By Karen Barr
The future of culinary arts
By Karen Barr
Today people are much more knowledgeable about food than ever before. Canada’s professional baking and pastry programs have had to advance forward, creating new courses to meet industry needs and offering specialty training certificates, while continuing to teach the classics.
The Chef School at George Brown College, in Toronto offers a one-year certificate or a two-year diploma in baking and pastry arts. “The second year is more advanced leadership and entrepreneurial. The pastry work is more refined, building on the skills learned in first year,” says Jennifer Lakhan-D’Souza, baking instructor at George Brown College. “Over the past five years we have made more changes to programs than we ever have before. Our directive is to prepare students for the workforce.”
Gone are the days of using premade fillings and jams in class. Lakhan-D’Souza says, “It’s now almost 100 per cent from scratch and if we do have to buy a product, we look for local or artisanal when we can.”
Lakhan-D’Souza notes that culinary students have always taken baking classes as part of their curriculum, but baking students were not required to take cooking classes. Today, in the third semester, there is a course called Bakery Café, where students learn to make not only artisanal breads, but sandwiches, soups and salads.
The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary has also added an introduction to cooking to their two-year baking and pastry arts program. “We did this to enhance the students’ training and give them a broader learning experience,” says Cindy Findlay, academic chair for baking and pastry arts. “The key thing we focus on is knife skills,” she says. “Students learn about the different types of knives and the right knife for the job, with hours of practical knife skill development.”
SAIT students take a course in customer relationship management, put to test at the Taste Market, a 120-seat restaurant in the city’s downtown core. “They learn table service, basic bartending and what it’s like to work the front of the house, in a live environment,” Findlay says.
The college has recently enhanced their course chocolate course. “Students make their own chocolate from beans. And they develop an understanding of ingredients, as well as a respect for the product,” says Findlay.
Beginning in the second semester, George Brown students learn to make bonbons, filled shells and some molded chocolates. Fourth semester advances into bars and enrobed chocolates.
For a final project, the students need to make homemade preserves and crackers that they pair with cheese, an entremet, bite-sized savouries and two kinds of bon bons. The seasonal items are presented at either a cocktail party or market pop-up, which allows the students to interact with the public.
At Montreal’s Maison Christian Faure’s private pastry school, students first study An Introduction to Pastry, followed by The Secrets of Bread. Chocolate and its many uses are taught, including truffles, candies and cakes. The Ceremonial Cakes course also includes decorating with gumpaste flowers. followed by ice cream and sorbets, then sugar work — pulled, blown and poured.
French-born Faure, who earned the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, opened his school in 2013. Almost every month the school hosts a guest chef to teach for one week, exposing the students to different teaching methods and techniques, which helps enable the school to keep current on industry trends.
And while Faure’s students are classically trained, he does encourage creativity. “Every student comes from a different background and this will influence a student. My role is to teach the same techniques, but encourage every student to allow the influence of culture to really shine through in their work.” says Faure.
At Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa three pastry certificates are taught in eleven- week blocks to form a diploma. In the basic certificate, students learn doughs, piping techniques and traditional cakes and tarts. In the intermediate certificate chocolate piping and tempering are taught, along with classical French entremets, basic bread baking, ice cream and sorbets. At the superior level, students focus on contemporary plated desserts, petite fours and sugar work including blown, pulled and colour-casted.
Le Cordon Bleu is also particularly proud of their boulangerie program, taught over 12 weeks. “People love bread. It’s something we eat every day,” says French-born instructor Chef Hervé Chabert, who has 30 years of experience in the industry.
The program is open to anyone, but Chabert says it is especially appealing to students who have completed one of the culinary programs and are interested in further pursuing baking and pastry.
Then, it’s onward to artisan breads made with starters such as poolish and sourdough. Speciality flours are also used to create bread for dietary restrictions and preferences.
As for the final exams Chabert adds, “Students are asked to create their own original recipe, using the skills they have used in class, as well as make a bread centerpiece and give a presentation and portfolio of their work.”
Humber College, in Toronto offers a graduate certificate in advanced chocolate and confectionery artistry. “It consists of one semester in chocolate and another semester in sugar confection. The program runs in the evenings and offers hybrid, classroom and lab applications,” says Joe Kumar, instructor and program co-ordinator. “Our state of the art climate controlled bake labs are designed to accommodate a variety of different learning experiences.”
Humber College also teaches international desserts, frozen preparations and multi-tiered special occasion cakes. Through studies in entrepreneurship, as well as recipe and product development, students learn about launching a branded product.
Students get real world experience with the final course Chocolate and Confectionary Artistry Capstone. Here, students meet with real clients, provide samples and custom design either a three tiered special occasion cake, with detailed piping, or a sweet table consisting of at least three advanced pastries and one chocolate item.
Education is an important part of a baker and pastry chef’s foundation. Choosing which school and program depends upon on a student’s interest and ultimate career goals.