The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking Schools

AW's picture

Baking Schools

Hi all,

I recently lost my job and am doing a lot of soul-searching for what i might next do. I've been a writing in the healthcare advertising industry since 1988 and love my job, though am also passionate about baking and am wondering if it's time to switch gears. I understand the life to be difficult and not particularly high-paying.

  1. Am I correct about these assumptions?
  2. What are good/reputable schools in Chicago or central Iowa?
  3. What do I need to look for in a school?
  4. What do I need to know once I get out of school?
  5. For those of you who have gone to school while trying to pay mortgages and so forth: How did you do it (BTW: I have no rich aunt or family)?

Thanks for your help.

Kind regards,


niagaragirl's picture

I'll just quick comment on these two

#4 What do you need to know? Everything. But you can better target your ambitions by determining what kind of environment you think you would like to work in. Hotel dessert chef? You'd better know it all. Small to moderate size neighborhood shop? You can possibly get away with some excellent skills in a few areas. Talk to some professionals. Find a small bakery in town that would possibly take you on part time so you can see what things are like.You might also try large supermarkets that have in-store bakeries. Some of them will even train you to a point. Because in some cases, it's just schlepping frozen and thawed dough, but at least you can get a look at one aspect of the working environment.

Just because you have a passion at home does not mean you'd love it as a career. This is from someone who spent two years in a bakery and to this day can barely stomach the sight of a glazed donut. And yes years ago I used to love them. Everyday, I started at 4 am, and went home stinking from fryer grease because we did huge donut business there. I had to have a separate coat just for work because everywhere I went out of hours, people kept sniffing around me. When I had days off, I'd have to shower twice to get the smell out of my hair. It's one of the reasons I went back to bread baking and rarely do desserts. Not all sour grapes though - I really enjoyed my time there and had a good boss.

#5 If you are part of the layoffs due to the current economic crunch, you may want to investigate and see if there are any trade programs available for a career change. It all depends on what the trends/needs/available programs are in your area. Check with your county government as well as your state labor department. Many years ago when the big auto layoffs happpend (1970s), the county paid me to attend a trade school. It was just stipend pay, but the tuition was paid in full too. I was able to carry those credits to a 4 year degree program.

dghdctr's picture

I'd second the sentiment of niagaragirl there.  I've been a culinary instructor for years, and I saw a lot of students who could have used 6-12 months experience as a beginning baker before committing themselves to a 2-year, $30,000 program in school.  The good thing about foodservice is that you can try before you buy.  I just don't think it makes sense to pay for baking school or culinary school unless you plan to go into management or ownership.  Graduates typically earn 8 to 12 dollars per hour to start, and it might be that way for years.

The beginner's job is not glamorous, but neither is the owner's, really.  You'll get plenty of opportunity to observe how a production day really goes, how to mix and control large batches of dough, how to get logically from 4:00am to 2:00pm.  Or 4:00pm.  Or 6:00pm (for the owner, sometimes).  It is school, in a manner of speaking, though there's no lecture.  You'll get to see whether you really love working with bread as much as you think you do.  After you clean all the bowls, the mixer, and 100 large sheet pans.  Then go home and shower off all the flour stuck to your hair and arms.

And then if it turns out to be more fun than drudgery -- go for it.  Go to school.

Dan DiMuzio

AW's picture

Dear Dan and niagaragirl,

Thank you for your advice. I worked in the food service kitchen and bakery at Iowa State University and at a deli in Chicago for years while putting myself through art school, so I have a sense about the unpleasantness that comes with the business: the heat, the smelliness, the messiness, etc. I remember going to school after having worked on fish deli trays and having all my classmates sit pretty far away from me. :) In the bakery students did not get to work on the machines so I don't know about that.

I remember the love I had of the physicality of the work, the overall decency of the people with whom I worked, and the hard-working values they had. You've both reminded me of staying true to those values (I am a blue collar girl trying to fit into a white collar world).

Thank you so much for that. And thanks much for helping me understand that it's best to try before I buy (school, that is). Some postings I see for work are asking for schooling, which is why I originally posted this comment.

I don't think I'm interested in the hotel experience; I believe in food as sustenance. I will start talking to people here in Chicago. Thanks a million.

Kind regards,