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It's not every day aspiring pastry chefs get a chance to meet an icon of their industry.
Yet, that's exactly what happened on March 14 at South as Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer – one of the most recognized pastry chefs across the globe – stopped by to talk with South Pastry & Baking Arts students while on a tour promoting his new book, "The Art of French Pastry."
Pfeiffer talked with our aspiring pastry gurus for over an hour about his upbringing in France, career, and what it takes to be successful in the culinary world. Later on, he joined the students in the pastry lab to sign books, talk shop and taste a fine variety of South creations.
Before settling in at his current job as a dean at the French Pastry School in Chicago, Pfeiffer told the story of starting his pastry career at only 15 years old in France. He likened his intense two-year apprenticeship to the six-quarter program South students attend.
"What you need to do is put everything you have into your program," he said. "This is your moment. If you lose focus you'll suddenly graduate and realize you didn't really pay attention."
"You need to be really committed 100 percent," he added. "You can tell, as an employer, when you get a new hire within five minutes if they are committed or not. So don't be a fake. Commitment and attitude is always the number one thing for us chefs."
Pfeiffer was the first to admit learning the art of pastry is a never-ending task, but with a passion for the work and a willingness to push hard, he said anyone can succeed.
"Be ready to fail," he said. "I know this country doesn't really like to talk about failure, we only want the gold medal, but be ready to fail because it actually builds character."
Dedication and that willingness to occasionally fail (and get right back up again) became the cornerstones of Pfeiffer's career, which has taken him around the world – from crafting pastries in the kitchen of a French Navy ship anchored in the Indian Ocean to creating lunch for 10,000 people in the jungle of Borneo at the request of an especially quirky sultan.
As a final salute, he assured South's students their hard work will pay off.
"Pastry is a fantastic profession," he said. "I was never out of a job, you never go hungry, your customers will always want pastries whether they are depressed or whether they are happy. How many industries can say what you are learning from Chef Kim (Alexander, today) is going to be current for the next 50 to 100 years?"
"Ten years from now our phones will be planted in our brains, but the pie crust recipe will always be the same because it requires a certain amount of water, salt, butter and flour to make a pie crust. What you are learning now will never go out of style, it will never become obsolete."
Pastry Arts student Kaylie Whitemore said meeting Chef Pfeiffer was a dream come true, and fueled her future plans.
"I have a lot of dreams," she said. "First, I want to work in a bakery for many years, and then I want to open my own cake-decorating business."
For South student Sam Balderas, who plans to graduate in Pastry Arts this Spring, Pfeiffer's words were justification for a hard decision in his life.
"For me, (his speech) was encouraging because I'm switching careers," he said. "To do that at my age you have to really want to do it. We don't do this because we want to be on Top Chef, we (do this because we) have passion, and we want to do this for a living."
To learn more about studying Culinary and Pastry Arts at South, please visit our program page.