Keeping sweet: Are pastry chef careers valued in the UK?

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Related tags: Pastry chef, Chef

From William Curley to Claire Clark, the UK has produced some of the leading masters in chocolate, sugar and all things sweet. However employers still report difficulties in filling pastry chef vacancies - so is a career in pastry as valued in this country as it is elsewhere?

Last month, BigHospitality reported from the final of the 2013 World Pastry Cup where, despite high hopes of a top seven finish, team UK could only manage ninth.

It is clear more needs to be done to improve the competition skills of our pastry chefs. At the same time, while London is seen as one of the most exciting gastronomic cities, the perception of the quality of desserts on offer in British restaurants does not match up.

For an exclusive video report, BigHospitality asked several leading experts gathered in Lyon whether the UK was simply not as good at pastry, whether the situation was really as bad in the UK compared to Europe and Asia and what more could be done to attract chefs to pastry and improve the employability of those already in the industry.

Apprenticeships 

A spokesperson for the Association of Pastry Chefs has said not enough catering colleges offer pastry chef-only courses due in part to a lack of interest from employers who are also not offering enough apprenticeships. 

That was certainly the message from a number of industry leaders who also said more needed to be done to improve the name recognition and career prospects of the UK's pastry chefs.

Martin Chiffers, former executive pastry chef at The Savoy, said: "A lot of hotels in Asia have a pastry or retail shop as part of the hotel. In Korea, I had three deli shops which I looked after as part of two hotels which I also managed. That is something that is missing in the UK."

Have you been inspired to break into the world of pastry chefs or is your company looking to take on a master of sugar, chocolate or pastry? Check out our top five tips below and don't forget our sister job site BigHospitality Jobs​ is the best place to head if you are looking to hire a chef or get a job as one.

Becoming a pastry chef - Top five tips for employers and employees:

  • Penny Wabit, head pastry chef, The OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie - Work out if you have creative flair

"Some people have it and some people don't - you need to have an open mind and not be blinkered. Focus on the ingredients more and not the end dessert - I like a chocolate truffle with coffee and star anise and I wanted to do a dessert so I thought those three flavours might work. It didn't actually start with anything other than those three flavours and then I work it out from there.

  • Robin Read, group executive head chef, Firmdale Hotels - Learn the basics

"You need to be able to follow your recipes, processes and methods - short pastry, crème patisserie, and crème anglaise - there is no short cut. We still use the basic recipes so build your repertoire of those rather than trying to make some weird powder or foam or dust - they are skills to learn a bit further down the line. Get in a kitchen with a chef that is doing things the 'right' way and is not cutting corners.

  • Tim Hughes, group chef director, Caprice restaurants - Ask your employer to mentor you

"We give our pastry chefs and apprentices a solid grounding, teaching them the various different disciplines – the classics, function room pastry, Caprice group signature dishes and the confidence and skill to develop new dishes. Our Group Pastry Chef and member of the Academy of Culinary Arts, Phil Usher mentors all of our pastry chefs, spending time with each of them every week - an investment we consider crucial to their future development and prospects.”

  • Aidan Fraser, consultant, Collins King & Associates recruitment specialists - Never stop learning

"What separates the very best pastry chefs from the rest is the passion to still constantly look for fresh ideas, interesting techniques, exciting ingredients and inspiration for their dishes. Be willing to revisit the classics as well as listen to a description of the youngest commis chef's latest street food snack."

  • Andrew Gravett, UK & Northern Europe pastry chef, Valrhona - Offer apprenticeships and on-the-job training

"It is very easy to say the teachers at the colleges don't train but apprenticeships should be spending more time at work and at the moment that doesn't happen enough. When he was at The Savoy, Martin Chiffers had a team of 25, he would enter them into competitions, and he would work very hard with them in his overtime to give them knowledge. With some other chefs it is just the complete opposite - 'you do what we say'."

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1 comment

are pastry chefs valued?

Posted by Jane Dunning,

Of course they are not. In countries such as France, Belgium and Switzerland the pastry chef is seen as the equal of the hot kitchen chef, in the UK you are seen as just another chef de partie on the same level as the sauce chef, veg chef etc.
Also, with regards to the Coupe how many of the chefs were actually British?

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