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School daze

Canada’s baking and pastry arts education making huge strides

Written by LISA TABACHNICK HOTTA   
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 George Brown College recently spent more than $2.3 million on renovations to its bakery labs.  
It’s not just that steaming loaf of artisan bread that’s hot. These days, professional baking programs across Canada are sizzling with exceptionally high enrolment rates and delighted graduates finding jobs quickly. Meanwhile, schools are keeping pace by investing in up-to-date equipment and revamping curricula to match industry (and consumer) demand.

What’s the rationale behind this surge in demand for professional bakers? Much of it focuses on the trend toward authentic, natural foods made from organic and green ingredients.

“There’s a demand for classic breads and that’s part of this demographic,” says Martin Barnett, an instructor in Vancouver Island University’s professional baking department.

“People are willing to pay the price for fresh cream, real butter, high-quality breads and organic produce.”

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 Former Team Canada baker Tracey Muzzolini and Richard Miscovich of the Bread Bakers Guild of America take Vancouver Island University’s new wood-fired bake oven for a spin.  
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George Brown College baking and pastry arts program chairman Keith Muller at the grand opening of the school’s new labs earlier this year.
 
Full-up and waiting
“Way up!” That’s the sentiment expressed by baking program co-ordinators when asked about enrolment numbers. “All of our apprentice programs are full and our regular [baking] programs are full, too,” says Barnett.

The same holds true for George Brown College in Toronto. “It’s so ‘way up’ I can’t keep up with it,” says program chairman Keith Muller.

Elsewhere in Toronto, Humber College officials are also working hard to keep up with demand in their baking programs. “It’s way up – we are 50 per cent up in applications – and we’re waitlisted for the 2010-11 session,” says program co-ordinator Rudi Fischbacher.

And it’s more of the same in Niagara and Ottawa. At the School of Culinary and Wine Studies at Niagara College, approximately 36 apprentices are working in various levels right now, and “the demand [for the program] remains high over the past years,” says program chairman Craig Youdale.

Likewise at Algonquin College: “Enrolment is way up,” says baking and pastry arts program co- ordinator Tony Bond.

Temperature rising
To keep up with the demand from restaurants, resorts, cruise ships and pastry shops, which frequently hire baking program graduates, many schools have invested thousands – even millions – of dollars on new machinery, labs, technology and equipment.

For instance, at George Brown, new facilities abound. “We spent over $2.3 million on renovating the labs, and everything in it is industry standard,” Muller says. “We [now have] different kinds of equipment such as a rotating oven, rack oven, deck oven, plus blast freezers and individual work stations.”

Similarly, Humber College has invested about $6 million on new technology and machinery, including two dedicated labs and a dedicated chocolate room. New program options stemming from these investments include chocolate tempering and pastillage.

The culinary school at Niagara College recently purchased a variety of equipment, including chocolate tempering machines, spraying machines, a food dehydration machine, thermal circulators, new combination ovens and an Anti-Griddle for cold searing.

And in Ottawa, Algonquin’s baking program recently ran its second annual baking competition complete with industry judges and three separate categories – breads, cakes, and cookies.

The Vancouver Island University Culinary Institute has a new wood-fired brick oven, which is generating a lot of interest. “As the only culinary institute which currently has a wood-fired brick oven, we can offer more specialty artisan bread-making programs,” Barnett says.

Curricula updates
Looking at industry trends, building relationships with recruiters and professional bakers, and listening to feedback from students … these are just a few of the ways in which the right mix of baking and pastry arts programming is created. But what makes each school unique?

To incorporate the demand for fine chocolate products, staff at George Brown recently began offering a
chocolatier program that looks at all aspects of the chocolate industry, including farming, production, sales, and physically making fine chocolates such as truffles and showpieces.

Over at Algonquin, Bond feels that the school’s “shop management and theory” coursework helps differentiate Algonquin graduates from others. He may be right: a survey of last year’s baking program students showed a 90 per cent job placement rate.

Located in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Niagara College has a fantastic locale and a variety of fresh, farm-grown ingredients from which to choose. Staff are now considering creating a one-year certificate program in order to meet high demand for the baking program.

Across the country, the Culinary Institute at Vancouver Island University incorporates an early morning business into their curriculum. Barnett believes this gives students an edge. “One of the things that’s different [about us]: We run our program like a real bakery,” he says. “The students bake as if they’re at work with real-time deadlines and customers. It’s hard work and it’s early mornings (they start at 5 a.m.), and that makes us unique.”

At Humber College, 93 per cent of culinary students get internships (many international) and the college staff work diligently to make sure that each student’s placement is the right fit for both employer and student.

Continuing (Brea)Ed
Considering all of the options available today, it’s no surprise that many students are flocking to professional baking schools in search of a stable and exciting career. But what about people who simply want to explore their passion for pain du chocolat, or those who are employed in other industries and want (or need) a career change?

In addition to its full-time culinary and baking programs, Humber also offers weekend workshops focused on wedding cakes, breakfast, chocolates, wood-fired baking, artisan breads and advanced artisan baking.  Humber’s continuing education program provides a bevy of options, such as distance learning and industry certifications, and it will soon offer a certified master chef program.

At Algonquin, in addition to a variety of baking-related certificates and diplomas, hobbyists can opt for popular, one-time workshops such as creative decorating techniques for special-occasion cakes and dessert-making for diabetics.

Do you fancy coffee cakes, breakfast breads, Asian-style baking or perhaps some truffle making? You can find these and many more baking-related courses through George Brown’s popular continuing education offerings.

At the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island University, continuing education programs include wedding cakes, breakfasts, chocolates, wood-fired baking, artisan bread and advanced artisan baking. Barnett says the school’s weekend workshops are very popular.

Finally, at Niagara College, hobbyists can sign up for pastry craft and baking health and safety, and even register young chefs for a kids-only baking class!

With the economy steadily improving and the desire for authentic ingredients and homemade goods continuing to rise, professional baking programs across the country should remain hot over the next few years. Those who have a passion for baking, and are able to mix strong skills with business savvy, can look forward to a bright future.

“There’s been a shortage of skills,” Barnett concludes. “We can find a job for every competent graduate.”
 
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July 2010

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