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Going to School/making it a career in baking/cooking

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tmarz's picture
tmarz

Going to School/making it a career in baking/cooking

Its a little long... but I am in need of some advice... please read and respond if you have time

I have been pondering this for.... well... years actually. When I got to about the middle of my  Univeristy carreer (attending BYU-Idaho) I had this intense urge to go to culinary school. I grew up as a kid cooking and baking a lot with mom and grandma. As high school progressed I watched cooking shows more and more. I began to create things and really enjoy what I was doing. I would make dinner a couple times a week (usually our family recipes but I would put my own spin on them).

I then went to college. As time progressed the desire grew stronger and stronger. About 2 years into attending BYU-Idaho I had a desision to make. Stick with my major/minor (teaching: spanish and TESOL) or go to culinary school. My thought process was this... culiary school is expensive. I am already this far into school.... I want a real degree in something other that culinary but don't know what to do. I met with academic advisors.... the thoughts that came were.... finish out my degree maybe teach for a while and then go on to culinary school. I would also get a degree in University Studies and then go on... or just get my Assoc. Degree and go on to culiary school. After much deliberation I felt it was right to stick with teaching. I love teaching! Really it could be anything... as long as I am teaching.

Ever since I made that desision, I have had more and more thoughts about going to a culinary school. Our school offers a minor in culiary arts but I cannot do that as i am in education. I have taken a few classes (baking, cake decorating, confectionery, and advanced cake decorating) I love it! but now I am about to graduate and I am wondering... what should I do. the complicate things... my certifying test to teach one of my contents (spanish) is extremely difficult and I have not received a passing score twice.

I guess, after this long rant... what advice does anyone have?

Thanks

-Tyler marz

proth5's picture
proth5

and could be worth what you paid for it.

Before deciding on anything - get an entry level job, do an unpaid internship, do anything to see what cooking/baking/etc for a living on a daily basis is like. Until you have done that, hold on school. A class and a career are not the same thing.  Cooking at home and cooking for pay are not the same thing.  If you aren't willing to beg, sweat, and push your way into an opportunity, consider carefully what this means about how motivated you will be in this career.

Also, you want to make a very detailed financial analysis of what school will cost and what your potential earnings will be.  Unless you go to the top of the tops in culinary school and are able to intern with top of the top chefs, you may find that your earning potential is limited.  And if you are saddled with debt and worried about where you will live, you may have to turn down the unpaid opportunity with the top of the top chef, that would change your career trajectory,  just to survive.  (If you have a trust fund that you feel you won't exhaust, disregard this.) Also, do a careful financial analysis of your opportunity cost if you start earning a teaching salary and how far behind in life you feel stopping and going to school will take you. (I did a mid-career return to school and did this very analysis.  In the end, it worked out better than I had planned - but not by much.)

Consider carefully the security of teaching jobs and the insecurity of culinary jobs.  Nice to have those months off, health care, a pension.  You will find those easily in teaching jobs - not so much in the culinary field (although there are places where these can be had.)

Consider that baking/cooking can make a nice hobby or a small hobby business without the expense and commitment of culinary school.  That there are plenty of learning opportunities available outside of a degree program.

People are always told to follow their bliss, but you are facing a difficult time in your chosen profession and it may be that it is easier and more pleasant to think of doing something else than to commit your all to what faces you now.  Consider carefully that you may reach this crisis point again.

Again, free advice. 

Good luck!

tmarz's picture
tmarz

I appreciate that a lot. I have always dreamed of doing an on-the-side bussiness. Which I kind of already do, making cakes (wedding, etc) at other baked good for people. I keep forgetting that it could be a good side bussiness when I have the summer off from teaching.

and who says  I couldn't change my career after 15  years of teaching or so? but I understand that teaching is a more stable job.

My idea place to work would be to own a little shop.. make breads, pastries, confections, and serve light lunch things like quiche and soup, sandwhiches... etc. Now I know owning a bussiness is a completely different thing... much more complex.

I just have to remember that someone who is great at something doesn't start out in the beginning being amazing... it takes practice and time.

The financial advice is always greatly needed. Maybe I will just take a couple of classes. Some people that make the best food never went to formal school. Not to sound prideful or arrogant, but people that I make food for are amazed... and by my standards it just not that special... I mean put certain good ingredients together with certain techniques and you have something great! I don't think its that hard... but others just don't have the knack for it.

proth5's picture
proth5

as the poster below discussed are also a good consideration.

Also consider carefully that cooking/baking professionally is a relatively young person's game.  Even though I can turn out some pretty fair chow under what some people think are pretty extreme circumstances, I'm too old to fit the traditional mold of a food professional.  That time has passed me by.  I have other alternatives, certainly, but at my age the traditional route is closed.

Consider carefully that if you own your own business you will need to find financing, need to have some alternate means of support or about a year of living expenses saved, and become very, very good with issues like accounting, costing, scheduling and , inventory control.  Hire an accountant? - With what money?  And if you don't understand what the accountant does, you will pay an even higher price. (I have a good friend who wanted to run her own business - and she did, for awhile, because she didn't need to pay her mother back for her mortgage, etc.  Nice work if you can get it.  Her business was an artistic triumph.  But she was never interested in the accounting part.  She never made money and eventually had to close the thing. Never forget that you are in business to make money.  You may make that money by doing a thing that you love, but if you don't make money, you have no business.)

You have youth and enthusiasm on your side.  The unpaid internship would be so valuable at your stage of life.

Again, good luck.

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

In medical school my class was told to make career decisions based on what life style each of us individually wanted.  If you don't like dealing with sick kids, don't be a pediatrician.  If you cannot stand being up in the middle of the night, don't be an obstetrician.  And so on.  Being a chef's a real grind for some and wonderful for others depending on the work you find.  On my way across the country on my motorcycle 4 years ago, I planned a stop for coffee at a tiny bakery in Fergus Falls, MN.  I'd learned about it on this website.  I spoke for a while to the baker.  He told me that after years of talking about baking breads to his wife, she'd sent him as a gift to the San Francisco Baking Institute for a week.  He returned having decided to open a bakery in a small town that needed one.  Because the small town has so few people he gets up at 4am, not the usual 2am, to start his breads.  He worked without assistants for a couple of years before hiring anyone, something he could never have done had his customer base been much larger.  He was happy as a clam because he could have a regular life, be with his wife, who managed the front of the business, and he rarely had any day old breads because he'd successfully figured out how much to bake.  I thought his bread was great.

The suggestion that you take unpaid internships is a good one, but be sure that you pay attention to your own special desires for lifestyle.  I know that if I were to be doing an internship which required me to come to work to bake at 2am, my interest in baking would quickly disappear.

Know and follow your dreams for happiness.

 

 

proth5's picture
proth5

I'm a bit of a bulldog on these issues, but the individual you mention decided to be a baker.  Nice.  Ok.  Where did the money come from to buy/rent the bakery?  Is his health insurance dependant on the fact that his wife holds down a job in some other sector while he bakes?  Did he have a nice pension to rely on? I read so many little tales about how people found the perfect simple lifestyle.  All it took was for them to have several million dollars in the bank (from their former careers as stock brokers or fund managers - or that trust fund...) to fund their business.  Most small businesses fail in their first year and under capitalization is the leading cause.

So must our OP need to commit to finding and wedding someone who will gladly provide financial support in order to see dreams realized? Or other things?

Lifestyle absolutely is important (although deciding on a specialty after making the considerable commitment to become a doctor is a somewhat incremental) but finances matter.  The nice retirement business is one thing - having to make a living is another.  And having to come up with capital at the point of graduation from college is a serious issue. 

Just asking the tough questions - because the answers are important.

tmarz's picture
tmarz

Thanks for that. I don't want to be a chef and have that inmense amount of stress they go under. It would be to much... but the normal stress of baking deadlines and frustrations...  getting up early doesn't bother me as much. Family is important in the future for me and I need to spend as much time with them as possible. So I sort of envy the man who opened the bakery. For me it would be crucial to find that, Ideal location where need is important, but doesn't require over the top stress.

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

Strange you should ask. I read, just recently though I can't cite the source, that cooks with a four year degree were paid twice what cooks without the degree made. If you're going to take courses that would help should you  follow your culinary dream, take business courses; accounting, statistics, business math, economics, etc.. These courses will stand you in good stead when you're running a kitchen, or your daily life.

cheers,

gary

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

The people here offered some great advice!  I wouldn't quit your teaching education since you're almost there!  Since the economy is not in a great shape, there might be an advantage of being a teacher.  If you're really interested in pursuing a career in the culinary field either as a chef or a baker, I would try to get a part time job as a chef or as a baker to see how you would like it.  The starting hours for a baker would probably start early in the morning and you'll probably have to work at a fast pace...not the pace that you're probably used to doing at home which might be slow or casual.  For example you'll have to be fast at dividing and scaling bread dough and probably shaping baguettes and/or batards by hand.  You might have to get use to making things at a large batch like bread dough (50lbs) since this is a commercial business  and you might have to carry sacks of flour (again 50 lbs) unless the bakery has a silo bin.  Also, you might have to help out with other routines...maybe like cleanup, sweeping the floors, or washing the dishes when no one else is there to do it.  Also, don't expect the pay to be big either.  These are some of the things I had to do as a baker when I first worked at a bakery.  If what I told you doesn't bother you, then go slowly.

Carl

tmarz's picture
tmarz

It doesn't... Thanks!

Ford's picture
Ford

You have gotten  excellent advice, and it is all well worth your consideration.  Don't give up on the degree you have now almost acheived.  Then get a job while you ponder the next step.  I and all the others wish you well.

Ford

tmarz's picture
tmarz

I appreciate all the advice everyone has given. I won't give up on my degree thats for sure! I just thought I would see what others had to say. Thanks for the moral support.

arlo's picture
arlo

I myself spent my years of 18-21 in college aiming towards x-ray technology. I was working at a medical facility and thinking it was the right choice. Good pay, decent hours, advanced job with options. It wasn't until I was baking at home one day I realized I actually enjoyed getting up early in the mornings and making bread. My fiance mentioned nearly that same week, why I kept putting up with my job when I would often go to work unhappy and come home dissatisfied. I had to really look at myself from the inside out to determine just how I felt.

Making bread felt more valuable to me than standing at an x-ray machine for 8 hours scanning broken bones, mind you I wasn't registered yet but I was there 40-45 hours witnessing and shadowing the whole time.

I switched my programs after all that schooling, took up a job baking locally and now almost two years later am finishing my culinary degree, have been working as a baker the whole time, now lead baker at smaller business and have fallen in love with my the craft. Of course, this isn't the scenario for everyone, but it seemed to work for me.

Mind you, I gave up nearly $2.00 an hour (way more later down the line) in pay differences when I started baking, and haven't really made it back up there yet, only over $9/hr now so far. I also am 23, nearly 24 and fall asleep at 4 in the afternoon unless I have class, so I can be at work shortly after 2 am. It's tough, but each day I ride my bike into work and think of how it's another day I get to work with bread.

Everyone above me has posted some excellent advice, and I must say, if you are close to finishing your degree...do it. Just because you finished and can be a teacher doesn't mean you have to do that the rest of your life. Culinary school will always be there for you when you need a break or you feel ready for it. Only you will know what is right, and when it is right.

:)

mangezbrioche's picture
mangezbrioche

Tyler,

Reading your story really hit home for me.  I graduated from college with a French degree in hopes of becoming a teacher, all the while, baking on the side.  I actually taught for a year before enrolling in culinary school in lieu of a Master's in Education.  I agree with what everyone has told you thus far...culinary school is very expensive and bakers make very little.  Before attending the CIA, I didn't know one could walk into a bakery and ask to work for free.  I didn't know a "real" bakery would give me the time of day.  Most of the best bakers I've worked with, were not culinary school graduates.  They learned from experience.  Even though I deeply value my culinary education, the skills I use everyday came from the year I spent "staging" at a local bread bakery.  This unpaid internship (not my culinary degree) also got my foot in the door when I went job hunting.

If you decide to follow your baking dreams, your teaching degree will be invaluable.  As you move up the ranks, you will be teaching new bakers the skills you learn.  Even though the path you're on doesn't seem very direct, it will lead you to the right place.  

Good luck!

tmarz's picture
tmarz

Thank you so much for that! We are in the same boat... well, you a couple of years down the road.... In many of my CA classes, especially in Adv. Cake Decorating we learned many fine skills and we had to teach them to others (adv. royal icing piping, flowers, adv. gumpaste flowers) which was great for me because I used some of my method/management methods to help with the class.

That is a good Idea... maybe I should go down to a bakery and offer my services! I know it would be fun for me! and It will give me an idea of what it is really like. Thansk again!

alittlesquirrely's picture
alittlesquirrely

How many of you responders are retired engineers? I see x-ray techs. medical, financial and other left brain backgrounds. College educations are necessary for these careers, but most degrees today are a waste of  time and money. All they can be used for is to become a teacher. Have you been paying attention...thousands and thousands of teachers have been laid off in the past few years. The Universe is trying to tell you something: You failed the test for your Spanish certificate, not once but twice! Forget it! You want a career in the food industry? Pick the one thing that you bake/cook/create best and do it! OK you may not end up as head chef in some swanky restaurant, without culinary school, (probably not even with it), but is that what you really want? OK so you need an income, (I'm curious what you're living on now). GET CREATIVE!. You want to teach?  Go to the local park and rec. or junior college, teach cooking classes. (neither require a degree in my state). Find a place to have kids classes and don't forget to charge a bundle, parents really love this for their kids! (Kids birthday parties! Pizza anyone?) Rent space in someone elses kitchen/restaurant and make something to sell. Do cooking demos in stores, (not just food stores), how about kitchen stores?  (Remember thats how Rachael Ray started. ) Hold classes in your own home. Cater local parties, cook or bake for an institution: senior homes are begging for chefs. (My mothers very expensive retirement/assisted living place pays their chef $65,000 a year and he has no degree, she asked him. His helpers get about 45k).  There are a zillion gourmet/specialty food trucks around now. Make something to sell them (specialty breads?). When you get enough money get your own specialty food truck. A lady in my town has a small food cart with the best french crepes/wraps I have ever eaten. She shows up at every event from kids sports to the produce market, swap meets and street fairs. Write a book on your specialty, make some cooking videos (sell them on e-bay or Amazon, my cousin did very well with her sewing videos). Enter contests, get noticed! C'mon left brainers, think of more things he can do!!! Do everything and anything you can think of to make money and have fun. Eventually one path will shine above the others and lead you into a successful business. You will be following your bliss! So you're wondering what I do?  I am a rank amateur with no culinary education, but I love to bake breads and rolls. (Yup, I'm a retired left brainer, a medical chemist). I read every book I could find-Reinhart helped me the most. I started baking for friends, neighbors (who paid me!). Now I make specialty breads (many my own creations!) for private parties/catering companies/weddings too. My specialty (and you eventually DO need one!) is bread shapes. Some are just for decor. I'm real good at alligators (inedible, business card holders),  And, I'm not afraid to CHARGE pretty hefty fees! They pay because the bread is good  and they don't have the time, inclination or ability to do it themselves.   SO,  BOLDLY GO....YOU CAN DO IT!  Carolynn

tmarz's picture
tmarz

Thanks for those ideas.... I really appreciate them. I am giving it two weeks until the ed department gets back to me on what there desision is with my student teaching.... (as I have to pass the test to student teach). They make exceptions to the policy so that I have to pass it before the end of my student teaching. The other thing I think back to is... I had to take my driving test 4 times before I passed it.... I am hoping it won't take be that many times since the test is $120 each time. Those Ideas were much needed... its gives me a place to start.

proth5's picture
proth5

I appreciate enthusiasm as much as the next left-brainer and many of your ideas are good.  But as someone famously said - Show me the money.

Rent space?  Where does that money come from?  What happens during those lean, beginning months where business does not yet make the rent. And if this young individual can scrimp by without health or disability insurance what happens when the worst happens - a pulled back muscle - an auto accident?

As much as we want to follow our bliss, financial realities always need to be considered.

While it is wonderful that you have had a career that allows you to have a hobby business (You get all of your living expenses from your baking?  Really?) our OP is at the start of grown-up life with probably fewer assets at hand. 

You speak of someone with a crepe cart - what kind of life does this person have?  Does she make her entire living from that little cart?  Will she ever (like you) be able to retire?  Does she have health insurance? What happens when she is too old or tired to work?

It all matters.  There is nothing worse than than the daily drag to a job for which one has no love - except perhaps to find oneself homeless or starving or having to work ceaselessly simply to survive.  While I don't think that a culinary career fits that bill (but, again, except for the very best there are limits) a little quality thought goes a long way to avoiding that fate.  The best way is to find something one can enjoy, but always bear in mind the financial implications.

No, I'm not in finance (never have been) and no, I'm not retired.  But I've seen a lot of things in my time and I've seen enthusiastic people following their bliss utterly fail bacause they did not think about the fundamentals.  I've seen intelligent people hit a barrier in their education (like our OP) and switch to something they "loved" only to find that they had debt to pay from school and no marketable skills. I've seen falls from grace - with stories for which the world is not yet prepared.

Perhaps the best advice ever was given to me when I was contemplating the path I took versus accepting an offer to go to New York and work in a classical theater company.  The person making the offer asked me "CAN you do this other thing?" and when I answered in the affirmative, he said "Then you better go do it, because acting is for those who cannot do anything else."

While it hardly is so extreme in baking, it is a question to be asked and seriously considered.

Your ideas are wonderful and creative (oh, and in many states it is illegal to bake in anything but a commercial kitchen and then sell your output - but you knew that, right?) and I do not mean to diminish them.  You should also not diminish the fact that it is your previous career that now allows you to live your dream.

Peace.

 

tmarz's picture
tmarz

I appreciate your comments as well. It is important to think about those "life" things. As far as I am aware... there are  no cottage food laws in idaho. Thus I can bake out of my home/APT and sell it.

proth5's picture
proth5

if there is no cottage food law in Idaho (and there isn't) that means that it is NOT legal to sell from a home kitchen.  What I can gather is that enforcement is weak - but you are still breaking the law...

tmarz's picture
tmarz

I realized that after I said It.... I looked it up to make sure and thats when it hit me. Thanks!

alittlesquirrely's picture
alittlesquirrely

Hello Proth5, Yes, I have been blessed with a good education and now a comfortable retirement with my little business.  I may not have been clear...my ideas were meant to inspire him to not settle for just teaching forever when it's clear he loves culinary as well. Yes he may have to  teach for the necessities and stability, but I didn't want him to give up trying to find a niche for himself in the other world. 

proth5's picture
proth5

a little differently to me, so I am sorry if I misunderstood.  Of course we can all use inspiration on how we might turn a hobby into a little "dough."  I've been contemplating decorative work, myself.  Since it is not intended to be eaten, it by passes the food laws which are quite brutal and well enforced in my state.

 

tmarz's picture
tmarz

Well.... the decision was made by the Education/Foreign Language department to postpone my student teaching until I pass the Exam. I am now trying to figure out what to do, but I appreciate all your advice.

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

Best of luck to you , Tyler!  I hope you'll take the exam again and pass it!!

Carl

La Marzocco's picture
La Marzocco

Hello....

Thank goodness I found this forum. I find the advice/comments (especially this topic) very helpful, so thank you to those who have posted. I'm starting my diploma in patisserie soon. I've received both encouragement and discouragement from people around me. Some said that I'm making the worst decision in my life by studying baking and venture into a bakery business, some said that I will not be able to tolerate the heat in the baking kitchen. Can anyone please tell me what is the temperature like in a real bakery kitchen? Btw, I live in a tropical country. I've only visited the kitchen of bakeries in shopping malls.

Thanks.

:-)

mangezbrioche's picture
mangezbrioche

If you're refering to the actual temperature registered in the bakery...it's up there.  We keep a digital wall mounted thermometer in the room with our deck ovens.  Over the summer it was not uncommon to see 120-125F.  Even now, with outdoor temps in the mid 70's it's 90+ in the oven room.  That being said, it you're used to the tropics, I don't see how you wouldn't fare well in the heat and humidity of a "real" bakery.   The heat doesn't seem to matter much when you're engrossed in baking an oven full of bread.

alittlesquirrely's picture
alittlesquirrely

Hello La Marzocco! Welcome to TFL!  May I be the first of many to explain that "Heat in the kitchen" most likely refers to the STRESS in the kitchen. Things have to be done at certain times, and certain ways, and like many businesses, they don't always turn out right.  There's "heat" or stress in every business! May I be the first to say   DO WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO!!! Do not let anyone discourage you. If they really are refering to the temperature in the kitchen, well, I would guess it's pretty warm considering all the ovens on and all the racing around! Carolynn