While the job details vary by the type of place they work, pastry chefs are artists in sugar, butter and flour. They create desserts and pastries that entice the palate and the eye. Pastry chefs work in a wide range of commercial kitchens, from the local grocery store bakery to high-end restaurants. Some work with caterers, or at large resorts and conference centers, while others will own their storefronts, working for themselves.
A pastry chef specializes in the preparation of desserts and other baked goods. In commercial kitchens the pastry chef plans the dessert and sweets menu, creates recipes and manages ingredients inventory. Pastry chefs often determine how the dessert course will be displayed and presented on the plate, including what sauces and garnishes to include. In some kitchens, the pastry chef is responsible for baking breads and rolls in addition to the dessert offerings.
Pastry and culinary knowledge are key requirements for every pastry chef. They must be able to bake, which involves understanding how ingredients come together and how flavors taste and blend. The job also requires attention to detail, from preparing recipes to ordering ingredients and supplies. The creation of appealing desserts and the display of foods to their best advantage calls for a sense of artistry. Pastry chefs must also be trained in safe food handling and sanitation standards.
Senior Pastry Chefs
While most start as assistant pastry chefs or apprentices, pastry chefs with extensive experience are frequently members of the senior kitchen staff. As senior members of the staff, they are charged with instructing and supervising other personnel in the creation of desserts. They are responsible for inventory control and budgeting for ingredients, as well as quality control of the finished pastries. Senior pastry chefs work as members of the management team, coordinating their efforts with the overall kitchen operations.
Training and Education
Although not required, many entry-level pastry chefs are formally trained in culinary arts through programs at colleges or culinary schools where they specialize in the pastry arts. The American Culinary Federation, the certifying organization for chefs, requires at least a GED or high school diploma or 100 hours of continuing education in order to apply for certification as a “pastry culinarian.” Senior positions often require a diploma or certification from a culinary arts program, along with many years of experience.
While it doesn't break down chef statistics by specialty, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, anticipates that there will be less than a 1 percent increase in the reported 100,600 chef positions between 2010 and 2020. The median salary for all chefs, according to the BLS, was approximately $40,630 in 2010, though this varies with the type of establishment. In a 2011 salary study, the American Culinary Federation reports that median salaries vary by region as well. For instance, chefs in the middle Atlantic region make an average $65,000 per year, but $60,000 in New England and the Pacific region.
2016 Salary Information for Chefs and Head Cooks
Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of $43,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chefs and head cooks earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $59,080, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 146,500 people were employed in the U.S. as chefs and head cooks.