Swiss Grand Diploma – a Roadmap to a New Career. Interview with a Sales Rep turned Pastry Chef
What would you do if after spending 8 years in a job you realized that you didn’t enjoy it anymore? Well, a recent graduate of Culinary Arts Academy would tell you to follow your heart and never look back. Leandra, who already had substantial experience as a Sales Rep, decided to turn her career upside down by becoming a pastry chef. In this interview, she explains why the 1-year-long Pastry & Chocolate Arts program in Lucerne was the best career decision for her, shows off her journey through mouth-watering photos, and proves that it is never too late to start fresh.
Hi Leandra. Tell a little bit about your passion for pastry. What is it about making sweets that excites you?
Dessert is the last course meal that comes to the customer. Those who work in services know that last impression is usually the most important one because it shapes how she remembers the overall thing. So when you think about it – dessert has the power to make or break one’s dining experience! I am ready for the challenge – to wow the guests and to show of my pieces of art. And at the end of the day – who doesn’t like something sweet?
Before going to Culinary Arts Academy, you studied at a Business School. What inspired such a shift in your professional path?
10 years ago I started my apprenticeship as a professional retail salesperson. Already the second year in, however, I realized that the job was not for me. As a 16-year-old I think you are still learning about yourself. What you think you want at that age may change as you continue developing as a person. That was the case for me.
To do a 180-degree turn career-wise was not an easy decision. But I don’t get any younger, so I thought “sooner than later” was the perfect time to bring a career change in my life. However, if I was going to start fresh, it had to be something I would enjoy doing for most of my work life. And I think creating pastry is an art that you can never get bored by.
What attracted you to study at the Culinary Arts Academy? What made it stand out compared to other schools?
My circumstances were a bit different than of those who had just finished high school. I had already received my education and had several years of work experience under my belt. I wanted to keep my job, but going to school part-time for another three years with students ten years younger than me did not sound attractive to me.
A lifelong friend of my mom Stephan Earnhart who is the co-founder & Managing Director of Swiss Education Group Professional gave me the idea to study at the Culinary Arts Academy. So I did my research, went on an open day, and I was overwhelmed by the opportunities the school offered.
I learned it that this program captures the essence that you usually learn in a 3-year apprenticeship in Switzerland in a year-long program. Not only that – it includes a possibility of going on an internship to some of the best luxury companies in the world. I also realised that the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland was well-respected worldwide.
There were no more doubts about it. I knew straight away I needed to study here.
Do you think your previous experience as a Salesperson has helped you in your culinary career?
Yes, it has helped a lot! I’ve learned how to work. By that, I mean how to get to work every day, how to juggle work shifts, adjust to heavier workloads during busy times like Christmas, how to be flexible and a good team player, how to build and maintain relationships with my colleagues, support and be a mentor for the new apprentices, and so on.
Previous work experience, regardless of the industry or position, gives you a sense of responsibility. So if you embark on a new career path, don’t ever think that you start from zero.
What you have learned in the Pastry and Chocolate Arts program?
I learned everything from scratch which is exactly what I needed because I didn’t have any previous knowledge of pastry. I learned everything from how to make mille feuille and laminate croissant dough to tempering chocolate and working with cocoa butter to make truffles and praline. We were taught how to make traditional baked cakes as well as modern mousse cakes playing with different layers. Culinary Arts Academy truly covers every topic in pastry and bakery – even bread-baking, both from sourdough and fresh yeast, was in the program!
Besides the pastry know-how, we were tough how to get creative on our own regarding both recipes and the presentation of desserts. I particularly enjoyed plating with chocolate. As simple as it sounds, a chocolate spiral can add substantial height to a desert and enhance the dining experience.
How did this program enhance your career? Could you share what type of career opportunities the Culinary Arts Academy gives to its students?
It has opened the world of gastronomy and a new career door for me, absolutely! To have the opportunity to receive an internship offer from some of the most prestigious restaurants and hotels in the world is absolutely fantastic! This is the main reason why I think the school makes an excellent launchpad for your career in the world of gastronomy. The internships usually lead to fulltime jobs, many graduates open their own restaurant or a pastry shop – it is all in your hands.
How much can pastry chefs earn in Switzerland?
Good question! I think it depends a lot on the canton and the quality level of the hotel you’re working in. And, of course, your experience matters, too. It’s a long way until one can call herself a pastry chef.
I can say that you are one of the higher-earners in Switzerland if you also bring awards as a pastry chef. Cooks and confectioners are currently in high demand in Switzerland, especially now that the summer season is approaching.
What are your future aspirations?
Right now I’m focused on where I am currently. Beginning a new career, I am trying to learn and soak up as much knowledge and experience as I can. Of course, at some point, I would like to be one step above the position of Commis Pastry that I currently work in. So the next time we talk, hopefully, I will already be an Assistant Pastry Chef!
Thank you, Leandra, for sharing about your journey to a new career. All the best in your future endeavors!