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le_cordon_bleu
Pastry Dreamer? 
5th-Jan-2008 10:34 pm
hammer time
My story is a little weird...

While working a part-time job to help pay my way through college, I developed a HUGE crush on one of the bakers at the bakery across the street from my workplace - in typical lovestruck-girl fashion, I applied for a job. Oddly enough, they hired me without any previous baking experience, and I began to split my time between the bakery and my other job. Though I was only mildly interested in baking when I started, I absolutely loved it. I loved the calm of the mornings (well, in that there weren't people all over the place, just us bakers), the fast pace, and the challenge of producing the perfect product (in taste, texture, and aesthetics) on a deadline. Unfortunately, the bakery was undergoing some management issues and the staff dynamics became fairly dysfunctional, and that combined with the fact that I was forced to move further away and did not own a car meant that I had to leave the job.

Now I'm finishing up my BA, but I HATE what I'm studying and am having a hard time seeing a future with my degree. So I'm wondering if culinary school is for me?

I really enjoy baking, and though I'm not SUPER at it yet, I would really like to see what I can do.

...But:

- I'm a smaller-than-average girl (5"2) and had some difficulties working in a bakery that was designed with much taller people in mind; I'm somewhat concerned that this kind of set-up is a trend and don't want to set myself up for a career in which back injury will play an important part. Are these concerns valid?

- While I really enjoyed my baking experience, the complications mentioned above cut it very short, meaning I was only working as a baker for about 4 months - enough time to really get a feel for what I was doing?

- The bakery I was at was strictly about bread, and (again, dysfunctional staff problems) both head bakers who had been training and teaching me left part-way through my training and the remaining staff liked to cut corners instead of doing a good job, and did not want to work with a female baker, leaving me to have to self-teach a number of things. I'm concerned that my existing skills won't be diverse enough to help me through culinary school (don't know if this is a problem or not - I never took any cooking classes in high school and don't know what to expect)

- I'm afraid that the kind of job I would be getting as the end-product of my culinary school education would be around the same pay as one without such an education, which is not that great.


I've spent the past 3-5 years working in food production and retail, though not in a restaurant setting, so I understand the demands on the environment I could be potentially myself into: I'm efficient, and work well under pressure, so I'm not the type to freak out when someone tells me to get my ass in gear. I would really like to study baking and pastry arts, but as it's going to require a lot of $$ no matter where I go, I would love some advice on whether or not it's advisable to proceed before actually committing - much too expensive to just take up on a whim.

Any advice/comments/shared experience would be highly valued! :)

Thanks so much for your time if you've manged to wade through this whole post!
Comments 
(Deleted comment)
7th-Jan-2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you for such a detailed response. :) Especially the info re: height. I was forgetting when I wrote this that while I had the "too high" problems in the bakery (especially the ovens - luckily I got reprieve from using them as the topmost ones were a good foot higher than my head and nobody wanted me on WCB from a scalding hot bread tin falling on me), I was was one of the few who did not complain about counter height when I was doing food prep at my supermarket job. This is very encouraging!

I have a few further questions that maybe you'll be able to answer (since you've got the experience, and I'm the newbie!)... For those doing programs in baking and pastry arts, is there a great difference between schools as far as focus? The reason I ask is that while I am really interested in the sweets/pastry side, I have always been more drawn to bread baking (and not just because of the job experience) and in the curricula of the schools I've been looking at it's not always clear how much attention is given to each subject (apart from time) insofar as depth or complexity - ie: will I be learning the properties of a basic yeast dough, or will I actually be able to get into sourdough starters or using different flours or artisanal methods... This is probably the kind of question that can best be answered by contacting the individual schools, but in your experience, is bread-making somewhat glossed over in favour of more "interesting" things in pastry?

That being said, coming out of a typical baking and pastry arts program, would one be more easily identified as a baker or a pastry chef? ie: would this be leading to a job in a restaurant or hotel, or a bakery? I don't suppose there's a HUGE difference, but I'm not familiar with a the restaurant environment, so I'm not sure.

If one finishes a program and decides that they would like to further their knowledge or expertise in a certain area of interest, is it easy to find a school that has follow-up programs? Kind of like 'graduate school' in academia? Or will the standard 'start-to-finish' type of program be adequate? Would such "expertise" be better learned in the work environment?

Finally, I'm in Canada, not the US, and while I'm currently looking locally, I'd be willing to cross the border. However, my research is limited to the internet at the moment, and finding an objective review of the various schools has proved somewhat challenging (even websites that list/"recommend" several schools seem to have some sort of bias or affiliation with the schools they are "objectively" recommending). Any insight on that?

Sorry for so many questions and long posts, but as I'm coming from a family and community that's very "academics first" and doesn't really consider culinary school as leading to a "real job," I'd like to be sure about what I'm thinking of doing before someone tries to change my mind (and because I've been dishing out a fair amount of money to pay for the university degree I'm currently completing, which I've ended up hating with a passion, and don't want to end up in that situation again!) ;)

Thanks again!!
(Deleted comment)
9th-Jan-2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
Dude, you are way awesome. :) I really appreciate all this info! I'll probably stick to my side of the border for now, mostly for cost reasons and because I'm not going to go out of my way to get into some school like CIA as I'm not the kind of person who thinks they're going to be "the next (insert name of celebrity chef here)" and must therefore be getting "the best" education.

Luckily (I guess) almost all the "top" culinary schools in my side of the country (including the culinary programs at The Art Institute and Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, which were on some top 100 in North America list) are pretty much all in the same area - like within a few blocks of one another - so if I wanted to really research and I could just kind of take a bus and walk in. And now that you've given me some feedback, I may just do that. :)

And yea, sugar pulling does look insanely awesome. :D
17th-Mar-2008 04:32 am (UTC)
I know you posted this a while ago but im now attending at the LCB and they perfer it if you know nothing. You learn everything fresh and the right way.
In my class i have an older woman who thinks she knows everything and does everything HER way and not the way the chefs way. Because shes so stuck on her ways. Shes basically wasting her money because shes not taking in what they are trying to teach. I hope you understand what im trying to say and im explaining it correctly ;]
17th-Mar-2008 05:11 am (UTC)
No, I totally get what you're saying. :) I've worked with people like that, and they were a pain in the ass to train, so I know not to be like that. I would way rather go into the school and improve on what I already know (or find new/better ways of doing things) than stagnate my knowledge by assuming I know everything already (which I know that I totally don't!!).
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