"No crash course in this business"-An Interview with Pastry Chef Jamie Caudy
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"-No one is a stranger to this question. People are always focused on what to do with their lives, their careers, and constantly questioned about their future aspirations. Well, some people take their entire lives to figure out what they "want to do"or "be". However, there are also others that have known from a young age and worked hard to do what they love. This is the case for our Sweet Team Chef, Jamie Caudy. Caudy grew up on a small hobby farm, where her family had livestock, chickens, and other animals. Because of this, she was exposed to working in the garden, collecting eggs, and helping her mom cook, bake pies, and can vegetables. This upbringing turned into a strong appreciation for food and developed into her career.
A Journey Begins
"[When I was young] My mom cooked a lot, and my sister and I would spend a lot of time rummaging through the pantry to find ingredients for whatever we could bake," said Caudy. "I also loved being artistic. As a young adult, I wanted to get into interior or architectural design. I would draw sketches and do floor plans of my dream home...Grant Achatz once said that chefs are frustrated architects, and I think all of these things combined translate to where I am today.
"I love food and how it can bring people together."
Caudy has been in the industry for 17 years and has worked for names like Wolfgang Puck, Sherry Yard, and Jean George Vongerichten. She also worked at the first James Beard Award Winning Restaurant in Minneapolis, La Belle Vie, where she worked with Michelle Gayer and Diane Yang.
However, in order to work with all of those people, Caudy needed to work hard, gain experience, and climb up the ladder. Her first pastry chef position was at the age of 27, with Delaware North Companies in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she created a pastry department for the luxury division of Minneapolis’ Twins Target Field.
"I established a team, put systems in place, and made myself an asset so that I was needed in the off-season. In doing so, I was asked to travel with the company and produce items for high-end clients, events, etc. Due to this traveling, I got to know many chefs across the country, some of which I did competitions with, and some of which offered me jobs down the line. I was privileged enough to meet and work with Master chef Roland Henin and still consider him a good friend today," said Caudy.
After some time of gaining experience and learning new techniques, Caudy left Minneapolis to work as the Executive Pastry Chef position with Caesars Entertainment at the Horseshoe Property in Hammond, Indiana. Following some time with Caesars though, she applied to her current job: the Executive Pastry Chef at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Chicago.
After years in the industry, many people have mastered certain techniques or dishes and identify it as their "specialty". Caudy on the other hand, doesn’t believe in constricting her work to that term.
"I don’t believe in having one signature dessert- I think I have a style of my own, but I would never limit myself to just having one dessert that I am good or best at. I feel that you are only as good as the next thing you do," said Caudy. "I don’t think having a specialty is a good thing. As a pastry chef, you need to be well-rounded. If I were a cake decorator or a chocolatier, I would have a specialty. But as a pastry chef, you have knowledge of it all."
So where does Caudy find inspiration in order to create trendy and delicious cuisines?
"I find inspiration from everyday life and the foods that I am craving at the time! However, I am also a very visual leaner. I love getting new molds and different plates and coming up with ways to build on them. Sometimes it’s just a new plexy mold that starts a dish, and then I can build on or around that and make it the focal point. After that, everything comes easy. I take what is in season and pair it with things that make sense or flavors that go well together," said Caudy.
Words of Advice
So what does it take to be an Executive Pastry Chef? Caudy gave some hard truths, advice, and tips for fellow pastry chefs, bakers, chocolatiers, etc.
- The industry is hard. You won’t get to celebrate Christmas every year with your family. You won’t get to go out with your friends on Friday and Saturday nights. You will be working.
- If you are not willing to make sacrifices, you will never make it to be anything more than a prep cook.
- The work is physical, the hours are long.
- The friends you have will change, your new friends will be the ones you work with and your weekends will most likely be Sunday and Monday.
- Newcomers- do NOT assume that you will be on top of your game and the best in the business straight out of culinary school. It takes years of training, discipline, and sacrifice to be great.
- Newcomers- don’t expect to make more than minimum wage for at least 5 years.
- Stay humble, work clean, be organized, learn as much as you can from everyone around you and always try to teach yourself something new.
- Continue to learn- never have the mindset that you know everything. You will never know everything. Arrogance will not get you anywhere in this industry.
- Respect the products, equipment, and the food you use, but most importantly, respect your coworkers and the people that work for you. You need them; you cannot be successful without all of these things.
- There is no crash course in this business. I have people ask me to teach them everything I know. I reply to them with "Do you have 17 years?" Because I didn’t learn all of this overnight.
Caudy’s philosophy is:
"If you don’t take the time to make it right the first time, when will you get time to make it again? So many cooks don’t take pride in the things they are making. They have a prep list and the goal is to finish it. But, the focus should be to make it correct and the best you can."