Home Lifestyle A Pastry Chef Ditches Desserts for Data Analysis

A Pastry Chef Ditches Desserts for Data Analysis


Chris Pariso grew up in New Hampshire in a family where everyone loved to cook. After high school, he trained at a local affiliate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and became a pastry chef.

But after more than five years in the kitchen, he realized he wanted to “do more with my life than bake cookies and brownies all day long.” Today, the 37-year-old Mr. Pariso is a data analyst on the corporate security team at Gartner, a research and advisory firm. But starting afresh in 2008—when the global economy was cratering—was scary. “I was very nervous. Everything had tanked,” he said.

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At the time, Mr. Pariso was an assistant pastry chef with a big bakery supplier. He didn’t enjoy baking anymore and was worn out by the grueling hours and their toll on his girlfriend. “It’s really hard to have a meaningful relationship when you’re working 70 hours a week and you’re exhausted when you come home,” he said.

A Pastry Chef Ditches Desserts for Data Analysis 1

Mr. Pariso making a gingerbread log cabin for a holiday display during his first career as a chef.

Photo: Chris Pariso/Julie Bidwell for The Wall Street Journal

His next career, he decided, should tap his mathematical aptitude and interest in criminal justice. That would require higher education—and more time than his culinary-arts course, which took less than a year. At age 25, he recalled, “here I am, walking away from an established career to go back to school, potentially saddle myself with a bunch of debt and then dive into an unknown job market.”

He enrolled in Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass., to pursue an associate’s degree. His bosses let him work weekends and shifts between morning and night classes during the week. In his first semester, Mr. Pariso juggled work and three classes. He bumped it up to five once he got the hang of school again. “I didn’t want this taking five or six years to get going on a new career,” he said.

He graduated and left the bakery supplier at the end of 2012. He moved to Connecticut to attend the University of New Haven and to be closer to his girlfriend, who was living in a New York City suburb. They married the following year and Mr. Pariso studied for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at UNH. He completed the program in 2½ years and spent two more earning a master’s in investigations.

More Career Reboots

He cobbled together savings, scholarships and student loans to pay the bills. UNH offered him a full-time administrative job at its research institute, waiving tuition for his final semester as an undergraduate as well as his graduate studies. After finishing his master’s, Mr. Pariso felt he had “plateaued” in his technical project manager position at the university. He began browsing job websites and wrote a computer script that scraped online openings that matched his keywords.

In April 2019, he landed the job at Gartner, where he monitors and reports on global developments that could affect the firm. Some days he might be assessing cybersecurity risks; on others, he is digging into concerns of possible fraud or internal waste. He also develops models to forecast the company’s expansion. “I’m the resident data/analytic nerd, and beat things with the math stick as needed,” Mr. Pariso said. Since the spring, he has been working from his Ridgefield, Conn., home, and expects to continue remotely until fall 2021.

His new field has better hours—and twice the pay he made as a pastry chef, he said. He and his wife, who is an adjunct professor at LIM College in Manhattan, have a 16-month-old son and a daughter who is nearly 3.

Mr. Pariso enjoys cooking and baking again, for his family. Habits he learned as a chef, such as “working calmly under stressful, time-sensitive situations,” are useful in his job, he said. Experience “in open kitchens has given me some great interpersonal skills, whether I’m interacting with co-workers, C-suite executives, vendors or individuals I’m interviewing for a security matter,” he said.

What’s more, Mr. Pariso added, pre-pandemic, “bringing in baked goods for a potluck or birthday never hurt either.”

Reboot Update

Name: Chris Pariso

Age: 37

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Location: Ridgefield, Conn.

Education: B.S. in criminal justice, University of New Haven; M.S. in Investigations, White Collar Crime concentration, University of New Haven.

Former Job: Pastry chef

New Job: Data analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory firm.

Aha moment: “This was more of a slow smoldering rather than a sudden explosion”—the result of frustration over grueling hours combined with “wanting to make some kind of change in my life.”

Most important piece of advice for changing jobs: Plan! “From deciding I wanted to do something to pulling the trigger was probably a full year. In that time, I was researching what jobs were out there….So you go on Monster or Indeed, look at the job you want to have, say, five years down the line, look at the requirements. OK, that’s your syllabus, that’s your course of action.”

Write to Ray A. Smith at ray.smith@wsj.com

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