When pastry chef Stephen Howell decided to pursue the culinary arts, he knew he preferred baking to cooking. "It takes that special touch to create figures out of chocolate and sugar," he says. Howell's passion for sweet confections launched a profession that continues to challenge him every day.
Howell grew up surrounded by flour, sugar and butter. "I guess I was being groomed to become a chef since I was little. My mother, grandmothers, uncle and my aunts baked. If you couldn't find me, I was with them baking — sometimes I was caught literally with my hands in the cookie dough or pie filling mixes," he says. Howell's love of baking emerged during his childhood, but it took a backseat as he pursued a career in the Air Force. Powell's interest in baking didn't truly blossom until 2013, when he found himself looking for a new vocational direction. While attending Le Cordon Blue, Powell trained as a pastry chef, bringing back childhood passions and empowering a career reboot.
A Sweet Career
Since graduating, Howell has made his way through the Florida pastry world. Currently, he works at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, a five-star resort in the heart of Universal Studios. He spends each day creating confections for different aspects of the hotel, from the restaurants to the shops within the resort. Howell has to arrive early in the morning to bake — a job that includes not only the desserts for guests but also the samples showcased at the front of each restaurant. He tactfully balances the challenges of a very early morning start with the high expectations for his work and the demands of a fast-paced kitchen.
Pastry chefs, after all, have additional responsibilities to baking. Howell helps plan the dessert menu, selects and creates recipes for the sweet dishes to be served at special events, orders ingredients and maintains a tight schedule. "The life of a pastry chef isn't always easy. Not being able to have family time is one of the sacrifices you have to make," Howell notes. Unlike a nine-to-five job, baking requires a schedule that aligns with the needs of an establishment, which can include early mornings or late nights. Howell credits his true passion — creating sculpted desserts for special occasions — with making the sacrifices of a chef's life worth it. The joy he takes from this specific task outweigh any of the challenges of his tough schedule, and proves that if you love your job, you can find balance with other aspects of your life.
Since starting his journey as a pastry chef, Howell discovered his family's deep history in the culinary world. He was surprised to learn he comes from a long line of chefs and restaurant owners. Although inspired by his relatives, Howell hopes to move in a different direction. His next goal is to teach the future generation of pastry chefs about the skills required for baking.
Howell offers some words of wisdom for aspiring pastry chefs:
- Just say, "Yes, Chef!"
- KISS, or "Keep it simple, stupid."
- Always ask if you don't know something, and you will never fail.
- Go after that dream and never let anyone say you can't!
As you move forward in your culinary path, seek out mentors like Howell to guide you toward the job of your dreams. Successful and experienced professionals are a powerful resource to help aspiring bakers navigate the challenges of the field. Just like how Howell found the ideal field for him and his passion, there's a perfect fit out there for you as well!
Photo credit: Stephen Howell