Patisserie, one of the hardest jobs in the kitchen because there is nowhere to hide and no corners to cut. Ofcourse there are chefs out there that cut corners or say “Nah, pastry is easy, I don’t bother weighing it, throw it together and it just works!”, well balls to that.
There is such an unbelievable amount to take into account when trying to become a pastry chef and becoming the pastry chef you’ve always wanted to be. Watching TV and seeing beautiful creations that are made in minutes, books that are filled with dreamy desserts that are picture perfect and visiting your favourite places with the best patisseries, these can all inspire you to be better and more creative but the reality is that 60-70% of aspiring pastry chefs will never get to that standard. My theory to this is that you need to have an artistic level of thinking with a scientific mind, looking at the ingredients at a molecular level and not just something that you use to hold things together. I’ve been a pastry chef for over 20 years and have also worked with many chefs and pastry chefs over those years. Some extremely talented chefs and others that seem to just to it for a living. With pastry, it has to be a career choice, it has to be something you absolutely love and live for, there is no in-between.
I honestly believe that anyone can become a decent pastry chef with the right training and guidance but I don’t believe that anyone can become a great pastry chef. I’m very lucky in my job to be able to have a team and to be able to teach within my workplace. This isn’t always an easy ride for me and can be extremely frustrating and take me to the edge of sanity at times. When I have young chefs, older chefs or chefs that in their own right have great skill, come to me because they want to learn what I do or want to be where I’m am in my career, I say to them “There is no easy route, there is no cutting corners, work hard, open your mind and believe”. I feel that with these ethics you can create your path.
But, missing any one of these parts will result in failure. If you cut corners the public will notice, if you don’t work hard enough, all will notice. If you don’t open your mind you’ll never develop and if you don’t believe in yourself or have an “I can do this” attitude, then give up.
This then brings me onto taste, texture, flavour and looks. These elements are also a must as we eat with our eyes first, so looks are very important. For a pastry chef just to plop something on a plate without a care in the world is mostly unheard of, even at the early stages of your career as a pastry chef, most have a passion with presentation. This in turn will develop over time. Taste and flavour are probably the next part before texture. I’ve eaten in quite a number of restaurants and hotels and I would say 70% of the desserts I have eaten have been of a pour quality, Simply because it has been style over substance, looks great on a plate but has tasted of nothing but sugar. With me, I work on the flavours first, test them with many different people, well before I decide on what it will look like on the plate. Then we go for the look, this part is highly important as it should go without saying but again these things can be missed, crazy you say, but it happens! As I mentioned earlier, we eat with our eyes first then we get the aroma, lastly the taste. These are the only guides a pastry chef needs to understand to be successful and to have a good understanding of patisserie. Knowledge is the key to all, train hard, listen to others but most of all be true to your passion and yourself. Remember what you came into the industry for, to excite the public with your flavours and impress with your talents and skill as a pastry chef.
I have made pastry my own without guidance from others, without having to dive into other chefs cookery books or scour the internet for recipes for my next dessert creation. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing and I have asked colleges on how to formulate certain recipes in the past but I do feel that creativity comes from the soul. So if and where you can, develop your own recipes, your own creations and style. They don’t always work and can be very frustrating in the development, but this is how we learn in life, by making mistakes. And remember, a recipe is only a guideline and something that you don’t need to follow, rules are there to be broken!