Pastry students knead dough.

An Unpredictable Path with a Predictive Craft

Pastry & Baking Arts student Joy Cho begins the uncertain journey of testing a career change.

Pastry & Baking Arts student Joy Cho works in corporate communications and public affairs full time, but she's always had a passion for baking and dreamed of opening her own shop. This summer, she decided to "go for it" and enroll in night classes at ICE. "My job requires me to be mindful of details and this translates in many ways to my work in the kitchen," Joy says. "I'm in pastry school to gauge if I'm really ready and willing to jump headlong into the food industry." Here, she shares the first few weeks of her experience.

Joy Cho studies pastry and baking arts at ICE.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a planner. Whether it’s a packing list, a restaurant short list in a new city or simply a weekend full of carefully curated commitments, I’ve always valued some sense of certainty in my day-to-day life. Perhaps that’s why pastry and baking arts have appealed to me for so long: precision, structure and science define the craft.

When I decided to take the leap and enroll in Pastry & Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, I didn’t have concrete answers to where this career program would lead me. I knew that I dreamed of opening my own bakery one day, that I enjoyed baking, and that I was willing to commit to a yearlong program to follow this passion. But I had no idea if I was “cut out” for the industry or if I could completely shift career trajectories in one year. What if I found through this program that I actually didn’t want to pursue baking as a job or start my own thing?

For someone who functions best under certainty, it surprised me how okay I felt with all these unanswered questions. In my mind, committing to ICE was a huge step in the right direction. Whether this would lead to changing career paths or deciding to keep baking a hobby, I didn’t know. Much like I can follow a recipe predictively and still be surprised by the result, my foray into ICE’s program had elements of certainty and uncertainty. I knew I would benefit greatly from studying technique and method, which I’ve never formally learned, but I wasn’t sure I could land a job without prior kitchen experience or if I even wanted to work such demanding hours for my day (or night) job.

Last week, Chef Michael Laiskonis gave our class a guest lecture on dairy and sugar. Delving into the molecular structure of dairy products and learning about the sweetening power of various sugars was stimulating, but something he mentioned in passing particularly stuck out to me. In essence, Chef Michael discussed how baking is largely a predictive craft – we trust that the raw ingredients we combine together will somehow turn into a baked good when it emerges from the oven. Unlike cooking, in which we can season and adjust in real time, with baking we cannot take out a half-baked cake from the oven and decide to sprinkle in a bit more baking powder. We work and operate in expectation.

But things don’t always turn out as we foresee. Despite the precision that defines so much of baking, we can’t predict the end result to a tee. No matter how perfectly I may follow a recipe, factors such as outside temperature, air humidity and measurement error can all affect the final product. This is neither good nor bad – it just makes baking an art as well as a science.

Panna cotta at ICE

This program is my own personal litmus test, a way to determine where pastry arts fit into my professional and personal life. Conceptualizing it in this way gives me freedom to discover the things that interest me and come to terms with the things that do not. So far, I’ve enjoyed working with gelatin-based desserts (think panna cotta and gelée) but not so much with caramel (perhaps this will change, though!). I am striving to treat this year as one of exploration and curiosity rather than of pressure to “know what I want to do with it.” Of course, thinking ahead is a good skill to have (in the kitchen and in life), but I’m not letting it deter me from learning as I go and seeing where things take me.

I’m really excited to be at ICE. Although my future trajectory is hazy and uncertain at this point, I think this is where I’m supposed to be. A big part of baking involves juggling known factors with the unexpected and taking both in stride – an apt metaphor for all of life. Follow along with me on this yearlong journey as I explore, make mistakes, learn and find my footing (or lack thereof) in the pastry world. At the very least, it will be sweet.

Explore ICE's Pastry & Baking Arts program to consider your own career change litmus test.

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