Dessert and Pastry Chef: Educational Requirements

Dessert and pastry chefs are culinary professionals who specialize in cakes, cookies, chocolates, confections and other treats. They often work in bakeries, restaurants, hotels and cafes, crafting and decorating high volumes of goods for individual customers and catered events. Along with professional training, this career requires artistry, strong attention to detail and a passion for cooking.

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Dessert and Pastry Chef Education Requirements

There are no strict education requirements for a career in dessert and pastry culinary arts. Some chefs gain instruction through employer-sponsored, on-the-job training; however, most chefs complete some form of postsecondary training. Dessert and pastry chefs may pursue formal training through certificate or degree programs available at culinary institutes, community colleges, technical schools and 4-year universities. Chefs may also enter the profession through apprenticeship programs.

Formal Training Program

Culinary arts training programs, such as Associate of Applied Science in Baking and Pastry Arts programs, equip students with the technical and practical skills necessary for careers in the pastry arts. These 2-year degree programs are usually comprised of classroom and in-kitchen instruction, and often require students to complete externships in commercial kitchens. Courses may include:

  • Baking fundamentals
  • Nutrition
  • Cake design
  • Chocolate arts
  • Confectionaries
  • Specialty cakes
  • Plated desserts
  • Sanitation and safety
  • Culinary management

Apprenticeship

Many chefs are trained in dessert and pastry arts through apprenticeship programs. Such programs are available through culinary associations like the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which offers apprenticeships to ACF student-members who are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor (www.acfchefs.org). These programs last 2-3 years and provide paid, on-the-job instruction under the supervision of certified chefs. Apprentices are also required to complete 12 formal courses in culinary subjects, such as food safety, nutrition and management. Completion of apprenticeship programs may result in professional credentials or associate's degrees.

Certification

While not mandatory, many dessert and pastry chefs demonstrate culinary skills by earning professional certification. The ACF offers four levels of certification for baking and pastry professionals, from beginning to master pastry chefs. Each certification requires varying amounts of education and experience.

The lowest level of certification, which results in the Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC) designation, is available to chefs with high school diplomas or the equivalent and two years of entry-level, pastry arts experience. Alternatively, chefs with certificates and one year of experience or associate's degrees and no experience are also eligible. Also required are 90 hours of coursework in food safety and sanitation, nutrition and culinary management. Candidates must then pass written and practical exams to earn certification, which must renewed every five years through the completion of 80 continuing education hours.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pastry chefs are listed under chefs and head cooks. These workers were projected to see a decline of one percent in job opportunities from 2010-2020. The mean annual wages for chefs and head cooks were $46,570 in May 2012.

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