The San Francisco Cooking School – a new opportunity to learn from some of the city’s best culinary talents. All photos in this post courtesy of SFCS.
When I get asked about going to pastry school, I have a shortlist of schools I usually guide people towards. Therefore, I was excited when I heard that the recently opened SF Cooking School is starting its own professional pastry program, which will be closely intertwined with San Francisco’s thriving food scene. I got the opportunity to speak with Nicole Plue, the Director of Pastry Arts and the instructor for the professional pastry program, about her vision for the school.
Nota bene: When I interviewed Nicole, obviously the program was still under construction. I am not affiliated with the SF Cooking School, so if you have any specific questions about the program or the interview process, please fill out the form on their site or contact the school. I’m afraid I don’t have any special advice to get you in the school, as obviously I haven’t been through the program, so if you’re interested, I highly encourage you to ask the school whatever questions you have. They are quite eager to welcome students to their classes! You may also want to read my post on Going to Pastry School.
The 24 week, full time program will debut this September and run through February 2014, and costs $24,500. They are interviewing candidates now and there are currently still a few spots open, so if you’re interested you can fill out the form on their website. They accept applications on a rolling basis, meaning even if there isn’t room in the current class, you’ll be in the queue for the next session. Plue is also working on a part time version of the program that will begin in February 2014, that is supposed to cover the same content.
Plue is the 2010 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and has built her career in some of the most well-known restaurants in Northern California, including Hawthorne Lane, Redd, and Cyrus. In taking on the position of Director of Pastry Arts at the SFCS, she’s looking to pass on the knowledge and discipline she’s gained in her years of pastry experience.
Plue is focused on giving students a solid grounding in the basics of pastry, as well as practical understanding of the rigors of being a professional chef. “It’s important for students to learn how produce constantly, quickly, and consistently in a restaurant setting,” she says, and the classes will be structured to develop good working habits in students. Plue intends to have short lectures in every class, but the majority of the six-hour day will be spent in the kitchen, baking.
The demo kitchen in the front of the school – there is a second kitchen in the back that professional students will be using.
In order to help students prepare for work after graduation, Plue intends to set up several exercises: there will be a bake sale halfway through the session and students will have to plan and produce products to sell at the event. At the end of the program there will be “bakery week”, where students will set up and run a mock bakery, to give them an idea of what the real thing will be like.
Plue also plans to have guest lecturers and/or field trips every week. The program will end with an externship where students are placed into restaurants and bakeries around the city. This is one of the biggest selling points of the professional culinary programs at SFCS: a very direct link to some of the best and most exciting food establishments, and an instructor who knows what these places are looking for. For those who are interested in career paths outside of the restaurant industry, like starting your own business, recipe development, the SFCS will provide resources and contacts.
I asked Plue what she was looking for in prospective students. Although no previous or professional baking experience is required, the program appears geared towards students who are fairly certain they want to pursue a career in pastry. That’s not saying you have to know exactly what you intend to do after graduating, but with just 14 spots in the class, it’s clear she’s looking for intelligent and motivated students ready to work hard and learn – exactly what restaurant kitchens and bakeries are looking for as well.
Plue encourages people thinking of a pastry career to be aware of the physical demands of the profession before jumping into it, and she also suggested getting your life in order before entering into the demanding world of restaurant and bakery work . “We’re really looking for people who will fit in well with the structure of our program”, she says. It appears that the SFCS will have a more rigorous entry process than simply filling out a form and writing a check, but given the fact that you will get the opportunity to learn from some of the Bay Area’s most accomplished chefs, and they are tailoring the program to produce graduates trained to perform in some of the best-known restaurants and bakeries in the city, it sounds like a worthwhile investment. When you’re considering your choice of school, it’s important to determine what kind of return you’ll see on your time and money. The opportunity to learn from some well-regarded leaders in the industry and to gain valuable contacts and experience can make a big difference in getting a jump start on your career.
As I mentioned, I haven’t had a chance to experience classes at the SFCS yet, but it looks like a great addition to the culinary education choices in the Bay Area. You can read about my fellow blogger Stephanie‘s experience of the professional culinary program, which she loved.
I’m so pleased that the choices for culinary education in the Bay Area are evolving to match its dynamic, forward-thinking food scene. If you’re an aspiring pastry chef, San Francisco is an extremely exciting place to be right now. Good luck to all of you!