Bakers Journal

Teaching the Teachers

October 20, 2016
By Martin Barnett

A gathering of baking and pastry chef instructors in Western Canada.

A group photo of attendees at an educational retreat on Vancouver Island hosted by Vancouver Island University.

Following an inaugural meeting at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary in November 2015, a group of baking and pastry instructors from Western Canada felt the need to continue their discourse on teaching and learning in the trade. As a result, an invitation for a reunion was sent out to all colleges in the four Western Provinces and Washington State, and 23 delegates made their way to Vancouver Island on the weekend of June 24-26 for a learning/teaching event.

The instructors at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo, B.C. proposed an agenda for the weekend with the opportunity for attendees to present innovations in both the lab/kitchen and the classroom. The agenda items included plated desserts, garnishes, chocolates, new equipment, sugar work and other current trends in both the kitchen and the classroom.

On Friday, June 24, the group was welcomed and given a tour of VIU and an overview of the culinary programs offered along with a visit to the Sturgeon Center and VIU’s Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning. On the way to a tour of Vancouver Island’s lush Cowichan Valley, the group stopped by Hearthstone Artisan Bakery in Nanaimo, a business recently established by two graduates from VIU’s baking program, Hailey Mannynvali and Paul Aboud. The travels continued with a visit to a vineyard, a cheese maker and True Grain Bread in Cowichan (a bakery with a flour mill). Then the group enjoyed an informal soiree at Providence Farm, (a VIU Culinary Institute partner) specializing in Farm to Table fare.

The evening also included a panel of local bakery owners and pastry chefs sharing their view of the industry and giving insights into how educators can support training for their recruitment needs. This lively discussion included: Teresa McNally Hogg, pastry chef at Butchart Gardens, Saanichton, BC; Cliff Leir, owner and baker at Fol Epi Bakery in Victoria; Richard Wilson, production manager at Portofino Bakery in Victoria; Bruce Stewart, owner of True Grain Bread; and AJ Thalakkat, executive pastry chef at Fairmont Empress in Victoria. Diane Evans of the Industry Training Authority, a government-sponsored organization that leads and coordinates British Columbia’s skilled trades system, moderated the panel.


It was clear the challenge for today’s bakery managers is that we have to throw conventional ‘in-house’ baker training out the window. Millennials have their own agendas and they don’t always jive with conventional guidance and orientation programs that have worked well previously. Millennials come with their own agendas and if we don’t respond on modern day terms the result will be frustration for both the employer and employee.

On Saturday and Sunday the group was treated to a varied program by attending delegates. On the teaching side, ideas and challenges around teaching ‘millennials,’ engaging with students in non-traditional situations and that catch-all, ‘good practice’ were presented by Rita Gower, a VIU baking and culinary instructor who has just earned her Master’s in Education.

Formative assessment, the idea of monitoring a student’s learning and providing ongoing feedback, continues to be the one of the most effective teaching tools available to instructors.  However, it is also one of the most under-utilized. Busy schedules, content-heavy courses and increasingly challenging student environments all contribute to formative assessment falling through the cracks. This workshop gave participants a recap of what formative assessment is, why it is so important to establish its regular use, and how to implement
an effective regimen of this type of assessment.

Representatives of Thermomix demonstrated the versatility of their compact, multi-function food processing machines, with David Nolan (VIU) and Aron Weber (SAIT) jumping in to make ice-cream a la minute. Nolan and Weber later presented ‘Modern Plating Techniques,’ emphasizing molecular gastronomical effects for garnishes.

Ken Harper (VIU) led a discussion on organizing Culinary Field Schools on Saturday afternoon. Harper has participated in field schools to Brussels and Paris and developed and led a field school to Belize, with another trip to Belize scheduled for May, 2017.

Saturday evening the group reconvened at Martin Barnett’s (VIU) residence with a wood-fired brick oven and enjoyed Neapolitan pizzas. Participants were extremely interested to share how their respective institutions delivered their varied programs.

On Sunday, Alan Dumonceaux (NAIT), manager of the Baking Team Canada, introduced the attendees to ‘speed laminating’ skills and other techniques including special effects with chocolate croissant dough.

The weekend was chock full of lively discussion, demonstrations and bonhomie. It was unique, because baking and pastry instructors very rarely get to network in a formally organized convention. At the wrap-up discussion it was unanimous that a similar event would be organized again at another venue.

The educational institutions represented included: Vancouver Island University; Vancouver Community College; Camosun College; Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts; Northwest Community College; North Island College; SAIT; NAIT; Red River College; and Bellingham Technical College.

Martin Barnett is instructor and chair of the Professional Baking Department for the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island University.

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