Bonnie Gordon’s fashionably wrapped self seems to be floating on a
festive cloud. Festive, I say, because it is with endearing childlike
excitement that she proudly peeks into a classroom to give me a glimpse
of what’s new in the internationally known cake designer’s world.
Bonnie Gordon’s fashionably wrapped self seems to be floating on a festive cloud. Festive, I say, because it is with endearing childlike excitement that she proudly peeks into a classroom to give me a glimpse of what’s new in the internationally known cake designer’s world. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm is infectious, and Gordon has it in spades, with good reason these days. The Bonnie Gordon School, at 868A Eglinton Ave. W. in Toronto, is now a private career college. Graduates earn a college-level certificate program in Designer Cakes. The curriculum runs in an intensive 35-hour-per-week, six-week format and as a 29 week part-time evening program offered twice a week.
|Photography by Michael Kohnr
“Our service is filling the niche market for people who want a ministry approved certificate,” says Gordon. “Send your people here for six weeks and you’ll get back a cake designer.”
For Gordon, the school’s achievement expands her ability to give back as an instructor and mentor in an industry she helped innovate. A forerunner of modern wedding cake design in Canada, she began in the 1990s and spent the next decade honing her style and building an international reputation.
Her exquisite cake designs betray Gordon’s initial history in fine arts as opposed to food arts. She attained a bachelor of fine arts as well as a post-graduate degree in art education from Concordia University in Montreal. She went on to earn a masters in education from the prestigious Bank Street College of Education in New York City, where she worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts and the Brooklyn Museum. When Gordon returned to Canada she held positions at the Ottawa Museum of Nature and Toronto’s McMichael Gallery.
However, she says she always had an interest in food. After the birth of her second child, Gordon pursued chef and baking classes before starting her journey into the world of celebration cakes.
“It’s just a change of medium really,” Gordon says of the transition from art to cake design.
Considering her background in education, it seems a natural move that she began offering classes in 2006 at the school’s current location in Toronto’s west end. At first, the business resided only in the upstairs of the street front space with an interior resembling a charming old townhouse warmed by dark wood. The layout is very much residential, obviously a former home above retail space below. In January 2010 she was able to expand the school into the downstairs after gutting and rebuilding the space to include a professional kitchen for her business ambitions.
Gordon had been working on turning her school of classes into a private career college for a couple years, retiring as a cake designer to focus all her energy on being the school director. The new college level programming and continuing education, which accommodates introductory, intermediate and advanced students, operates downstairs. Passersby stopping to gawk at the cakes in the storefront windows can now also catch a glimpse through the glass of students at work.
The six-week intensive certificate has classes running from 9:30 to 5 p.m., five days a week. Gordon emphasizes that the school isn’t offering less in its condensed format; rather it’s a professional level course over a shorter stretch of time. Over the years she has taught students from as far away as China, Brazil and Korea. The school runs all year and an evening option is now available. One and two-day baking and pastry classes are also options, attracting hobbyists and professionals alike. The program is designed to accommodate everyone from beginners to pastry chefs. College classes are small, comprising up to 10 students, one head instructor and a teaching assistant. The core focus of the programming is on building fondant-covered, three-tiered cakes. However, instruction encompasses everything from making premium batters sturdy enough for fondant-covered cakes to creating gum paste flowers and figure modelling. Students also tackle preserves and custom flavour profiles and fillings.
|Bonnie Gordon, retired from cake design, is now dedicated solely to her role as the
school’s director. Photography by Michael Kohnr.
“The inside of the cake needs to be as perfect as the outside,” says Gordon. “This is teaching at an artisanal level. That’s why I call it cake design and not cake decorating.”
Gordon believes Toronto is one of the strongest cities for cake design and graduates of her classes are growing the scene by opening up hometown shops and continuing to hire her grads. She has also cultivated talented instructors, some of whom have competed in Food Network challenges and one of whom has even been commissioned to go to Dubai and Australia to design wedding cakes.
“Traditionally, caterers were the cake providers,” says Gordon. “But expectations have changed. Wedding cakes are now as important as the flowers and the gown. Brides are demanding more. They want a beautiful cake, but an affordable price. Every neighbourhood now has a cupcake shop that also offers fondant-covered cakes.”
Gordon’s school expansions are allowing her to place more and more students as interns with former students. She also offers a small retail space open to the public with supplies imported from the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Gordon says education is important for understanding how to create an affordable line of cakes so you can provide different price tiers for varying clientele and all of their milestones that are opportunities for celebration cakes. She says palates have changed: high-quality cakes and real butter are back, but you still need a cake for low, mid and high-end spenders. The key is to wow them with professional creativity.
“I see this as an arts school,” says Gordon. “Most of us feel the need to be creative in life.” / BJ
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