Baker and Pastry Chef – Is There a difference?
Someone asked me recently, “Technically, what is your job title? Do you classify yourself as a pastry chef or a baker?”
“Yes. I suppose technically I am both. I can make breads from scratch as well as various types of desserts.”
Most people are familiar with the terms ‘baker’ and ‘pastry chef’ and while I believe most people are pretty confident with what a baker does, probably less are familiar with the pastry chef. (And to confuse things even more, there is the title of ‘pastry cook’ but more on that later.)
It is easy to understand where the confusion comes from since many of the tasks, tools, ingredients and products they produce are the same. Not to mention the kitchen the pastry chef and the baker work in are often the same. No wonder the girl who asked me if I was a pastry chef or a baker was confused.
What are some of the differences in the pastry chef and baker roles?
The word “chef” basically means “boss.” Pastry chefs are responsible for supervising their team of assistants, often referred to as ‘pastry cooks’ and are tasked with basically running the dessert side of the kitchen. The pastry chef is responsible for inventory, developing the dessert menu and a few other things. Bakers, on the other hand, generally do not take on responsibilities not directly related to producing their baked goods.
A key difference between the pastry chef and the baker is what they produce and how they finish or decorate their product. In my role as baker, I work on a pretty tight production schedule producing large volumes of conventional baked goods like bread, muffins, cookies, pastries, and cake. The bulk of my time, however, is spent baking bread and cake. Bakers typically do not do much decorating of their products. That responsibility generally goes to the the pastry cook or pastry chef.
When I put on my pastry chef hat I will be producing baked goods but in smaller quantities and usually on a per-order basis. Think of it this way- The baker is the one who bakes all the cakes for all the customers who come into the bakery. It is the pastry chef who will decorate it for you when you order it. The pastry chef will likely spend more time decorating goods and ‘plating’ them, in other words, finishing them with sauces and garnishes for presentation than they do baking them.
(Disclosure: No one at Wild Side Confections is associated with Sundance Grill at the time of this writing. We just like to eat there because it is delish!)
So although a pastry chef can be a baker, a baker is not a pastry chef in that a pastry chef is also an artist, a manager, and an administrator.
Working as a baker is typically more physically demanding than work as a pastry chef. Physical stamina is a big part of the job for a baker in order to handle the repetitive, labor-intensive nature of the job. As well, for some reason I can not figure out, although I think it ties back to tradition and how much the French like their baguette in the morning, many bakers begin their work day very early. Like 2am early. In my book there is no reason to be making cookies or cake or bread that early in the morning. Donuts? Ok, I get that but really the donut is just the American version of the baguette right? The Americans love to have their morning donut and coffee. Really though, that overnight and early morning stuff should be left to the fine folks at Winchell’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the most awesome friends of this blog at Pinkbox Doughnuts.
The pastry chef must often juggle many responsibilities at once, including but not limited to resolving issues with customers, overseeing the tasks and production sheet points of the kitchen staff they supervise, ordering office and bakery supplies, and preparing budgets and schedules. A pastry chef will balance all of these tasks at the same time as they are managing to fulfill their chief responsibility, creating delicious desserts.
Perhaps now you can see why my friend was confused as to what I actually do at the bakery. After I explained it to her she asked, “Which side do you prefer more?”
I had to answer that I like both. This is not a cop out but really I enjoy the solitary of baking. There it is just me and the dough or the batter, whether it be for cookies or cake. Getting my mise en place together, mixing, kneading and baking. Good times. Working as a pastry cook is good too. Frost and finish some cakes. Decorate the cookies with icing. Dip some strawberries in chocolate. This is a lot of fun too. As well, my time in the Army helped develop my natural leadership skill so give me a good crew and some hungry people and I am happy I the role of pastry chef as well.
As long as I am in the kitchen proving smiles to the world, life is good.