Culinary, Baking, Pastry: What it is, differences and likeness.

This article examines the culinary field, what it is and its relationship with the baking and pastry arena. An excellent place to start is by answering the question:

What does culinary include?

The term culinary includes the skill of making food from the hot and cold kitchen: the preparation, cooking, and plating of starters, main and side dishes. It also includes baking and pastry art: making desserts, cakes, and pastries.

When new to the culinary arena, it helps to understand what the culinary and pastry arts are and how baking and pastry arts are linked to the culinary field.

1. Understanding what culinary, baking, and pastry arts are.

There is much confusion about the terms culinary, pastry, and baking:

For some, the confusion is about what culinary arts are; for others, the confusion is about baking and pastry: what baking and pastry are and their relationship with the culinary arts: whether baking and pastry are a part of and fall under the culinary category.  To clarify, we answer some commonly asked questions:

What are culinary arts?

Culinary arts are the skilful preparation and cooking of meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, and sauces, to create main and side dishes like salads and appetisers. The art is in creating food notable for its flavour, aroma, texture and ultimate serving of beautifully arranged food on a plate.

What is a culinary chef called?

A chef specialising in cooking is called a culinary chef. They are also named for their role, from an executive chef or chef de cuisine leading the kitchen, the second in charge sous-chef to the lower commis chef. Station chefs (line cooks) fill varied roles in the kitchen brigade system like the sauté, fish and grill chef.

Categorising culinary, baking and pastry arts.

A question often asked concerns the different types of culinary areas and how baking and the pastry arts fit in with culinary arts. To clarify:

The culinary sphere has two main categories: culinary and pastry arts. Each has sub-categories or specialist areas and chefs. In culinary arts, this is: sauté, fish, grill, roast, fry, vegetable, and cold foods Pastry’s specialist categories and roles are confiseur, boulangerer, glacier and décorateur.

The different chefs are named according to their roles. The culinary and pastry chef are the two broad groups of chefs in the culinary field, each with chefs named for their special roles like sauté, grill or fish chef. A décorateur, in turn, is a pastry chef who does special cakes and showpieces.

There are about three other specialist pastry chef roles: a confiseur who does candies; a boulanger who does dough for bread and rolls; a glacier pastry chef, specialising in desserts that are cold and frozen.

Defining baking and pastry arts

Baking is the process that transforms a batter or a dough to create a completed baked product. It also includes creating baked goods of both a sweet and savoury nature, such as cakes and pies.

Pastry art includes creating baked goods, pastries, hot and cold desserts, creating aesthetically pleasing plated desserts, designing dessert menus and creating new recipe formulas.

Is baking and pastry part of culinary?

For culinarians, baking and pastry notably fall under pastry arts. Culinary art strictly refers to the skill of making and serving food. Ignoring such specifics, culinary is all things food-related, from making and serving starters, mains, side dishes, desserts and cakes to food safety and nutrition.

2. The differences between culinary, baking and pastry.

There are several differences between the culinary arts, baking, and pastry arts. The table below lists some of these.

DescriptionCulinary ArtsBaking and Pastry Arts
The core focus:Culinary arts have to do with food, its preparation and cooking.
The scope of food prepared includes starters, mains and side dishes.
Baking and pastry arts focus on making bread, cakes, desserts and pastries.
Types of food:Meat, fish and poultry.
Stocks, soups and sauces.
Vegetables, grains, legumes, dumplings and pasta.
Pastries and pies,
Cakes and cookies
Mousses, custards and creams
Plated desserts
Dessert sauces, fillings and frostings.
Recipe names:The ingredients and meal preparation method in culinary arts are called a recipe.In baking and pastry arts, recipes are called formulas.
Training:To cook professionally, you train as a culinary chef.Someone passionate about baking and wanting to be a chef trains to become a pastry chef.
Cooking methods:Culinarians mostly use stoves for preparing cooked meals.Baking is a form of cooking.
However, bakers and pastry chefs mostly use ovens to create baked goods.
Adhering to measurements and recipe instructions:While culinarians must follow measurements and recipes for consistency in the outcome, there is greater flexibility with measurements and ingredients.
You can taste the food while cooking and make adaptations to create the desired effect by adding more seasoning.
Thus, culinary chefs are allowed more opportunities for flexibility and creativity in twigging dishes during the cooking process to get the desired outcome.
There is a greater need for precision in measuring ingredients and following recipes.
Slight variations can lead to flops in the final product.
Unlike cooking, it’s not agreeable to taste the raw batter and gauge from that if it tastes right; measurements must be accurate.
Opportunity for specialising:Culinary chefs can’t become highly specialised and offer only one product like fish or steak.
Other items like chips or salad accompany such foods, and the menu includes dessert items.
Specialisation is more accessible in bakery and pastry art.
Bakers and pastry chefs can specialise in a niche.
They can, for example, open a baker’s shop, focusing only on making doughnuts, cupcakes, or wedding cakes.
Personal attributes of the chef:In comparison, the culinary chef needs to be more flexible as they may need to adapt a recipe whilst cooking by adjusting the seasoning, for example.
Of course, other attributes, like attention to detail, are still important.
We encourage you to read our article for a list of soft skills needed to be a good chef and why these are important, whether you are a culinary or pastry chef.
Pastry chefs must be able to pay close attention to detail, be patient and organised, ensuring they have all their ingredients and that these are precisely measured according to the recipe.
The difference between culinary compared to baking and pastry.

3. Similarities between culinary arts and baking and pastry.

There are some similarities between the culinary arts, baking, and pastry arts, as noted in the table below.

DescriptionCulinary ArtsBaking and Pastry Arts
The role of science:
Culinary and pastry chefs need to understand the science of cooking to create cooked meals and baked products.
Our articles on Culinary as a science and why baking is a science can help to understand the value of science in cooking.
When culinarians understand the various scientific cooking methods, they know how to manipulate and use them to create their desired food.Baking is a scientific process.
Professional Bakers and pastry chefs need to understand the role of each ingredient and how these interact with each other in the baking process to create baked goods.
The role of art:
For both culinary and pastry chefs, food is an edible art form.
We encourage you to read the linked articles on culinary as an art and cooking and baking and pastry as an art for more information on these topics.
Culinary art is referred to art in two ways:
Culinarians practice the art of cooking, using their technical culinary skills to create the meals they want in terms of flavour, aroma, texture and appearance.
As people eat with their eyes first, culinarians practice art when they finish the meals they create by arranging food on a plate in a visually appealing style.
Bakers and pastry chefs follow similar lines:
Not only do they practice their art using their skills for the kinds of baked goods they create, like multi-layer cakes but in the decoration of the final products, creating edible art masterpieces.
The role of measurements and mathematics:
Both need an accurate measurement of ingredients and maths for converting recipes.

If you would like to learn more about the role of maths in cooking and baking, you can read our article on culinary maths.
Accurate measurements of ingredients ensure the desired taste and consistency in taste.
However, cooking allows for more flexibility and adaptations during the cooking process than baking.
Precision in the measurement of ingredients is particularly important in baking.
This allows for the correct interaction of ingredients with each other.
In culinary and pastry arts, the title of “chef” can be achieved through informal and formal training.
Training can be informal by working in a good food establishment and training from the ground up.
However, training at a culinary school is also highly beneficial and can lead to faster career advancement.
Many bakers start baking informally, at home and open bakery shops without formal training.
Like a culinary chef, a pastry chef can also achieve the title of “pastry chef” by on-the-job training at a good establishment, working through the ranks and gaining experience.
A pastry chef, without formal qualifications, can become an executive pastry chef.
However, just like for a culinary chef, formal training has great benefits: it can lead to quicker career growth; some places insist on a qualification; it opens other doors, like becoming a pastry chef lecturer.
Chef attributes:
Both require a passion for the culinary field.
A passion for cooking is the most critical quality of being a culinary chef.
You must be passionate about cooking to succeed as a culinary chef.
This is because the work is demanding in nature, marked by things like long hours working and standing, working shifts at night and weekends.
To be a baker and pastry chef also requires passion.
The work requires standing on your feet for long hours, and depending on where one works, the work environment can be marked by long work hours and working shifts.
Overlap of training:A part of training as a culinary chef includes learning the fundamentals of baking.A portion of training as a pastry chef is allocated to teaching pastry students the basics of cooking.
Similarities between culinary arts compared to baking and pastry arts.

4. The difference between a baker and a pastry chef.

There are differences between baking and pastry arts. The table below lists some of these.

DescriptionBaker and BakingPastry Chef and Pastry Arts
The title of “chef”:Anyone can be called a baker, from the home baker to someone owning a bakery shop.

A baker can be considered a professional baker but still not have the title of “pastry chef.”
Not every baker is a pastry chef.

A pastry chef is a specialised position requiring intensive training and experience, whether on the job or at a culinary school
Workplace roles:Bakers often work under pastry chefs and occupy entry-level positions in a restaurant setting.Pastry chefs in a restaurant can occupy the pastry station chef role and play more senior and managerial roles like executive chefs.
In this role, they manage bakers and other pastry chefs.
Training:A baker can start up by simply following recipes and baking.
Formal training is also available for pursuing a baking career.
Becoming a pastry chef includes training in baking but goes beyond that to specialised training in designing new recipes and creating and plating desserts.
Level of specialisation and responsibility.
Bakers work with both sweet and savoury goods.
Pastry chefs specialise in pastries and desserts.
Their work can include the making of bread and rolls.
Their work also includes designing dessert menus and creating plated desserts.
Innovation and creativity.Bakers often create baked goods by following prescribed recipes and making beautifully decorated cakes.
Creativity beyond this is often in the realm of the pastry chef.
Pastry chefs develop new recipes, improve on old ones or adapt them to cater to specific dietary requirements.
A pastry chef is responsible for designing the dessert menu and must stay updated with the latest trends.
They are also responsible for designing plated desserts.
This requires innovation and creativity to blend flavours, textures, and colours and add other items like dessert sauces to create the finished product.
The difference between baking and bakers compared to pastry and pastry chefs.

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