An honest take on what it means to be a pastry chef

It’s both an honor and a responsibility to have customers from Romania, where Pixelgrade is based. On the one hand, we feel proud to see people from our country trust and use our work, and on the other one, we know that they are more demanding. We’re beyond grateful when we succeed in delivering a spotless experience.

February 18, 2020
Reading time 7 – 10 minutes
Cristina talking about being a pastry chef in London

I’ve been reading Cristina’s blog since the early beginning. I liked the way she approached the culinary world: bold, honest, and straightforward. Something from the way she was covering food stories kept me close. We never met in person (I hope we will change that soon), but we manifested mutual respect quite a few times, even though in the digital arena.

We resonate in terms of personal growth, we’re not afraid of showing vulnerability, and we are gutsy enough to provide feedback from time to time.

This is precisely how Cristina joined Pixelgrade’s community. I was a bit annoyed about the fact that her writing was compelling and insightful, but it was poorly packed. I felt the need to let her know that we’re up for supporting her blogging activity if she wants to give our themes a try.

Good things happen when they come from a place of care. Not only Cristina’s blog is made with Julia on board, our food WordPress theme, but I got the chance to discover her story more thoroughly.

Ladies and gents, make yourself comfortable and join me in discovering what it takes to be a pastry chef, what people take for granted in the culinary field, and how you can shape your own path.


What should we know about you?


Hi! I’m Cristina, from Romania. I am a very curious and adventurous soul. I follow my heart, more than my logic sometimes. I have a high passion for learning, writing, baking and travel. I have a twin sister whom I love very much.


You cook for six+ years. How did things change over time?


Cooking professionally started off as a passion and dream for me. It was very very tough at the beginning and a very scary career change to make. Over time, I have become better at it. I am more relaxed as a chef.

At the same time, it can also be very damaging long-term if you don’t take care of yourself and try to avoid burnout. Such a job can eat you alive. 

There are days when the job can be very boring and repetitive, but others feel just like a dream and totally worth it. It does feel more like a job now than anything else. 


How was it to be a Head Pastry Chef at Ottolenghi Belgravia in London?


The experience was both crazy and amazing! Definitely a big challenge as it happened very early in my pastry chef career. I was good at it and I loved all the aspects of managing and organizing a pastry section in a restaurant. It can be so rewarding at the end of the day.

At the same time, it can also be very damaging long-term if you don’t take care or yourself and try to avoid burnout. Such a job can eat you alive. 

My main takeaways are that it’s always good to focus on the team and invest time in making sure people are happy, the work is done well and the environment is positive for everyone. I value the people I work with because they bring in the results and do the work.

Also, next time I would invest in some coaching on the side for myself and stress-management classes in order to be stronger.


Where does the passion for sweets come from?


I think it’s always been there because I love eating sweets. Growing up, to be honest, I didn’t have access to amazing desserts. They were very simple and sometimes involved toast with sugar or a paper bag of raisins (which I hate by the way, but at least they were sweet).

I baked a lot with my mother when I was growing up and she always loved to be in the kitchen and try different recipes. I learned from her. And sweets are beautiful.

I love beautiful things. 


What’s your favorite recipe, and why?


I don’t have a favorite recipe for sweets. I like to try different things and bake a variety of desserts when I have time. I rarely do the same recipe twice at home.

I haven’t reached that point where I always make a certain thing and that thing only when I am craving sweets. I guess I’m a big fan of loaf cakes and I like lemon-flavored desserts because they are fresh and less sweet.


What’s the biggest myth in cooking?


I guess there are a few. Learning pastry from books or at school is so different than when you go and practice in actual cake shops and restaurants.

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming how everything is different and the number of tricks and shortcuts chefs have to take in order to produce vast amounts of cake in small areas with poor equipment (sadly).

The system is broken and nobody cares. I have seen chefs fall under pressure and give up. It’s not fair because with the right help and support this job would be easier to handle.

A big myth is that when you are cooking meringue you need to clean and degrease your bowl and whisk before whipping meringue with some lemon juice or vinegar. If any grease enters the egg whites, then it won’t whip. I have never ever done that so I don’t consider this necessary. I haven’t done it at home or at work.

I have never seen chefs do it at work either. I mean, unless you’ve marinated some pork in that bowl before and it’s still greasy, in which case you shouldn’t be using it for meringue anyway.

All you need is a clean bowl for meringue. It does whip even if you don’t clean the bowl with lemon juice or vinegar.


What do we talk too little about when it comes to the culinary world?


Mental health support for chefs. It’s a very hard job and we don’t realize how damaging it can be both mentally and physically.

The system is broken and nobody cares. I have seen chefs fall under pressure and give up. It’s not fair because with the right help and support this job would be easier to handle.

Our days are super stressful and crazy, but as chefs, we are taught to treat them like the norm and just do it. It’s not normal or ok. You can’t just be exposed to something that harms you constantly without having the ability to fight back or finding a safe way to keep going. The sad part is that no one cares.


What’s your saga in the food landscape?


You have a voice and you do matter. Keep going, keep learning, follow your heart and design your own way of doing things. Break patterns and inspire as you go.


Tell me about both a failure and a win that impacted your evolution


My first Head Pastry Chef job was both a win and a failure at the same time. It was great to be given the opportunity because it meant I was good at my job and I was admired and trusted by my superiors. I possessed more skills than just baking in order to also lead and manage a team and an entire pastry section.

Sadly, I did not receive the help I needed along the way and I took it all too seriously. I was a bit young and I didn’t know how to also take care of myself. I got buried in exhaustion, stress, self-doubt, burnout and it was too much.

I don’t regret moving away from that job because some of the people around me were very toxic and I had to leave for my own good and health. I am a better chef and person now because I went through that experience. I know what I need to do better next time around. 


Could you share a piece of advice for any food blogger?


Let people see your passion for food, and who you are through your stories and recipes. Make them real, authentic and full of positivity.

Don’t try to copy someone else just because they are successful at doing something. Just because chocolate recipes are popular, don’t just make those for likes and views. Be yourself and do it because you love it and enjoy it, not for the money. Money comes very hard if at all in this industry.

I often drool when I visit Cristina’s website, and I have huge respect for the commitment she’s been having in making this industry more transparent, inclusive, and tolerant. The simple fact that she’s now part of our growing community of people who aim to have a positive impact on the world makes me happy and keeps my wheels spinning.

There’s something profoundly meaningful in talking with our customers and hearing their stories as they are: sometimes exciting and full of adrenaline, other times draining and sad, but always authentic and valuable.

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