June 19, 2013
TV cooking shows may make a pastry chef's life look glamorous, and it can be, but achieving success is not necessarily (pun alert) a piece of cake.
A French Pastry School education can help you master techniques for making ethereal macaron and great guimauve (French for marshmallow) and also explain why souffles collapse or chocolate seizes. But you also need a passion for the art and the skills of a multitasker, say three grads of the school's L'Art de la Patisserie.
Those talents are "not something that's unique to being a good pastry chef. It's about being good at whatever you want to do. ... It's not getting discouraged," says Sophie Evanoff, owner of Vanille Patisserie.
Creativity helps, so does a sense of humor. (Just ask an alum who had to clean a restaurant's grease trap — a requirement for pastry cooks at one place.)
Evanoff knows some people have a romantic idea of owning a pastry shop, but she also knows cream puffs need not apply: "Not everyone can stand on their feet for 15 hours a day and still be able to come back and do it the next day."
"Unless it's a real passion and you're really dedicated to it, go into another field first. Do this as a hobby and then if you have a passion for it, switch over," says Uzma Sharif, owner of Chocolat Uzma Sharif.
"An eight-hour day is a half day, and you're on your feet the whole time," says Sharif, who teaches chocolate courses at Triton College in River Grove. She tells students who want to work in a kitchen, "I was a line cook before, so it's hard. You have to be on it. You can't even stop to think for a second. And there's no crying in the kitchen."
These days, Sharif, Evanoff and Patrick Fahy, Trump International Hotel and Tower pastry chef, exercise their creativity satisfying Chicago's appetite for caramels (says Sharif), dark chocolate (says Evanoff) and ice cream (says Fahy, who offers an acai pushup pop at the Terrace).
"There are so many cultures here," says Evanoff, "(They) definitely infuse what people like."
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