When people think of a pastry chef, they think of cakes, delicious tarts and luscious desserts, but just a few of them know the amount of skill involved in developing this kind of desserts. No matter the dessert, time, patience and skill is needed for imagining and building every layer of a cake, the crust of a tart, the glaze of a petit gateau, the smoothness of an ice cream, the creamy of a mousse or the shine of a glaze.
So what does it take to become a good pastry chef? What qualities and traits do you need to make excellent desserts? Here are the ten traits of a pastry chef. Do you think you have what it takes?
Pastry is a form of art so there is a lot of room to be creative. Creativity in this domain starts from the early stages of a dessert – imagining its layers, its flavors and the way they combine, the way they evolve as you eat the dessert, the structure of the dessert itself, the textures, the colours and its final presentation. Creativity means taking an ordinary or simple recipe and making it amazing or building a very complex recipe that yields a simple looking yet delicious dessert.
Creativity however is most visible during the final stages of a dessert – its presentation for which pastry chefs have available a wide variety of options: icing, edible flowers, glaze, chocolate, sprinkles, whipped cream and the list can go on. Have fun, but keep in mind that sometimes less is more!
- Attention to details
I always tell my students that even my neighbor (which I love!) can bake a cake following a recipe step by step, but the difference between her and them is that they know what details to pay attention to. And this is easily seen during every step of a recipe – from the way the pastry chef organizes his recipe to the way he writes the ingredients down (check out this article on how to write a recipe) to the way he makes the mousse or levels the cake, not to mention decorate it. Most of the time, every single detail matters! Sure, there are recipes in desserts more forgiving than others, but if you’re gonna make something, might as well make it the best you can!
Every good pastry chef will tell you that a great dessert takes patience. Most recipes will take hours, if not days, to complete, especially when steps like cooking, baking, refrigerating of freezing are involved. As a result, there’s a lot of waiting time to go through. In addition to this, any attempt at speeding up the process may result into a dessert that doesn’t look, taste or feels as it should have had in the first place. Another thing that makes me worry whenever I see one of my students lacking the needed patience is the fact that in most cases this person will end up wasting ingredients and some valuable time trying to speed up or hurry the steps.
- Be organized
A pastry chefs has a wide range of tools and ingredients at its disposal. From the very common whisk or mixer to all sorts of sugars, flours, chocolates or even more complex and difficult to understand or master ingredients or tools. And pastry chefs need to keep track of all these tools and ingredients. Why? Well, because its what their work is all about!
Being organized is key to keeping your kitchen clean and having the needed ingredients and the right tools whenever you start making a dessert. Being organized means reading and keeping track of your recipes too. You cannot start a dessert wthout knowing the steps of the recipe or prepping you ingredients before hand.
In addition to this, every tool and ingredients got to have their place in the kitchen so they are easy to find the next time you need them. This will also keep the kitchen clean and contamination free.
Efficiency in the pastry world means knowing the tools you work with, understanding ingredients and knowing your recipes so you don’t waste time or ingredients, so you can easily gather ingredients and do the prep quick and in time.
- Hard working
On a busy day, a pastry chef can be in the kitchen from very early in the morning until past midnight. After all, if a cake is due tomorrow at a wedding, you cannot ruin your clients day just because your hours are done. There’s a saying in the pastry kitchen: you know when you come in, but you don’t know the time you’re out! A pastry chef needs to be ready for long hours in the kitchen on their feet. Any order takes time and effort so be ready for it!
Oh boy, the days when a pastry chef focuses on just one recipe at a time are non existent! Most often you will need to multitask and prepare, whether it is cooking or weighting ingredients, multiple recipes at a time. And you will need all your attention for this! Imagine you are working with large quantities at a time so something going wrong is out of question!
As careful as you might be, sometimes things do go wrong so be ready to adapt on the go! Be ready to understand what went weary and fix it. Don’t freak out, just find a solution… and quick!
- Willingness to accept criticism
There’s a saying stating that the client is the master and that is true to some extent. At the end of the day, each and everyone of us has a different acceptance to various tastes and aromas so criticism from your clients might be real at some point. Not to mention criticism from your boss or a pastry chef who simply has more experience than you are. Be willing to accept it all and learn from it. Worry not, most of the cases, the criticism is not personal. Just look at it as a way of progressing!
- Qualification and continuous learning
Every good pastry chef knows the road to success in the world of pastry starts with a great education. It doesn’t necessarily mean pastry classes, but it does mean continuous learning, whether it is a skill that you are trying to master or a recipe that you are trying to refine! There’s something new to learn and perfect every single day and that is the beauty of this world! Just practice, practice, practice and when you are done, practice again because the moment you leave something behind, you will have to start all over from the start to remember and be good at it once again!
This being said, my advice to you (as a learning pastry chef myself) is to go out there, give it a try, do your best and don’t regret anything, not even the mistakes because they are the only sure step towards growth! For me, this job has been a blessing, it’s what I love doing the most and I feel lucky enough to be able to train people to do it. Now that’s a dream come true!4