You would never hire an attorney who bills by the hour to type and file a report. Would you? Or pay a surgeon to sterilize surgical instruments, right? Wouldn’t it seem just as odd to ask a pastry chef to juice lemons or measure out cups of flour? So why is it the job of restaurant and bakery chefs to scale and prep recipes?
Often the preparation of ingredients, i.e., the mise en place, takes longer than the actual mixing process. Even a relatively simple recipe, like pumpkin pie filling, can contain anywhere from six to a dozen ingredients. No matter how well-organized the kitchen, the clock ticks away while a baker fishes the measuring spoons out of the bottom of the sink, unearths the rarely used cardamom from the spice rack, and runs down to the cellar for a can of pumpkin puree. In comparison, mixing the filling takes mere minutes.
One solution that is saving some establishments time and money is to hire an employee, known as a “scaler,” to put together the recipe components. The scaler measures and arranges the ingredients onto a sheet tray, leaving the pastry chef free to concentrate on mixing and assembling the final product. Dividing kitchen labor this way allows a pastry team to dramatically increase its overall production while simultaneously decreasing labor costs.
According to Modern Baking magazine (Full-line Retail Bakery Research, 2003) an entry-level baker’s starting wage averages $9.44 per hour and, after two years, increases to $11.77. Experienced restaurant pastry chefs can earn more than twice that amount. In contrast, since the job relies more on organization and accuracy rather than pastry know-how, scalers are generally paid minimum wage. Bakers who employ scalers can devote more time to high-level creative and technical work, such as the creation of more complex desserts, new menu development, and recipe testing.
There are a few things to consider before adding a scaler to a pastry team. First, the kitchen must have ample refrigeration space. A walk-in refrigerator is the ideal space to stash a rolling rack containing all of the measured and prepped ingredients. Second, the pastry chefs must be able to organize their prep lists in advance. The scalers should be given a list of recipes, ranked in order of priority, the day before production so they can check that the ingredients are in stock. Third, all recipes should list ingredients by weight, rather than volume, to ensure the greatest degree of accuracy.
A bakery or restaurant looking to increase productivity could benefit from hiring a scaler without fear that the employee would run out of things to do—this is a kitchen after all. Additional duties can include rotating and organizing inventory and prepping ingredients for future mise en place. Or a scaler can assist support staff (dishwashers, platers, counter staff, etc.) in other areas of the kitchen. Scalers who demonstrate ambition and drive can even be given some production tasks, thereby giving the chef even more time to create the next great dessert.