Bite-Sized Treats Expand the Baking Business and Boost Pastry Chef Careers
By Michelle Vessel
Organics and sustainably-harvested foods. Whole grains. Artisan cheeses and chocolates. The food landscape has shifted considerably over the course of the last decade, and in the process, a number of hip comestibles that were virtually unknown ten years ago have now become ubiquitous, popping up everywhere from upscale eateries to mom 'n' pop corner stores. But according to key industry observers, the remarkable resurgence of the humble cupcake--and the resulting boom in the popularity of specialty bakeries--ranks among the most significant food trends to appear in recent years.
According to The New York Times, the cupcake trend began to take off across the United States in the early 2000s when an episode of Sex and the City showed the chic female foursome at the center of the program noshing on frosted concoctions from local eatery Magnolia Bakery. The 2009 article reports that cupcake sales are slated to rise by up to twenty percent over the next five years, even as sales of traditional baked goods like cookies and cake are predicted to languish in the single digits. A 2009 report from Datamonitor, a research firm that studies trends in the restaurant industry, called cupcakes "one of the most fashionable baked items in the U.S.," noting that more than 1,000 specialty bakeries had opened up in recent years featuring the bite-sized treats as a menu item.
Can Pastry Chefs Take Advantage of the Cupcake Trend?
Pastry chefs have been around for thousands of years; in fact, the first ratios and recipes for creating sweetened baked goods were documented by Archestratus in the fourth century B.C., according to food historian Andrew MacLauchlan. So how does the red-hot popularity of cupcakes and other trendy sweet treats affect the professional trajectory of pastry chefs? Should current or future pastry chef professionals try to capitalize on these food trends?
The answer to that question is likely to be different for every individual, based on an array of factors such as one's personality, career hopes, and ambitions. If you're the entrepreneurial type who is chomping at the bit to strike out on your own and and try to make it big in the bakery biz, a niche patisserie might be the perfect place for you. On the other hand, if you prefer to stick to a fixed schedule and like the stability of a steady paycheck, it may be best to begin your baking career as a pastry chef, pastry cook, or assistant in the kitchen of an established bakery, restaurant, hotel, or catering business.
Pastry Chef Salary Information and Career Prospects
According to data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, the national median wage for bakers was $23,630, while head cooks and chefs earned a median salary of $40,090. Although working your way up the chain of command in a fine dining environment may not have the same hip cachet as opening up a cute storefront of your very own, there's a lot to be said for the stability, prestige, and rich heritage of the traditional pastry chef role.
What's more, pastry chefs who opt for traditional training and education in the field are more likely to have the staying power to outlast trends that--sweet as they may be in the short term--could fizzle out after a flash of popularity and leave overly ambitious entrepreneurs with a sour taste in their mouths.
About the Author
Michelle Vessel is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Alabama.