An Interview with a Pastry Chef
Every once in a while I get an email from some young person who thinks I'm a professional chef and wants to interview me for a school project. I let them know I'm a home cook who enjoys food, cooking and writing about it and encourage them to contact another chef or I find them someone I think may be able to help them.
Patrick, a third grader from Massachusetts contacted me through his teacher and wanted to interview a pastry chef. Lucky for both of us, Chef Jenni Field, a culinary school graduate, was willing and able.
Here's what Patrick's third grade teacher wrote me:
I am a third grade teacher whose class is doing a project about careers. I have a young man who needs to interview a pastry chef. Would you be able to accommodate? He would email you the 6 easy questions, and you could email back the answers. Thanks for considering this request. You'd make one young man very happy! Sincerely, Amy
Here are Patrick's very thoughtful questions, Chef Jenni's introductory remarks and her answers. Thanks Jenni.
First of all, you need to know that I was a pastry chef in fine dining restaurants, but now I am a food writer and have my own website. I enjoyed working in the kitchen, but I love what I do now, too. You have asked some very good questions, and I will try to answer them for you as fully as possible.
1. Why did you decide to do this job?
I had been a teacher for sixteen years, but I had always loved cooking and baking. After so many years teaching, I wasn't really enjoying it anymore, and I was excited about changing careers to become a pastry chef. That way, I could cook and bake every day!
2. Do you need any kind of special education, training, or license to do
your job? What kind?
Many people get into cooking and baking just by starting at a young age. Most of the great chefs in Europe, as well as many in the United States, never went to a special school. They just worked in a lot of different restaurants and kitchens, learning from great chefs and slowly gaining more and more responsibility in the kitchen.
In the United States these days, many people graduate from culinary school, but graduating from school doesn't make you a chef. "Chef" is the French word for "chief," and the chief is the person in charge. The chief has to know more about cooking and baking than everyone else in the kitchen, and he/she has earned respect.
People fresh out of culinary school still have a lot to learn, but it is a very good place to start, and you can learn a lot of the basics of cooking and baking.
Many cooks and chefs are ServSafe Certified. This means that they have passed a test all about food safety and sanitation. When I went to culinary school, I took and passed the ServSafe test, too.
3. What do you like about your job? What do you dislike?
I really enjoyed (and I still do) being able to come up with a dessert idea, make it, and have people like it. There's almost nothing better than when someone compliments you on a great dessert that was all your idea!
The thing I disliked the most is standing up in a very hot kitchen all day long. At the end of the day, my feet were very tired and sore and all I wanted to do was lie on the couch and watch TV for an hour or two!
4. How long have you been doing this job?
I worked at my first restaurant for a year and a half, and I was the pastry cook and then the pastry chef. That was a good feeling to get a promotion to pastry chef!
I helped to open and create the dessert menu for another restaurant, and I worked there as the pastry chef in charge of production (making all the dessert components) for six months. Then, my husband got a new job in another state and we moved away.
5. What do you do on this job?
Aside from making all the dessert components--ice creams, garnishes, sauces as well as the cakes, tarts and other main dessert items, I also ordered necessary ingredients when they were running low, making sure we never ran out of important things like chocolate, flour, butter, sugar and eggs.
I also kept an inventory of all the food items that we needed. I ordered ingredients from different vendors and made sure they were all properly stored.
6. Do you have to retire from this job at a certain age? What age?
As far as I am aware, there is no set age at which a chef needs to retire. Many chefs work hard into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. I read somewhere that being a chef is a very good job because you'll never go hungry and you'll always have a job.
I hope I've answered your questions, Patrick. If you'd like to interview a pastry chef who is still working at a hotel or restaurant, you can probably call one of the fancy restaurants in your city and ask to interview the pastry chef. Most chefs are excited about their jobs and would be happy to help you with your project.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.