A Day In the Life of a Pastry Chef

April 17, 2008 15 Comments

A Day In the Life of a Pastry Chef - Part 1

One Pastry Chef’s Day at Work

Once again I’m thrilled to have Chef Jennifer Field, a graduate of Orlando Culinary Academy, write about the life of a baking & pastry chef. I asked Jenni to give my readers a glimpse of what one of her days look like working as the pastry chef at The Ravenous Pig in Winterpark, Florida. As you will see, her day is busy….really busy.

You’ll also get to see photos from her working day. They show how labor intensive working in a restaurant can be but according to Chef Jenni, it is all worth it.

A Day In the Life of A Pastry Chef

My name is Jennifer Field, and I am a working pastry chef. I currently am the pastry sous chef at The Ravenous Pig: An American Gastropub in Winterpark, FL . Many people are intrigued by what it is that chefs do on a daily basis. The Reluctant Gourmet thought it might be interesting, or at least eye opening, to write an hour by hour account of what goes on from the moment I hit the door until the moment I clock out.

I come in early, at 7:00am and our pastry cook, Lucia, comes in at 10:00 am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to help with all the prep. We are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we run everything out on Saturday nights. As a result, there is always a lot to do on Tuesdays.

 Here’s what I’m responsible for at the restaurant.

Aside from making all dessert components and garnishes, I have several other responsibilities that are not generally thought of as the realm of the “dessert lady.” I am responsible for making the spiced caramel popcorn that we give away as a bar snack. I make the gruyere biscuits that we sell for our bread service as well as the bread pretzels and taleggio fondue for the pub menu.

Chef Lucia and I also keep us in mignardise. You know, like the mints you get with your check? We make what we like peppermint marshmallows, filled chocolates, nut brittles and toffees whatever sounds good. We need to make sure that there are always enough for all guests to get something when their checks come.

In addition, I make tart dough for quiche and Alsace tarts for garde manger and spicy gazpacho (for Bloody Maries) and sour mix for the bar. Now that you know what I’m in charge of making, welcome to my day”¦

7:00 am:

It’s still dark outside. I hate that. I have my keys ready so I can get in the door as quickly as possible. Lock it behind. Run and turn off that damn alarm before the cops show up. Turn on the lights. Check the bar. They ate all the caramel corn?! Savages. Survey the damage in the walk-in from the night before. Do we need financiers? How are we on croquants? Chocolate sauce? Chocolate paint?

Now the freezer. Oh, no””they ate all the biscuits. Make a double today. Pretzels, too? There goes an hour and 15 minutes right there. Better check all the ice creams. Do we need more base? How about that semifreddo? Is it all gone? Put the frozen brisee for the tarts in the walk-in to temper. Are the servers passing out the mignardise? Do we need to make more of those, too?!

Oh, I hate Tuesdays.

7:20 am:

Okay, here we go. Wash your hands. Pop the corn””9 quarts twice, please. While the corn is popping, set the Blodgett oven, turn on the hoods and the gas, light the burners, turn on the other big convection oven. Scale the caramel for the corn. Oh, no spiced pumpkin seeds?! Quick, make those and throw them in the oven so they’re ready to go when the popcorn is popped.

Put the caramel on the induction burner so the butter melts. Scale 2X biscuits. Grate 6 pounds of cheese (thank goodness for the Robot Coupe). Butter’s melted for the caramel; it’s boiling. Set the timer for 5 minutes, turn down the heat and cut the flour into the biscuits. Timer goes off. Wash your hands, and stir the caramel into the corn; don’t forget to add the spiced pumpkin seeds. Put the corn in the oven for 20 minutes.

8:30 am:

Cheese is grated and butter is cut into the flour mixture. Now, scale out and put your pretzels in the mixer. Knead 5 minutes. Go back to the biscuits. Add the wet ingredients and get ready to roll. 5 minutes are up already?! Wash your hands, put your dough in a bowl to rise (in the fridge if it’s really warm in the kitchen). Back to the biscuits. Roll in the cheese in 6 additions. Popcorn timer goes off. Stir the corn and set it for 20 more. Wash your hands. Make the other batch of biscuits. Save the “ugly ends” and bake them off for lunch service. Put the lovely biscuits on trays to be baked off for dinner service. Mark biscuits and popcorn off the list. Wash your hands.

9:25 am:

Get out your mass of pretzel dough. Divide into 48 3oz. balls. Popcorn timer goes off again. Stir and set for 20 more minutes. Wash your hands. Keep that pretzel dough covered! Don’t let the dough dry out. Have your sheet pans sprayed and covered too. Now, roll 48 pretzels””16 per sheet tray. In the freezer they go. Timer goes off again. Don’t stir, but set for 15 more minutes.

10:00 am:

(Still in the middle of pretzel-dom) Thank goodness Lucia is here! Please paco the ice creams and let’s split up this list!

10:30 am:

Pretzels are done. They need to freeze until hard. This makes them easier to pan up after blanching. Okay, until they’re hard, I can make the fondue. Wash your hands. Oh, wait! Do we have whipped butter for bread service? Better throw 11 pounds in the mixer with smoked sea salt and let her rip. Okay, now back to the fondue. Wash your hands. Make a basic Béchamel, add mustard and other good stuff. Don’t forget the porter reduction. Melt in the cheese toward the end.

10:50 am:

Put the butter in a Cambro. Label everything. Portion the fondue and label/refrigerate. Wash your hands.

11:00 am:

30 minutes until lunch service begins. Gotta get the mise en place together for the station. Sauces go in the steam well. Whipped cream? Check. Chocolate sand? Check. Orange confit? Check. Mint tips? Check. Biscuits and pretzels? Check. Get the bread baskets ready and pie pans (for heating up biscuits/pretzels to order). Okay. Now we’re ready, keep going with the prep.

11:10 am:

Blanch and bake off pretzels. Don’t forget the baking soda in the blanching water if you want your pretzels to be pretzel colored, otherwise they will be light and won’t have the crackly pretzels bite on the outside. Wash your hands.

11:30 am:

Everything is paco’d. Lucia, what are you going to do? Brulees and chocolate peanut butter terrine? I love it. I’ll deal with the triple chocolate semifreddo, the cinnamon rolls and the pig tails. When you’re done with the terrine, could you make the langues du chat for the brulees? Great!

11:32 am:

Make the triple chocolate semifreddo. Wash your hands. 3 bowls, each with a different chocolate. Make your custard base; strain it into the 3 chocolates””weigh it so it’s evenly distributed. Whisk everyone smooth. “Order in: ugly ends!” “Ugly ends, heard.” Throw six on a pan and put them in the oven. Back to the chocolate. Whip your cream, divide it among your bases. “Order in: soft pretzel!” “Soft pretzel, heard.” Throw those in the oven, take the ends to the window. A quenelle of grain mustard, a ramekin of fondue. Pretzels in the basket and it all goes to the window. Wash your hands. Back to the chocolate. Layer one goes in. He goes in the freezer. Leave the other two bowls in the walk-in so when layer one is frozen, you can add layer 2 and then layer 3.

12:00 pm:“Order in: ugly ends and ugly ends again. That’s two all day.” “2 ugly ends, heard.” Throw 12 in the oven and get out your cinnamon roll dough. It’s been in the fridge all night, and it’s ready to go. Wash your hands. Mix up your cinnamon sugar and butter, divide your dough in half.

“Order in: ugly ends!” Ugly ends, heard.” Send the 2 ends to the window. Drop 1 more order. “Order in: pig tails!” “Pig tails, heard.” Drop 4 pig tails in the fryer and set up your plate. Get your chocolate sauce and a glass with a liner for the tails. Ends are hot? To the window.

Back to the rolls. Wash your hands. Roll the dough and spread the cinnamon sugar. Roll up; cut in 12. Repeat. Check pig tails. Ready? Yes. Good. Toss in cinnamon sugar, put in the lined glass. Hit it with some powdered sugar and send it to the window. Back to the cinnamon rolls. Where was I? Oh, yeah””repeat. One more cylinder of cinnamon dough cut into 12 more pieces. Cover and let proof.

12:30 pm:

Pig tails. Okay pate a choux. Wash your hands. Put your water, butter, sugar and salt on to boil. Have flour and eggs ready. Is your mixer set up? Where’s the beater? The dishwasher has put it somewhere creative. Search and search. Finally! It’s with the bread?!  Well, that makes a lot of sense.

Alright, back to it. Don’t let the water boil over! That induction burner is powerful! “Order in ugly ends and a pig tail!” “Ugly ends and pig tails, heard.” In go the biscuits; in go the pig tails. Set up the chocolate sauce and glass. Ends are hot to the window.

Back to pig tails. Add the flour, cook then put it all in the mixer. Add eggs one at a time until it looks”¦just”¦.right. Check the pig tails in the fryer. Done! Plate; hit with powdered sugar.

To the window. Back to the “Order in: soft pretzel and an orange-mint sorbet!” “Soft pretzel and orange mint, heard.” Hey, Lucia if you get the sorbet, I’ll get the pretzel. Cinnamon rolls are proofed; get those in the oven. Pretzels in the oven. Quenelle of mustard; ramekin of fondue.

Back to the pig tails. Load the pate a choux in a piping bag. Snip off the end and pipe pig tails (2 curlicues, please) onto parchment-lined sheets. Get the pretzels out of the oven and off to the window. Back to the pig tails. Keep piping. It all goes in the freezer. While I’m here, let me pour layer 2 on the semifreddo. Turn the cinnamon rolls.

1:10 pm:

Financier time! Do we have any ground almonds? Let’s do that, now. Again, thank goodness for the Robot Coupe. Get those cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Do we have browned butter? Yes””we did 4 pounds a few days ago. Melt the butter, mix the batter.

“Order in: ugly ends!” “Ugly ends, heard.” In they go. Cut the pineapple and toss in rum caramel. Do we have enough of that? Running low, I’ll make more in a minute. Ends are hot””in a basket and to the window.

Okay, caramel and pineapple in individual baking dishes, top with financier batter. Bake off low fan 325 degrees 16 min. + 16 min. In they go. Label and put away your batter. Glaze cinnamon rolls before they cool off too much.

1:40 pm:

Rum caramel. Get the sugar going. Go see Larry at the bar and hit him up for Myer’s Dark Rum””just 2-3 ounces. Keep an eye on that sugar. “Order in ugly ends X3.” “3 ugly ends, heard. One more order of ends all day, chef!” “Heard!” Throw those 18 ends in the oven. Check your sugar. Still okay.

Order in: pig tails! Pig tails, heard. Drop the pig tails. Set up your plate. Check the ends. Check the sugar. Ends go to the window. Check the pig tails. Check the sugar. It’s getting close. Turn it down and rescue the pig tails from the fryer. Powdered sugar, and off it goes. Check the sugar. It’s starting to turn. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Stir and let it go. When it starts to sting your eyes, it’s just about there. Let it go. There!

Off with the heat and in goes the cream. Jump back””it splatters and spits and steams like Vesuvius! Add some salt. Stir and stir. Once it has calmed down a bit, add the rum and stand back again. Let it cook for a minute and let cool. Go pour layer 3 on that semifreddo so it will be freddo by service! Label and refrigerate that caramel. Order in: ugly ends! Ugly ends, heard; 86 ugly ends. 86 ends, heard!

2:05 pm:

Timer goes off for financiers. Take them out. Mignardise time. What’ll we make today? How about mango pate de fruits? Get out your puree, pectin, sugar, citric acid and corn syrup. Here we go. Where’s that candy thermometer? Oh, the bar needs sour mix? Lucia, could you make the sour mix? Where was I? Get that silpat ready for the pate de fruits. It takes forever to get to 107 degrees C! “Order in: chocolate caramel ice cream!” “Ice cream, heard.” Turn down the induction burner. 3 scoops in a cold bowl. Croquant as a garnish. To the window. Back to the pate de fruits. Turn up the heat. Stir and stir. Done! Pour and let set.

2:40 pm:

Set up the biscuits for Lucia to bake for dinner service. 4 trays of 48. Work in the walk-in where it’s cold. Put the panned biscuits back on the speed rack, and back out into the hot kitchen.

3:00 pm:

How are we looking? Ice cream base? I’m on it. 48 yolks. 1 gallon of milk, plus a bunch of cream for good measure. Sugar, salt and vanilla. Heat. Temper into yolks. Cook to 160 degrees. Strain and flavor. Portion, label and freeze.

3:30 pm:

Line individual tart pans for Alsace tarts for garde manger. Freeze so they can be baked off. How many today? 16! 16, heard. Thank goodness I froze some brisee on Saturday. I’ll have to make some more tomorrow. Put it on the list.

3:45 pm:

How’s it all looking for dinner service? You’ve got 16 orders of pretzels all day, 48 orders of biscuits. Brulees are done. Financiers are done. We’re good on cinnamon rolls, triple chocolate and chocolate peanut butter terrine. Don’t cut that triple chocolate until service time since I just did the last layer at around 2:00. Pig tails are fine. You’ve got what you need for sundaes if anyone wants one and you’re fine for root beer floats. Do you need me to do anything else to make your service life easier? You’re good; okay.

4:00 pm:

Check off what we need for The List for tomorrow.

All right, then. I am out. Have a lovely evening, all!

Last modified on Wed 22 October 2014 5:38 pm

Filed in: Culinary Careers

Comments (15)

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  1. simone Hudson says:

    hello, Im a senior at wingfield High school and I plan to attend cullinary art school to become a pastry Chef this site really inspired me and I was hoping that we could keep in contact so the inspiration can remain. I love the fact that you showed the hardships of getting up and prepared for your duties or the duties of apastry chef. thanks for the inspiration.

    sincerly,
    Simone Hudson

  2. anna kolchiezk says:

    hello. Im a junior and im really interested in becoming a pastry chef. I love making that kind of food and im really inspired. I would like to ask a few questions. If you could please answer them as the school year is coming to an end and next year i have to start university applications. befor e i make my choice, i would like to hear from a real pastry chef.
    1. What are your usual working hours?
    2. how many years do you have to study in uni?
    3. What is it like in a culinary college?
    4. What courses are you required to take in high school to become pastry chef?
    5. Any good colleges in mind??
    6. What are typical salaries (own bussiness and being hired in a hotel)
    7. Is it an enjoyable job?
    Thank you !! please please please try your best to answer me back!! i really need your help…or anyone elses too!!! thanks

  3. RG says:

    Hi Anna, please be sure to check out Chef Field’s interview at http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/chef-jennifer-field/ and also you will want to look at Chef Leslie Bilderback’s interview at http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/chef-leslie-bilderback/

  4. Mandii says:

    Hello Jennifer,

    I am doing a school project on what we would like to be on when we are older, and i am VERY interesed in being a pastry chef, i was wondering.
    whats your favorite thing about being a pastry chef and whats some things that you dis-like.
    If you can answer me those questions it would help me ALOT!
    thank you VERY much.
    Mandii.G

  5. RG says:

    Hi Mandii, I will ask Chef Jennifer to respond to your very interesting questions. Thanks for writing and good luck with your career.

  6. Jenni says:

    Hi, Mandii. RG let me know that you had asked some good questions, so here I am! First, I am no longer working in a kitchen as a professional pastry chef. Just didn’t want to misrepresent myself.

    My favorite thing about being a pastry chef was/is being able to come up with personal interpretations of favorite desserts, or coming up with new dessert concepts and then executing them. It was always a fun challenge to see how I could combine flavors, textures, temperatures and even colors on a plate to come up with a memorable dessert.

    As far as dislikes, I am not a fan of service–fast-paced and hectic filling of dessert orders at the same time that we were trying to prep components for the next day. Too much going on in a hot frantic kitchen. As we used to say, it’d be a great job if it weren’t for all the diners! lol Another less-than-great aspect of the job, for me anyway, was all the heavy lifting. I routinely lugged around 50 pound sacks of sugar and flour, as well as 20-25 pound boxes/pails of chocolate, etc. Since the pots and pans were often “super-sized,” they were heavy, too, and when they were full of boiling sugar–well, you can imagine!

    Overall, though, I truly enjoyed the work, and the creative aspect far outweighed the negatives.

    I hope this helps, and best of luck to you in your career!

  7. RG says:

    Thank Chef Jenni for your response to Mandii.

  8. kimberly spencer says:

    hi, i would like to know do you think that having a family and being a pastry chef mix. I am a senior and i was just woundering with all the long hours will you have time for family???

  9. Savitre Tubrung says:

    Hi,
    I just recently finished a 24 week pastry program and started working in a bakery. I remember distinctly being told that the life of a pastry chef is not easy and VERY much different from schooling. Boy, are they ever right! I just finished my first week in the bakery and are now contemplating whether or not THIS is for me. Long hours…check. Fast paced…check. Attention to detail…check…and check again. :o) Extreme exhaustion…DEFINITELY! I started researching life of a pastry chef because this weekend it hit me real hard debating if this is where I belong. I’m not sure if it’s too premature to determine or if I’m too afraid to face the reality of it all. I believe that work should not consume ones life, but it sure seems like in pastry…that is your life. Is this true? Is this the end of me having a life outside the bakery? As a beginning pastry cook (I guess you’re not considered a “chef” until you’ve gained real world experience), what advice to do you have for me for learning the ins and outs of the bakery? I fear (not just dread) going into work because I don’t want to screw up, break/drop/destroy desserts, and take forever to find where things are in the kitchen. How can I overcome this fear? I want to like where I am, but after the first week, I’m afraid I might not. PLEASE HELP ME!! I need all the encouragement you can give. Thank you sooooo much in advance. I am extremely excited that I stumbled upon your blog! :o)

  10. RG says:

    Hi Savitre, thank you for your comments and honesty about your experiences. Hang in there. I’m sure with a little real life experience some of those fears will melt away. Remember everyone else in your position has had similar feelings. I’ll contact a few pastry chefs and see if they can add some comments.

  11. Jenni says:

    Hi Savitre. First of all, congratulations on finishing your program. You’re already ahead of the game, there.

    It’s always my advice to folks considering working in a bakery or in pastry in general to try out “the life” before committing to an expensive course of study. I’m not sure whether you did that or not, and the point is moot now, anyway. I really do understand what you’re saying. I found working in a professional kitchen very intimidating to begin with. I worked alone for the first few hours of the day, but I probably called my supervisor three or four times a day for the first two or three weeks, just to make sure I was absolutely clear about the prep list. I certainly didn’t want to be the one who screwed up the desserts!

    My advice to you at this point is to take a step back and realize that nobody fresh out of school is going to hit the ground at 100%. Also know that, whether or not the folks you work with show it, they understand it, too. It’s much better to ask a billion questions and be sure of what you’re doing than not to ask for fear of pissing off the staff. Yeah, they might get a little frustrated with you at first, but it’s better for everyone that you annoy folks in the interest of doing it right rather than work without guidance and find out that you’ve done it wrong. Again, I know!

    Try to go in on your day off, or maybe an hour or so before your shift starts. Take that time to familiarize yourself with the kitchen–where things are kept, what you’re in charge of cleaning and what the dishwasher will clean. Make friends with the dishwasher–they can be your best friend or your worst enemy. You don’t want them to hide something you need, right?! Go over your recipe notebook, and ask if there is any sort of procedural guide you should look at. Consider asking to shadow a co-worker (also helping with their prep) to learn from someone a bit more seasoned than you.

    Take a hard look at everything you’re being required to do, and find the one or two things that you really enjoy. Let those things be your motivation for continuing until you get more familiar and comfortable with other tasks. Pretty soon, you’ll start enjoying more and more of your tasks–many of them will become automatic after a while. Remember what it felt like when you first started driving? You had to pay attention to every detail and really think about all the steps involved. Eventually, you were able to just hop in and take off, listening to your favorite music and barely having to think about how to drive. The same is true for any set of complicated tasks. Through repetition and practice, they’ll become easier and easier. Once you’re more comfortable, you’ll be able to devote less “brain power” to the job and be able to save some energy for after work.

    Always, always ask questions and learn from those around you. One day, a new cook will ask you a question, and you’ll know the answer. Be nice to them, and help them out, even if their silly questions are annoying! :)

    As far as how long to give a job before trashing your career plans? I can’t really say. Once you become automatic with your tasks and are able to multitask efficiently and consistently, see if, now that the fear is gone, you’re having fun. If yes, stick with it. If you’re not having a good time, even after mastering all your job responsibilities, then it might be time to reconsider your options. If I were you, I’d give it a good solid 6 months to a year before making an absolute decision.

    Best if luck to you,
    Jenni

  12. Savitre says:

    RG and Jenni…THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I could not have asked for better advice! However, I did leave the bakery and went on to stage at a restaurant and a luxury hotel. I decided that it was best for me to see what all there was out there in the pastry industry before scrapping the whole profession. I have found a home at a restaurant that I think I’ll enjoy being the pastry cook at. My coworkers seem to be very helpful and patient. I think this wil be a great stepping stone :o) However, I do agree that I need to hang in there for a solid 6 months before making an ULTIMATE decision. Thank you to you both so much and I will definitely keep you posted on my progress! Would love for you to check out my blog as well if you get a chance http://funegrl262.blogspot.com/ .

    Great stuff. You are very welcome and I will enjoy keeping track of you on your blog. Please keep us up to date. – RG

  13. marie says:

    hello, my name is marie and i’ve been interested in the culinary field every since i was about 7 years of age. it is still my dream and passion in life. when i cook i feel like i’m in a whole nother whole. my happy place. i get to show how i feel through my work. im a junior in high school and i still need time for me. would this job field still give me at least a little “me time”?

  14. CHEF SARANJIT SINGH SEHGAL says:

    I AGREE WITH THE CHEF JENNIFER FIELD WHAT SHE SAID IN THE INTERVIEW
    AND IS VERY PROUD OF MY SENIORS AND JUNIORS IN THE CULINARY PROFESSION WHETHER COOKING OR BAKING.THIS IS NOT SO EASY TO BECOME A CHEF AS THE YOUNG GENERATION PEOPLES THINK.IF WANTS TO ENTER A CULINATY PROFESSIN/BAKING ONE HAS TO FORGET ABOUT HIS TIMIMGS,HOLIDAYS AND A FAMILIY LIFE AS HE HAS TO WORK FOR LONG HOURS.WE LEAVE HOME WHEN ENTIRE FAMILY IS SLEEPING AND REACH HOME WHEN ENTIRE FAMILY IS SLEEPING THIS IS THE LIFE OF A CHEF.

  15. Ashly says:

    Hey i would like to know what skill and values can a pastry chef have and I’m REALLY in love with this idea to become pastry chef.

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