Culinary School?

Business By tykesmommy Updated 18 Jan 2013 , 6:58pm by BakingIrene

tykesmommy Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 3:22am
post #1 of 22

AHas anyone here attended any type of pastry or baking program? I'm in love with cakes and basically all cooking so I'm looking into going. However, I'm not exactly sure what the advantages are besides learning new techniques and such. Also, I live in northeast Alabama so the closest that I have found are either in Birmigham (2 hour drive 1 way) or Nashville (3 hour drive 1 way). What do y'all recommend?

21 replies
jason_kraft Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 3:55am
post #2 of 22

AWhich skills are you most interested in improving? Culinary schools are typically geared toward placing graduates in restaurants or hospitality jobs, so if you just want to focus on cake decorating it's probably not for you. Tuition can also be expensive, often in the $10-40K range.

tykesmommy Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 4:03am
post #3 of 22

AJason, I always love hearing what you have to say!! I'm interested in becoming a more well rounded cake artist. I want to learn things I can't figure out on my own and learn things that I didn't know you could do in cake decorating. How long have you been in the cake business?

jason_kraft Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 4:27am
post #4 of 22

AWe started the process of launching our business in 2007, when my wife decided to switch careers from a special education teacher (very challenging work with low-functioning kids with autism and multiple disabilities) to a pastry chef. I was getting my MBA at the time so I worked on the business side, and since my wife didn't have much hands-on experience she went to the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, CA for the baking & pastry program. We launched the business in 2008 with a focus on allergy-friendly baking and sold it in 2011 once our daughter was born and we moved out of the area.

Initially we offered quite a few other products in addition to cakes (breads, other pastries) but it eventually became clear that birthday cakes targeted at midmarket consumers were the most profitable products in our niche (as well as the highest demand), so that's what we focused on. The culinary school experience was definitely worthwhile, since the baking & pastry program helped us quite a bit with the recipe R&D, plus my wife had a lot of fun and met some great people (including our first employee, who we ended up selling the business to). Cake decorating was maybe 10-20% of the program, so if you wanted to focus on mostly cake decorating you would be better off looking at Wilton classes, community colleges, independent classes, or self-teaching from Youtube videos.

The school has since changed its name but the program is still pretty similar, here is an overview:

And here are some pictures from the "final exam", a themed banquet where each student puts together their own table:

kikiandkyle Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 4:37am
post #5 of 22

AI've been thinking of taking the baking and pastry assistant certificate course at my local community college, they offer all day weekend classes for people who can't attend normal hours. Only 2 of the 5 required classes are actually technique, the rest is business, including the state (IL) required food safety certificate. You might look for something like this a little closer to you, and it would be much cheaper. If you decide to 'upgrade' to a more prestigious school later on you may get some credits I guess.

tykesmommy Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 5:08am
post #6 of 22

AThat final banquet table is beautiful! She definately deserves a big pat on the back for that!!

I don't think any type of classes are offered around here like Wilton's. I thought about going to a bakery that I wouldn't be any competition to and learning there. I have an offer on the table from a bakery about an hour away. What are your thoughts on it?

I have actually just graduated from college with an associates degree in business management if that helps any. I would love to own a shop sometime within the next year or two.

nancy6372 Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 6:08am
post #7 of 22

I"m in the Auburn AL area, and I've looked at the culinary schools also and the closest are Birmingham ( 2.5 hours one way) or Atlanta (2 hours one way + tack on probably 2 more hours for Atlanta traffic and the tuition around $20K) so forget that.  I'm taking the Wilton courses at Hobby Lobby.  Surely you have a Hobby Lobby, Michael's Crafts, or Joanne's Fabrics in Ft Payne or close enough you could make it work?  

vgcea Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 9:13am
post #8 of 22

I enrolled in a pastry program at the local community college and I can honestly say while the classes were great (got to practice some stuff and learned 1 or 2 new skills) the emphasis of the program is not on cake decorating, they didn't add much to my decorating repertoire. Many of these programs, like Jason said, focus on training you to be a well-rounded chef working in an establishment so you'll do breads, tarts, cookies, chocolates, plated desserts etc. They typically do not train you to be an independent cake decorator, and definitely not as a business owner.


While I enjoyed the class (the most advanced of all the cake classes the school offers) I can honestly say, I could have taught the class. It was still nice to practice stuff I already knew though. 


If you can find a program that emphasizes cake decorating, go for it. Otherwise invest your time and money in business classes at the local college, DVDs, books, Craftsy, cake decorating classes provided by your local cake club or cake supply stores, and LOTS of practice. Don't forget CC, lots of info here also. If you can find a job or an apprenticeship under a seasoned decorator, even better.


Many of the top decorators in the cake world are self-taught or learned through apprenticeships (internships if you decide to go to school for it). There are many threads floating around about Pastry chefs who don't know much about cakes because they weren't taught in school.

arlenej Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 12:21pm
post #9 of 22

I share your pain. I live in the glorious Caribbean and believe me it's not easy finding classes here that teach what I don't already know. I just spent a LOAD of money on a course and learnt 2 new things. I've decided to LIVE on Youtube, it's economically viable. Also I'll be investing in a bunch of books and dvd's on the subject. Might I suggest you do the same? For starters, head over to They do on-line classes and they're having a super sale. Then you can look into dvd's by http://scott clark woolleyhttp://Nicholas Lodge, and http://sharon zambito . http://Alan Dunn has some good books out. Youtube is addictive! Check out  http://09165067633 (that's Mayen), http://Edna de la Cruz, http://Lorraine McKay and http://Elaine MacGregor. This is just your starting point. Really. There's SO MUCH MORE out there. Congratulations on getting your degree. God willing, that should be my next step.

kikiandkyle Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 1:35pm
post #10 of 22

AI've been doing Wilton courses near me and I have to say I've learnt more from the couple of Craftsy courses I bought than I did from Wilton. The Wlton stuff just feels so outdated, and if you get a bad instructor it's even worse.

-K8memphis Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 4:01pm
post #11 of 22

I have a bit different take on this. A different perspective. I have been grumpy lately--just to myself--but now gently sharing with you--- because cake decorating is so frickin' EASY nowadays. Sure sure sure you need some skills I'm not saying you don't but if you just go buya few tools you can make a masterful showpiece. Masterful. As far as school is concerned why bother? Seriously. You got the world wide web. Get on here on CC and we answer questions it took decades of expertise to acquire or just look it up on you tube. Save your money for build out--for improving the location to get it up to code so you can open up somewhere.


I mean if you have the time and money sure go do school you'll have a blast if you get good instructors.


It is the practicing of cake deco that makes you better.

All the tools and all the toys and all the instruction you could ever want are already there for you.

Just gotta do it as the saying goes.

LNW Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 4:57pm
post #12 of 22

Personally I’d save your cash and immerse yourself in YouTube videos and hunt down a Wilton course at a local hobby store (surely you have to have one of those around).  You could check on Wilton’s forum and ask if anyone in your area knows of someone who teaches the Wilton courses. 

I don’t know that culinary school will be of much help to you.  Way back when I thought I wanted to be a cake decorator and looked into it none of them really had a focus on cake decorating.  A good friend of mine went to culinary school and is now a chef in New Orleans.  They do learn how to make and decorate cakes (at least at his school they did).  He even learned how to work with fondant, which he said was “cheating” and he didn’t think much of any cake decorator who used “cheater icing.”  Apparently they don’t do much with fondant lol.  But like Jason said, the focus is on becoming a chef of some kind and working in a restaurant.

My local community college offers several different types of cake decorating classes beyond the Wilton courses I took there.  But the info covered is the same stuff I can see on YouTube for free.  The only plus to taking a class is sometimes on the videos you can’t really follow what they are doing and having someone there to help guide you would be really helpful.  I’ve watched countless videos and read even more articles on covering a square cake in fondant and I STILL can’t do it.  But if someone who knew what they were doing were to sit down with me and show me I’d get it. 

jason_kraft Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 5:18pm
post #13 of 22


Original message sent by tykesmommy

I have actually just graduated from college with an associates degree in business management if that helps any. I would love to own a shop sometime within the next year or two.

If I were you I would continue taking business classes and work towards your BBA while practicing decorating independently.

-K8memphis Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 5:29pm
post #14 of 22

But I mean if you get an opportunity to get a Bronwen Webber class or Colette Peters or Jennifer Dontz or people like that--I could not more highly recommend doing the individual classes. Also the TN ICES people have workshops in Nashville area once or twice a year and they bring in these big names like Nick Lodge and etc.--you stay overnight & everything for a class lasting a coupla days in some cases. So be mindful of that. Sweetwise in Nashville might have further info and they have lots of classes too. Look for the classes.


From Sweetwise:

"Sweet Wise™ offers the most cutting edge, get-down-to business cake decorating classes that you can find in Nashville or nationwide. We bring in instructors that know the business and can teach you the business. We don't follow one specific cake decorating method from one tool manufacturer. We have created our own, specialized methods based on our own experience. We not only bring in experienced local professionals, but also celebrities like Roland Mesnier from the White House, and Michelle Bommarito, Andrew Shotts, and Keegan Gerhard from the Food Network. We offer tools from best manufacturers and cutting edge techniques to use them."

tykesmommy Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 9:10pm
post #15 of 22

AI knew there was a reason I asked this here! Y'all have such great suggestions. I'm definitely going to look into Sweetwise. Thanks!

-K8memphis Posted 22 Dec 2012 , 9:19pm
post #16 of 22
itsacake Posted 23 Dec 2012 , 12:09am
post #17 of 22

Not coincidentally, since we were both in the area, I went to the same school as Jason's wife Amanda.  For the same reasons Jason mentioned, I wouldn't go to culinary school if you mostly want to decorate cakes.    It was VERY EXPENSIVE and although I had only been doing cakes as a hobby for about 3 years before going to school, when we got to the decorated cakes unit, I actually was told by my chef instructor that my support system (SPS) was better than what they were teaching.  My sugar flowers were also a lot more intricate than what they were teaching.


I now own a cake and pastry business and do a lot more than just cakes, but I still think school was way over priced and I should have gone to a community college program where they paid attention to the business side of things as much as the baking.  If you do take baking classes, try to make sure you learn how all the ingredients interact.  They didn't teach much of that at PCI.  Also, we always did everything in small batches.  When you go commercial, you need to know that everything takes longer in bigger batches, and how to be efficient.  I went without doing the research, because it was there and I could do it without much effort.  I'm not unhappy I went, but it was not all that helpful.


If you just really want to learn to decorate, seek out classes for cake decorators.    Take a look at Cake Camp if you want to study  decorating.  A lot of big names teach there.  (I took class from Colette Peters, NIcholas Lodge, and Debbie Brown one year) .   Nicholas Lodge also has classes in Georgia and I did a week with Laurie Ann Blethen in New Jersey.     Also, there is  I did a class with Ron Ben Israel there.   All of these seem expensive until you compare them to $25,000.00 - $30,000.00 or more for culinary school.  

tjgett Posted 18 Jan 2013 , 2:48pm
post #18 of 22

I left a research career and went to The French Pastry School in Chicago.  That was over 10 years ago.  Then, the tuition for the 6 month (very intensive) class was over $15,000.  Now I'm a stay at home mom decorating cakes on the side.  Was it worth it?  Hard to say. I learned a LOT, but the job market is crazy with a ton of people trying to become the next celebrity chef and working for very low pay.  Since you already have a handle on cake decorating, I would take more classes through Wilton or at (AWESOME classes here!).  Then maybe take a community college or online class to learn more about the business side of things.  Hope this helps!

BakingIrene Posted 18 Jan 2013 , 3:03pm
post #19 of 22

Community colleges offer business and baking courses on a continuing ed basis--meaning that you take as many or a few as you really need, if you don't care about a diploma.  Much less expensive, do them at your own speed, you should be able to ask questions about the exact material taught before you sign up.

leah_s Posted 18 Jan 2013 , 3:38pm
post #20 of 22
Originally Posted by itsacake 

I actually was told by my chef instructor that my support system (SPS) was better than what they were teaching. 






tykesmommy Posted 18 Jan 2013 , 4:56pm
post #21 of 22

AI just graduated in December with an associates in business management so I have the business side covered. :)

BakingIrene Posted 18 Jan 2013 , 6:58pm
post #22 of 22
Originally Posted by tykesmommy 

I don't think any type of classes are offered around here like Wilton's. I thought about going to a bakery that I wouldn't be any competition to and learning there. I have an offer on the table from a bakery about an hour away. What are your thoughts on it?

Take this offer if it is still available.


A bakery or deli or sandwich shop is the ideal place to learn how in practical terms (as opposed to in theory) to keep your profit margin in the black. No they don't teach that in business school or culinary school, you learn it in internships or in paid work.


As far as your other questions about cake technique, give us a list of the specific ones you want to learn.  There are excellent books out there that are discounted at Amazon--and then you just practise practise practise using cake tins and supplies like icing over and over.

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