Pastry chefs have the technical baking knowledge and skill to make everything from simple glazed doughnuts to elaborate multi-tier wedding cakes. The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that culinary arts professionals, which includes pastry chefs, can expect good job prospects but intense competition for higher paying positions, through 2018. You can become a pastry chef with the right work experience, even if you don't have the financial resources to fund a formal pastry arts education.
Pastry chefs generally start their careers in bakeries as entry-level pastry cooks. Pastry cooks work under the direction of the head baker or pastry chef, following recipes and learning baking techniques. Pastry cooks are also responsible for keeping the baking kitchen organized and perform "mise en place" -- ingredient and pastry utensil setup -- for the experienced pastry chefs on staff. Working in large corporate bakeries or in hospitality industry pastry departments, such as hotel or cruise line pastry departments, rather than small bakeries, gives you exposure to working as a member of a full-scale culinary team. You also gain experience filling large pastry orders that require uniformity and perfection.
Some pastry chefs take any food service industry position available to get a foot in the door. Working in a restaurant, regardless of the position, gives you general exposure to food service operations that you might not get if you start out working only in a pastry environment, and it could open doors for more specialized pastry chef positions as you progress in your career. Typical entry-level positions in a restaurant include dishwasher, prep cook and line cook. If you have no experience as a pastry chef, and you work in a restaurant with a pastry chef on staff, you can observe how he works and ask questions about the profession during your downtime.
Like working in a restaurant, working in a supermarket bakery gives you experience delivering high-quality customer service in a fast-paced environment. Such experience could provide you the necessary knowledge to start your own pastry business or to serve in a pastry arts management position. Instead of serving customers in a restaurant-style setting, however, supermarket bakery workers gain experience in stocking, product merchandising, inventory control, catering and cake decorating. You could also gain experience handling cash if you cross-train as a cashier. Gourmet supermarket bakery workers also gain experience operating brick ovens and making artisan breads in bakeries with such equipment.
Aspiring pastry chefs often attend culinary school or participate in apprenticeships to gain hands-on experience. Pastry arts students who attend American Culinary Federation, or ACF, accredited programs qualify to receive the Certified Pastry Culinarian, or CPC, designation without taking the otherwise required written and practical examinations. The certification could give you a leg up when applying for competitive pastry arts jobs. Pastry arts apprentices, on the other hand, must have a high school diploma, two years of job experience and must complete continuing education requirements set forth by ACF to take the CPC certification examination.