anasasi Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 6:16pm
post #1 of

For those of you that attended pastry school, or those did not but went ahead and started a successful business, would you do it all differently if given the chance to go back?

I know that everyone goes about achieving their goals differently, depending upon their circumstances, but I was really hoping to gain some insight on the subject from both sides of the fence. Was it worth the money to go, or do you wish you had passed go, taken that money (about $25,500 for a diploma where I'm at) and put it into a business straight away?

Or, if you're a self-taught business owner, do you feel you missed out on anything by not going to pastry school? Alternatively, do you feel your success was attributed to the hands-on experience you gained by working in the field or jumping right into it, more so than anything you could have learned from a classroom? From a business perspective, what makes more sense? Lastly, on a personal level what have you gained from either experience?

I'm truly sorry about all of the Q's and the length of my post, but this has been quite a burning question for me. Any and all input will sincerely be appreciated and valued icon_biggrin.gif

37 replies
ivgotahalo Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 7:02pm
post #2 of

.. lots of good questions today!

muddpuppy Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 7:22pm
post #3 of

I'm self taught, and I'm fine with that. I get a great deal of satisfaction when ever I learn something new on my own! Or when I've figured out how to make something work! And it looks awesome! I think that I could use some business/marketing training.. That would be so helpful. But other than that, I'm cool with being self taught. I know it sounds funny but It makes me feel smart.. lol

__Jamie__ Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 7:32pm
post #4 of

Ask Tara...PinkZiab, she graduated very recently!

Atomikjen Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 7:43pm
post #5 of

I'm almost graduated from pastry school (4.25) and wouldn't have done it any other way, no regrets, even with another student loan to pay.

I started out in 1997 at a sam's club bakery. once they closed I made cakes for family and friends ever since. then my husband got me a gift certificate for a class at a local cake supply store and I took more after that, then decided to go official. There's lots of things I knew and didn't know and lots n lots of things I learned. I think my degree will help me get to where I want to be in life... opening up my own shop someday.

anasasi Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 10:54pm
post #6 of

Thank you, thank you, thank you icon_smile.gif

Muddpuppy, I know what you mean about feeling accomplished when you tackle something you haven't done before. I love the challenge of figuring things out on my own and then standing back and feeling proud of what I've learned on my own. Can't beat it!

As for the business/marketing, I do have a degree in business management and about 15+ years worth of experience in managing businesses and running my own. I don't think I would turn back the clock and not go to school since I did have the opp (though I likely would have majored in something else), but at the same time I have to admit that the bulk of my business skills were gained during the time I spent actually running things. Which is why I'm torn with which way to start my second life, lol!

Atomikjen, congrats are in order!!! I'm glad to hear that that you have no regrets, even with the student loan. I think that's really what's holding me back, even though I'm lucky enough to be able to make that work if I really want to. It's a whole different story for me now compared to my first time around, especially with 3 kids in tow and this crazy economy. I really want to go for it since there's so much I still have to learn, but I'm afraid of that ominous student loan cloud floating over my head everywhere I go icon_rolleyes.gif However, hearing that it was worth it for you regardless makes me think that it might be worth it for me too icon_biggrin.gif Did you continue to sell cakes from home throughout school? Maybe I should just bite the bullet and do both at once, hhhmmmm...

Well, kids will be starting school full-time in the fall and I have to get all of my ducks in a row now icon_surprised.gif so I'm hoping to figure this one out soon.

Again, thanks so much for your input ladies! I love that I can come here and ask people who have been there and done that for their perspective, and you are all so helpful icon_smile.gif

anasasi Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 11:07pm
post #7 of

Jamie, thank you! Do you think that Tara would mind if I pm'd her with my post? I don't want to be a pain in the woohoo icon_redface.gif

__Jamie__ Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 11:23pm
post #8 of

Not at all...she's usually up for chit chatting about stuf like that!

Cheyanne25 Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 11:26pm
post #9 of

I am just finishing up a Culinary Management program up here in Canada from a college. Although it did focus mostly on the savory kitchen we did alot of work with pastry/baking as well. I baked alot on my own before, but now I feel that I have a much better skill set and understanding of some of the more complex issues behind baking (like chemistry, etc) then I could have ever learned to gain in the same time on my own.

A bonus with taking a program is that you get to learn from the experts and get the hands on practice. My pastry chef has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world, and wants to pass on his knowledge to eager students (you can bet I talked his ear off each class, asking a million questions lol).

In fact my college is opening up a Baking/Pastry program in 2010 and I am going back to take it (as are alot of other students who found a passion with baked goods).

Although each person is different, I know for me I feel like I'm more on my way to being on the level of professional bakers/decorators because I took the course. Not to mention I've got some amazing contacts in the area for when I'm in need of some help/recipe.

Hope this helps.

pennywells Posted 16 Apr 2009 , 11:29pm

I just have to say that I looked at the cakes you have posted here and I would save the $25,000 and use it towards your business. You are talented and do a knock-out job already. Sure you may learn new things, but I have found that between youtube and CC you can learn to do a lot. Just my opinion.

anasasi Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 1:33am

Cheyanne25, Congrats to you! I do have to agree that working with the experts and gaining a broader knowledge of the chemistry involved in baking builds you up to a certain level of confidence, which is where I feel I'm lacking. I guess I feel I'd that maybe I'd achieve a higher level of confidence through school at a much quicker rate than I would do so on my own. I'm impatient, damn it, lol! That and the fear that one day I may accidentally leave something out on the shelf that I'm not aware isn't shelf stable. Maybe I'm OCD but that is one of my biggest fears. What an excuse to eat cake too...might as well use myself as a guinea pig to see how long it lasts in the fridge before I make it for someone else; lol because I have actually done this when I don't find the answer online! Not so good for the waistline I say!

Pennywells, thank you! You don't know how much that just made my whole week, really icon_smile.gif And you're right, there is an incredible wealth of info here (and youtube). I did take a few cake decorating classes but the majority of what I have learned up until now came from this site.

anasasi Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 1:57am

Holy cow Pennywells icon_eek.gif your cakes are amazing! I just took a peek and that Chanel bag is absolutely gorgeous, the "hardware" looks so realistic! Went right to my favs.

adonisthegreek1 Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 2:08am

Whether or not you attend culinary school depends on what you want to do. If you want to be a cake decorator or bakery owner, then you probably don't need a culinary degree. I am torn between being a chef and pastry chef. I do not want to own a bakery, so a culinary degree will help me in whatever I decide to pursue.

timhenk Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 3:10am

If you have the time and the $, you will never regret going to pastry school. There's nothing wrong with being self-taught, though. Even those of us who've gone to pastry school (or culinary school) continue to "self-teach" ourselves! Pastry school exposed me to certain things like building sugar sculptures, chocolate sculptures, tempering chocolate, etc. that you most likely wouldn't take on yourself. Even if you did decide you wanted to try something like blowing and pulling sugar on your own, it would be next to impossible to get the experience you can in school. I say if you can, go for it.

PinkZiab Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 3:45am

Hey there... I'm happy to post my opinion, and answer any questions you have. As others have said, whether or not pastry school is for you depends a lot on what your goals are. I have ALWAYS loved to bake and decorate cakes (although not to the degree that I do now--I never sold them or did anything as high-end and involved as the cakes I now do before). I DREAMED of going to the FCI day and night for over five years (it took my those five years to get my life to a point where I could make it happen). I never imagined that I had any artistic skills or that I COULD be a cake designer... that spark was ignited by my amazing chef instructors. I don't regret it at all and I wouldn't change a thing (I only wish I knew when I was younger that this was what I wanted... then I would've went to the CIA hehehe).

But I'm drifting off here lol... what it comes down to, again, is what you want to do. I WANT to be a pastry chef--meaning more than a cake designer/decorator (not downplaying that at all, but I want the whole kit and kaboodle... the science behind WHY we do what we do, the technical knowledge to create and change recipes to suit my liking... some day I want to own a cafe/patisserie alongside a custom cake studio). If, however, you feel like cake design is the sole direction you want your business to go in, then I really do feel that culinary school isn't necessary. Of course, an education is never a waste, but it's an education you can most certainly get hands-on. You time would be better spend getting a GOOD internship (not just any local bakery... seek out the BEST cake designers you can find and inquire there). That could lead to a job and learn from there, and practice practice practice.

If you do, however, want to be a pastry chef (possibly in a restaurant), well again, a pastry degree/diploma isn't necessary (and it certainly doesn't get you to walk into a restaurant and take the top position from day one), but you will start a little but higher up the "food chain" so to speak, than if you were to take a kitchen position sans any education or experience.

I hope I haven't rattled on too long... if you (or anyone) have any specific questions, please feel free to PM me and I'll do what i can icon_smile.gif

groovymonkeydesigns Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 3:49am

I actually enrolled last week in a Pastry/Baking program here in Minneapolis. I struggled w/it for a couple years if it was something I wanted to do. Everyone said "why go to school, you already do a good job", but there is so much stuff I don't know. As mentioned on here; the chemistry, sugarpulling, choc. sculpting, etc. I'm pretty new at cake decorating, so I want to know more about fondant, rolled BC, gumpaste...and so on.

By the time I'm done w/school both of my kids will be in school full time and I'll want a job I love. Not necessarily in cake decorating, but pastry/baking as a whole.

sweet1122 Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 4:04am

This is where I feel sad... Sorry to vent here, but it sort of fits...

I graduated HS in 97. Had good grades, with honors, and the whole deal. So, choose a college, choose a major... Had to go to a university. Couldn't even consider a technical or pastry school... That would be considered degrading... Why would I waste all my smarts on baking? So, is it better that I went through and got my University degree only to realize that I still want to go to Pastry school but am now married with children so its SO much harder than it would have been 12 years ago... icon_cry.gif

Good topic to bring up. I love reading everyone's ideas and opinions... I teach high school and we have a culinary class with a full service cafe and everything. I have joked several times that I would love to take the class... only I'm not joking. Those kids graduate HS with pastry chef (or other chef) skills and hands on experience. I would kill for that.

mkolmar Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 5:17am

sweet1122 -- It's never too late to go do what you want in life. I have 4 kids. My youngest was only 6 months old when I started college again. I graduated a few months before he turned 3 with honors. My DH wasn't the most supportive person either about it. I sold my dirt bike to pay for the 1st year of college along with some of the gear and I worked small jobs. I received a scholarship that payed for my 2nd year of college.

If you really want to do pastry you can go do pastry and teach culinary (hey, you've already got the degree) also down the road. Just an idea!

leah_s Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 11:25am

I spent 20 years saying "I'm gonna go to culinary school . . . someday." When I finally ran out of excuses I did it.

Best.decision.ever.

Along the way, I got a BA and an MBA, ran my own biz (totally different corporate stuff) worked as a consultant, as an employee, all corporate. When DH and I had the opportunity to retire early, I enrolled in culinary school in the baking and pastry arts program and never looked back.

Although I had been baking for 40 years when I started school I did make fabulous contacts in the industry, learned the technical, chemistry stuff behind baking and got to practice, practice, practice lots of high end stuff. The chef instructors were always eager to meet a student wanting to learn the extras, and I was going to get my moneys' worth from the tuition payments!

I discovered from reading the fine print that you can challenge nearly any class in college by taking a test. You get the college credit if you pass the test and move on to the next higher class in the program. I challenged 6 classes, I think, passed 5 tests and got out of school a whole semester early, and saved a ton of tuition money.

And for anyone with the "I have kids at home" thoughts, yeah, so did I. Single mom for a long time. And I was still a hands on mom, held down a full time + job, took care of a house, and went to school to get my MBA. If you want it, you'll figure out a way.

PinkZiab Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 12:12pm

Leah is right... it's easy to find a hundred reasons why "now isn't a good time"... I put it off for years, as I said, and once I went, I kicked myself for wasting all those years. I, too, am a single mother, and it wasn't easy working full time, going to school at night and making sure my daughter was taken care of. But now I am so happy I FINALLY did it! Don't let "life" hold you back!

Atomikjen Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 2:20pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by anasasi

Atomikjen, congrats are in order!!! I'm glad to hear that that you have no regrets, even with the student loan. I think that's really what's holding me back, even though I'm lucky enough to be able to make that work if I really want to. It's a whole different story for me now compared to my first time around, especially with 3 kids in tow and this crazy economy. I really want to go for it since there's so much I still have to learn, but I'm afraid of that ominous student loan cloud floating over my head everywhere I go icon_rolleyes.gif However, hearing that it was worth it for you regardless makes me think that it might be worth it for me too icon_biggrin.gif Did you continue to sell cakes from home throughout school? Maybe I should just bite the bullet and do both at once, hhhmmmm...




I don't sell cakes yet... my area you're not allowed to so I don't. I make cakes for family and friends because I want to and I enjoy it. It's good word of mouth for the eventual business I plan to open after school/externing.

I felt like when I started I would just jump in both feet and not look back. Ever since my daughter was born I've felt "lighter" and could accomplish anything. With my husband's support and my daughter's future in my hands I knew that staying in the graphic design industry wasn't as rewarding as a career in pastry arts could be as long as I am determined to "fight" for success... I know it'll take a lot of hard work and long hours to get to where I want to be, and I accept the challenge =D

Good Luck to you! If you need more advice you can always e-mail me =D

anasasi Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 2:29pm

Oh my gosh, I love you all! I don't think you know how much this means to me. I've been struggling with whether or not to go to school or start another business now for over a year and a half and just kept coming up with excuses...kids, money, will it work out, what if I don't succeed, it's not the right time, yadda, yadda, yadda. At this rate the excuses will never end. I think I just really needed to talk to people who could actually relate to me and help me see past my wall of excuses.

Since I was a kid I dreamt of going to art school, but that never sat well with my family and in turn did not sit well with me. I was told I'd be better off studying something more solid and with more potential to make the big bucks. I always had an interest for business (not a passion, but it was something I gravitated towards), so I off I went to study something with more "potential".

For years I ran other peoples businesses and my own. I eventually co-founded a company that dealt with some pretty heavy situations, had overseas and even high profile clients, and made a pretty respectable living at it to boot. But I was never happy with what I was doing. I trudged through it for the money. I knew I wanted to run a business, but thinking back now I never quite found one that was personally fulfilling to me. When I scaled back to become a sahm I struggled with this because I wasn't sure what I would do when the kids were finally ready to go to school. All I knew was that something was missing and I didn't want to go back to what I was doing before. Couldn't stay home for the rest of my life either because that's just not in my dna (I can't sit still for longer than 5 minutes, lol!).

Well, now it seems the pieces are all finally coming together somehow. I realize that I can do something I am truly passionate about AND combine it with my business background. I love designing and making cakes! I love utilizing my artistic side AND making people happy while doing so. However, I'm one who's also interested in knowing how to interchange recipes succesfully... I'd like know the science behind it all. And heck, I'd love to learn sugar pulling and sculpture while I'm at it! Ultimately my goal would be to run my own cake studio, but maybe I'd like to have cafe attached to it as well. And possibly establish something my kids could have the option of getting into later, but only if they're interested.....ya know, if I don't give it a shot I guess I'll looking back at my life when I'm 80 and saying "I wonder what would have happened if only I had......".


Okay, I'm sorry to ramble on so much! I'm hoping this thread may be as useful to others facing the same dilemna as it was to me! Thank you all for being so instrumental in helping me decide which path to take. Honestly, I really can't thank you enough!!! icon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gif

bizcocho Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 3:48pm

Wow, I'm inspired by all of you. I went to college got a Degree, but at the time didn't really know what my passion really was. Yes my degree has open doors for me when it comes to being employed etc. But if I had only known then that I love baking, decorating cakes etc. Now I would love to go to a culinary school, would find a way to pay for tuition, but guess what!! There's no culinary school near to where I live, non-whatsoever. They are like 3-4 hours away! So I guess I'll just keep dreaming and learning on my own the best I can.

leah_s Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 4:00pm

At my school, everyone tended to pair up with a partner with whom you'd take classes, do projects and just track along together. I was paired with a guy who drove to culinary school 2 hours each way fours days a week. When it came time to do his internship, he arranged to work double shirts for two week,s and got a hotel room in town a lock from the bakery where he was interning. He'd work 16 hours, shower, sleep and do it all again. But at the end of two weeks, his internship hours were finished.

IOW, no excuses. If you want it, really want it, you'll make it happen.

And that's also the attitude that will make you successful in your own business. 'Cause there's no one else who can make you sucessful, but you.

Lalana Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 4:07pm

since you have experience running a business but weren't happy, I wonder if you'd be happy "running" a bakery. The reason I say that is, the business owner is not the "technician" (I highly recommend reading E-myth) they are the one running things so you still wouldn't be the artist creating. You'd have to hire artists, chefs, and the like to do those things, or you'd have to find someone you trusted that wanted to "run" your business for you so you could be the artist.
I am 30 and decided to go to pastry school last year at Johnson & Wales. I too didn't figure out my passion until a little later! I don't have any other degrees so for me it was as much about getting an education as it was gaining an education specifically in pastry. I have to say that I wouldn't exactly recommend it. They don't teach all the new and innovative things, that's what you learn by doing and going to conferences and taking classes offered around the country. I would suggest saving that money and applying it taking more of the individual specific classes offered by Nicholas Lodge and Collette Peters and people like that. I have enjoyed learning, but I don't think the time and expense has given me exactly what I was looking for, but I will now have that piece of paper to show my kids that mom did get her education. If you want skills, then I say find classes for those specific skills. You are already really great at cakes, so go for it! The business side is the hardest part and you have that down already.
HTH! Sorry so long!

Cheyanne25 Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 4:12pm

Although I was lucky enough to figure out my passion for cakes fairly early(turn 25 tomorrow lol) I understand feeling the pressure to pursue a different kind of career path.

I originally went to school for Applied Museum Studies (sounds like a bucket of fun eh haha). My room mate at the time actually happened to be taking Culinary, and I use to steal her text books and read them front to back, the one day I watched her making a swan out of choux paste, I was so jealous.

Eventually my better half kept telling me to take culinary, I couldn't even fathom it. I figured everyone else there would kick my butt, and the Chef's would be yelling at me haha. Best decision I ever made was throwing caution to the wind and enrolling. I couldn't have spent the last two years in any better of a way. You learn numerous things about the technical aspects of it all, but more importantly you learn a lot about yourself. You will be a completely different person coming out then you were going in, in a good way of course lol.

malishka Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 6:42pm

I have been a bookkeeper for 17 years now, and I HATE IT!!!

I found my love for cake decorating strictly by accident. There was a wilton coarse being offered and I needed some ME time away from the kids. It was another artform that I decided I could try. Well,......... been caking for the past 4 years and loving every minute of it.

I have been learning from this wonderful site and from different books and videos. I would love to go to pastry school. But now is not my time. Single mom, 2 small kids, paying for their private school,yada yada yada. But, as soon as they start highschool, I will try my best to go. I will try to apply for a scholarship.

I think it will give me a self confident edge. I will actually know what I'm doing instead of winging it as I go/bake along.

sugarcheryl Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 7:14pm

I also just want to say and agree with pinkziab and leah. I wen to pastry school and I commuted from va to ny every weekend. It was now or never and I have no regrets even with the paying back the loan. To me it was worth it. Like pinkziab I wish I did this when I was younger and did it while I lived in ny. I like leah milked as much info I could while I was there. I did come with some knowledge but I left with more. I'm proud to be a pastry chef even though my focus is on cake decorating.So it really is what your goal is nobody knows the answer except you deep down inside. You can't go wrong with either decision you make. So go for it icon_smile.gif

Brooke420 Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 7:41pm

I know all schools are different, but on average how long does it take to complete a baking/pastry program?

sugarcheryl Posted 17 Apr 2009 , 7:50pm

IT DEPENDS BROOK420 MY PROGRAM TOOK 7 MONTHS AND I WENT ON THE WEEKENDS.

Quote by @%username% on %date%

%body%