About

 

my_pic_about_pg

Ah, dessert. And candy. And breakfast pastry. And everything in between. How I love you all. So much so that I decided to scrap everything and learn how to make you.

Though I happily went for a degree in graphic design right out of high school, and then spent a few years making a living this way, it wasn’t until I moved to New York and heard the siren call of the incredible restaurant world that I started to have second thoughts about my chosen profession. If you’ve ever been to a fine dining restaurant where they set a towering creation in front of you, you know what I mean. It puts a spell on you, and suddenly you imagine yourself all apron-ed up in a restaurant kitchen balancing a toque on your head while dotting butter cakes with ganache roses.

After about a year of hemming and hawing and indecision about making the switch, I decided what the hell, I’ll try out the pastry world and see what happens. But I didn’t know how to go about it. My experience with professional baking extended to watching the Food Network. I’ve never even waitressed. The restaurant business was as foreign to me as Alaskan crab fishing.

Sure, pastry school was a possibility, but if I wanted to go to the program at the famous Culinary Institute of America, I needed some back-of-the-house experience under my belt. (Apparently, they want you to know the difference between the kitchen reality and the overly-romanticized kitchen fantasy before committing thousands of dollars and years of your life to this pursuit. Rightfully so.)

Armed with a list of my top New York City restaurant choices, I began the dreaded cold-calling. Starting with the places closest to my apartment, I dialed nervously and asked to speak to the pastry chef. Some I couldn’t get on the phone. Others seemed to think I was a crazy nut, coming out of the woodwork to infiltrate their kitchen. Finally I got the ear of one open minded chef of Gotham Bar and Grill and I awkwardly explained that I was interested in getting into the profession, and would he be willing to let me intern there, for free, of course. Though he was hesitant, he said he’d be willing to try me out for one day and told me to come in that Friday. A tryout to be an unpaid intern? A funny notion, but now I had my foot in the door! I was flying as high as if I’d just eaten a dozen Snickers.

What I learned that first day is that baking in a restaurant is nothing like baking at home. The quantities are mammoth. I felt like some steel welder handling equipment that weighed as much as a car. There was the giant Hobart mixing bowl that held 50 lbs of dough, the industrial rolling pin that was so heavy, it pulled you forward with every roll, the pastry bag was so big and unwieldy, I felt like I was wrangling a just-caught tuna. The batter dribbled all over my clogs.

And everything had to be done super fast, a constant race against the clock. There is tremendous time pressure in a restaurant kitchen. Not being ready for dinner service meant falling down the rabbit hole. Pure panic.

At first, I was asked to do menial tasks, to see how I handled them, things like separating dozens of eggs, or pitting a whole case of cherries. Though some people might have bristled, I LOVED it, and was thrilled to be working with food in any way. Out of the corner of my eye I’d watch the gorgeous, sculptured plates get whisked out to the waiting lunch crowd.

Luckily I impressed the chef just enough in those first few hours, at least with my work ethic, if not my experience, that he offered me the opportunity to come in a few mornings a week to help out and learn. When a real position opened up a few months later, the chef offered me the job. That was the beginning of my illustrious pastry career. For the next few years I spent time in kitchens all over New York, sucking up as much info as possible, reading tons of books, and getting all-around, hands-on experience. I worked my way up through the ranks from pastry assistant, to sous-chef to executive pastry chef. I worked in small, intimate places and huge hotel restaurants. I did it with drive, determination and passion for about 8 years until something shifted. Both in my back and in my brain.

Spending 75 hours a week in a kitchen eventually took a toll. My back started to give out, I missed seeing friends and family, the light of day and a more traditional life. I started to step back from the professional kitchen.

I still love baking. I’ll never stop doing it. I love to see what other chefs are doing in the industry and I still go out to eat often to try their latest creations, but I think for me, baking is now best left as a hobby. This is a hobby that’s most fun when you share it with other people. It’s great to see what everyone else is pulling out of the oven, and to chat about it, so it seemed natural for me to put up a baking site.

When I was still learning, I found it easiest to nail a recipe when someone first demonstrated how to do it. Then I would try it and invariably mess something up. But those mistakes gave me the knowledge to know what to look out for next time. I was able to see what happened when I added too much flour, or left sugar bubbling on the stove too long, or overwhipped egg whites. I was able to hone my skills through trial and error.

This site is meant to be useful, and hopefully foolproof, for anyone who is new to baking. There are detailed photos of the whole process for every recipe, guiding you every step of the way. If I make a mistake, I post it, so you know what it should NOT look like. I want you to have professional results every time. If you’re not new to baking, then I hope to tempt you into simply making some of these recipes, and share them with anyone who loves desserts as much as I do.

Thanks for visiting my site. I hope you’ll stay and bake with me. And please feel free to email me with any questions, comments, insights, pastry creations, recipe suggestions or whatever else is on your mind.

Irina

PS—If you’d like advice on how to get your foot in the door and start the road to becoming a pastry chef, read this post:

So you want to be a pastry chef


 



47 Responses to “About”

  1. Batia Gal-On says:

    I admire your courage and your passion for fine food .
    Although i am not a professional cook ( I am musician), i spent all my free time in kitchen – baking , cooking experimenting… I would love to learn from you new recipes- anything i haven’t done before.I would definitely try .
    I live in Melbourne ( Australia) and i am your folks school friend.
    With best regards
    Batia

  2. Marilynn says:

    I just got a BA in Architecture but I LOVE baking. I bake one or five new recipes every night. I’m trying to get my foot in the door, too, but I really need a paid job at this point in my life (gotta pay off loans). Any suggestions at all?

    I love your blog so far. The recipes look excellent. Thanks!

  3. PastryPal says:

    Hi Marilynn,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s a pleasure to “meet” new readers!

    If you want to try the pastry career and get paid, I have 2 suggestions:
    1) Fine dining restaurants usually choose someone with some experience or at least a school certificate in pastry, so you need to build up your resume in any way. You can take a couple of day classes and list those. You can call around local bakeries or pastry shops, and see if they’re hiring any baking assistants. Check craigslist, as I often see calls for bakery help there. Just about any kitchen considering hiring you will ask you to come in for a day and “trail.” This means you are basically auditioning, working for free for 1 day, so be as helpful and speedy as possible.

    2) If you already have a job in an unrelated field, keep it for now, and ask a great restaurant or bakery to let you come in maybe once or twice a week to intern and help out for free. You don’t need to do it for more than a few months, and then you have something to add to your resume. This will also give you a good idea of what it’s really like and whether it’s for you. Other excellent restaurants love to see that you’ve spent time in a renowned restaurant.

    Once you have a thing or two on your resume, you can choose 10 or 15 places you’d really like to work, find out the names of the pastry chefs, and send them a cover letter, explaining your passion, desire to learn, and what you’ve been baking. And your freshly baked resume.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Marilynn says:

    Wow, that is so helpful! Thanks for taking the time to post back. I don’t have a paid job yet, and have been searching for baking jobs on craigslist. I sent a lot of emails but I fear my lack of experience on my resume is a turn off. I’m thinking of meeting people in person at a bakery this weekend–maybe my personality and enthusiasm will help :)

    I will try to intern or help out as much as possible and take day classes whenever I can afford it. Thanks again!! I hope you’re having fun baking whatever you are baking for today!

  5. Jane says:

    Wonderful detailed description of your path into professional baking. I’m a part-time culinary (baking & pastry arts program) student, who used to work in publishing (a full-time mom now too) and I really appreciate all the info and advice you’ve provided here. A great site you have here, PastryPal! I will most definitely be back!

    Jane

  6. Hungry Girl says:

    Thank you so much for creating this blog! The photos are beautiful and the step by step detailed instructions are very well written. Really enjoy your writing style. Hope you add more recipes.

  7. Tartelette says:

    I so relate to the broken back. I woke up this morning and tried to stretch it and got stuck. Like 4 times out 5 nowadays. That’s the only thing that makes me feel old before my age now!!
    Beautiful blog! Happy to have you join the sweet bloggosphere!

  8. melrose says:

    I don’t believe it!!! The same story like mine, only I studied electrical engineering, and for about 2 months I have finished my official education to be a cook (in Germany). And I have back pains just like you:)…
    Viele herzliche Grüße aus Deutschland!!!

  9. Margo says:

    I am thanking the great gods above for finding this blog.

    I too am a graphic designer and just wish I could work as a pastry chef. I have been toying with the thought of going to school for it. I didn’t really know HOW to go about doing it. But after reading your story and realizing that someone in the exact same position of me had the same dreams and achieved them, I realize now that it can happen. Do you suggest moving to a bigger city so that there are more options to intern?

    Thank you so so much. I must rest now, I cooked thanksgiving dinner along with 7 pies!

  10. PastryPal says:

    Hi Margo, I don’t think it’s necessary to move to another city, unless you want to. There may be great opportunities where you are. One can be quite happy anywhere that allows them to bake :) Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving.

  11. Allyson says:

    I’ve worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for some time now but want to go into a career involving writing and food. My dream is to someday open my own bakeshop. The thing is I did all the paperwork last year to establish an LLC, but at this point, I want to relocate and get more experience in skilled work before taking the full plunge into business. I am thinking of relocating to Toronto from Los Angeles, to go to George Brown College for their pastry arts and management program. That semester starts in Sept. of this year.

    I love reading your blog and I find your about me section very inspiring. As I mentioned, I would love to train in becoming a skilled pastry chef. I am self-taught, at the moment, and I have no commercial kitchen experience, so I know I need to start somewhere before taking the culinary school plunge. It feels overwhelming because I know so many bakeries are looking for skilled hire and help and I’ve never liked anything that’s resembled “cold calling” or “cold visiting” but I know that’s what it will take to get my food in the door until someone is willing to give me a chance to learn something in a professional environment.

    I just started a food blog to keep my inspiration going for all things food-related.

    Again, your story is truly inspiring!

  12. mizsant says:

    how funny! i too used to work in advertising as a graphic designer… then quit, moved away, and have just started my second quarter of pastry school. it is tiring, hard and definitely overwhelming at times but so worth it!

  13. Rita says:

    Dearest Irina,
    I admire your beautiful writing and attention to the details… I am savoring and enjoying each pastry just by reading your blog… It’s a pure joy and I hope, one day, it would be published as a book and available to the masses… Well done and keep writing!
    All the best,
    Rita Katselnik

  14. OOM says:

    I enjoy reading your writing and learning from your demonstration.
    Your humorous jokes and Right-Wrong Example make your site unique and fun.
    I’m one of those girl who like baking and want to open my own bakeshopsame someday as “Allyson”
    Once I took basic cooking class on weekends as hobby but now I’m choosing between two things: salary and dream.
    I think to apply to intern in some bakeshop. Hope to find an opended mind chef.

  15. Astrid says:

    All I can say is, I can’t wait till your next post. By the way, did you end up going to culinary school or was it all practical training in real restaurant kitchens?
    Wow. The courage, the determination, the hard work, and then the wisdom to know when to call it quits. Impressive. This blog is fantastic, but I bet it too must break your back (metaphorically speaking). Great recipes, detailed process photos and witty writing are hard to produce on a regular basis. From a completely selfish perspective, I hope you have the same stamina and endurance for blogging as you did for restaurant work.

  16. Gina Chen says:

    I’m a mom, a blogger, and a Ph.D. student, and I need your help. I’m doing a study about why women blog, and you have been selected at random to participate in a short survey about what motivates you to blog and what you get out of blogging.

    Here is the link: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s/231228/women-bloggers

    Thanks in advance for your help. Feel free to contact me at gmmasull@syr.edu if you have any questions.

    Gina Chen
    Ph.D. student
    S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
    Syracuse University

  17. Mark says:

    I love reading your blog and I find your about me section very inspiring. As I mentioned, I would love to train in becoming a skilled pastry chef. I am self-taught, at the moment, and I have no commercial kitchen experience, so I know I need to start somewhere before taking the culinary school plunge. It feels overwhelming because I know so many bakeries are looking for skilled hire and help and I’ve never liked anything that’s resembled “cold calling” or “cold visiting” but I know that’s what it will take to get my food in the door until someone is willing to give me a chance to learn something in a professional environment.
    +1

  18. Fiona says:

    I’ve loved reading about your experience and determination to learn am twenty three and am really keen on learning how to bake and how generally cook.. i feel like i would love to take it up professionally but i guess for now am going to try and read and soak up as much info as i can till i feel confident enough to go all out with this.

  19. Juan Carlos says:

    What a strike of serendipity. I’ve been researching step by step pastry baking and found your site. I am also a graphic designer looking for an alternative career. Your description of your kitchen experience is very helpful. I don’t think I’m suited for a big kitchen, so an entrepreneurial option may be better.

    In any case, I hope to keep visiting you to pick your brain.

  20. PastryPal says:

    Juan Carlos — I’m glad you found me! The restaurant kitchen is not for everyone. So many people I know have paid lots of money to go to school, started work and then found out how grueling it can be. But also exciting, for certain personality types.

    If you can find an alternate way to earn a living in the food biz, then I wish you all the success.

  21. Very Inspiring indeed, I’m a graduate of Hospitality management in the Philippines and when i was in college i join various culinary competitions specially pastry category and most of them i won. unfortunately my school wasn’t that focus on culinary and enrolling in culinary school is expensive. though im working as a restaurant supervisor, i realizes that my calling is culinary. i collected food articles, books same with you i doing self though spending much of time in food blogs and food fair, familiarizing my self in food as much as i could. though im working here in Singapore but they didn’t allow foreign workers to work part time or engage in other business. I really aiming to have a professional certificate in baking and pastry specially in CIA. while reading ur blog a tears in my eye,and thinking that i can be the best as i could if i want. thank you

  22. PastryPal says:

    Hi Francis — If you really want to do it, then yes, you absolutely can be the best. You sound like you have a passion for it and I hope you give it a try.

  23. Ina says:

    Irina, I came across your blog when I typed in ‘taking the plunge in pastry’ in google. And what an inspiring story you have. I’m currently working in IT but I’m feeling so unhappy about it and just recently realized that my passion is in baking. The dream is quite new to me and it scares me to hell. In one hand I’m so happy to have finally found what I really want to do, but on the other hand the classic ‘salary vs dream’ is really daunting. And as I have become a mother recently, it’s not something that I can take lightly. An extra mouth to feed :).
    However, your story gives me courage and I will continue living up my dream (like Francis, I read your story with slightly teary eyes). I’m planning to go to pastry school next year, parttime to begin with. Maybe one day I’ll work 70 hours per week in the kitchen happily. Thanks so much for sharing.

  24. PastryPal says:

    Hi Ina — So glad you dropped by! You sound very passionate about pastry and I can imagine you will find some way to ease into it. It took me about a year to get comfortable with making the career switch, and also that long to accept that I’d be mostly broke for a while. When I made the switch, it turned out I wasn’t so focused on money because there was no time to go out and spend it :). Also, the restaurants provided all my meals. All those things help. One other thing I did was work freelance in graphic design here and there, which helped supplement my income. There does come a point where you move up in rank, and you WILL make more money, so the pain of being poor is temporary.

  25. hi, you have no idea on how i feel to get your website…….am a Ugandan by nationality working as pastry sous chef in south sudan juba city in juba raha camp. i love baking with all my heart. i am undergraduate person but this is how i get into baking nice pastry is after two years of employment in imperial resort beach hotel as cleaner of the hotel in section of house keeping. Because of the passion i had in baking i requested management to allow me train with pastry section of the hotel during my free time and off days. i was allowed and i trained for one years until there was a need for one person. I was transferred and there i come to learn a lot of things including tricks of decorating cakes and visiting of pastry websites to see what chef’s are doing out there. Also added on my skills. and after two of service in imperial as a cook an opportunity presented itself to me in 2007. i had move to juba were i am now. but i also wish to work abroad in group of expatriate chefs in country like U.S.A, U.A.E, UK, and Canada tell me pearl what can i do…..or if you can,?.. please help me achieve my life dream.

  26. [...] sounds totally wrong, but I was really excited to get a very nice comment from Irina, the amazing pastry chef behind the website Pastry Pal, in regards to my macaron success last week [...]

  27. PastryPal says:

    Hi Swaleh—It’s great that you want to branch out and travel for pastry. What you really have to do is contact the chefs in other countries and ask them. It takes some courage, it’s true. Did you read this post about how I would try to do it?
    http://www.pastrypal.com/2010/10/so-you-want-to-be-a-pastry-chef/
    It still applies if you are going somewhere new. You can try to go on a vacation and ask if you can spend a week in a restaurant. I think chefs enjoy an international person coming to their kitchen. And while you are there, you can ask if they know of anyone who needs an employee.
    Good luck!

  28. Edwina says:

    I love your site! I am a food lover and photographer, drawn to all baked goods. Would love an opportunity to do just as you have.

  29. Courtney says:

    Hi, I want to become a pastry chef so bad. I love food, art, and being creative. My family does not support my decision to go to Culinary school. I am married with 3kids and my family does not think I will make enuff money to support my family. Can you please tell me about the income aspect of being a pastry chef. I know its a lot of hard work but I feel its worth it. My family wants me to become a nurse but culinary is my passion. I live in Connecticut and will be attending the CT Culinary institute. They have job placement and even recruiters from disneyworld come up to this school. I’m very excited, I’m not looking to be rich but I do need to make enuff money to support my kids. What is your opinion?

  30. PastryPal says:

    Hi Courtney — I appreciate your passionate desire to be a pastry chef. I’ll be honest, in the beginning, when you’re first starting out, the pay is close to minimum wage, and it’s tough to make ends meet. Most restaurants will pay around 10 bucks an hour (give or take). If you find something in a hotel, where they’re more likely to operate within union parameters, you may make something like 15 an hour, though you also pay union dues. Catering companies also tend to pay more than restaurants.

    When you progress and move up the ranks, you can make a more realistic salary. Sous chefs can make 30-45K per year, and once you become a full-fledged pastry chef, the salaries can range between 40K for a small local restaurant to 100K or more for huge hotels, or if you’re in charge of many restaurants. You can also try to focus on other related careers, like teaching at a culinary school some day, or owning your own shop. Hope that helps in your decision.

  31. Courtney says:

    Irina thank you so much for your quick response. Yes you did help me with my decision. I strongly believe that cooking and baking is my passion and no matter what it pays, I still want to pursue my dream
    I know that in the long run it will pay off. I don’t want to go into a career just for the money, I want to be happy
    Hopefully I will make a name for myself and say I told you so to everyone that tried to discourage me. I love your site and I read it everyday. :) thank you!

  32. Christina says:

    Hi!

    I was wondering how you went about asking pastry chefs if you could intern for them. I too have a passion for baking but I’m not quite sure if I want to pursue it as a profession or if I should just keep it as a hobby. I’ve been on the fence about it for quite some time. I’d appreciate any advice about gaining more experience and on how to get “internships” at bakeries/restaurants :)

  33. PastryPal says:

    Hi Christina—I went into this in more detail in this post. I wish you all the luck!

  34. farahsha says:

    hello,i really admire you you are very helpful :)
    i am a banker ( full time job ) but i really love baking whenever i get time i bake for my family and friends about a year ago i started baking ( i am a beginner )i love watching baking videos and trying out new things i have a dream to open my own bakery :) have a loooooong way to go

  35. Last year I was diagnosed with coeliac disease so have to now eat strictly gluten free. How sad for me.
    I found your website due to a fellow gluten free person commenting on my blog for bisousciao macarons in New York and she said she was practicing making macarons and then she sent me the link to your blog for the macaron primer. Wonderful things blogs, aren’t they! You have a gorgeous blog and thank you for the macaron pdf.

  36. Kat Wilsher says:

    I have just read your macaroon booklet and it has been so so helpful! I was given a macaroon recipe book for Christmas and the troubleshooting section and the filling suggestions were useless. Im looking forward to trying your recipe!

  37. cHARLIE says:

    I am a young 82 year old who recently was widowed, I was working for my daughter as a stained glass artistfor a long time, she shut down, so I had to do something, I started baking what my dear wife had in her books, I did pretty good with the little stuff, what I need to find out is how does a person my age get his foot in the door, even for free there scared,should I persue or stay in my kitchen???

  38. cHARLIE says:

    I forgot that I just want to learn as a hobby, sorry, charlie

  39. PastryPal says:

    Hi cHARLIE, You know, it really never hurts to ask. I would still see if anyone would take me for free. It’s hard to refuse free labor :).

    One way I learned at home is by baking my way through a pastry book that looked interesting to me. I made a lot of mistakes and also learned an enormous amount. So that is another option.

  40. Brielle says:

    Hi! I just read your article and I really loved it. So here’s the deal… I’m 19 so I don’t have a job in my field or anything. Currently I’m studying screenwriting and I have to be honest I’ve never really baked much before. But I suddenly have it in my head that I’d like to look into the culinary industry as a pastry chef. So could I have some advice for someone my age? It would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  41. Elizabeth says:

    I adore you and your courage! I started out wanting to be a dentist, but ended up studying engineering in food production – but I wanted to work with “food” and not just “batches” and calculating the length of pipes required to pasteurise milk!
    So I made a choice (as you) and I now have a BA in food science and am currently completing my master in Gastronomy and health.
    Maybe at some point you will develop a taste for the science going on in your recipes :) – I love food even more, after learning to appreciate the chemical and physical aspects of it. My boyfriend thinks Im crazy sometimes, as I can become ecstatic by growing my own vegetables and something as simple as cutting red cabbage and admiring its beautiful colours.

    I am happy that you share your love of food with us, and wish you the best.

  42. Hi Irina! I just found your website…..and now I’m pissed!!! LOL! Not really.
    Just….I LOVE your site and I can’t wait to try your white chocolate raspberry tart and more. But….on the 28th of this month I’m moving. We’re going to be living with a friend who is helping us save for 6 months to a year so that we can more quickly buy a house….so all my fun cooking tools will be in storage with most of our stuff while we share a totally NON COOKING person’s kitchen. (please feel sad for me!).
    While I wait to have my own kitchen again; I will be reading your blog. It will give me something to look forward to!
    Thanks for your great content. It’s not only some amazing looking recipes, but you’re fun to read too!
    Eric

  43. leila says:

    I am leila from iran .34 years old .today i see your site ,its very very good .you learn every thing step by step.thanks for your patient to learn.i am sure that i can learn many thing from you.
    take care of yourself
    LONG LIVE PASTRY PAL :)

  44. prithvi jhonsa says:

    hello ma’am, ive just been to this page. amazing recipes and pictures. myself Prithvi Jhonsa. i am 20 and from India. opening a bakery chain is my dream and just working hard for it on behalf of my passion. since two years ive started a small venture with the name of cake ecstasy and i do make fondant cakes. ive a plan , to invite you to join you and lets work together here on large scale. and fulfill a dream of opening a bakery chain business with so many no.s of outlets. what say?

  45. Naomi Shaw says:

    Hello,

    My name is Naomi and I stumbled upon http://www.pastrypal.com/ while doing some research on small food enterprises, and wound up checking out the content on the site for hours. Needless to say, I really enjoy the site and its offerings. Do you allow guest contributors?

    I’m a writer looking to gain more exposure for my work. Currently, I focus mostly on small business cultivation, recipes, baking and healthy eating. You can find some samples of my work here: naomijshaw.jux.com

    If you’re interested at all, I would be delighted to send you a few potential article titles and we can work together to find something that will be the perfect fit for your readers. Or if you have an idea that you would like to see up on the site, I would be more than happy to write on that topic as well.

    Sincerely,
    Naomi Shaw

  46. Jessica Cardona says:

    Hi,

    My name is Jessica and I’m doing a project for my AVID class and it is about career research and I want to become a pastry and for the project I need to include interviews with people that are in the profession that I’m researching. I was wondering if i could talk to you sometime about this.

    Sincerely,
    Jessica Cardona
    High School Sophomore Level Student

  47. Ashley Borger says:

    Not sure how to go about this but my name is Ashley Borger, 17 years old and I live in Texas. I’m doing a project for school and I read your piece about becoming a Pastry chef, I am actually striving to go to Culinary Institute of America after I graduate, and I was hoping you could give me some more tips. You know so much and you have such amazing ideas, I would love any help I can get.

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