A lengthy queue along Philharmoniker Street in Vienna is a frequent scene. Tourists visiting the Austrian capital won’t miss this must-visit on their to-do list.
They’ll go into a famous hotel café to taste a small portion of cake, but not before they’ve photographed it patiently for their social media channels.
The famous Sachertorte, a round cake enrobed in rich, dark chocolate with apricot jam between three layers of firm chocolate cake (and served with the requisite side of whipped cream) was invented in 1832 by 16-year-old chef-to-be Franz Sacher.
Ever since, this dessert has made the Sacher Hotel, opened in 1876, one of Europe’s classiest and most-reputed hospitality establishments.
This might be the most famous cake connected to a hotel, but there are plenty of others. Hotels’ signature cakes are an emblem of quality and luxury. Vienna’s palatial Hotel Imperial is famous for its Imperial Torte. Boston’s Omni Parker House is renowned with a dessert called pudding-cake pie.
Tourists visiting Sorrento in Italy will not want to miss a taste of the Vittoria Cake, made with nuts, oranges and chocolate, with a small figurine, such as a crown or a bean, baked inside, at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria.
Red Velvet Cake was created at the Waldorf Astoria New York, and it remains the brand’s signature dessert. The Ritz-Carlton brand formed its signature cake by combining Grand Marnier and rich Valrhona chocolate.
Most people have a sweet tooth, as consuming sugar is one of life’s great pleasures. The love for sweets is visceral and the hospitality industry is very aware of it.
One might speculate that the road to world fame for hotels is certain with an in-house, quality pastry shop headed by a celebrity confectioner. Many will dispute this assumption, but all will agree it is for sure an asset.
Working in a pastry shop, whether in a hotel or a private one, has become a magnet aspiration for today’s millennials. Many of them don’t hesitate to switch careers and join the business of pastries, cakes and chocolate, driven by a dynamic industry and the rise of celebrity chefs on television and social media.
They don’t want to follow the herd; they want to follow their dream. Some have even said that a chef with a variety of outstanding desserts commands the same respect and remuneration as a doctor.
The fascinating heritage of hotel signature desserts and this millennial trend may look like a win-win for all parties. In Israel, every year hundreds register to study at schools such as Danon, Bishulim and Estella. Either their parents or they themselves invest enormous funds to pay to practice at these professional institutions and to receive a diploma.
Those schools are apparently the platform to make dreams come true. Looking at wanted ads, pastry workers, in either the hospitality industry or private pastry shops, are at the top of the list.
Graduates refuse work at hotels, preferring social media growth
In reality, many graduates simply refuse to work in hotels in Israel due to the hard work. Junior bakers will be asked to start their shift early in the morning to prepare fresh pastries for breakfast, stand on their feet for hours to manufacture complimentary chocolate petit fours for the guests’ rooms and sometimes help to prepare desserts for a wedding at the hotel ballroom in the evening.
Most of them will decline the job offer.
Instead, they believe in developing a reputation by creating an impressive Instagram page, uploading magnificent images of their pastry creations, preparing the cakes and sweets at their home kitchen and selling them via this platform. Supposedly instant publicity, more income and less work.
"Millennials are afraid of commitment and obedience to manuals and regulations. Especially after COVID, they prefer to stay at home, far away from the challenging reality of the real world of long hours and a pressured environment.”Tal Schneider, director of human resources at the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya
״How long can a young pastry graduate bake at home, sell the product and make a living? Where will he be five years from now,” asks Tal Schneider, director of human resources at the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya. “Working for hotels guarantees a career, professionalism, social benefits and also tolerance for mistakes that junior employees make. Still, millennials are afraid of commitment and obedience to manuals and regulations. Especially after COVID, they prefer to stay at home, far away from the challenging reality of the real world of long hours and a pressured environment.”
Oren Zilbershtein, the 47-year-old executive pastry chef at the David Kempinski Tel Aviv Hotel, says his love for the profession started “when I was seven years old, rolling rogelach at my father’s business, the famed Zilbershtein bakery,” which operated on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street.
“My biggest professional mistake is not growing in a hotel environment. I joined the hotel industry when I was 40 years old. A late bloomer. Hotels’ pastry shops function as an incubator for youngsters. They do work hard and long hours, but they learn constantly as the popularity of pastries has grown tremendously for breakfast, dinners, banquets, meetings and happy hours. Is there a better place to become a true professional?”
Low salaries main complaint for aspiring pastry chefs
READING RECENT, endless posts on social media reveals that millennials connected to the profession are mainly complaining about the low salaries. Some of them find it difficult to make a living. The combination of low wages and long hours make many speculate if this is a profession for the future.
Hagar Levy had a dream to be a pastry chef since childhood.
“When I was eight years old my parents sent me to summer camps that involved baking,” she says. “After my army service I studied in Bishulim school, worked in a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv for a year until my family opened a posh café in the Sharon area, trusting me to carry the torch. I worked day and night for three and a half years and the profit was just too low. I decided that my life-dream is a fantasy. I changed course and moved to hi-tech.”
Five years later, Levy is a successful account executive at Snyk, a cybersecurity company.
Pastry chef, chocolatier, school director and judge on the popular show Bake Off Estella M. Belfer is certain that hotel pastry chefs have a problematic mentality for the school’s graduates.
“It’s called: ‘I will do the thinking. You will do the doing.’ As millennials want instant results, and excellence is not a relevant word, they look for easy shortcuts. Only those with true passion will succeed and, unfortunately, they are not that many,” she says.
“A hotel career is limiting as numerous hotels produce pareve desserts and the dairy ones are supplied by a third party. No true professional can evolve with this hurdle. Only the luxury hotels possess two separate kitchens, and their numbers are too small,” says Belfer.
French-born pastry chef Claude Bensimon runs his Madeleine Boutique in Kfar Etzion. For years he was in charge of the pastry kitchen at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, setting luxurious standards that are hard to find.
“In Israel we like to make money quickly without working hard,” he says. “Millennials had enough discipline in the army. There they become commanders real quick. When the uniforms are taken off, the last thing they need is discipline. How can we expect them to pursue excellence in the pastry world like hotels demand?"
“In France – where I grew up – youngsters work in pastry shops from when they’re 14, dreaming to receive one day the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the unique and prestigious award in France for craftsmanship, with a medal award and a ceremony at the Élysée in the presence of the president of the French Republic. Culturally, Israel does not offer something similar and the recognition for excellence is done by TV food reality shows,” he says.
One day, when hotels in Israel will compete for the best signature dessert and visitors will line up in the streets like in Vienna to taste them, we will know for sure that young people are eager to work in pastry shops in our hotels.
Regardless of the hard work, hotels remain the best place to practice, be professional and pursue excellence preparing desserts. And hoteliers have reiterated that wages are much more generous now than before COVID. In the meantime, Israelis will continue to enjoy the daily gastronomy reality shows from their sofas at home, ordering extraordinary homemade cakes for the weekend on Instagram.
The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.