Pastry chefs take on additional roles to earn more dough

Pastry chefs take on additional roles to earn more dough

SAN FRANCISCO Yoshi’s [3], welcomed the opportunity and additional work when her responsibilities expanded to include the dessert menu at the Japanese restaurant’s sister location in Oakland, Calif. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“As long as I’m continually challenged, I’ll do whatever,” she said. “I love having a job, and I’m glad I’m not out trying to find a job in pastry. I’ve never seen it like this.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Across the country, the pastry chef position is getting creamed by the recession as consumers cut back on indulgences and restaurant operators rein in labor costs. In some operations, chefs are taking over the dessert menus or outsourcing them. In others, pastry chefs are being assigned nonpastry duties. And while culinary salaries have fallen across the board, pastry chefs had the biggest loss in income last year, a recent study found. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

In its Fourth Annual Salary Survey released this month, Starchefs.com reported the average salary for a pastry chef dropped in 2008 to $46,228, down nearly 13 percent from an average of $53,017 in 2007. By comparison, the average salary for chef-owners decreased 9.7 percent, chef de cuisines’ fell 5.9 percent, executive chefs’ declined 3.5 percent, sous chefs’ dropped 4.8 percent, and line cooks’ dipped 1.3 percent. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Starchefs.com surveyed nearly 1,000 people for the report, which for the last four years had shown steady increases in chefs’ salaries. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

The tables have turned on pastry chef positions, said culinary recruiter Alfred Ehrlich, owner of Kitchen Maestro, a consulting firm in Forest Hills, N.Y. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“There was a time that I had a number of great pastry chef opportunities and couldn’t find a pastry chef,” Ehrlich said. “The best ones were in positions, making great salaries or opening their own patisseries. Now we have a glut of pastry chefs and few opportunities.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Operators said it takes a decent sales volume to justify a pastry chef’s salary, so some are forgoing the position or asking their pastry chefs to take on other responsibilities. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Denver chef Troy Guard is scheduled to open May 18 TAG, a new fine-dining restaurant that will not have a pastry chef. Guard sought advice on the matter from peers who are wholesalers of desserts and breads. He’ll outsource some of his menu items and finish them in house. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“It’s hard to pay someone for a $5, $7 or $8 dessert unless you are doing a great deal of volume,” Guard said. “My idea is to start off with four or five great desserts. If we do the business and have the sales, then I will hire someone to come on as a full-time pastry chef.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Other operators say they remain committed to their pastry chef positions, but they are trying to reduce labor costs by assigning their pastry chefs additional duties. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“We have cut the pastry chef shift—we cut all shifts, trying to tighten up,” said Jennifer Jasinski, chef and co-owner of Rioja and Bistro Vendome in Denver. “And for our pastry chef, Eric Dale, we spread out his responsibilities.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Dale, who was promoted four months after he joined Rioja [4] as a pastry prep cook, also handles maintenance for Rioja, including fixing electrical or plumbing problems, tiling and painting, when needed. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

A graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s baking and pastry program, Dale said doing light construction or repairs is not that far removed from the precision and science behind the art of pastry. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“I’m more than happy to help out,” Dale said. “I love doing improvement at home. It’s an extension of the creativity and science I love to do.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

There are still opportunities for pastry chefs, even if the restaurant industry is not hiring as many as before, said Tom Vaccaro, associate dean of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

The CIA recently made available a baking and pastry arts degree at its Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Vaccaro says graduates of the baking and pastry arts program are landing research and development jobs with manufacturers, specialty cake stores, chocolate shops and confectionary shops. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“It seems like pastry graduates are leaving the school for a much more diversified field,” Vaccaro said. “These days there are many avenues to get involved in baking and pastry, and not just the traditional restaurants and hotels anymore.” —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

Acclaimed pastry chef Marisa Churchill worked in several restaurants, including the Slanted Door [5], Rubicon and Yoshi’s, before turning to a career as a consultant. She was offered a job last year as executive chef for high-end food manufacturer Mezzetta in the Napa Valley after consulting for them. —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at

“I think there is more of a market at the moment for consulting pastry chefs, as many restaurants still need the help of a baking and pastry expert but simply can’t afford to employ one full time,” Churchill said. “Eventually, the economic tides will change, and hopefully one day pastry chefs will be viewed as just as valuable an asset as the executive chef.”— [email protected] [6] —Suzanne LaFleur, executive pastry chef at