Everyday when I drive down the main street in my little town another restaurant bites the dust. These are not fast food restaurants, but mom and pop places; the neighborhood chicken wing palace that has been around for 10 years. It’s getting to the place there are no little hole in the walls left, when the diner up the road goes, I moving.
The little donut shop has passed away and the rib joint has taken apple pie is off the menu, they laid the baker off. What is going on?
Last year I interviewed Jo Lynne Lockley owner of Chefs’ Professional Agency, the oldest food and beverage recruiting specialists in the United States revealed some insightful information. These are the words of wisdom for all those culinary professions who have found themselves out of work and unfortunately in 2011 it appears very little has changed on the job hunt front. It appears that jobs in the baking and ingrosso pasticceria are still the first to hit the chopping block. Below is an excerpt from the old article. Do you think her advice is still valid?
If you are a novice in the industry, a bit of a newbie, not a chef or head baker; but a cook or assistant; you’re competing with a lot of cooks and chefs who know more than you do, so don’t let your degree, if you have one go to your head. One of the first things you might do, if you’re in the trenches and unemployed is see if you can land a job in a professional environment, since your beginning will definitely determine your career. Your food and creativity don’t mean anything right now, we are in a serious recession, surround yourself with experience and learn from the best.
Second, you need to keep your job; that means listen more, keep your opinions to yourself, watch and focus. Expect to remain in the position for at least a year, maybe longer. The rule of thumb is the more demanding the environment the more valuable the learning experience. This will not be a cakewalk by any means, but once you master the initial challenges it will be satisfying; according to Ms. Lockley “satisfaction trumps passion any time.”
So what can pastry chefs/bakers do during these tumultuous times? Dig your heals in and secure your knowledge in baking and production, at least for now. “Those who heed the warning, according to Jo Lynne will be employed and those who don’t will feel the pain.” The idea of becoming a celebrity chef should fade, follow the light back to reality and leave the idea of creating dynamic masterpieces to those on Food TV Network.
Jo Lynne insists, “Pastry chefs are the canary in the coal mine, because restaurants generally look at their low to negative profit margins rather than at their advertising value. A good pastry chef needs to sell at least 75% of the room. If not, they aren’t reading the public. To do it, you need to aim at their desires rather than your passion, and today folks want simple and nostalgic.”
So who is hiring? According to Ms. Lockley, “hotels are still hiring assistants, and production facilities are replacing restaurant chefs, so if you can’t get a job as a pastry chef in a restaurant, consider using this time to develop your volume and production skills.” It is true, restaurant pastry people are “a dime a dozen,” and it is quite difficult to find seasoned pastry bakers and quality control production directors for commissary situations. Don’t frown and squawk if you can’t get the head job, “settle for a lesser position and consider it tuition free education.”
The best way to survive the storm is to grit your teeth, bear it, and have your culinary resume ready at all times. It is far wiser to take a lesser position in a good place and avoid navigating toward a chef position in the “lower B leagues.” Jo Lynn suggests, “If you have friends in kitchens, offer to substitute for any position. It keeps you in the loop and everyone knows how much goes over the back fence in this industry.”
Avoid being lax when it comes to your resume and remember to included: phone numbers, email addresses, your home address and assigned dates, not just the year, but the month and year. When creating your resume, leaving out the month is a red flag to employers causing you to lose the race before entering the gate.
As for education, it’s important, but Jo Lynne believes “trenches trump training every time.” Her advice is to try to avoid those fancy online portfolios, dazzle them with brilliance, skill and confidence, don’t baffle with bull. Those who can weather the storm and stand firm will see great opportunities in the future. There are a few pastry shops beginning to bloom, but opportunities for wholesale dessert and pastry production start ups won’t be back for another ten years. Don’t give up and don’t give in, just learn all you can, the tide will surely turn.