Along my way from a career change to starting up my own business, i have friends and strangers who asked me the same question over and over again. Pastry school or self-taught? (if you are not sure about my background, you can read my brief bio here) If pastry school which one? So here I am writing a short advice for those people out there who are looking at a career change or at the crossroads in life thinking about going for a pastry school.
I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Japan Tokyo, it is a 3 month intensive course where a 9 month syllabus is jam-packed into 3 months. Reason being? Visa issues. Japan have notoriously strict visa rules even for Singaporeans (and the red passport which we are proud of). In LCB Japan, we bake 8-12 hours a day 5-6 days a week instead of other campus which bake only 2-3days a week. As a mid career changer with not alot of budget and not alot of time (I always feel i lost out to younger people by starting so late), this is the perfect course. The intensiveness resemble real kitchen environment/life letting you know if you can handle the heat (pun intended) and stress from working in a real commercial kitchen. We only have to pay for 3 months worth of rent, and be 'jobless' for 3 months. The LCB is broken down into three parts, basic, intermediate and advance. If you are unsure how things will unfold for you, I feel that investing 1 month of your life for a basic course in Japan will be great for you. However, if language and budget is not of a concern for you, the LCB France will be the perfect destination.
After months and months of research I felt that this was a perfect course for me. There are other routes locally of course - for example, sunrice does provide a solid foundations for alot of pastry students, I have sunrice trainees and they are amazing! But you will have to commit at least 1.5 - 2 years schooling and as well as a bond in the industry for 2 years (please correct me if i am wrong, my information is at least 5 years old). Personally as a mid career changer with a later starting point I felt that this was not very suitable for myself. Furthermore, I do have a secret love affair with mousse cakes, propelling me to focus on french pastry instead of local schools which provide a broad perspective on local desserts.
However the downside of attending a Japanese LCB is you are at the mercy of how good the translators are. How much you can understand from a Japanese chef who speak Japanese is how well you can understand Japanese or how well the translator translates. I have to say most translators in Tokyo LCB are fabulous, but there are always important notes which are lost in translation. Another downside is the fact that you don't get to practice the recipe given. We are given a demo and immediately we are expected to perform in the kitchen's practical. It adds on to the stress and we have to agree, pastry is something which require alot of practice. The final problem is we are not given any internship - so all of us have to self-source some sort of internship ourselves. Before graduating from LCB, I asked around and secured internship interviews at Sofitel Sentosa. And till this day I am very thankful I did my internship and converted to a full-time Chef during this time. Personally I felt that LCB might not be worth my every single cent, but I have never regretted spending 3 months of my life receiving formal training which eventually open up doors for me.
Personally I think there are alot of different goals out there, I did not set off in my journey to be good at something only. My passion for pastry encompass the fine details of a wedding cake to making beautiful and delicious mirror glazed mousse cakes whereby the texture of the cake can only be felt by the person who had it which is why I had chosen a pastry school path. But it is not the only way as it is proven by instagram, there are alot of bakers who can make nice cakes and they are not professionally trained and have not step into a professional kitchen before.
On a side note, as trends are shifting very quickly, even when you attend a pastry school, I would still think it is essential to build skills which are helpful in this career. Personally I have attended classes from GG.cakraft from Korea and Maggie Austin from US for both korean buttercream floral piping and sugar flowers making to keep my skills interesting and grow towards directions which I see for the business. Here's my two cents and my views as a pastry school graduate. If there are any of you out there thinking of a career change, feel free to drop me a line if you need recommendation, views or help in terms of selecting a pastry school.