What is the difference between a baker and a chef? Lessons I’ve Learned from Professional Chefs

When I was a student at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, I was trained under a French Pastry Chef Delphin. He is easy going and has a great sense of humor. If you want to know how to upset him, I tell you a trick. Go call him a “baker.” I am sure he will be very mad at you. Delphin views “chefs” totally different than bakers. The term, chef, means a professional cook who not only has the skill set to produce food but also has the knowledge of food. A pastry chef should understand the science behind baking. When a chef reads a recipe, he or she can see how to improve it or give it his or her own personal twist. Delphin told us, “You’re not here to learn how to be a baker. You’re here to learn how to be a chef.” 

After I graduated from CSCA, I always carry Delphin’s spirit with me wherever I work. Now, I teach students of all different ages and abilities at several professional and recreation cooking schools. I never lower my expectations for my young students. Here are some things I teach students at young age.

  • Thank you but no bite

You will be surprised how “foreign” real food is to many young children. When I plan the class, I always try to teach the students to make seasonal pastries. I still remember the first time I taught students to make raspberry rhubarb empanada in the spring. When I showed the children rhubarb, not one of them knew what it was. They guessed, “celery, zucchini, squash.” I got all different kinds of answer. When they took a bite, none of them liked it. They all spit it in the trash bin. I have a “thank you but no bite” policy. You should at least try one bite, and then tell me “thank you but I don’t like it.” I explained to them, rhubarb is tangy and crunchy. Raspberry is sweet and soft. When we combine them together, they will make the flavor interesting, sweet and tangy. The mouth feel will be balanced. The rhubarb will give the fillings structure. Even though none of them loved the raw rhubarb, they all enjoyed the empanada so much!

 

  • Be organized

A chef must always keep his/her working station clean and organized. Before we start making batter and baking, the most important thing is “Mise en place.” This is a French culinary phrasewhich means “putting everything in its place.” I guide the students to measure the ingredients. It’s the best opportunity to teach them math.

 

  • If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.

I always ask the students to help wipe the table or bring the dishes to the sink. We have to keep the station organized and not piled of dirty dishes. No one can work efficient when his/her station is a mess. 

  • Teamwork makes dream work.

When we watch Food Network, most of shows are about competition. Anyone who has worked in commercial kitchen knows the importance to work as a team. It takes many people’s work collaborate to prepare food for hundreds of guests. To be a chef does not mean to be the person under spotlight and enjoys all the applause. A chef must be a team player and a good leader. A good leader is not the person who only bosses around. A good leader also does the hard work and be the best role model for everyone.

I believe it is not very hard to pass the skill set onto the students. Practice makes perfect. It is the right attitude that is hard to teach. I view my job to teach young children as planting seeds in their mind. I want them to carry the right attitude wherever they work/learn. I don’t want to teach them how to be bakers. I want to teach them how to be chefs.

If you would like to learn more from me in one-on-one or small group sessions, book a priavate, in-home session with me today!

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