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Thursday
Jul212011

Ask CakeSpy: How Do I Get Started Working at a Bakery?

Dear CakeSpy,

At the moment I am working in the Advertising world, but have found myself baking more and more and loving it more and more so thought the baking path might be for me! I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions. Do you recommend culinary education? Or is interning / assisting is the way to get started? Any tips or suggestions you would have would be greatly appreciated. 

Love,

Dream-Baker

- - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Dear Dream-Baker:

Well, I must confess I was at a slight loss when I received your excellent question, because while I have worked in a baking capacity, developing recipes and writing about baked goods, I have never actually worked at a commercial bakery, and it really is a different beast. But don't panic, because I did something very intelligent: I consulted baking experts to get their thoughts.

Here are some thoughts from a professional baker in Seattle, who I think puts it beautifully:

At the bakery, we have tried taking on interns who have not gone to cooking school, but we have learned, the hard way again, that as much as we want to help them grow, they end up being less of an asset than a liability. So we no longer accept interns unless they have gone to pastry school. Baking is such a specialized art that takes a lot of practice to master, and even graduates from cooking school need additional experience. So since most "home cooks" would be starting from scratch (excuse my pun), it would be a challenge. I think a lot of bakeries around town share my same sentiment, although I was able to get a job baking at a catering company just by doing a working interview. I think I was the exception to the rule.

So, I believe the education is a good investment, but the important thing to keep in mind is not to go too crazy in paying for the most expensive school. Meet the chefs of the schools you are thinking of attending. You'll get a sense whether you'll be able to learn from them. 

Baking is seen as such a glamorous profession, but really, it's mostly digging in the trenches. It's hard work, requiring intense focus and concentration at all times for long periods of time. You have to work fast or you won't make any money at it, and even when you do, it won't be much. But that is some of the glory that comes with the territory.

Hope this helps!

Love, CakeSpy

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Reader Comments (5)

As a professional baker without a culinary degree, I can tell you that if you want to be a pastry artist, yes, you should go to school. BUT if you simply want to bake (cakes, cookies, quick breads, bread -- homemade-style goodies), experience trumps the culinary education. Friends of mine who paid for culinary school aren't making any more money than I am, and they have about 40k in loans to pay off. If you can build experience -- volunteer opportunities, apprenticeships, paid work in a newer coffee shop or restaurant willing to take a chance -- it will help you in the end. I baked a lot on my own before I started working as a baker, and I have learned so much just by doing it day-to-day.

Having the temperament of a baker also helps. You have to be a little bit anal to be a good baker. You only get one shot to get things right, so you need to have an unyielding attention to detail. The ability to multi-task is a must in any commercial kitchen as well. I really think you can do whatever you set out to do. If it's something you feel passionately about, don't let anyone else stop you!
July 21 | Unregistered CommenterATX baker
Thank you for this post. I'm an administrative assistant who loves baking as a hobby and for special occasions. People ask me why I don't do this full-time and I tell them, "It's a labor of love. I don't want to end up being tired and detesting what I'm passionate about".

I've wondered if culinary school is a worthwhile investment, having never attended it myself. But I have spent years experimenting in the kitchen. I'm also wary of throwing yourself head-first into any food-related business. I spoke to a friend who's studied business and says it is very risky: restaurants, catering, pastry chef....you have to please the customers, pass the health regulations, and sell everything before it expires.

Nevertheless, we bakers should pride ourselves on our talents--be they public to the world or only shared with our intimate friends. It's a blessing to have that special magic touch that brings out the rainbow sprinkle cupcakes for kids or the special chocolate cake for a party. :D
July 22 | Unregistered CommenterRose
This is an awesome/helpful post and equally awesome/helpful comments!
July 22 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
I was wondering how old you have to be to work in a bakery but on the weekend I'm currently 12
December 28 | Unregistered CommenterFaith
Hi Faith: It depends on the bakery and where you live. Consult the city or state for your local laws.
December 29 | Registered CommenterCakespy

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