“There goes the baker with his tray, like always. The same old bread and rolls to sell…”
When I hear the term “Baker” I often think of this lyric, from the musical Beauty and the Beast, and it reminds me of a simple shop in a small town. On the contrary, when I hear the term “Pastry Chef” I think of a fancy restaurant in a big city like New York. Even though the titles “Baker” and “Pastry Chef” are often used interchangeably, I have come to believe that they actually mean very different things. In general, pastry chefs have a reputation of being competitive and egotistical, while bakers are more welcoming and humble. I know that there are always exceptions, but the more I learn about the world of desserts, the more I wonder if these stereotypes are true.
Stories about pastry chefs usually revolve around how many hours they work in a hectic kitchen, how much they yell at their staff, and how fancy their latest creation was. They are always in some competition creating 3-feet high sugar sculptures and all the titles of the desserts on their menu are at least five words long (e.g. Poached Apple Tatin en Gelée, Crème Fraîche and Rose Ice Cream.)
When it comes to bakers, they tend to their shop and have one or two word names for everything (e.g. Brownies or French Bread.) Their focus is on improving the classics and they strive to impress customers with details, not showy pieces. Now I know that I’m over-simplifying things – many bakers have egos and many pastry chefs are nice – but I have yet to hear about a baker losing his temper because a cupcake wasn’t plated right.
For the last couple months I have been struggling with what to consider myself. For now, I call myself a student, but when the time comes to choose, I think my decision will be easy: I don’t think I’ll ever fit in as a pastry chef, but I believe I’ll feel right at home as a baker.