You might think the world of pastries is one filled with sugar and spice, and technically it is, but the delicacies of the dessert world also require blood, sweat and butter to make a successful living. Just ask Abby Dahan.
“You have to have tough skin,” she says when talking about her time spent in Paris learning to be a pastry chef. “Not to say women aren’t tough because they really are…I just know sometimes I can be a bit more sensitive. I think in France it’s that way. But if you look in the U.S., it’s mostly women who are pastry chefs, which I think is awesome.”
It’s true that the pastry world in Paris compared to the pastry world in America is different in terms of who you see more regularly behind the line. But the path to getting to her sweet spot took some time for the 33-year-old, who grew up in a house filled with food from the start.
“I had a pretty fortunate childhood, I always had a home-cooked meal,” says Dahan, whose father worked in French chocolate sales, and whose mother has been a baker her whole life. “I always had a homemade birthday cake, and I just loved eating.”
That love grew to passion and in high school, Dahan set her sights on pursuing a culinary career, despite her father dissuading her from doing so.
“[He] told me it was male-dominated, that I would be on my feet all day, I would have to work holidays and weekends, and if I [did it] I should forget about having a normal life,” explains Dahan. “But I wanted to do it….So I just kind of threw myself into it. I think it’s probably best that I didn’t think too much into it because it’s a pretty tough field.”
That ambitious pursuit led to Gregoire Ferrandi, one of the top pastry schools in Paris, and an apprenticeship at the famed Gerard Mulot. Since then, the pastry chef has also baked for banquets of 2,000 people in Orlando, at competitions in Chicago, and at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, before landing a job at Stephen Starr’s French eatery Parc in the Rittenhouse area for the past 7 years. In 2020, Dahan also was able to show off her skills on Food Network competing on ‘Chopped Sweets,’ which she won. Dahan says that her time at Parc definitely helped her with the challenge, one that she says is especially tricky.
“It’s a whole production and everything is kept a secret,” she explains. “Everyone wanted to know if I actually knew what the ingredients were… You have no idea. You just know the theme, but that’s about it. You don’t know who the people are, you don’t know who the judges are, you don’t really know what the set looks like apart from what you’ve seen on TV. So, it’s pretty wild but it’s really fun. It’s like a really cool way to test yourself and see how far can I go? With a restaurant like Parc, it’s super high volume, it’s always going and you have to think on your feet all of the time. Things happen randomly….Oh just another day at Parc, we’re out of butter and I have three projects that need butter, what do I do? How do I fix this?”
In addition to the Food Network honor, Dahan has also earned first place at the L’art du Chocolatier Challenge in 2011, as well as being a Food Network Sweet Genius finalist in 2013. That mentality of moving on when a problem arises and figuring out how to adapt has served the young pastry chef well, even when COVID-19 hit.
“To work for yourself and to do something for yourself I think is just extremely difficult, and pretty bada**” says Dahan. “I wanted what every pastry chef wanted…My own pastry shop. Then I realized after many years of living this kind of life that you’re not out with regular people. You’re not out with the regular nine-to-fivers, you’re not out to happy hour, you’re not out to brunch on the weekends. My husband is not in my field, so I wanted to [figure out a way to] have some life and still be in my field.”
That thought turned into Dahan creating The Bake School, which features team-building classes, as well as private classes to those who have a passion for baking or who are looking to learn the basics of French baking and more.
“This year when we were getting all laid off, I thought, if not now, then when? I would never do it, because once you’re in a position like where I’ve been at Parc where I know my position well and I know how to do it well, I’m treated fairly, I’m compensated fairly… You get to place where you’re comfortable and being comfortable sometimes kind of kills ambition. So I used my position of being uncomfortable without a job to give myself a kick in the a** honestly. I just really needed that.”
With The Bake School, Dahan is aiming to give her clients a personal and catered experience. Even if you’re not ready to book a class right away, you can hop on a call or correspond with Dahan to figure out what your goals are and what you can achieve with what you have in your kitchen.
“I want to make sure people find the value in the service that I give. They can expect to learn, they can expect to have fun, eat something delicious, and honestly, I think what I see the most is that people are surprised at how well they can bake when they have someone helping them along the way,” explains Dahan.
The dessert connoisseur says the personal touch helps people achieve more than they ever thought possible on their own or by watching videos online. They then can ask questions directly to Dahan when they are learning to tackle some French pasties themselves.
“It’s essentially like I’m in front of them—but I’m not,” she explains. “My goal is to make baking accessible to people, and I think right now they think it’s not or that it’s far-fetched or scary. So, I want them to know that it’s not scary, they can do it, and if they come on and take a class with me, they’re going to be really astounded at what they can do.”
On top of the Bake School, Dahan is also introducing an initiative to her company’s resume, The Bake Camp by The Bake School. The Bake Camp will feature small, personalized group settings with 4-5 children who want to learn how to bake. The release states that each class will teach the foundational and fundamental pastry basics at a predetermined location suitable for the families. Classes will be socially distant, with masks required, and parents will be given advanced notice of required ingredients and kitchenware.
Dahan plans on launching this new concept as part of her ongoing Bake School services in early May.
For more information, visit thebakeschool.com