NSCC program no cakewalk
November 1, 2013, 5:46 PM AST
Last updated November 5, 2013, 10:03 PM AST
The emergence of baking in pop culture has likely contributed to a recent spike in the popularity of the baking and pastry arts program at the Nova Scotia Community College, says pastry chef Jean-Luc Doridam.
“There’s a big demand for pastry,” says Doridam, who has taught in the program since its inception 16 years ago. “If you look at reality TV shows, especially on the Food Network, a lot of them are based on baking. You look at Cake Boss, and the crazy competitions for cake decorating …. I think it has increased interest for people going into the field.”
The baking and pastry art program, the only one of its kind in Nova Scotia, is offered at two locations – the Akerley campus in Dartmouth and the Kingstech campus in Kentville.
Students are immersed in a one-year crash course in all things delicious. Instruction is divided into five parts: yeast dough, quick breads and cookies, pastry, plated desserts and decoration.
“They rotate through different courses. One week they will be working on the yeast section making bread. The next week they will work on breakfast pastries,” says Doridam. “Every week they’re doing something different. They work on a five week rotation.”
They also are required to complete courses on computer skills, human relations and communications, all designed to help them learn about the business side of baking.
Students get hands-on experience by learning and working in a professional pastry kitchen. They report to the pastry lab at 7:30 a.m. to prepare their tools and ingredients. Following a brief demonstration by Doridam, students take off in a flurry of flour, icing sugar and cocoa.
Their hard work doesn’t go to waste. The goodies are sold in the college’s bake shop as well as in the cafeteria and campus restaurant. All proceeds go back into the program to cover the cost of ingredients.
“We try to make it as close as possible to working in a real bakery, restaurant or pastry lab,” says Doridam. “We have deadlines for everything. We need to be ready for service and make sure that the food goes out on time. It is very much run like their own pastry shop.”
Students learn everything from basic cookie recipes to elaborate tiered cakes and complex chocolate showpieces.
There is also a mandatory work term, to give students real-world experience.
Leona D’Entremont, a student, says the program gives her confidence to enter the world of professional pastry making. While she enjoys all aspects of baking, she says that working with sugar is the most intriguing.
“Pulling the sugar… stretching the sugar… heating it up. It’s very challenging. It’s amazing how just a little bit can make a unbelievable design.”
Doridam’s students have participated in the Canadian Skills Competition for the past dozen years, “and we’ve never placed lower than the top three,” he says.
Last year graduate Patrice Burke won gold in baking at the WorldSkills Americas competition in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Doridam says that his students receive the instruction necessary to help them launch their careers.
“It’s an excellent program. We have a good reputation within Canada as a quality pastry program.”