By Carly DeFilippo
It used to be that once you entered the workforce, you stayed with the same company for 30-40 years, and then you retired. But for the generation entering the workforce today, exploring a wide range of career options is far more attractive than staying on one set path from the start.
The ability to develop more than one skill set or area of expertise over the course of her career was what attracted Chef Sarah Chaminade to the culinary industry. From commercial bakeries and catering to high-end hotel dining, there are few environments where Sarah hasn’t tested her pastry chops.
“Depending on your personality or the place you are at in your life, the culinary industry offers a lot of options,” explains Sarah. “With a degree in pastry, I could do food styling, writing or just focus on an area of specialty production like cakes or artisanal chocolate. It was really up to me to push myself to succeed wherever my passion landed.”
That passion for cooking and baking was clear to Sarah from a very young age. Growing up, she watched countless PBS cooking shows and—to the chagrin of her brothers—would even watch the Cuisinart instructional VHS cassette tape on repeat. As soon as she got her driver’s license, Sarah sought jobs in professional culinary kitchens, and by her senior year of high school, she knew that culinary school was the choice for her.
Intrigued by both the artistic elements and the precise science of baking, Sarah pursued a pastry degree at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduation, she found work in nearby New Paltz, where she was valued as much for her former experience in the culinary side of the kitchen as she was for her formal pastry training. “I always tell students that even as a pastry cook it’s great to have a working knowledge of basic culinary skills. The ability to jump in anywhere in the kitchen makes you much more of an asset during a busy shift.”
Eventually, Sarah relocated to Connecticut, working in a commissary pastry kitchen that created baked goods for retail, off-site catering and wholesale production. There she discovered a unique passion for the holiday season—the busiest time of year in any chef’s schedule. “I liked the planning that went into the holidays,” Sarah explained. “Everything needs to be perfectly organized for mass production, and my interest in that kind of planning meant that I quickly advanced from a pastry cook to a pastry sous chef.”
Sarah also found that she enjoyed the camaraderie of working events. “In catering, you’re often working long hours, and you have to look out for each other to survive. If the project at hand is to produce 1,000 petits gateaux, then everyone better pitch in to pull it across the finish line.”
Though she enjoyed working in these high-volume environments, Sarah was eager to test her skills in a restaurant environment. She got her chance in Stamford, CT, as the opening pastry chef for the Saltwater Grill. It was the first time Sarah had worked the opening of a restaurant, and when the New York Times came to call, the review prominently featured—and complimented—Sarah’s plated desserts.
After a few years at Saltwater Grill, Sarah relocated to Long Island, taking a position as the executive pastry chef at the four-star Garden City Hotel. Her former high-volume production and planning skills came into play, overseeing the production of pastries and desserts for two restaurants and in-room dining, as well as banquet events ranging from 12 to 500 guests. “Of all the challenges in my career, I really enjoyed my time at the Garden City Hotel,” says Sarah. “It gave me the opportunity to utilize all the skills I had learned over the years—from pastry and bread baking, to plated desserts, petit fours and wedding cakes—I got to do it all at one company.”
After more than 16 years in the industry, Sarah had earned her stripes in more types of kitchens than the average chef sees in their lifetime, and teaching began to appeal to her as a new challenge. “I knew that at ICE I would be surrounded by instructors from a wide range of backgrounds, enabling me to stretch my skills further, and I could share my diverse experience with the next generation of chefs.”
As an instructor, Sarah’s focus goes beyond perfect piping or pastry dough: “I feel very strongly that it’s my job to prepare students for the realities of a culinary career. There are strict time constraints, and you have to go in with a professional attitude. I also try to teach students to pay attention to what’s going on beyond their station. That was the secret to my success—keeping my eyes open and always trying to absorb all the other skills and recipes executed by other members of the kitchen crew.”
Chef Sarah reminds her students that every task is ripe with opportunity: “Every kitchen needs someone to scoop ice cream. Maybe it doesn’t seem like you need professional training to do that, but if you can do it perfectly—and quickly—people will notice. And that’s the beginning of your reputation. Everything you do is an opportunity to prove that you’re the right person for the job.”
Hone your pastry chops with Chef Sarah at ICE. Click here to receive free program information.