LNGFRM has covered the culinary arts several times in the past, both from the professional side as well as more practical tips for home chefs.
As a result, we’ve even gotten a few messages and emails asking how someone can turn a love of food into an actual culinary career.
Specifically, there’s been a huge swell of interest in baking and pastry-making.
We’re certainly not experts on the subject, but we did speak with pastry chef Laure Larrose.
She’s been baking since she was a child, and she gave us a thorough rundown of careers in baking and pastry arts, from an insider perspective: the challenges, the prejudices, and the most satisfying elements of this unique profession.
Do you think there are more people trying to become professional bakers than ever before?
Larrose: Yes, there are a lot more people trying to become professional bakers. I believe it’s due to the massive media coverage we are getting as a whole. There are so many shows about food now that did not exist before. These programs shine a light on the baking world and show that being a Chef is a badass choice. But they also bring a lot of misconception about the real meaning of the job.
Media has romanticized all the hard parts of becoming a Chef, the long hours, the constant pressure, the odd schedules, and that is creating the wrong idea in young Chefs’ minds. A lot of them quit after a few years when they realize how hard it can get. However, thanks to the media, it has also become an agent of change as more Chefs are trying to turn things around and make the job easier and more accessible, so young bakers can follow their passions more easily than they could a few years ago.
So what has been the biggest factor behind your success? Practice? Persistence?
Larrose: I believe you need an equal amount of both to succeed. Practice is what you do every day at work, honing your skills through repetition. It takes patience to reach a decent level in anything: knife skills, whisking, piping cream. Persistence is what makes you carry on when things get tough, when hours get long. It reminds you why you chose this job and how rewarding it can be when things work out perfectly.
What are some different types of jobs that a professional baker could find today? Are there many different types?
Larrose: Professional bakers can find a wide variety of jobs today. The options span from working in a traditional bakery, making breads and sweets for the store, a small production working for restaurants, and from there you can choose to work in a casual setting or a three Michelin star restaurant, using simple ingredients or the finest available.
Catering, teaching classes, becoming a private Chef, owning your own place, all these different opportunities offer very different types of baking. Cooking for a restaurant is very different than working in a bakery shop. I believe that it is important to try working in different places at the beginning of a baker’s career to learn all the different aspects of the job and be able to choose what you really like.
When you started, did you have any misconceptions about the culinary world?
Larrose: I started working young so I did not have a precise idea of what it meant to work in a kitchen, but I have been very lucky that my culinary teacher was a woman and she taught me about the difficulties I would have to face in a male-dominated work environment. She did not sugar-coat the truth about the long hours, the pressure and the commitment required to be a Chef. It was the most important advice that I received at the beginning of my career, and afterward, I knew exactly what it would mean to pursue my passion.
Do you feel that opening an independent bakery is risky? Would you ever be interested in starting your own pastry shop?
Larrose: I think opening your own shop is brave. I helped my former employer open her shops in Toronto. We started from nothing, painted the walls of the kitchen ourselves, built the tables and believed in what we were doing. After a very hard first year, we started to expand and seven years later we had opened five shops across Toronto and were shipping nationwide. It was very rewarding to help build the brand from the ground up.
You have to be very grounded when you open your own place, understand the demands, make sure the products you sell are actually what guests want, understand the costs between rent, staff, and ingredients. I have great admiration for Chefs who have opened their own places. I do not think about having my own bakery at the moment, but who knows what the future holds.
How important is it to be able to work well with the other members of the kitchen?
Larrose: It is the number one key to a successful kitchen to be able to work well with others. As a Chef, you will likely spend more time with your colleagues than the people you know outside of the kitchen, so it’s important to have a family-like community when you work. It’s nice to know that you can count on every person in your team and that they can count on you. I really believe that the most successful bakeries succeed because the teams were working together towards the same goal of making the best quality products they could, by supporting each other to thrive.
Are mistakes common in professional kitchens?
Larrose: Yes, mistakes are an everyday part of the deal. As much as you try to minimize them, there are too many factors that can create problems. It can start from a mistake in suppliers’ deliveries, a miscommunication between team members, a recipe not understood properly, but it is part of the challenge to be able to get through those mistakes and be able to deliver the same quality products. To learn and grow from mistakes is what makes Chefs better at their jobs.
For any young bakers out there, what should they focus on as they practice their skills?
Larrose: I believe that when you start, you need to focus on the tasks you are given. Most likely you will learn a new technique that you have never seen, so try to copy what you are shown. The skill will develop by doing it over and over again, and when you are comfortable with the basics of the job and you don’t need to be supervised, you can shift your focus and start thinking about organization. Learning new techniques and executing them perfectly is essential when you’re starting your career.