I was asked this question when a customer picked up their order recently. The short answer: it depends on what you're looking for. Are you looking to improve your baking skills or are you looking for new recipes? Will you work in the food industry afterwards or will you continue baking at home? Can you learn from home or working at a pastry shop instead? To complicate things even more, there are also basic and advanced programs that you can enroll in.
Enrolling in a pastry program is by no means cheap. It can easily be at least $30k so whatever your reasoning is, it must be valid. The best way to explain it is to share my experience.
Prior to attending to Maison Christian Faure, I only knew how to make pies and literally nothing else in the baking world. Having dreams of owning a pie shop someday, I wanted to see if there was anything else that I would enjoy making and perhaps add to the menu. Turned out to be the right move as there are now the Mini Lemon Cakes and the Parisian Flan on the menu with more coming in the future. Whether it's chocolate, bread, entremets, croissants, or cake decorations, this introductory program touched base on all of them and more.
This program was perfect for me as I was learning the basics of everything and exploring the pastry world. Combining these skills allowed me to create something. For instance, I was able to modify the crème pâtissière for the Element Café Pocket Pies using the skills that I've learned from school and work. However, I can tell this program wasn't perfect for some of my colleagues. There were some that were too advanced in the field that I felt that they didn't learn as much as they would've liked.
There was another student that was there purely for recipes as he thought they were the best just because they were French recipes. The problem was that the school was not obligated to give us the best recipes. Aside from the fact that "best" is subjective, the purpose of this school was to teach us when we can fold the flour into the eggs for a génoise; or how dry the macarons should be before putting them into the oven; or when the croissants are ready to go into the oven by touching. It's about understanding the details.
Maison Christian Faure is also a shop so they also didn't want their best recipes to fall into the hands of their competitors. I would say advanced programs on specific topics from a highly reputable school would be a better place to get better recipes but they're usually international.
Being a shop however, definitely had some benefits because as I was able to do an internship/stagiaire there for a week. The pastry chefs were amazing to work with. They were young and experienced as many started their craft since they were 16 which apparently, is typical in France. The internship really set the tone on how fast I needed to work in a kitchen and they understood that I was a student. Aside from doing an internship there, they also let me roll croissants with them every week. It definitely was a unique experience because it's a shop and pastry school.
To sum up my take on pastry school: expect to learn new skills and not recipes. Only you can determine if it's a good recipe because food is subjective and it's a representation of what you're trying to convey. Good recipes are mostly achieved through trial-and-errors like our pies however, the skills that you learn will reduce the amount of iterations and get the product closer to your identity. Some of these skills may be extra stuff that you're not interested in, so it may be better to work at shops instead or go to a school specifically on that topic. I'll cover more on this in Part 2.
Corey Ma, The Pie Guy