Beth’s story about how her life and career took a different direction, thanks to cake!
Looking back throughout my twenties, one might presume that my decision to change careers and go to pastry school was meant to be. Like most things, it’s much easier to see the path after you’ve forged your way, but if you had told me ten years ago that I’d move to London, from The States, for pastry school, I’d have thought you’d gone mental.
Taking the leap and embarking on a career in food could be one of the most exciting things you do in your life. These are five things I’d tell you to consider if you’re thinking about going to pastry school, or even any culinary school! Whether it’s for a career change or your first career.
1. Identify Your Passion
Baking has been a hobby of mine since I was younger. It became a full-blown passion of mine when I got my first apartment after college and started experimenting in the kitchen. I would cook elaborate meals for myself and style photos of my dinner. When I say elaborate, I really mean meatloaf, casseroles, veggie dishes, etc. but at 23 that seemed pretty elaborate to me! This is early 2005, so the photo quality is far less superior than one might take today, but it does make me giggle to look back upon. Retro.
Over the next few years, I started to develop my skills as an amateur baker by taking a decorating class and experimenting with cake pops and cakes for birthdays, showers, gender reveals and the LA Kings Stanley Cup victory. I even convinced co-workers to buy arrangements from me for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day!
When I was debating going to pastry school, I asked a few friends of mine their thoughts and all agreed it was a perfect fit. I’m sure the fact that I’d been baking for most of them for years influenced them a bit.
2. Outline an End Goal
You need to begin any course with an end goal in mind. Goals change and evolve, but begin the course with an outline of a few ideas. I always said I wanted to have my own bakery. My caveat was that it was something I’d do once I met someone and got married, since it seemed more financially prudent to tackle with a double income. I had never thought about the logistics of achieving this outside that caveat, but pastry school would provide me with the foundation and skills to achieve my goal!
Prior to pastry school, I worked in event planning for nearly a decade. Another career strategy of mine, if I didn’t want to work in the kitchen after school, was to use pastry school to increase my understanding of the hospitality industry from a different angle, as well as a widened view of food and pairings from event menu planning perspective.
Having more than one goal outlined made me feel less *crazy* about making such a big change.
3. Pick the right location
My best friend and I decided for our thirtieth birthday present to ourselves, we were going to quit our jobs to travel. In July 2012, we set out of a yearlong, 18 country round-the-world adventure.
At the end of the adventure, I wasn’t quite ready to settle back in Los Angeles, so I extended the trip to London. I planned to spend three months to visit friends, explore England for the first time in nine years and attend a travel blogging conference. One month in and I was head over heels in love with London and furiously job searching to stay long term. For those that have tried it, or those that don’t know, the visa process in the UK for an American isn’t the easiest (I’ve heard the reverse is just as complicated!).
A lot of people asked me why London. The simple answer is that I was madly in love with the city and it felt like a way to realize a lifelong dream, and live in one of my favorite cities in the world. Two birds, one stone. Plus, I would be based in Europe and a mere two-hour journey to Paris for pastry research, among other European destinations.
So your location can really affect the experiences and learning you pick up. Have a think about it!
4. Take a Course or Seek Work Experience
While living in London in the fall of 2013, I took a three-day trip to Paris to see a concert. I figured while I was there, adding an intensive macaron course to the itinerary sounded like a great bonus. I absolutely loved it! Learning about why and how ingredients work together and learning how to create delicious and delicate macarons was amazing to me.
After the trip to Paris, I decided to volunteer for a month with The Mince Pie Project, a charity working with chefs in the UK. The Mince Pie Project partnered with 100 of the UK’s top chefs and each one created their own custom mince pies to auction and raffle for charity. We raised nearly £40k for Food Cycle and Kids Company charities.
During a pick up of mince pies, I walked into a restaurant kitchen in Primrose Hill and something clicked. I found myself thinking maybe I should go to pastry school. Work experience can give you that lightbulb moment. Get yourself a taster before fully committing.
5. Research & Advice
As soon as the notion of going to pastry school crossed my mind, I immediately began researching. I knew I wanted to be in London, so I Googled London pastry schools and set up appointments to visit two local schools. After my visit to Westminster Kingsway College, I knew I’d found the right place.
Simultaneously, I reached out to my friend Chan, who at the time was the head pastry chef of Sushisamba/ Duck & Waffle and had spent ten years working in London kitchens, for his advice. His views on school options matched my feelings about Westminster. I probably overloaded him with questions, but his advice and support during the decision-making process were invaluable. I highly recommend using your connections and having a chat with someone awesome!
Due to the timing of the course start dates, and the fact that I started thinking about going to pastry school nine months prior, I took a few months to seriously job search (in London) and figure out if pastry school was the ‘right’ decision.
As daunting and crazy as the idea felt at time, in the end, I was really excited to go back to school at 32 to become a pastry chef! ☺
Beth, originally from Atlanta GA, quit her job to follow her dream. She took a year-long round the world trip with her best friend, then decided to pursue her passion for baking and attend culinary school in London. Now a Pastry Chef and Food Writer, her travels are focused on exploring pastries around the world which she documents on her blog: Recipe For Adventures. Catch her on Twitter and SORTEDfood.