(This article appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
The French Pastry School of Robert Morris University Illinois, Chicago, IL
His boyish looks may belie his accomplishments, but Chef Julien Otto, a Chef Instructor in L’Art de la Patisserie and L’Art de la Boulangerie at The French Pastry School of Robert Morris University Illinois, has achieved much in the world of professional pastry. Chef Otto began his career after a solid foundation in the fundamentals of baking and pastry: he received a Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) in Baking in 2001, a Certificate in Professional Aptitude in Pastry and Chocolate in 2003, and a Professional Degree (Brevet Professionnel) in Baking in 2005. He later went on to earn his Master’s in Baking (Brevet de Maitrise Supérieur).
The early days of his career were spent in Strasbourg, France, working as a pastry and baking apprentice at several pastry shops, including Wahl Christian Pâtisserie, Klugesherz Pâtisserie, and Soultz-les-Bains. In 2005, Chef Otto became Head Baker at the Wahl Jean-Marc Pâtisserie in Strasbourg. In 2008, he became the Technician in Development of Bread for CSM Bakery Solutions France in Bischeim, France. Chef Otto was promoted to represent the company in a host of countries – Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, South Korea, Taiwan, Morocco and Russia. He also served a vital role at Lycée des Métiers Jules Verne, where he was on their board of examiners for the Certificate of Professional Aptitude in Baking and Pastry and for aiding in the selection of the school’s candidate for best apprentice in France.
Chef Otto won his first gold medals in 2000 and 2001 at the European Expo, while he was just a fledgling baking apprentice. Since then he has won many international competitions, including the Best Apprentice in France Competition, where he won the gold medal with special recognition by the jury, and the Louis Lesaffre Cup in Nantes, France, where only the most accomplished pastry chefs are selected to compete. Otto was also awarded a gold medal and won the Regional Baking Competition for the 38th ‘Olympics of the Trades’.
Chef Otto is now a valued member of the faculty at The French Pastry School, where he communicates his years of knowledge to his students, helping them sharpen their skills and become successful pastry professionals.
What made you decide to become a teacher?
When I started my career and was developing my craft in baking and pastry, I only thought about being a chef. The idea about being a teacher is not something that you consider. There are not a schools or programs available to learn how to be a culinary teacher, so it’s rare and why it’s also the reason someone can be a really good chef, but a bad teacher.
With my prior job, I would travel in France and around the world giving demonstrations for professional bakers, and I took a liking to being a trainer, the interactions and sharing knowledge. For this reason, I did not hesitate when I was presented with the opportunity to join the faculty at The French Pastry School as a chef educator. I find it very exciting playing my part in forming the new generations of bakers – it’s like you get to leave a part of yourself in the baking industry.
What specific topics of pastry and baking do you teach?
I teach a number of courses in the Art de la Pâtisserie (Pastry and Baking) program. A favorite is the ‘bread and breakfast pastry’ topic, where we cover recipes for the French baguette, sourdough bread, croissants and Parisian brioche, for example. I am also teaching the ‘petits fours’ class, and the techniques for these very small bites require that you be very precise and patient. Another traditional topic is the class on French cakes, where the students learn the art of individual and familial cakes known as entremets.
What’s the best part of your job?
This question is very easy – it’s the moment when I get to watch students smiling, happy and so excited when they remove from the oven for the first time a tray of croissants or a loaf of bread that they made themselves after just a few days of class.
What advice to you give your students?
My advice is all about mastering the “3-P’s”: passion, practice and patience. “Passion” – this may be spending all of your time in the kitchen, over the weekends, or during holidays when everybody else is on vacation. If you are not passionate about your job, you will not be successful. “Practice” – true perfection does not exist in pastry or baking, but you can try to get as close as possible, and for that you need to repeat again and again the same recipes until you master them. “Patience’’ – there is no secret to being a good chef, you need to work hard and be patient, because you will fail a few times before you get the expected result.
What are you most excited about for 2020?
Recently, I have been asked to share my years of culinary and educational expertise as a Baking & Pastry Chef Educator for a new endeavor called ‘The Butter Book’. So, not only do I get the opportunity to be part of forming the new generation of bakers in a classroom, I can now be part of a chef-led team sharing our craft online. Taking its inspiration for innovation and excellence from the founders of The French Pastry School, The Butter Book is more than a typical recipe site. It’s the only one of its kind online, a learning experience and community intended to bring food enthusiasts of all levels together to learn and master French pastry and baking. For anyone that has a genuine love of baking, The Butter Book will bring out the pastry chef in you!
Photo credit: Paul Strabbing