Calling All Pastry Art Students (Graduates As Well)

Decorating By Nicolle711 Updated 7 Jul 2008 , 8:34pm by wgoat5

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Nicolle711 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:19pm
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Hi all ! I need your advice...

I am 27 years old, have a 9-6 job, already graduated from Business School and kind of late in my studies realized I want to get into baking and cake decorating. My goal is to open my own business and not so much to work as a pastry chef in a hotel or restaurant.

I live in New York and I am very interested in the French Culinary Institutes Pastry Arts program which is 9 months. The only thing holding me back is the tuition icon_cry.gif So much money for just 9 months!

So, I would like to know from students, graduates and even non pastry art attendees, if it is worth going to pastry art school? Or can I just learn from books, seminars, wilton courses and maybe internship?

icon_biggrin.gif Thanks in advance!

19 replies
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LindseyLoocy Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:33pm
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Hello. I graduated from Florida Culinary Institute last year studying baking and pastry. Before I went, I asked a local cake decorator for any advice she might have and all she had to say was, "Well, I didn't go to culinary school." She was very uppity.

For myself, I saw going to school as a way of getting my foot in the door because I didn't know anyone in the cake industry. I'm now in a bakery on my way to cake decorating heaven. My program was a year and a half and I loved every minute of it. I'll being paying for it for many years to come, but it's an investment I believe was well worth it. That's not to say you can't teach yourself as I'm sure many of the very talented ladies and gentlemen that grace this site have done.

Good luck to youicon_smile.gif

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Nicolle711 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:41pm
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Thanks Lindsey for your feedback icon_biggrin.gif You are very right on how there are many self taught cake decorators who do truly amazing stuff. That is why in some ways I feel maybe I can just learn as I go, by doing small projects, taking some cake decorating courses and just reading and practicing. But then I feel like you did, not knowing anyone and needing to get your foot in the door. In all honesty, if I hadn't gone to business school, I probably would have gone to pastry arts school. But having to go to pastry arts school now and pay 2 different school loans will hurt my pockets severely icon_cry.gif

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MORSELSBYMARK Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:43pm
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Hi. I took a 6 week course in the basics of pastry making. My instructor told me for the type of decorating I wanted to do, the culinary programs are not useful. Everything I have picked up has been from books, tv, and online (especially the great folks here at CC!)

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mconrey Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:46pm
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Hi - I did not go to Pastry School, but my sister-in-law did. The tuition was a fortune and it was a lot of hard work. She definitely learned a lot from her experience. However, upon graduating from her program, she was MAYBE making $8-10/hour as an assistant in a bakery. Personally, I don't think that the time and money would be worth a $10/hour job that you could probably get without going to pastry school.

Does the school near you offer short 1-2 day classes on specific topics? Maybe you could try out a few classes that really interest you without breaking the bank?

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Doug Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:51pm
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consider -- will taking the classes help you make the connections so you can easily apprentice with /work for some master pastry chefs and then branch out on your own?

might it open up opportunities to work in hotel/restaurant venues that have top notch pastry chef and thereby get paid to learn even more?

aka -- pays your dues and work way up to master chef w/ own place

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Mike1394 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:52pm
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If you want to just learn cake decorating, then I would say no to a Pastry school. Take that money, and go to a specialized program.
Now if you want to learn all the aspects of pastry I would say yes.

If I were you though. Stay away from the big name schools. Look at some Community Colleges in your area. Nine mths is only a certificate program, not much meat behind it. Not to sound demeaing about thier program, but nine months isn't that long to learn what you need to know. It be a very good beginning. I just don't want you to think your going to jump right from school to business. That's unless your ready to work, school, then come home, and bake.


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Nicolle711 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 5:56pm
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That is what I thought Mark, I reviewed the French Culinary Institutes course outline and they only had a few sections which I really wanted to focus on and they were towards the end of the program. So a 30K+ tuition didn't seem all that worth it but the library of books I now have really have helped. I just always get this itch that maybe I am missing out from going to culinary arts school. icon_sad.gif

Mconrey, that is what holds me back! Even if I did the 9 month part-time pastry arts program, it would cost me 30k+ and that is just too pricey for me. And I don't plan on quitting my job and taking a pay cut so it looks like I might as well just continue what I am doing...practice...practice...practice until the right time.

Thanks for all your help! I am so HAPPY I found CC icon_biggrin.gif

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playingwithsugar Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:03pm
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I know I am going to get bitten for stating my opinions and facts I know, but here goes anyway.

First, I do not want anyone to accuse me of trying to discourage you. That is not my intention, and what you do after you read what I have to say is not my business.

I know instructors who teach in almost all the pastry programs in NYC, and who own major high-end shops in NYC and Metro (LI, NJ, CT), and I can tell you from conversations I've held with them over the years that getting an internship with one of the major bakeries or decorators up there is extremely difficult without a diploma from a culinary program.

Over the past few years, through the influence of the Internet and programs like the FN Challenges, culinary arts programs have been glamorized to the point where there is a mass exodus of graduates from both regular and pastry programs. Unfortunately, there are only so many positions to fill, which has left a surplus of unemployed chefs.

In other words, don't leave your day job unless you have a position locked in the employment of your passion, because it's a highly competitive world out there.

That being said, I think that you should begin by contacting the school recruiters and asking them which bakeries/decorators use their seniors for internships.

Continue by networking through the NY/Metro area, get yourself introduced to, and remembered by the bakers/decorators from their list, with whom you would like to work, before proceeding. Ask them what their criteria are for interns, and then go from there.

Good Luck!

Theresa icon_smile.gif

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Mike1394 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:08pm
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Wow 30k for nine months. Hell if I ever get open I'm just going to offer baking classes. Here as a comparison my centerpeice class for next semester, which is mostly sugar work. The class is 16 weeks long, and meets for 7 hrs a week. I think the class w/ lab fees is less than 500.


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playingwithsugar Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:23pm
post #11 of 20

Wow, Mike, that's a deal! Where do you go to school?

Theresa icon_smile.gif

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qt601 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:28pm
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I had considered going to pastry school as well to learn how to make and decorate cakes. I live in Chicago and tried to get into Kendall College which has a year long baking and pastry program in which you would earn a certificate. I had applied and got my hopes up in attending last fall, but realized after all the fees and everything I could not afford it. My husband told me if I really wanted to go he would get a second job. He already works hard at his current job, so I decided to look at other options. I found a cake store about 20 minutes from my home that sells cake decorating supplies and the owner is also a pastry chef by trade and she also has classes at her store. When I told her I was considering going to school for cake decorating she told me I was wasting my money. She informed me that she would teach me anything I wanted to know (she's awasome with decorating). She's not expsensive with her prices. She has one on one classes, and group classes as well. That's one option I have, and I'm also about 45 minutes away from The Wilton School. But, what I really realized was that there are alot of options here in Chicago. I make cakes for family and friends, and they always rave about how good my cakes are, but I never knew until my grandmother friend who had been making cakes since I was a little girl told me I'm blessed with a talent. I get ideas from CC as well as books and magazines. I want to open my own buisness oneday, but until then I work partime and save a little for cake supplies and classes. My husband was so amazed when I did my first baby bassinett cake. I had a toothache and was very moody, but I went ahead and finished it and everyone loved it. So, I think you should just do a self assesment of yourslef. You may be able to teach yourself, but I find that kinda hard at home with the kids and everything, but after I put the kids to bed I get a few hours of sleep then wake up at about 4:00am and practice. There are alot of videos and books, but the internet is now my best friend. You have CC, YouTube and other wesites, you just gotta seach around. Good Luck!!

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Mike1394 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:32pm
post #13 of 20
Originally Posted by playingwithsugar

Wow, Mike, that's a deal! Where do you go to school?

Theresa icon_smile.gif

Macomb Community College. In the spring the ACF came in to recertify. We scored a 100 w/ no markdowns at all in any area. The ACF said we are the best CC in the country that they have seen. Of our instructors two are from the Culinary Institute. One is from the Detroit Athletic club. The head of the Pastry Dept. is a former bakery owner straight from France. My wedding cake class teacher is a member here. I don't know what her sign in name is. One is going for his Master Chef cert. The others work at high end hotels, and CCs.


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lutie Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:37pm
post #14 of 20

Some of the dumbest people I know have the most degrees (that includes me). I had a four year college degree at the age of nineteen and was not a happy teacher. My passion of baking had not yet been discovered by me, as I have so many passions which I love. So, I went to school and got more degrees. Has not done me a bit of good because everything I have learned, I learned on my own from others in the so-called "real world".

That said, if you have the talent, then take a couple of local classes. Keep your day job and until you have the equivalent of one year's salary in your savings account, keep your day job. It is amazing how this glamorous vocation is actually a very hard job ("Just Over Broke") with very long hours.

Ask yourself
... what is my actual goal in this area?
... what do I want to do with my skills?
... how long will it take me to recuperate my tuition and other expenses?
... am I good enough to stand on my own or do I need someone to do it for me?
... can I really devote the time and effort needed to reach my goal?
... and most importantly: is this really what God wants me to do with my life? If so, He will open any and all doors in His time. If not, you just wasted your time, money, and are going down the wrong path. Too many of us try to be our own masters without looking at the Big Plan.

Now, with that out of the way... if it is your burning desire, you can and will do whatever it takes to reach your goal. Sacrifices are made by many, but the reward is waiting for you.

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lepaz Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:42pm
post #15 of 20

I agree with Mike, check out the Community Colleges, that's where I want to go when my kids schedule doesn't clash with the class schedule icon_cry.gificon_cry.gif .

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Nicolle711 Posted 5 Jul 2008 , 6:47pm
post #16 of 20

icon_eek.gif WOW! I got so many responses and I thank you all for your honest opinions and advice. I remember growing up and always in the kitchen baking something with my great aunt. It always brought me joy and still does to this day. It would be great to make a living off of doing something I love to do.

I have definitely taken what each and one of you has to say seriously. I probably won't go to pastry art school as much as I would love to but financially right now I can't. And for what I want to do, they may just touch on the topic and not go in depth like I would like to. I have been making specialty cakes here and there this past year and have gotten a lot of great reviews of my work. So I will continue gaining as much knowledge from books, magazines, CC and CC members! Thank you all so much! icon_biggrin.gif

Anyone in the NYC area know of any cake decorators who take in interns??? icon_lol.gif

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lutie Posted 6 Jul 2008 , 1:07am
post #17 of 20

Go to Magnolia Bakery there in NYC and tell the two women that own it about your dilemma. They know the ins and outs of the business. If they give you one idea, it was worth the trip. I suggest you ask them to lunch and pick their brains. If they do not have the time, then ask them for recommendations. Everyone wants to "help"... if they do not cooperate for some reason, go to the next well-know baker... keep going until you make some in-roads. Persistence has won many wars! Pretty soon you will have made some contacts.

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Nicolle711 Posted 7 Jul 2008 , 1:16pm
post #18 of 20

Thanks Lutie for your tip! I have been to Magnolia's a few times so I may have to go knocking on their door to pick their brains! icon_biggrin.gif

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lutie Posted 7 Jul 2008 , 6:41pm
post #19 of 20

A very rich man once told me that... go to the person who is tops in the field of endeavor in which you have an interest... take them to lunch and buy them the biggest steak in town; and ask them question after question... and then, if you have to, buy them another steak. They will go home full of steak and you will go home full of valuable information.

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wgoat5 Posted 7 Jul 2008 , 8:34pm
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I can tell you this...

I had a friend (very good friend) that chose to go this route. She was VERY talented. A local hard to get in college for the pastry arts offered her a full ride scholarship ( I am almost 99.5 % sure about that). With that she finished... had that paid for... THEN got asked to go to France where she had classes at a very swanky pastry school (this is where we lost contact and I got this info from another friend). She went from there to Australia... She now lives in Spain.. where she had 2 BEAUTIFUL boys.. and she is making a killing... But all of this took her a LONG time.. and she was wanted from the very start of her career. I'd love to find out what really drew them to HER... With 3 kids now I have really no passion to go to culinary school. Nor at this MOMENT do I plan on having a bakery.. with the economy and all.

But I would say this... with the talk of how expensive it is and how competitive it is I'd try going by books and internships.

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