Selected Posts
Stella ParksBest New Pastry Chef
Neapolitan OreosWhy Weight
total eclipse of the tartTotal Eclipse of the Tart
chocolate sprinklesHomemade Sprinkles
plaid tartAbout BraveTart


Tuesday August 30, 2011

Two Kinds of Chef plus bakers, cooks & ninjas

Last night on twitter, my friend Ethan posed the question, "What is your definition of a 'baker'?" Instantly, a hundred thousand nuances popped in my mind, and I surprised myself with how passionate I felt about my answers. In no time, my twitter feed filled up with friends weighing in too. Soon some of us started sussing out the nuances between baker, cook, chef, pastry chef, and what it meant to add the word “home” to to those terms: home cook, home baker. (Home chef/pastry chef doesn’t take to that addition, I noticed.) I’ll leave Ethan to define baker in his post, but it prompted me to recall my thoughts on how important those of us in the restaurant industry consider various titles.

an icy  bucket of old fashioned ice cream sandwiches

I’ve long called myself a “pastry girl” on my About page and twitter bio. It may seem odd considering “pastry chef” would describe my job accurately. I work in a restaurant, head up my own little department, design menus, make the candy, cookies, ice cream and pastries that compose individually plated desserts. Yet at the risk of completely undermining any credibility I might have somehow accrued here, let me state in no uncertain terms: I’m not a pastry chef.

Yeah, I went to one of the best culinary schools in the world and received a degree in baking and pastry arts. I earn a living making pastries. But if those two factors add together to make someone a pastry chef, they make an incredibly naive one.

Lemme back up, explain how I found myself in this predicament. I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in the summer of 2002 (again, not an automatic qualifier for ascension to chef-hood) and came to Kentucky to spend a summer at home before heading back to the Culinary, where I had worked out the promise of a job from a chef instructor.

After a few days in the countryside however, boredom hit critical mass. I applied for a part time job at one of the few restaurants in town taking food seriously; not coincidentally, one with two CIA chefs in the kitchen. I told them I’d work for free, a standard “please allow my unqualified ass to work in your kitchen” bargain. At best I hoped to pick up a bullet point on my mostly naked resume and speed the summer along.

A series of fortunate but improbable events ensued.

I interviewed. Saw the kitchen. Went home. Played video games with my brother for a week. During that same week, the restaurant’s pastry cook heard from someone on staff that the bosses interviewed a “CIA pastry chef.” A classic distortion of “pastry grad” as the story worked its way through the rumor mill. And so, believing this a sign of an imminent firing, this person preemptively quit without notice (when one believes the axe is falling, manners and grace go out the window).

I had just played a beautiful song on my ocarina, calling my faithful horse Epona to my side. We had barely made it halfway across Hyrule Field when I received a frantic phone call. Zelda would have to wait.

I suddenly found myself not staging but flung into a full time job with only the executive chef and sous chef above me.

homemade neopolitan ice cream sandwich

The job paid significantly more than the one in Hyde Park. I didn’t have a famous chef to train under but I’d learn a lot in the sink-or-swim environment. And, after a year of affordable Kentucky living, I could better finance my inevitable return to New York and the poverty wages of an intern.

I limped along for that first week with the old pastry menu intact (key lime pie, creme brulee, Snickers cheesecake, and chocolate watermelon sorbet. I’ll never forget the shame…); I was entirely unequipped to start my first job and overhaul the menu simultaneously. An AM prep chef took me under her wing, helped me learn the kitchen, the inventory, the equipment, the staff politics. With her help, I found my bearings, penned my first menu, and had the words “pastry chef” ominously prefixing my name at the bottom a menu.

Not my decision, mind you, but the management thought it looked fancy. I was, at best, a pastry cook. But they wouldn’t hear of it. Their previous pastry person had no formal training and they loved the idea of bragging about three CIA grads in their kitchen.

To my family, this seemed like the most natural progression of events. Stella goes to school, graduates, lands a plum job in her chosen field, becomes a legit pastry chef (it says so on the menu!). I begged them to not use that term. To please, please not tell their friends that sort of nonsense.

I bore the title with trepidation. Surely a cadre of real pastry chefs would find me out, shame me out of the title and send me back to the kitchen to quenelle at their feet.

If you have any feel for the restaurant business, you’ll understand my discomfort and have probably already condemned me as a total sham. But if the farthest you’ve ever been into a restaurant is that two top in the far corner, let me elucidate:

The word “chef” has two definitions. Don’t run off to m-w.com, they have no idea. I’m talking about Grandpa’s classic “there are only two kinds of…” armchair philosophy, applied to the microcosm of the restaurant industry.

strawberry ice cream sandwich with chocolate cookie

The first sense, as defined by the culinary world itself, doesn’t get bandied about lightly. Sarcastically maybe (“Nice work, chef”), but in casual conversation, you’re more likely to hear someone referred to as a cook or baker. Or by his station. “He’s garde manger” or “the sous” over at So and So’s. When a real chef is in the kitchen, the word becomes his name. “Yes, Chef.”

Contrast this with “chef” as defined by the general public. From what I gather, it appears to mean “knife wielding person dressed in white.” (Not to be confused with “knife wielding person dressed in black” which, of course, refers to ninja.) The expression, “Oh! I have a friend who is a chef over at the Applebee’s” would be a classic example of this second definition.

When I hear a co-worker call someone a chef, I immediately take for granted a few things: that we’re talking about a person with fingers in the community, who has the butcher on speed dial and knows which farmer to go to for garlic, and which for greens. Someone who hasn’t had Mother’s Day off in ten years, doesn’t answer the phone before ten a.m., stands in black-clogged feet for the majority of the day, and has burns up and down both forearms.

neoplitan ice cream sandwich with a missing bite

A hundred different paths may lead to that title, but here’s a generic blueprint:

  • Spend high school/college years working in restaurants, fall in love.
  • Invest in culinary school and graduate. Or just work work work.
  • Pull every string to land a stage in some famous European or
    domestic kitchen.
  • Spend countless unpaid hours in an admired restaurant in order to land a meagerly paid position.
  • Develop some sort of addiction, a more colorful vocabulary, a love
    for Sriracha.
  • Work for months or years before earning a promotion and
    marginal pay raise.
  • Pass psychotically long hours under the thumb/tutelage of more advanced chefs.
  • Lose the job because the new chef de cuisine hates you; lose the job over an upstart intern; lose the job because you don’t (or do) sleep with the a coworker; lose the job because you’re too avant garde or too traditional. Alternately “keep” formerly lost position on the same condition(s).
  • Wash, rinse, repeat until:
  • An executive chef, an owner, an investor, someone takes a risk and has “chef” appended to your name at the bottom of a menu.
  • Drink champagne out of a plastic cup because expo’s still calling orders and you don’t have time to celebrate.

If you recall my own career trajectory, you’ll notice that I skipped several grueling steps. I never took that job in New York. I never completed a stage in Europe. I only have six work related scars.

The good fortune of my first job paved the way for the next, also with a handful of CIA alum surrounding me. And so on. I’ve never had to write a resume; after my first job, my dessert menus have been my resume. I haven’t looked for jobs, they’ve been offered to me. I’ve never worked for a pastry chef. I’ve just worked.

ice cream sandwich sticky cookie

So you may wonder what’s up with this full disclosure. Why would I put this out here, when I could bluff my way along with most none the wiser?

It has to do with my fear of running afoul of that cadre of real pastry chefs.

I don’t quenelle. I make ice cream sandwiches. I don’t worry about the proper turns for mille feuille, I worry about the inauthenticity of ice cream sandwiches that don’t stick to your fingers. I don’t care about molecular gastronomy, I care about recreating the desserts I loved as a kid, about exorcising the factory out of ‘em with good ingredients.

I’m a pastry girl. I’m a baker. Don’t call me chef.

Ice cream sandwich fun:
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Strawberry Ice Cream
Chocolate Sandwich Wafers & Ice Cream Sandwich instructions


Fork!
posted byStellaand filed under:  Chocolate  Cookies  Ice Cream  Sarah Jane


64 comments and counting

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:29 PM

Awesome post and lovely pictures!!

 · sarah · pearlandpine.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:30 PM

You are the kind of pastry person (chef, girl, baker, you name it) I would have in the kitchen of my favourite restaurant.
If your menus speak for themselves, that says a lot more than the title you are given, and you are such an inspiration for those who, like me, dare to bake at home.

 · Marcela · thecelebrationgirl.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:33 PM

No matter what you call yourself you are THE BOMB!

 · foodwanderings · www.foodwanderings.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:40 PM

I always cringe when people call me chef. In the baking world, it’s nice to be recognized as a baker. I’m not formally trained but have years of doing everything from scratch and getting paid to do it. I envy your doing it all in a big city. Alas, this small town girl is doomed to small town-ness and am glad I can read about your adventures.

I appreciate your words. And, your blog. I live vicariously through your tiny kitchen and appreciate everything you share with us.

 · robynski · earthboundchronicles.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:40 PM

Great post and I <3 you just a bit more. I said it and I’ll say it again, you are simply FAB-U-LOUS I’ll call u my pastry-baker-fairy godmother.

 · hungry rabbit · hungryrabbitnyc.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:44 PM

This post was amazing. I don’t think I will ever take the word “chef” lightly again. =)

 · Peggy · mybflikeitsoimbg.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 · 12:59 PM

Knife wielding person dressed in white – I also shall never use Chef lightly again after reading this enlightening post, Stella. If you’re not a pastry chef as such – one thing is obvious: you rock. Loved reading your blueprints and background!

 · Jill Colonna · MadAboutMacarons.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  1:00 PM

Great story! I guess we all have a different take on the title “chef”, but I do believe it is not soley based on being a culinary school grad.

 · Tina@flourtrader · 

Aug 30, 2011 ·  1:07 PM

What if you called yourself a “pastry chief”?

 · meganmaria · twitter.com/megan_maria

Aug 30, 2011 ·  1:25 PM

Serious love for you my dear. You’ve put this in your words, in your experience. Pastry Girl sounds perfect..Pastry Goddess, even better! Imma Baker love it!

 · Nelly Rodriguez · www.cookingwithbooks.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  1:33 PM

That resonated through me. It sums up pretty much how I feel. Thank you for that. I love your blog.

 · jen · 

Aug 30, 2011 ·  1:58 PM

Love it!Very well put. I’ve never been a fan of initials in any profession. The proof ‘is in the pudding’ I think your pudding, er uh, sammies, pass the test!

 · Alan Cooke · www.cokedwithluv.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  2:12 PM

Haha… I’m not a chef… I call myself a culinary artist and activist!

 · Tiffany · www.comowater.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  3:20 PM

I’ve always loved your blog, and I think you’re a great baker+pastrygirl+person. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful recipes, photos and stories!

 · Sumaiyyah · everylittlecrumb.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  3:37 PM

Yep, whatever you go by, that’s the kind of person I want in my favorite restaurants. The best desserts [food in general, actually] come from those people, that’s for damn sure.

 · Emily · www.nomnivorous.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  3:46 PM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

I have it too.
(graduated from MIT and UC Berkeley, even)

 · Kelly · 

Aug 30, 2011 ·  5:25 PM

Not only are you a Pastry Chef, you are a Word Chef. The Certified Master kind. Yes, Chef, you are!

 · Bill · 

Aug 30, 2011 ·  5:46 PM

Fabulous post Stella! You forgot something in your humility … talent. Being very much a home baker, totally unqualified and mostly self taught, I think you need also to account for TALENT. I wonder if one is simply trained to be a pastry chef or is born to be a pastry chef. The latter is certainly true for physicists. Great physicists do require their training and “payment of some dues”, not dissimilar to those of a pastry chef, but essentially, it’s a passionate love and state of mind, and way of thinking and looking at the world, that one is born with and develops. I think this is true of pastry chefs/cooks/bakers too.
Don’t undersell yourself because you feel you “cheated” by skipping some of the unpleasant steps to success. You are clearly passionate about your work and the inventiveness you show for creations and the fun of recreations makes you very much a bona fide chef. Technical terms and jargon don’t make the pastry chef any more than they lend credibility in any other field.
Be proud. I think you’re fabulous.
Ditto for this recipe, by the way…loved these as a kid…YES, must stick to fingers!!!

 · Chocolate Chilli Mango (Viviane Buzzi) · chocolatechillimango.com/

Aug 30, 2011 ·  7:41 PM

Ugh. I love ice cream sandwiches!! Need to make them before summer ends.

 · Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen · www.acozykitchen.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  7:48 PM

@Sarah, thank you, I think Sarah Jane did a bang up job!!

@Marcela, how incredibly kind. Thank you so much.

@Shulie, you totally rock. LOL! Love you!

@Robynski, I don’t know that lil’ ol’ Lexington qualifies as a big city, but I’m so glad you’re enjoying the little peak into my world. I did an interview for a local magazine and the person who wrote it called me “Chef Parks” in about a hundred thousand places and I was ready to crawl under a rock. I’m ready to leave “Chef” to Payard and Torres, personally.

I don’t care about professional training or not, it’s all in the work ethic and palate, I think. If you have a crap palate, you’re not going anywhere no matter how many degrees you have. Keep on keepin’ on!!

@Rabbit, supernatural being? I can sign up for that!!

@Peggy, ha! I like for chef to have a powerful meaning, so I try to use it with care.

@Jill, thanks lady!

@Tina, true true. I know a lot of people, probably even good friends, who would completely disagree with me. I have lots of friends who call themselves chefs, and frankly I won’t argue with them, I think they’ve earned it. It’s a topic that everyone (in the industry) feels passionately, if differently, about.

@Meganmaria, yes. I will totally be a Pastry Chief!! XD

@Nelly, CIA bakers unite!

@Jen, thanks so much for taking the time so say so. Cheers.

@Alan, excellent turn of phrase there! Nice.

@Tiffany, culinary activist?! That’s a new one; I like it. I might be a culinary evangelist…

@Sumaiyyah, I’m so happy you’re enjoying it. Thank you.

@Emily, that, I can’t argue with. But I know there’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you do, but I think there are too many people too eager to style themselves a chef.

@Kelly, OMG, is it bad that I read that and immediately thought, “but I don’t have any accomplishments?” Wow, that’s fascinating. I will have to really ponder that over.

@Bill, thank you sir. That means a lot to me.

@Viviane, why must you live so far away? I would love to spend some time with you! I do think there is some innate qualities that are essential, you can only follow the rules so long; intuition and a good palate are totally clutch.

@Adrianna, make them!!! They will stick all over your fingers, like some dessert, chocolate Cheetos…

Stella

Aug 30, 2011 ·  8:04 PM

I was a cook for several years before I got into IT. I understand the differences in names. I was always proud of being a cook, but refused to ever let anyone call me a chef. I didn’t go to school and certainly didn’t do all those other chefs.

It’s led to a life of food obsession. And sometimes that food obsession is all you need to be great. And you’re definitely great.

 · Kostika · femmegamer.wordpress.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  8:14 PM

I love how thorough, detailed and opinionated you are, yet none of it comes off as snarky. (Now if only I could learn that skill..) Another great written piece, Stella

 · Cathy · www.savorynotes.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  9:27 PM

Well put. I’ve been trying for a year now to explain to my husband and friends that graduating from a culinary school does not make me a chef. Those outside the professional food world don’t understand how hard earned the title is and should be. It definitely takes more than a white jacket and a piece of paper, which is why I don’t ever expect to go there. I’ve got other goals, like enjoying life. But you…you qualify, just by another path. Sounds like you skipped the crappy parts and went straight to the creativity that you would have waited years to exercise in the truly big cities. Someday I’m coming out of the rolling hills and eating your work at Table 310. Keep on baking and churning!

 · Ann · www.afinerthing.blogspot.com

Aug 30, 2011 ·  9:40 PM

who knows…I’m thinkin’ Kentucky is a mighty fine place to visit on my trip next year. I hear they have a great PASTRY CHEF in one of their restaurants… But really, the US is on my list… xx

 · Chocolate Chilli Mango · chocolatechillimango.com/

Aug 31, 2011 · 12:39 AM

Perhaps cuisiniere is best translated “crafter of the sublime?”

 · shuckydurn · 

Aug 31, 2011 · 12:45 AM

Yeah, I could never get with the “chef” title either. I prefer “butter savant”

 · adoxograph · 

Aug 31, 2011 ·  8:46 AM

Amen!

 · Crash · 

Aug 31, 2011 ·  8:52 AM

I personally LOVE the “pastry girl” title Stella and whatever you call yourself, you totally rock the desserts and pastries. Thank you for being YOU. Thank you for being generous and accessible. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for encouraging those of us who just bake and make pastry but would never call ourselves anything other than someone who bakes a bit and sometimes succeeds

 · eatlivetravelwrite · www.eatlivetravelwrite.com

Aug 31, 2011 · 10:13 AM

Titles are over rated. Stella, you have done well….wear your badges. You have earned them.

 · Joyce Pinson @friendsdriftinn · www.friendsdriftinn.com

Aug 31, 2011 · 11:39 AM

@Kostika, what a great experience! I didn’t realize you had a background in the kitchen. A cook and a baker!

@Cathy, dear, we love you for your snark. Don’t loose it.

@Ann, haha, aren’t our families so eager to slap on a title?! I’m glad you think I qualify, but I still feel like “pastry chef” conjures up an image of someone so much more meticulous than myself.

@Viviane, oh please let me know if you do make it stateside! There’s not much in Kentucky, but perhaps I can meet you in some more posh locale.

@shuckydurn, nice!! I owe you an email by the way! I don’t use my yahoo account much and yours got buried in the spam. You’ll hear from me soon!

@adoxograph, OMG, Butter Savant!!! Genius. You’re pure genius.

@Crash, hi!! I always smile when you come out of the woodwork, I think you were one of my first commenters.

@Mardi, oh honey, thank you. I do kinda think that when you’re, ahem, teaching a class on macaron making you can qualify for some sort of title!!

@Joyce, thank you ma’am. I’ll try to be braver…

Stella

Aug 31, 2011 · 11:59 AM

I do call myself chef. I have formal training (though not in a fancy pants CIA-type school), I have hardcore job training and years of experience in professional kitchens. Most of the executive chefs I worked under had all the numbers for butchers, farmers, fish mongers, etc. I learned from the best people where I could.

Then I quit, and I went to school for something that would lead me to a life of office drudgery and 9-5 shifts as opposed to working every weekend and holiday.

Then I had kids and I stayed home for good. But I still call myself a chef. For every sense of the word I consider myself to be it. I know what I’m doing in a kitchen, professional or otherwise. I can feed 400 people at a moments notice if I have the supplies and kitchen to cook in.

Here in Canada though, I think a lot of people don’t consider you a real “chef” unless you have the “Red Seal”….which I do not.

But I will always call myself a chef…

 · Elizabeth · guiltykitchen.com

Aug 31, 2011 · 12:19 PM

Sounds like talent , imagination, and humility would actually make you deserve the “ Chef” title even more, but, hey, I’m easy- you’re fabulous- so you can call yourself whatever you like !! XOXO
Bea

 · Modern Counntry Lady · moderncountrylady.blogspot.com/

Aug 31, 2011 ·  2:36 PM

EEP! I love this post. Great story. Thanks for sharing!

 · Kaitlin · whisk-kid.blogspot.com

Aug 31, 2011 ·  3:27 PM

Yea I can get a glimmer of what you are saying. I am a reasonably accomplished home cook (0 restaurant credentials and could never make it in one), and my father in law has introduced me as a chef to a few CHEF chefs. It makes me cringe every time. Fortunately they generally see my eyes bulge out in apology and don’t slice off hand.

For you, I think you have just earned it in a different way and should embrace whatever title you want.

 · Matt · 

Aug 31, 2011 ·  3:57 PM

Wow, what a great post….love the “pastry girl” idea….and ice cream looks absolutely fantastic

 · Irena · mywanderingspoon.wordpress.com

Sep 01, 2011 · 11:32 AM

@Elizabeth, I won’t argue with anyone’s right to call themselves a chef. It sounds like you’ve put in the time and effort; you certainly write with an authority that makes me want to say, “Yes, Chef!” Thanks for weighing in!

@Bea, haha, thanks Modern Lady.

@Kaitlin, so random, huh?

@Matt, oh gosh! Parents are soooo like that. Love the image of you there bug eyed and waiting for the knife, haha

@Irena, the Neapolitan sandwiches are one of my favorite desserts ever. A lot of work, but worth it when people grin from ear to ear.

Stella

Sep 01, 2011 ·  8:28 PM

Great post! I love the ninja reference =P

Funny, I have never been fond of ‘baker’… to me, a baker is a guy who makes bread at a chain supermarket.

I have always thought of chefs as those who are passionate about their field (be it pastry or cookery) and create their own recipes. Then again, I see your point about not feeling like the “real” thing and really like ‘pastry girl’ although that probably wouldn’t be quite as impressive on a resume…

I love your blog. Keep doing what you do and call yourself whatever works best for you, ‘pastry goddess’ has a nice ring to it.

 · Sky · 

Sep 01, 2011 · 10:39 PM

@Sky, you know, it really burns me up the way chain restaurants and groceries have totally abused the word. “Our bakers are here every morning…” etc, implying they have trained, skilled labor when they do not. ARGH!!!!!

Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by. Cheers!

Stella

Sep 03, 2011 · 10:13 AM

I had ‘pastry enthusiast’ on top of the last resume I did…

 · Mallowsota · 

Sep 03, 2011 ·  3:44 PM

@Mallowsota, omg, of course you did, you genius. That’s amazing.

Stella

Sep 03, 2011 ·  6:55 PM

Well, whatever you are, your desserts and recipes are absolutely outstanding. I love the nuance and debate and hierarchy that goes along with food titles. And I loved hearing about your trajectory. Great post, thanks so much!

 · Katherine Martinelli · www.katherinemartinelli.com

Sep 05, 2011 ·  8:37 PM

@Katherine, thanks so much for the sweet comment, that means the world. Cheers!

Stella

Sep 07, 2011 ·  2:44 PM

Oh Stella! I still remember the custom cakes you would bring to HIGH SCHOOL-with candied flowers and the coolest flavor combos the lucky recipient could think up! You may not want to claim a title, which is fine by me, but you will hopefully never stop exploring and sharing with us as much as possible. Blessings!

 · Carrie · 

Sep 08, 2011 · 10:08 PM

@Carrie, haha, thanks for stirring up some old memories for me! Thanks so much for your sweet comment; I hope all is well in your world. xoxo

Stella

Sep 09, 2011 ·  5:15 PM

this is awesome. My chef hood is a salt and pepper of these effects.

You make more beautiful and more innovative things than so many other cows that slurp up the hypothetical tit of being a pastry chef anyway.

I love being a chef just for that reason you’re able to come about doing what you do in so many avenues now a days because being a chef isn’t just about European style cooking or teaching.

As for pastry I’ll leave that to you for my savoriness is worn on the sleeves of my arms with skin burned from a thousand saute pans and boiling water. Either way you’re bad ass just for writing this.

way to go Baker
that ice cream sandwich looks amazing

 · Kimberly (unrivaledkitch) · unrivaledkitch.com

Sep 13, 2011 · 12:29 PM

@Kimberly, okay, wow. It took me a few minutes to catch my breath after that one, “hypothetical tit” FTW! Your scars sound hard earned, Chef. Wish I could come dine in whatever kitchen employs you!

Stella

Sep 20, 2011 ·  3:30 PM

Good post…typing this and just looked down at my forearm to see yesterday’s newest burns a matching set to the other forearm, I realise the decision was made for me whether to stay ‘girlie looking’ scarless or keep heading down the path of baker and wear them as badges!

 · azelias kitchen · www.azeliaskitchen.net

Sep 21, 2011 ·  5:29 PM

These look incredible! My girl has been asking for homemade ice cream sandwiches for a long time. The cookie base looks just perfect. Can’t wait to try them! She wants them now!

We love your blog!
How do you get the ice cream layers so perfectly straight?

 · petra · www.pandsoph.com

Sep 21, 2011 ·  8:47 PM

Azelia, amen! They are your badges, wear them proudly!

Hi Petra! It’s so nice to “meet” you. To get the layers straight, I used a piece of cardboard wrapped in plastic. I placed it in the container and then filled one side with soft ice cream, the froze the whole thing with the cardboard still attached. After a few hours, I could remove the divider and reposition it. Then I’d add in the next ice cream flavor, it would butt up directly against the first ice cream block, and the divider would touch the other side to keep it in place. It sounds super complicated to write it out like that, but it wasn’t difficult at all- just a little time consuming. Oh, the things we do for the love of sugar.

Stella

Oct 04, 2011 ·  1:54 PM

Can we still be friends if I DO count the turns on my Mille-Feuille?or rather would if I wasn’t drowning in baby diapers. (As a plus, I don’t care about MG either)

 · Chefjames · 

Oct 06, 2011 · 10:09 AM

@Chefjames, how exactly does one make vegan Mille-Feuille?

Stella

Oct 06, 2011 · 11:06 AM

I just stumbled upon this site and absolutely loved this post! I too, am a CIA grad, but on the culinary side. I completely understand about the title of Chef. I worked in a restaurant for awhile and after never sleeping or eating or making enough money to pay my bills, put away my knives and went to the corporate side of the food industry. 7 years later I have no regrets, but give you tons of credit for continuing to do what you love in a restaurant! You go girl!!!

 · Gone Corporate · 

Oct 11, 2011 · 11:47 PM

@Gone Corporate, always fun to meet a fewllow CIA grad! You know it’s funny, so few people from my class, or the ones flanking us, are still in kitchens proper. We CIA kids find ourselves in all kinds of situations, ultimately. I wouldn’t have ever thought I’d still be in a kitchen, in Lexington KY of all places, but I’m glad to be here for now. I’d love to someday spend a few years in a job that involved more sitting down; I know the older I get the more that will appeal to me. Ha! You know, I had a lot of friends that graduated in ’04 (about your time?) I wonder if we’d have mutual friends. Hmmm. Cheers!

Stella

Nov 08, 2011 · 12:21 PM

I was sent here by @nella22 after I posed the question “what makes a chef a chef?” on fb and twitter. What you say is the closest to what I think, too. I was thrust into the “pastry chef” role as an “interim.” I’ve written menus, done the ordering, had folks love my desserts. Now, my numerous scars are fading as I write about pastry and baking. I love that you’re in the trenches doing your thing, and I love your honesty. Thanks for sharing your journey. Any chance you know folks named Alexia and Rhys? (last names withheld in case they don’t want to be on the Internet!) They are dear friends and CIA folks I worked with for awhile in FL.

 · Jenni · www.pastrychefonline.com/blog

Nov 10, 2011 ·  7:56 PM

@Jenni, hmmm, those names aren’t ringing a bell with me now. But I am notoriously bad with names. Coming to grips with a name is something I think we all have to do, whether it’s Mr. or Mrs. or Chef or Doctor. I don’t so much worry about other people calling me chef, I’m happy to let others define me as they see fit, but I hesitate to describe myself with the same word I’d use to describe, say, Pierre Herme. Haha. I’m glad you stopped by, cheers!

Stella

Nov 11, 2011 ·  9:26 PM

I’ve discovered this blog/source of wonder and delight today, I’ve been reading and smiling and feeling all emotional and it’s now 01.20 in the morning – I feel like a new world has been opened up to me. You beauty. I’m a father of three boys in London, and I’m determined that your beautiful work will enhance our lives. We shall be starting with something with something excessively chocolatey tomorrow. I think we shall be happy.

 · ringmaster · 

Nov 12, 2011 ·  9:14 PM

@ringmaster, wow, thank you so much for the kind words. That means an awful lot to me. I’m so glad to hear you’re involving your boys in the kitchen; too many dads seem to think that’s not how boys should spend their time. When they’re old enough to date, watch out, they’re going to be popular armed with chocolate recipes! haha.

Stella

Feb 10, 2012 ·  5:15 PM

Oh my gosh how have I never seen this post?!

You’re a pastry rockstar Stella! I never could have imagined that this was your story. And I can’t imagine how you must have felt being thrust into that position. When I was a prep cook going through the “Yes chef! No Chef! All hail the Chef!” phase, we had some “bad” days but nothing ever happened compared to what happened to you!

But it also sounds like a fairytale in my eyes. Albeit a fairtale wrought with mishaps and probably some scabs but a fairytale none the less. I love your blog even more now! What an inspiring (and informative hehe loved your bullet points) post! Keep up the good work. I don’t think there’s one person who’s read your blog who hasn’t taken something wonderful away. Whether that be an awesome throwback recipe or some wise or funny words!

xoxo

- Eve

 · Eve · sweeteves.wordpress.com

Feb 11, 2012 · 11:32 AM

@Eve, awww, thanks girlie! That means a lot to me. It’s hard to conceptualize it as a fairy tale (Cinder-stella?), but right now does seem a little like the “going to the ball” part. Thanks for coming by, I’m glad you took something out of my story.

Stella

Feb 11, 2012 ·  7:58 PM

Omg! LOL! I totally thought my computer and/or internet was glitching out on me yesterday and none of my posts were getting onto your site! Silly me. I totally blame sugar high and lack of sleep. Sorry if some stuffs got repeated. And thank you again so much for the inspiration! I think I spent about three hours just prowling your site yesterday looking at all your goodies and writing down some recipes.

That’s when I finally decided to ask the CIA for some info. I’ve been playing with the idea for so long but I figure if I don’t do it now, before I go to university from my little community college, I might end up doing something I don’t love for the rest of my life. So thank you once more! <3

xoxo

- Eve

 · Eve · sweeteves.wordpress.com

Apr 25, 2013 ·  4:24 PM

I LOVE this. I haven’t worked in enough kitchens to even call myself a pastry girl, by my own estimation. I often feel the need to go work under somebody and keep learning learning learning, but the lack of pay is not possible for me right now. I know I will revisit this option in the future, but I often think that even if I did, I would still be just a little different than those crazy, amazing chefs working with Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria. No doubt I would be writing my own disclaimer of sorts just like this one, just so people know “I’m not a Chef”, because that sort of distinction has so much weight and respect…

 · megan · 

Apr 26, 2013 ·  9:21 AM

Hi Megan! Yeah, the lack of pay often prevents the most talented people from getting great internships, while those with a more affluent background can zip right in. That being said, I know there are also a lot of people who worked two jobs just to afford a stage, but that’s not for everyone. Certainly not me! I may not have always been paid much, but I never worked anywhere so fabulous I was willing to work for free.

Stella

Sep 12, 2013 ·  5:45 PM

You are a complete inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to by-pass most of these same “laws” in this industry. With my name uncomfortably attached to the same title at a bottom of a menu that really means nothing special to me other than it hanging on my mothers fridge. Paving your own path in this foodie-eat-food world is much more satisfying than having the angry titled “chefs” telling you that you’re just “doing it all wrong”. Respect, girl. I have learned so much from reading your blog. And your love for it really pours through.

 · Sarah · 

Sep 15, 2013 ·  4:59 PM

Hey Sarah. Ahhh, yes!! Someone who knows what I’m talking about! It’s so weird, huh? To suddenly be the chef. I’ve really made peace with my path, over the years. You’re right, I may have never had someone yelling at me, but I think I worked twice as hard to compensate for the lack of guidance. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, now. Good luck wherever you are in this journey!! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. xo

Stella



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