Dream Jobs: My Journey to Becoming a Pastry Chef in Paris

Dream Jobs: My Journey to Becoming a Pastry Chef in Paris

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pastry schools in paris
Cordon Bleu School in Paris © Molly Wilkinson (second from right)

Growing up, the Cordon Bleu was the holy grail of cooking schools. It was the school that had been around for more than 120 years, the school where my hero, Julia Child, had gone before changing the face of American cooking in the 1950s. I thought of it in awe – the French chefs barking out orders, the smell of butter, and pans flying about. It was always stuck in the back of my mind as a dream of mine; though I never thought it was achievable. I didn’t know anyone in the culinary field, and it was far more normal for me to follow the standard path of going to college, graduating, and getting a good nine to five job.

pastry school paris english
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In college, while pursuing my marketing degree, I had my first taste of French cuisine during a four-week study abroad trip to Paris and Madrid. I remember visiting the boulangerie on our last day in Paris and purchasing as many pastries and croissants as I could carry for the train ride to Madrid. After just two short weeks, I’d fallen in love with France. Not the beret wearing, Brittany striped shirt love, but a deep appreciation for a culture that was so centered on food, a beautiful language, and a country steeped in history and art.

Over the next six years, I slowly started my return to Paris, bringing desserts on an often daily basis to my marketing job and researching cooking schools in my free time. My passion for baking, which started from when I was two years old, watching Mom bake chocolate chip cookies, to summer holidays spent memorizing recipes, was coming back in full swing.

There was a moment when I thought: I’m good at marketing, and I could be successful in my marketing career, but if I want to pursue my passion and make a massive change in my life, now is the time to do it.

pastry school paris english
Photo courtesy of author

Over pieces of apple tart and multiple batches of cookies, I scoured through websites researching the best cooking schools, starting with those in the US; but several variables swayed me to look further. I had already gone to college, so a two-year program at the premier CIA or Johnston & Wales was just too long for me to consider.

In terms of cost, I found that I could live in Paris and attend a school there for the price of just attending a school in the US! The last reason – and a huge one at that – was to study in France, where pastry had its roots! I quickly narrowed down my choices in France after comparing the teaching language, length of the program, cost, the availability of an internship and housing, and several other factors.

Pastry Schools in Paris

For foreigners looking for a serious professional cooking school in English, the options for French cooking schools came to just three for me:

Le Cordon Bleu Parispastry schools in Paris

Widely known around the world, with a 9-month long program and 3-month internship. The demonstrations are taught in French with an English translator. The practical portion in the kitchen is only in French. The course is 50% demonstration and 50% kitchen time. Following the program, you are a certified chef.


Ferrandi Paris

paris pastry schools englishWell known in France/Paris, but not as much internationally. A 5-month long program that touts 70% kitchen time and 30% demonstration. This is followed by a 3 to 6-month internship. Taught in English and certification is received at the end!


Ecole Nationalé Superieure de Patisserie (ENSP)pastry schools in Paris

Located in a tiny, South-Central town in France, in the shadow of a Chateau. The international French pastry program is 5 months long with a 2-month mandatory internship anywhere in the country. Classes are in English, including 530 hours in the kitchen (comparable to Ferrandi and Le Cordon Bleu) and 80 hours of French language courses. Certificate received as well!


In the end, the choice to go to the Cordon Bleu was rather simple. It just felt right after all the research I’d done. The program was a good length, the chefs incredibly talented, the location was perfect, and the name would hopefully make it easier for me to get a job after graduating.

The application process was just like applying for college — with a couple of documents to fill out, some papers to send in, and an essay to write. No kitchen experience was needed; but I did attend a cooking program at a local school for a semester just to make sure it was the right move for me. There was a little bit of a wait, and then a fancy letter addressed to Mademoiselle Molly Wilkinson arrived in the mail! Handwritten on fancy paper. I totally saved it. pastry schools in Paris The first day of school was nerve wrecking. I’d saved up for a year to attend the program and it was a huge life move for me. My class of 70 was very diverse, with people coming from all over the world to attend the program. The group was divided into two groups for the demonstrations and then teams of 10 for the practicals, where we were in the kitchens baking up what the chefs had just taught. The schedule was a bit odd, as it was never the same from one day to the next.

The chef’s personalities were as big and chef-like as you’d imagine. Since the course wasn’t intensive, I had time to explore Paris as well and do some research—a.k.a. eating as many pastries as possible. By the end of the program, I was so pleased with my decision. I’d made lifelong friends and lost all fear of trying a new recipe or doing something complicated in the kitchen. I was ready to continue to learn more and progress in my newly-chosen field.

After completing a two-month internship at a fabulous pâtisserie run by two women chefs in the République area, and with my impending visa end date nearing, I had to return to the US. Back in Texas I worked for an amazing French pastry shop from it’s start. There, I manned the macaron station for four months and rotated through the other stations, learning several new techniques and putting my new skills to work!

pastry schools in paris
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However, the entire time I was home, France kept calling. I started taking French classes and bought a plane ticket to, of all things, help open a Mexican restaurant in Paris. then I travelled to the South of France to make pastries at a Chateau for two months. Now, I’m back in Paris working at La Cuisine, a cooking school specializing in short courses on French cuisine and pastry all taught in English!

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m so excited to discover it! Keep an eye out for more of my posts on, but of course, all things food — like what makes a good apéro, finding American baking ingredients in France, new pastry spots that have opened up, and more! I’ll probably do a bit on daily life too, like what it’s like dating a Frenchman. Stay tuned!

 

Molly Wilkinson
Ever attracted to all things sweet, Molly left her marketing career in Texas to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2013. She worked for several pastry shops in Texas including Bisous Bisous Patisserie, voted best bakery in Dallas in 2015, before returning to France. Since then she has helped open a Mexican restaurant (her other love) and been a pastry chef at Chateau de Gudanes. Currently she is in Paris working at a culinary school and eating as many pastries as humanly possible. All in the name of research of course! You can follow her musings on daily life in Paris and catch a recipe or two at her blog: www.ToffeeBitsandChocolateChips.com

3 COMMENTS

  1. aweeeee ! this was such a nice read 🙂 to see it all developing – it’s wonderful i tell ya! you’ve made leaps and bounds, and you are only getting started 😀 can’t wait to hear more of your progress and about all those glorious pastry shop hunts 😀

  2. Molly! You are famous :)! This is Chris Digby…we met at Eglise de la Trinite working in the soup kitchen. I loved reading this, you have accomplished so much already! Loved reading this article…congratulations on being published in Inspirelle.

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