I initially only signed up for the bread course, wanting to learn about proper bread making. At the time, I had no previous experience in pastry kitchen, only cooked and had spent most of my life in academia. I was thinking about career change at the time. So I got an apprentice job at a German bakery. My rationale being, before I threw 25K at schools like Le Cordon Bleu, I’d better make sure I like baking. It was pretty magical to be in a real bakery and mass produce hundreds of loaves of bread. My career at the time also required that I stay in Vancouver, so I searched for a school locally.
Then I ran into the video of him making strudel.
Back then I was approaching baking as someone who had spent years of life in school and research. I was reading about baking in different cultures and eras. I knew in practice, not many places do strudels the traditional way. I was dying to go to Czech or Hungary to watch a grandma stretch out a dough and make strudels. And here was a guy in Vancouver who branded his school by doing that.
I immediately signed up for his pastry program, as well as the macaroon and éclair classes. After the workshops with macaroon and éclair, I got to know the chef a bit better. He is very passionate about fermentation and bread, as well as chocolate.
As a researcher, this is how I perceive learning and arts. Pastry, chocolate work and bread are craftsmanship of their own. Having watched some documentaries on food and baking while I was thinking about what I’d like to do with my passion in food, I understood that industrialization destroyed little shops and craftsmen that had passed along the art of pastry making through generations and eras. We are lucky enough that some people still bother to handcraft simple things like a loaf of bread and strudels. So while I was at it, why not learn chocolate as well?
His grand certificate program has 4 components, by far I had decided on three already. I eventually signed up for all of them, plus all the seasonal classes. It was my year away from research, but to zoom in on pastry.
It was one of the most incredible experience. Working with my hands and brain was very different from my previous career. Sure, he is strict (do you know any other Germans, as in have you met a Chinese that does not do food Instagram). The chocolate diploma program was quite intense, as it came with an exam, and we all stressed about it. Sure, he has a dark sense of humor, and is never afraid to speak his mind. You will hear from him if you work is not to standard. But he is a lot milder than chefs in commercial kitchens. I did end up working in a commercial kitchen in a restaurant for the summer, and witnessed real head chefs in actions. I knew he had that chef in him too, and so his bluntness could almost be interpreted as patient, in a chef’s world.
Being a home cook, what I loved the most was the freedom to throw in new ingredients. Baking, on the other hand, always baffled me, as I was supposed to follow steps. However, I do enjoy precision and structure. One of my burning questions before pastry school was whether I could improvise, make changes and create new things out of the classics. Chef Marco is quite the nerd, and he explains well the relationship between texture and methodologies, temperature and baking time, and how to create your own products by manipulating different factors in the pastry kitchen. Towards the end, I could read a recipe and analyze them, develop methodologies and organize the work flow just by looking at ingredients. I know his teaching method is not for everyone, but for someone from the science world, the program was a heaven sent, as I need to know why and how.
I also did the Advance French Patisserie after pastry program was finished. It was so much fun utilizing the knowledge gained from the pastry program, and to experiment on different textures, using different techniques and learning to be creative and developing our own recipes and style.
I worked with different groups, and I believe I was lucky to have met the best groups of people to share our passion in pastry. I think you can only gain confidence by practising, and truly understand the basics of baking and pastry through undergoing the full program. I am privileged to have had the time, and a career that allowed me to do so. And I know this is only the beginning. It is an art and craft that take years of training to master, and the best pastry chefs all agree that they need to continue to push themselves throughout their career. The program was definitely better than any books or videos I have watched. I never enjoyed classroom learning, except for this program. We learnt from the instructor as well as our peers, who come from professional kitchens, research, and every walk of life. I admit that I will probably never be a cake decorator, or a chocolatier. But I am taking everything I learnt at school to hone my skills in bread and pastry. Sometimes only through trying everything do we understand what we truly love. And who wouldn’t love a little bit of chocolate work or beautiful decoration on their pastry?
Thank you Chef for the experience and it was an honor to work with all my classmates.