(This article appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
We asked pastry professionals to give us their best advice for those who are thinking about becoming a pastry pro. Here’s what they said.
David Vidal, Sous Chef, Laholmen Hotel, Strömstad, Sweden
Go into this business because you love to do it. It shouldn’t be a job. Nowadays, I see students and they want the ‘job’ of a chef in the restaurant business as a whole, not only pastry, and it’s the wrong reason to come into something. It shouldn’t be for the money and the job. It should because you love to do it. Because it’s a job that takes a lot of out of you, and there are other things you can do as a job to make better money.
There are so many components to this business, and everyone’s always impatient—especially people getting right out of culinary or pastry school – but I would say to go work for someone, even if it’s for free, because you don’t know as much as you think you know. Even if you have a great product, really decide if you want to incorporate that product into someone else’s business, or if you want to run your own business. The least of what I did in my business was cakes. My first website had a picture of a dinosaur cake and one of my aunts said, “Oh, aren’t you worried? You put the step-by-step directions, aren’t you worried that you’re giving it all away?” I turned to my aunt and said, “If someone wants to sculpt a dinosaur, run the business, deal with the employees, deal with overhead and the crazy landlord, then more power to them.” So, please, please do not be naïve if you go into a business. It’s not all fruitcake.
For the brave souls that are willing to climb in the ring, if you’re able to, the best way right now to get in is to offer yourself as an intern or apprentice. You might have to go unpaid, but it’s worth it to get the experience under your belt, because no one can take that away from you. Secondly, don’t be afraid to do the hard jobs. I notice now as new pastry people are coming into the workforce, especially in the cake world, everybody wants to duck and dodge buttercream and piping skills and jump right into the fondant world. And for those people, I say tisk, tisk. Work hard and diligently on the fundamentals, come through the buttercream, work on your piping skills, and that other stuff is just going to come naturally. And make yourself indispensable. Try not to pigeonhole yourself and be nice and diverse to walk into a lot of different situations.
Two things: don’t go to culinary school unless that’s something that you really want to do, you have the money for, and you see as a kind of indulgent experience. It’s just not necessary. Then find yourself a mentor. Find a chef who you really click with and who wants to teach you, work with you, and help you get better because that person will be the most valuable thing that you have in your career.