a pastry chef, my only choice was school because I can't get a work visa as a baker in the U.S. I think I would have still chosen school even if the opportunity to work presented itself, although I would definitely have a part-time job.

Regarding school itself, I'm learning a ton and I feel like I'm getting full value. Of course, I grill all of my instructors for every bit of knowledge I can absorb in the time that I am with them. What do I expect when I get out of school? To get a job as an assistant pastry cook, just like someone who doesn't go to school. However, I also expect that the combination of a solid education and talent will help me advance faster and open up a broader range of opportunities.

Another benefit is that I've just entered the California Restaurant Associations ACF (American Culinary Federation) sponsored competition (they call it a Salon) at their annual meeting in August. Regardless of what people may think of competitions, the fact that I have dedicated coaching from a team of very talented chefs at school will make it a learning experience and opportunity to perfect my technique that I doubt would be available to me after only four months of working in a restaurant without any schooling.

Regarding Gerard's comment about nobody caring about a degree. His previous postings indicate a bias against individuals with schooling. I also know of working chefs who won't hire anybody but a culinary graduate. Personally, I think both viewpoints are closed-minded. Look at school as an opportunity to get a thorough grounding in the basics, instead of an extra dollar per hour when you graduate.

Don't take this as advice to go any particular way, but rather as one person's experience with a similar situation.

Cheers, Mike

By jeee2 on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 10:32 pm: Edit

Mike you can talk to me, don't make comments about me.

Thanks, Gerard

By Pam (Pam) on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 11:43 pm: Edit

Hi, I don't think Gerard is from around here because you won't be offered a $9.00 an hour job. If you have no real experience you can make minimum wage. I would think $6.00 an hour would be the most.Working at a downtown hotel with a few years of GOOD(it matters) experience pays about 9.00-10.00.But you get insurance.W. debord, how much do they pay your pantry or prep cooks? Taking a wait job at w.debord's country club or another place would give you a chance to learn about kitchens. Maybe take a pantry job. It's a start. Even after school in pastry & working 1 year in pastry,I still turneed veggies,peeled carrots etc when they needed me to & I made 5.00 with no benefits.But I learned alot.

By W.DeBord on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 11:59 pm: Edit

This is my opinion for what it's worth... I did once upon a time work at a grocery store bakery, forget it. You won't learn a thing about real baking and their system only lets the most experience people do anything other than bag product. Waukegan is a low income area, they may not have alot of high quality places to learn from.

I'd stear you to some up-scale bakeries to learn...there's a women in long grove who is really a terrific decorator(getting alot of press), dearfield bakery is an institution (not the best tasting but alot of knowledge there), lake forest which is by the base has a French bakery/ very up-scale too.

If you want to wash dishes the dish sink directly over looks my station. Pay is around $7.00 hr. and you'll get your hands more than just wet.

By mikebel on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 01:16 am: Edit

Is school needed ? is a hard question cindy how far do u want your career to go = how much you are willing to put in.I did an 4 year apprentiship which was ideal for me which consisted of both on the job training with 1 day a week at school, so not only did i have a fantastic boss who showed me everything i wanted and needed to know i also had 4 tutors from europe with speciality skills in different areas.Probably the best point of going to school is that you will cover a much broader scope of products and skills in 8mnths than you can expect from any employer in the same amount of time.

By mikebel on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 01:17 am: Edit

But in saying that one thing i didnt learn at school was probably one of the most important things and that is organisation,and being able to push yourself harder doing 4 things at once thats not really taught anywhere apart from on the job.My advice for what it is worth is look at school it will make you more employable you will know more than you know now and as mikeh said you will find promotion through the ranks faster and from my experience that is a fact.

By jeee2 on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 06:23 am: Edit

$6 an hour ?, blimey, the min wage in Mass is $7.10

My counter girl makes $13hr , she has zero baking skills and isn't even teachable.
This is a problem around Boston, labor cost is rediculous and finding people who can function (speak and write English) is the biggest headache.
I see a lot of worry about food cost and wonder if anyone is aware of the labor cost, food cost is the least of it.

By cindy on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 10:18 am: Edit

My big concern is I know that Chicago is more comsopolitian than where I am (Norfolk, VA) or where I'm going after (Jacksonville, FL). I won't be there long enough for a good apprenticeship.I think I'd do well in a bakery, maybe something with a creative outlet. I duplicate what I see on the internet with good results. This week I have a cheesecake, a Geniose cake, and a dinner for 30 all due on Friday. I've never had such a variety to do, but I feel up to the challenge. I'm not opposed to doing dishwashing, perhaps that avenue will be availible in July or August. I really do value all the input I'm getting though, I just wish I would have had this career change thought sooner, or gotten it later. Making my mind up about this 4 months before a move is silly on my part, as I have nothing to offer to anyone around here because I'm moving and can't take anything on the other end because I don't know where I'm living yet.
Thank you

By W.DeBord on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 12:15 pm: Edit

Cindy there is rarely a perfect time to make changes, you know that. Take this as an opportunity to learn at different places during this time of constant moving. When you settle somewhere for a longer time period then look into a school or apprentise commitment. Working breifly at places won't handicap you, you still can be learning along the way. Try to find jobs at the high notch places with-in your living area even if it means not having a hands on food prep job. If you can see it you can learn from it. Continue reading and cooking at home, push your-self.

I'm extemely familar with Crystal Lake. It's changed alot since yesterday(I'm not joking, it's amazing). You could easily find a job there.

It sounds like your worrried about fitting in and making excuses to your-self. Chicago may look bigger than Norfork but up close we're all just people. C.L is still small town freindly people and great lakes base is probably just like any base.

By cindy on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 03:22 pm: Edit

You sound like my husband! Though he'd rather me stay home,but I found out staying home the last 6 months that I just keep baking. That's why he thinks I should send out samples and see what happens.I'm glad you told me about grocery stores,I asked someone & she said the same thing-everything comes prepared.
I'm looking around,and not seeing anything,so I might go somewhere and see if they need help. I can be timid,though I'm not as timid when I'm in the kitchen. Though I question myself,if you can't tell,how well I do. It's never right to me,but everyone else says they're fine. I probably sell myself short on the C'cakes too. They go for $22 or $25 barter. This week is going to be a loss, 'cuz I needed a # of Marscapone.
No kidding about how CL has grown. I remember the bakery downtown. I know there are some classy places down there. I'm going to se what I can teach myself in the meantime, picked up bread flour today & started a Soughdough starter a few days ago.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 04:04 pm: Edit

When you say organization, I think you are talking about timming. Timming is everything in this industry. Timming is something you learn in the field. I know alot of organized chef who have no sense of timing.What do you think?

By mikebel on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 05:07 pm: Edit

timming is probably a better way of putting it than organization panini I agree if you can multitask yourself in the kitchen you are half way there, you have minimised the pressure on you, you control the ovens,mixes and proovers not the other way around. The actual organization is what they can teach you at school e.g work and time plans production schedules etc..while at school they told you how important it was to keep ot the work and time plans itdoesnt come into any real affect untill you put it into daily practise at work.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 08:57 pm: Edit

Mikebel, you hit it right on the head! If your running around trying to catch up to the product you will fail, let the product keep up to you. I know this is a cliche but it is so true.

By W.deBord on Sunday, April 09, 2000 - 11:07 pm: Edit

The timing and organization sometimes feels like a dance. When you hit the "zone" and it flows, the day is wonderful. Your mind is never really working on the item your touching it's juggling everything all at once, yet totally focused on the task at hand.

Some days I think baking is performace art. Hope someone else will relate to my abstraction...

By Yankee on Monday, April 10, 2000 - 08:33 pm: Edit

Preformance art out here means a bi-curious, trans-gender person, dressed in nothing more than a g-string, coating chocolate and a smile, serving petit fours at a party.

On a hot day, it's not a pretty sight. Drip, drip, drip... yes, quite abstract.

Anyways, I try and tell my crew that they work the equipment, the equipment does not work them. If you try to fight your equipment, or your product, you will end up losing and never find the grove. Life has many shades of gray, the mixer has more than one speed, and the oven has different temps and fan speeds. Find what works. Understand the method and don't be a recipe chef.

The blank stares eventually fade away.

School will never work against you, except financially for those first few years afterwards. I'm still sending money to the CIA for my piece of paper. No regrets, but it's one of a million options out there. Life is what you make it, many shades of gray, find what works for you and step on the gas, baby.

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Monday, April 10, 2000 - 10:14 pm: Edit

Another advantage to school:
I'm currently taking a class in nutrition that is taught by a chef who owns her own restaurant and also has a Master of Science degree and is a registered dietician. It is fascinating.

I'm a marathon runner and fitness nut, so I've read an awful lot about nutrition. I've also consulted several registered dieticians on my training diet and they have all had blinders on that dump flavor and mouthfeel. What I've never gotten until this week is the perspective of healthy food where the flavor is absolutely not sacrificed. We're taught that if we can't make a healthy version that tastes great, then eat the full-fat version.

It has also been an eye-opener regarding what all those nasty chemicals, artifical sweeteners, transfatty-acids, etc. do to the body. Here's an interesting point from today's class: What is light cream cheese (typically labeled 1/3 less fat)? Nothing but full fat cream cheese that has water added and is then whipped to incorporate air and increase the volume. Pay the same price as regular cream cheese and get 2/3 of the product.

With the continuing trend towards healthy eating, this class will be very valuable to me in my career. I'm not sure that this type of class/experience is available anywhere but school.

By W.DeBord on Monday, April 10, 2000 - 10:39 pm: Edit

I sure didn't mean that kind of performance Yankee!

By jeee2 on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 12:44 am: Edit


<What is light cream cheese <

Same as 'what is lite beer.'
You don't need a rocket scientist to know these things.
The more people eat low fat the fatter they get. The reason is they eat more.
Look at the French, the food is fatty and rich but they don't eat commes les cauchons....hence obesity isn't the huge problem it is here.

I see these contradictions every day , listening to customers I get used to it. "how many calories are in your croiss?"

Half as many as in two croissants.
The actual number of calories isn't important as how much they eat.
You're a health nut?
all that jogging beats the crap outta your leg joints, I do a lot of walking, I would run but I spent too much time jogging.

Cheers, Gerard

By Yankee on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 01:12 am: Edit

Sure it is, just visit any grocery store and open your eyes. The processed stuff is expensive and the worst thing for your body to deal with. Learn to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and don't give in to ad hype. If you are running on a regular basis, you can run a high calorie diet. Thing is, eat stuff your body can use to build itself on: fresh produce, lean meats, pasta, fish, fruit, and milk. Don't buy sports drinks. Your body takes twice as long to injest gatorade, for example, because it has to break down all of the additives before it gets to the water and saline, which it what it needs. Save some cash and drop a few salt tabs into a bucket of clean tap water. Drink it at room temp, not cold, otherwise you waste energy warming it up to body temp. You can also make your own powerbars if you just read the lables. I suppose I am the only pastry chef that did a sub 50 sec 400ih. I also did the SF marathon in '97. Blew out my knees, but I finished.:))

By Yankee on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 01:22 am: Edit

Another observation: the only overweight people I saw in Europe were the kids hanging out in front of McDonald's. Why? The older generations-- for the most part -- grew up in a non-fast food environment. Fast food is a recent thing in most parts of Europe, but the generation line is quite wide around the belly. Look at all the garbage that's in fast food. Also, turn over a box of one of those weight watcher's pakages and read the lable. ACK! Then look at what it costs per ounce. ACK! Why? Big money for a fast solution. The stuff is worthless. Just a con, like that "light" cream cheese.

Rant is over now. Hit the gas.

By momoreg on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 06:58 am: Edit

I tried to convince my sister to get off the slim fast diet. After 2 months or so, she started having fainting spells, and couldn't see the connection. People are not meant to drink chocolate shakes at every meal. How can somebody not understand that?

By tj on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 04:14 pm: Edit

about the fast food trend in europe,
it is growing fast, but what i observe is that when the kids reach 25 or over ,they watch the older guys eat well and very good and they try to become alittle more refind in their taste so they stay away more and more from fast food shops, and enjoy good balanced lunches and dinners, with some good wine almost every day, good cheese ,etc.something that does not happen to older people in the usa .unfortunatly they still live in a rush, and spend the lunch or dinner at drive through`s...

By d. on Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 07:17 pm: Edit

I believe it all boils down to human nature. We are lazy beings; wanting gurus to teach us(or hand us) the path of enlightenment, consuming "fat-free" chips and low-fat cookies and thinking we don't have to exercise cause it's fat-free, choosing convenience products over more healthy ones since it requires less effort. Hell, I make my husband live on frozen entrees we get at Trader Joe's(their a bit more healthy than average supermarket products) all through December....
As simple as it sounds, it's quite difficult in this day and age to be eating natural healthy food. Our taste buds are altered craving junky stuff and crazy schedules have also contributed to the demise.

By Yankee on Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - 12:25 am: Edit

Those slim fast shakes are killers. They give you really bad gas. We call it the "fart diet."

We live in an amazing country, so much is possible here. But, as a society, we are fat and lazy. Sloppy idiots, driving stupid suv's and talking on cell phones. Sick life.

In Zurich, I had no TV for 18 months. It was great. I read like crazy and actually had an attention span greater than two minutes! I ran more and walked every street ten times over.

The only way to fight the "fast food lifestyle" is to start at home. Teach your kids to think for themselves. Crappy food may taste great, and "fat free" may look good, but when you are 40 and have the bone density of an 80 year old because you didn't eat well when you were young, life will look much different.

Park the car and walk. Turn off the TV and read the NYT. Hang up the phone and write a letter. Wear sun screen and take care of yourself.

Sorry for the rant. I'm cutting back on Web time and grabbing a book. :)

By jeee2 on Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - 12:58 pm: Edit

Relax, put the Simpsons on and have brewski.
I dunno , I see a lot of people worry themselves to death over being more healthy than healthy.

Slimfast? the name alone tells you whats wrong, its the wrong philosophy.
Don't worry about being slim and definately don't try to do it fast, studies have shown once the diet is over people almost always put more weight on than they took off.
Its the binge and purge problem, a change in lifestyle to moderation beats every diet ever invented. Jogging can also become a compulsion.

Gerard, the ever so cheerful!

By Yankee on Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - 03:01 pm: Edit

Cheers for the Simpson's!

Almost as amusing as the now defunct "Taste Test" thread. Sorry it got cut before I could spill my 2 cents. Now that's RUDE. Ha, ha.

Gotta get back to my "Big Cookie" now. "Ohhhh, mmmmmmm, bigggg coooookie, uhhhhhhhuhhhhh."

Homer was big in this Sunday's NYT.

"a change in lifestyle to moderation" is very true. But it is too hard for most people. "Slimfast" really says it all. Ever watch a smoker try to quit? Even a miserable, prolonged death does not drive them to stop.

Now, where's my cookie.

By tj on Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - 05:17 pm: Edit

well guys here is my way of looking on life (at my age)....
"dont take life too seriously , you will not get out of it alive any way......." .

By d. on Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - 05:18 pm: Edit

Wow, Gerard. Simpsons, beer...we have something in common. Except I'll add Southpark.

By W.DeBord on Saturday, April 15, 2000 - 08:26 pm: Edit

Cindy I have a believe it or not for you. Last Thursday some guy went AWALL (hope that's how you write that) from the great lakes base, NAKED! Going over barbed wire fencing across our golf course and stole a At & t truck that had a guy up in the bucket doing repairs. The service guy managed to put up a fight in the moving truck, (just like rambo). The guy crashed into the tennis courts trashing the truck. Police found him later in a house he had broken into (everyone has alarm systems, da).

Is being in the navy that bad?

By Cindy on Saturday, April 15, 2000 - 11:06 pm: Edit

Well, that does sound interesting! So you had a little excitement? That must have been a new recruit, 'cuz they'd really run once they hit Sea Duty! I know someone who teaches at RTC (for recruits) He's told me some real DOOZIES! My husband will be teaching at NTC, the other school, past the train tracks. Hopefully, they will be in a better frame of mind, though they don't get their "Civilian Clothes Chit" until late in the training program. The person you're talking about obviously DID NOT have this Chit, so it was uniform or nothing. The standard of life is actually better on Shore Duty, than Sea. We've have 5 years of Sea-Two 6 month cruises, several 1 month cruises, about a 5 month period of sea trials which were out on monday-in on friday, plus other inconviences. He likes his job, but there's alot of boloney. We are done with the Navy after this tour in Great Lakes!

By Cindy on Saturday, April 15, 2000 - 11:07 pm: Edit

To be on subject, I'm most likely not going to school when we get up there. I may never go, 'cuz they are upping the tuition either in Oct or Jan. I'm a stay home mom,just got home after going through 8 sitters in 1 yr. Why go back to work & deal with that again?! I might be able to work once or twice when hubby's home. Heck, if it's legal-let me know if you need help & I'd work free. As long as he's home with the baby. My dinner was great! 25 people thought the deal was catered, especially the "Triple-Lemon Genoise with Buttercream & Raspberries" I've NEVER made that before, nor anything from that meal. It was a mock Passover Seder, and I've never cooked Kosher. I made the elements that needed prep & lemon Chix, Carrot Tzimmes, potaoes, steamed Broccoli and Honey cake. I have new respect for catering! I really do like the forums & if I feel confident, I may join in on tips.

By cindy on Sunday, April 16, 2000 - 01:08 am: Edit

Just in case I've offended anyone-I didn't mock the Passover, simply compared it to the Last Supper & explained the elements. I attended a Messianic Synagogue when we were in Fl.(They loved my Hamantashen) We work with the Youth at church & we thought it'd be a good thing to learn about. I've seen the postings looking for Kosher kitchens-they have my respect!
In my last post-I meant I could work a few times a week, as long as hubby's home. Another thing that's stinky about the Navy is Hubby can make 2-3 times what we do now-that's why they can't keep em! Bad work enviroment-little pay. Though there are perks here and there-it doesn't make up for what goes on. They've lowered the standard of who can get in, thus your friend. It's scary to know these people work missle sytems-that what hubby does and we have some real "rocks" with fingers on the button! As you can tell I just LOVE Navy life, only 2 1/2 years of this to go!

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