Posted in Pastries

Reminiscing about Culinary School

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m a pastry chef. Here’s the place where I’m going to prove it to you. Starting with my first day:


That’s the whitest my uniform ever looked! That was a great day really. It’s funny, I don’t even think we baked anything that night but I’m sure whatever we did (sat through a lecture and chopped apples, if I’m not mistaken) it was more fun that the first day of law school would have been. Anyway, on the second day of class we baked our first pastry: an apple tart.

Not bad for my first try. Three nights a week and at least one weekend day practicing and my creations became significantly more impressive. Very little that we learned is terribly difficult but, like any craft, it’s practice that makes perfect. Rolling out tart crusts isn’t that hard, but making them perfect takes making more than a few imperfect crusts.

After the apple tarts we made more tarts. Also cookies, choux pastry, puff pastry, cakes, and two viennoiserie (enriched breads and breakfast pastries) units. I’m going to skip all that. If you want to read about it–and see photos of everything–you can check out my old blog, Pastry Place.


Finally after just about half the course was over, we got to make something I’d always wanted to try make but was always too scared to actually do it: macarons.* I admit it, these are one of the exceptions to what I said above. They are difficult to make. They involve some advanced techniques and a lot of precision; not to mention some luck and decent weather conditions.


Then we started on showpieces. The first was this rather petite candy stand. It was a chocolate showpiece that held chocolates. Very meta!


We made a second chocolate showpiece later in the course. I know this is less delicate than the candy stand, but I love it. (The assigned theme was “films” so I made film!) It’s hard to tell but I hand painted stills on all the “film cells.” There’s a close up here.

Chef Jacques Torres with his showpiece and my class!

Before we had to make the second showpiece we got a master class from none other than Chef Jacques Torres, aka Mr. Chocolate. He made a fantastic showpiece in about half a class period, we were all very impressed!


We did various other projects that I’m proud of, but none more so than my wedding cake. We had a specific theme to interpret how we wanted and some basic guidelines to follow. Past that, we could do what we wanted.


After nine months, we finished up with 5 days of terror. Our final exam felt a bit like one of those television pastry showdowns, with 21 people building showpieces and baking cakes and other goodies all to be carried down a long hallway to the judging room. My judge (we were randomly assigned to one of 4 or 5 guest judges) was Zac Young, of Food Network fame, so that rather enhanced the feeling. Happily we weren’t mean-spirited like most of the competitors on those shows; we all supported each other and our chefs gave us helpful pointers if we got into a jam (and Zac Young was really nice).


Finally, graduation! See, I told you I’m a chef!

The reason my uniform looks so white here is that it was a new one I purchased for the occasion.

*I’ve put links to my old blog posts, just in case you want to read more!


Hi, I'm Mercedes. I'm a PhD candidate in politics and a trained pastry chef. I'm also an amateur photographer, hobby quilter, and all-around nutty girl living in the Big Apple.

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