A couple of months ago I went to the Chambre de Commerce (Metiers) here in little old Versailles to try and register myself as a sole-trader patissiere and it wasn’t possible because my Diploma in French Pastry from Ferrandi is not recongised “par l’etat”, that is the French state, meaning if I don’t hold a French diploma, that is called a CAP diplome then I can not register a business, nor a business name. Since then I’ve decided to qualify myself with the minimum and necessary qualification that is required by France, the CAP diplome en patisserie and I’m undertaking this at TECOMAH college located in the very green and leafy suburb of Jouy-en-Josas, just close to Versailles.
Firstly, what is a CAP diplome? Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle. It is the minimum qualification one is expected to have in France. Your motivation, your personality, what you can do and even if you are the best at what you do all comes secondary to that piece of paper that says the word “CAP Diplome”. For the French, their CAP diplome can be their high school certificate, college and/or university qualification (if I’ve understood this correctly). It’s also the minimum qualification most employers are looking for.
What is a CAP diplome “reconversion” en patisserie? It’s for adult learners (over 18 years) and is designed for career changers. CAP reconversion is a recent development and is proving to be very succesful particularly with more women deciding on reconversion.
Duration of this CAP reconversion en patisserie diplome? 1 year. Started September 2014 and ends (with exams) June 2015.
Timetable of CAP reconversion en patisserie diplome? 1 week of school and 2 weeks of internship and it goes like this for the year. Holidays are given on the school timetable however it’s up to your boss/chef at your internship whether your school holidays will be used to work.
Why do I want a CAP diplome en patisserie? As it’s my decision to live in France permanently, and I did not go to high school here, I want to have a minimum qualification equal to that of a high school certificate in addition to being a qualified professional as recognized by my industry in France as well as by French government and law. As well, it allows me to register as an auto-entrpreneur (sole-trader) if I choose to in the next 3 years. Also, I want to go back to school. The Ferrandi program was always going to be just the very start, I thought however I would get the following training from my internships (followed by possible employment), this did not happen. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the lab and I’m glad to be back. At school the Chef’s priority is the student to ensure he or she is equipped with the best skills, and unlike a candidat libre, you have your Chef to advise and prepare you for exams all the way through your studies. Candidat libres however can have also the advantage as a student in school if they are working in a patisserie or related field as they have at their disposal the experience, knowledge and assistance of their colleagues and patron (Chef/owner).
What is candidat libre? It’s someone who is not enrolled in a course but is eligible to take the exams. For example, you’re working in a patisserie and have enough experience to take just the exams. Candidat libre is also an international student who is undertaking a pastry program in France, such as the one at Ferrandi BUT if the international student did not complete high school in France then under a Candidat Libre status the students must not only pass the pastry exams (theory and practical) but they must also pass all the high school subjects such as geography, history, maths, sports. Internationals who don’t have adequate French to sit for exams (theory and practical) may ask for a translator and get 15-30 minutes extra to answer questions.
Why didn’t I go as a Candidat Libre? I did apply for a candidat libre in 2013 when I got my stage (internship) in a patisserie last year. I would have my practical lab experience at my internship and study the theoretical subjects on my own in my spare time. It did not happen like this. Why? When I started at my internship my Chef/Boss was very kind to me, he was informed of my desire to complete the CAP exams as a candidat libre so he went to the trouble of photo-copying previous exams. That was super nice. The problem, after 3 months of interning I’d learnt nothing. I didn’t really get any hands on experience, being a stagiare (an intern) meant cleaning a lot tart and canelé moulds. I mabye filled an odd eclair once in a while, I certainly never made pastry choux, nor made a crème patissiere, certainly didn’t get the chance to do glacage, or even fill an entremet ring with mousse. Too much time was going by where I was not practicing. So I had to accept that I will not be prepared for the CAP exams so I had to pull out.
When you don’t need to have a CAP diplome. If you practice patisserie outside of France and it’s French colonies. In France, if you sell “dry” goods only such as biscuits or gateaux de voyage (tea cakes) you do not need a CAP diplome. However, if you want to sell wet goods which are recognised as products containing creams, butter, milk, jams, all which you can find in desserts such as les petits gateaux, entremets, mille-feuilles and even my beloved macarons you need a CAP diplome. Now, since I live here and will possibly live here for the forever future I think it’s a now or never situation.
There is an alternative to the CAP diplome. You can work in a patisserie (or patisserie related) for 3 years and that is enough to qualify you to open a business or register as a sole-trader (auto-entreprenuer).
CAP diplome en patisserie means maths, french, geography, history, sports… etc that’s if you did not attain your high school certificate, Le BAC, in France. There is a way out. At the moment I’m having to retrieve my school certificates from the NSW Board of Education in Australia. This will then be analysed by the french education board which can take 4 – 6 months but they must do this before I sit for my exams in June 2015. They may however decide my high school certificates from Australia are not an equivalent to the French BACCALAUREAT (high school diploma). Fingers crossed they’ll pass it. Otherwise I’ve got to get cracking on my geo, history, maths, etc and all in FRENCH!
Notes: When I had enrolled into the Ferrandi pastry program I knew of the option to do the CAP diplome as a candidat libre but at the time the idea was too daunting. My thinking at the time was: get an internship, the intership will be all wonderful, I’ll learn heaps, do heaps and they’ll love me and this will then lead me to a full time employment at une belle maison like Lenotre, Ladure, Ble Sucre, Carette …. for 3 – 5 years minimum, even 10 years! But then once I was in I learnt what it is really like and my future and what I wanted started to look grey. But…. now I’m back on track. I know what I want having a clearer vision of things. It’s just a matter of opening those doors again and finding something that’s right for me. Fingers crossed my luck will change for everyone’s sake 😉
I’m looking forward to the next post, my first week at TECOMAH. I think it’s the first time that an Australian undertakes one of their culinary programs so it’s been a very very new experience, but possibly the best one so far.