Are you aspiring to be a bakery chef and you want to know the qualification required? If YES, here is a detailed guide on how to become a bakery chef.
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What is a Bakery Chef?
Bakery chefs are food workers who make bread and all other types of baked goods such as cookies, cakes, pies and pastries. As a bakery chef, you will be tasked with measuring ingredients, properly cooking or baking them and then decorating the baked food you have created. Bakers are usually employed to work in factories, restaurants, retail stores and bakeries.
The tools of a bakery chef include ovens, mixers, dough cutters et al. Bakery chefs could work part time and their schedule could last from early morning to late evening. Weekend or holiday work might also be required.
Job Description of a Bakery Chef
Working in a bakery can be quite tasking. It requires you to be patient, skillful and above all creative. A competent bakery chef should have at least a rudimentary understanding of nutrition, temperature, and how to blend different types of ingredients together.
They are responsible for shaping and styling breads and desserts, while creating different types of sauces, fillings, creams and jellies. In order to create visually exciting and appealing treats that smell and taste delicious, you will need to understand the basic concepts of design, nutrition, and human physiology. Some other skills that you will need in order to be a top notch bakery chef include;
- Devising dessert menus
- Working with other chefs to complement their menu selections
- Developing and testing new pastry recipes
- Preparing budgets for raw materials
- Researching the best sources for ingredients
- Overseeing the work of your apprentices and assistants
Having an idea of where you want to go with your career or business will better direct your efforts with regards to the level of education you will need, the kind of salary to expect, and what skills and personal characteristics you will need.
Personal Characteristics You Will Need in Order to Be a Bakery Chef
There are some personal characters that you will need to have or cultivate in order to make this profession an enjoyable one for you.
Becoming a bakery chef goes far beyond just combining sugar and butter throughout the day but requires that you be disciplined. As a matter of fact, you may be regularly prohibited from taking the weekend off during periods when there is a spike in business activity such as holiday and vacation seasons.
You will also need interpersonal skills to be work effectively with other chefs. You need a personality that is dedicated enough to your own career growth to enable you stay with each chef you train under long enough to learn what you can from them, but do not stay too long or you will stop growing.
A Detailed Guide on How to Become a Bakery Chef
In order to become a bakery chef, you can either go through the formal education or you can become a bakery chef without going to school for it.
- The Formal Education Route
You can get a baking and pastry Arts diploma from a culinary school, chef college, trade/technical schools, and some colleges/universities. Going for a degree is a very good option for people who have no prior experience in baking because most degree programs come with an internship which could help find students employment after graduation.
It will take you 4 year to get a degree in baking and pastry, and it is generally more expensive than an associate’s degree, which takes one to two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree program gives you more exposure and cover areas that other methods of becoming a chef may not cover such as;
- Regional pastry traditions
- Advanced pastry design
- Cafe’ operations
- Contemporary cakes
- Restaurant law
- Food purchasing
- Inventory control
- Business management classes
- Marketing concepts
In addition, some coursework will require students to attend field trips that include visits to fisheries, produce locations including farms and farmer’s markets to learn flavors, food sampling, and tasting techniques for various food groups. There are specialized classes in food and wine pairings, dessert gastronomy, and wedding cakes that will enhance a serious pastry chef’s resume.
Is It Possible to Become a Bakery Chef without Going to School?
Before spending a lot of money on a formal culinary school, most professionals suggest that there is an alternative for people who would like to become bakery chefs but don’t have the money to attend a formal educational institution, don’t have the time to attend classes, do not like to the structure of culinary school or just don’t see the value in it et al.
These sets of people can try working in a kitchen; under chefs they admire to get a feel for the environment they will be committed to once they graduate and begin a full-time career.
The truth still remains that even though formal education is very important, it is not a prerequisite of becoming a bakery chef (as long as your future employers will not require it). Here are some things that you should do in order to facilitate your journey to a bakery chef:
1. Understand that it is a long term route: If you aren’t going to take the traditional route of establishing yourself in a bakery program, you’ll need to work your way up the ladder in any kitchen you enter. Take a job doing anything that you can, even if it’s washing dishes.
With enough time and hard work, you may be able to advance into a minor position in the kitchen. It won’t be glamorous, but it’s the path to becoming a chef. You’re in for the long haul here, but the experiences you gain could be worth the time.
You also have to realize that become a bakery chef is not easy and as such, you have to be extra prepared. Ask yourself some very important questions such as: Are you ready for long hours in hot kitchens or bakery? Do you have commitments in your life that are going to make your work difficult? Will your family understand the hours that you are working? If you have children, will you be able to balance your evening and weekend schedule with their needs?
In addition you should consider the length of time that it will take you to advance to working as a chef. Many years from now, will you still be passionate about being a bakery chef? Are you financially able to support yourself through the years of low-level work it will take you to become a chef? Does working under pressure excite you? How well do you function as a leader? Do you have the endurance to stand on your feet for hours?
2. Find the right kitchen: You need to find a kitchen that you can become employed to work in. The best way to learn is to get experience. Even though you may be a very good cook, without any form of employment history to complete that, people will not take you too seriously. You can start by looking at local restaurants. Even if you are just the dishwasher – working in a restaurant is the best way for you to get your foot in the door.
3. You must be energetic: in order to become a bakery chef the unconventional way, you must possess both physical and emotional energy. Working in restaurant can be quite tedious and the hours you need to work can be often long. A typical shift could be 10-17 hours.
So it’s essential that you aren’t just prepared to endure these conditions, but that baking and designing gets you fired up to the point that they actually excite you. If you don’t already, spend some time working in a bakery. Get a feeling for the rhythm of putting out orders in a rush, baking the same thing always, and pulling long hours in sometimes tough conditions.
4. Strong work Ethic: due to the fact that the general public will consume and critic your food, you must strive for perfection. You cannot afford to have a bad day.
5. Practice makes perfect: the adage, practice makes perfects holds true if you want to become a bakery chef without attending culinary school. That’s no guarantee you’ll become a chef, but it increases your odds considerably. Most kitchen workers work long hours in an environment that is usually packed into tight spaces and hot without even enough time.
These shifts may not allow you time to experiment and grow your skills, so you will also need to be prepared to constantly practice new cooking techniques outside of work. When you’re not working, you should be studying. There are a million online avenues that you can take to improve your knowledge of the culinary industry. The more you know, the more marketable you are.
Take online courses on food safety and handling, tips and techniques, learn your knife cuts, learn French, and learn everything you possibly can from the wealth of the web, library and current chefs. Read and study well-known books to understand the science behind how baking works.
Some popular books on baking that you should have under your belt include; Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft by The Culinary Institute of America, The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science et al.
You are going to need to put in the hours to reap the benefits. Working in bakeries can be grueling with long shifts, cranky customers, and no breaks in a hot and cramped kitchen. You need to be willing to endure the elements to become the best chef you can be.
Keep a good attitude and keep your goals in focus. Sometimes working as a prep cook in a mediocre kitchen may not seem like the golden ticket, but every day and every challenge you overcome gets you one step closer to realizing your dream.
6. Find a mentor: you should find someone to mentor you or alternatively, you can work as a dishwasher at the best bakery in town in order to get the mentorship from a more skilled bakery chef. The benefits of having a mentor are obvious because many talented chefs began their careers much lower on the culinary ladder.
Another great idea to help get out into the world of baking would be to develop and submit your recipes to any company or organization that is hosting a recipe contest. If your submission is the best, you win! Winning contests is a wonderful way to gain experience in recipe development and baking in general, and it is also an excellent confidence builder. Listing your contest wins on your resume certainly won’t hurt either.
You can also submit your baked goods to the state or country fair. The judging you get will give you feedback on what you did right and areas that you need to improve on. Again, coming up with a submission will involve at least a few test batches, and all of that experience will help to improve your baking skills.
The Average Salary of a Bakery Chef
The salary range of a bakery chef can differ deepening on certain factors such as location and field of hire. For instance, it is only natural that a bakery chef in a 5 star hotel in Washington will earn more than a chef in small rural town in the middle of America.
Other factors that can affect the amount of money a bakery chef can earn include;
- What stages you’re at in your career – that is, the kind of experience you have under your belt.
- Type of establishment you’re going to work for – that is small local bakery, big city restaurant, cruise ship, et al.
If you work in a larger establishment you may be tasked with the additional duty of managing other chefs. So you can see there are many, many factors that go into determining your salary as a bakery chef.
However, as a matter of generalization, entry level chefs get paid an annual salary of about $20,000-$40,000. Mid-level chefs get around $30,000-$50,000 per year and if you’re late career then you can earn up to $75,000 per year. However, if you are in a big city such as New York, you can add on an extra 20% of so for a more accurate figure.
Career Opportunities for Bakery Chefs
Professional bakery chefs can work in any of the following places;
- Independently owned businesses
- Commercially owned businesses
- School cafeterias
- Healthcare facilities
- Government institutions
- Grocery stores