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The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my career as a pastry cook, I think of a perfectionist. Working under all the pastry chefs I have had the privilege to do so, I have come to learn that a strive for perfection is of great importance in the pastry kitchen. Most people I have met call me a perfectionist, something which would normally be looked down on, but to me is a compliment – I don’t settle for mediocrity and strive for excellence. My personal belief is that humans are capable of 99.999% perfection, and we must ensure that we deliver on that, expecting nothing but perfection from ourselves, as when we start to aim for mediocrity, we can easily lose sight of what we want. While I am not perfect myself, and never will be, it is something that I personally strive for.
As time passes, I have learned that some people won’t strive for perfection, or just simply don’t want to – it isn’t their priority. Why is that? I have no clue. Does it annoy me? Sure does! In an age of so much social interaction through the internet, we see a huge degree of comparison between each other. Although it can prove to be unhealthy at times, I find it is of great use. For example, when you are looking to purchase a cake from a local store who you’ve seen creates amazing cakes on Instagram, would you go for the cakes from the grocery store because they look better? Most people would answer the little shop because they look better; others would answer with the grocery store because it is cheaper, though the price is a discussion for another day. With so much comparison on the internet, it is crucial that you stand out to others, that you create something that someone else can not. When someone puts out something of 70% perfection, we can assume that some people in the population can still achieve that, they do not have something to differentiate them from the rest. Standing out from the crowd is what makes us known and some could say successful.
In my high school’s culinary program, there was a quote that was always drilled into us by the chef-teacher for my entire time there. This quote has come to stick with me everywhere and I’ve learned to adopt it in almost every situation I’ve been in.
“If you don’t have time to do it perfectly the first time, when will you have time to do it perfectly the second time?” -Unknown
Driven into me for four years straight, this has forced me to alter the way I think and change the way I act and make decisions, to ensure that I always have the resources I need to achieve perfection. From my personal experiences, I have found there to be three major pillars to perfection: creativity and growth, consistency, and mentorship. These three pillars, the last of which informs the first two, have allowed me to become more aware of my actions.
To me, creativity and growth are an integral part of life – you can’t not have them both. For me, being able to be creative and grow are my main two objectives of any activity I take part in. These two needs are very important for me to be able to achieve perfection. If I do not have an environment to learn from and grow myself, I have no reason to be there – I believe that there needs to be some sort of personal gain in each activity I do, otherwise it is evident that I am losing more than I am gaining.
In my last internship, in Burnaby, BC, I was in a position I had never been in before. Though I had held plenty of positions as a pastry cook, none of them had been during dinner service, plating desserts as guests ordered them at the table. This was very new to me, a real challenge to adapt to. I had plenty of experience creating consistent products in a banquet environment, with a large number of foods on platters. A la carte service is completely different. Each day is different and you never know how many desserts you will be plating or how many desserts you need to prepare to make sure you always have your par on hand. This taught me a new type of consistency, a consistency that is critical to the success of anything you do at a faster pace. Each dessert that I had to plate up had to be the same, regardless of the time I had or the resources I didn’t have. This taught me the importance of consistency and made it seem like a very important part of my journey to perfection.
The final pillar of perfection is mentorship. In my experience, I have found that you can not be better than yourself without the aid of someone that is already better than you. Yes, you can learn and practice by yourself, which is how I’ve grown for the most part, but my biggest jumps have always been under the supervision and monitorship of someone better than me. My favourite internship placement in Kelowna, BC was because of the huge amounts of mentorship I received, from both the executive pastry chef and the pastry chef de partie. To this day, I am still in contact with the chef de partie from this hotel and still ask her for suggestions and critiques of my work. This has allowed me to see things in a different view than I normally would and be able to better myself with the aid of a professional.
Perfection isn’t something that I think humans can realistically achieve, but I have made it my mission to come as close as I can to perfection. People often compliment me on my work, saying how good it looks and how much effort I put into it, but really, I try to put in the minimal effort with the maximum skill to save my time and energy to further pursue perfection. These three pillars – creativity, consistency and mentorship – are the only way I can sustain my career through the current job market and the never-ending chase for a perfect product.