Sweet Success

FVCC students design delicacies for mock brides and grooms in baking and pastry course

By Madeleine Lamon
Flathead Valley Community College culinary student Christine Giesen presents a wedding cakes on June 21 in Kalispell. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Tim Shay knew exactly what type of dessert his bride wanted.

In fact, he had a photograph of the traditional cake that the couple had enjoyed during their wedding three decades prior. This time, however, he would make the cake and he would do it for a grade.

As one of 13 students in the Baking and Pastry course with the Culinary Institute of Montana at Flathead Valley Community College, Shay was tasked with recreating and presenting his original wedding cake before chefs, FVCC employees, friends and family at a special event on Thursday, June 21.

Working under the tutelage of Deborah Misik, the students spent weeks learning about different aspects of the baking process, including icing, cake level and professional service. For their final practical exam, each student was tasked with creating a cake for the upcoming nuptials of a mock bride and/or groom.

The chefs in training worked closely with their “clients,” typically FVCC employees or graduates of the culinary program, to determine the flavors and overall design of their creation.

Having practiced on Styrofoam models, the students had about four days to produce the final versions of the project before presenting them to dozens of people in the crowded FVCC kitchen of the Arts and Technology building.

The cakes varied in size, flavor and design, from Katie Walsh’s “geode” theme to the “black tie affair” of Michael Hanson to Corttney Gobin’s “winter wonderland.”

The students, Misik said, would be graded based on various aspects of their cake, including its taste and look as well as their professionalism and service ability. 

Under the current curriculum, the bakery and pastry course falls toward the end of the students’ time in the culinary arts program. FVCC is restructuring the program starting January 2018, meaning that future students will take the baking and pastry course as one of their first courses.

Jennifer McCrea, who created the “Valentine’s Day Wedding Cake,” described the cake-making process as “very tedious” and “so much fun.”

Hailing from Laurel, McCrea added that she was interested in working as a baker or a pastry chef after completing the culinary program.

“It’s work that requires patience and time,” she said. “It’s so cool that it just makes people smile.”

Having grown up cooking with her grandmother, Brittany Strand, the baker of the “Hand-Painted Wedding Cake,” a gluten-free creation, said she rediscovered her love of making food in her home economics class in middle school.

Like McCrea, Strand, a Missoula native, said she hoped to one day open a bakery.

Shay, however, said he wanted to pursue a different path, perhaps using his degree to work for a school district.

As they served slices of their delicacies to the hungry guests, McCrea, Strand, Shay, and other students emphasized their appreciation of and gratitude for the culinary program and their instructors.

“I think anybody who’s interested in culinary arts should come here because our instructors really care about what they’re teaching us and they really want us to learn everything,” Shay said. “They’re educators and chefs at the same time.”

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