Reader Janey writes:
I’ve seen so many reality shows with chefs yelling orders at the cooks in restaurants etc., and [that show] the pressure in a kitchen…but they never show behind the scenes of pastry chefs/dessert cooks.
I noticed most of the time restaurants don’t have a pastry chef on board but that the cooks/main chef take those responsibilities on themselves. Do you have a good idea as to how different it is for pastry chefs in a kitchen [versus] a regular chef? Is it as fast-paced and hectic for pastry chefs? Is it the same rush as in a regular kitchen?
That’s a really interesting question, Janey. I think the reason you never see pastry departments on reality shows is because they’re much less dramatic places. Instead of leaping flames and jostling sauté pans you’ve just got a bunch of nerdy people hunched over trays of petits fours applying tiny garnishes.
You’re exactly right that few restaurants these days have pastry chefs or departments. The exceptions are grand hotels that need large pastry teams to do the catering for corporate meetings, weddings and other large events.
Among the restuarants that do keep pastry crews, they tend to come in earlier in the day to do their thing. Most pastries can be made ahead of time and then just reheated or and/plated by the kitchen staff during service. This system not only gives the pastry maker more time and space, it keeps extra people out of the kitchen during rush periods.
So I think your assupmption is largely correct: pastry people don’t experience the same crazy stress that cooks often do. Having done both I can say that while pastry has its own type of pressure, namely the pressure to do everything (mostly) perfectly, you generally don’t have people screaming, yelling and running around in a bakery setting.
Bakers and cooks tend to be very different personality types. Cooks are the crazy improvisers of the food world — a lot like musicians — and pastry makers are the architect/scientist types. They each do their own thing in their own way. Thanks for the fascinating question!