day-to-day activities

The Last Bread Guild

Sometimes the last of something is good. You’re done doing something, you’re putting it all to bed. But other times it’s just a moving on to the next thing that will become something great. Last year Le Cordon Bleu and it’s parent company Career Education Company (CEC) announced that they would be closing all of their schools in the United States. That’s a big deal. That’s 18 schools. I worked at the one in Chicago, Illinois in the River North area. We were one of the flagship schools having been a culinary school long before CEC came along. I had also attended this school back in the nineties when it was owned by one woman, Linda Calafiore. The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC) was family run and had stood for over 25 years when CEC bought it. I came back to teach in the winter of 1997. My boss, Chef Mark Facklam, had been my teacher and was also my mentor. He taught me how to cook and then he taught me how to be a teacher.

It was during that first year of teaching that a couple of students, both named Cheryl approached me and said they wanted to learn more about bread. I said that we had a bread course. But they said they wanted to go deeper into what made bread work. Our course was only 6 weeks long. They wanted to do different breads from around the world and have a discussion about the breads. We decided to meet on a Sunday afternoon and bring wine to go with the bread. The bread making was quickly forgotten once the wine started flowing and the conversation got heated up. We decided to dispense with the wine and stick to making bread for the next time. We went on like that making all different types of bread each month for a few years.

chef_tomThere was a change in a few years. We had a school administrator tell us that we had to make defined subjects for each months production. I bristled at this right off the bat. We had done just fine for years making whatever anyone wanted to make that day. Why would we want to change? Well, I hate to admit it, but it made Bread Guild as it was then called, even better. We started in December of 2003 with Christmas breads of course. I put out a newsletter announcing exactly which breads would be made on that Sunday. We made pan d’oro, panettone and stollen. The breads were spectacular. The following month we made very lean breads to counteract the fatty and sugary breads of the previous month. February was chocolate breads for Valentines day. March was Irish breads. April was flatbreads. May  was fruit and nut breads. June was yeast cornbreads. July was whole grain breads. August, the most popular month was pizza. We usually had triple the attendance on that month. September was French breads. October was Bagels and Bialys. November was Thanksgiving breads. I can remember all of the months because we went on like that for another 12 years. That school administrator sure had a good idea.

I left Le Cordon Bleu in 2015 for Escoffier School of Culinary Arts online but I didn’t forget about bread guild. My friend and fellow baker, Ken Teets, soldiered on and continued bread guild until now. Saturday, September 17 will mark the last bread guild meeting at LCB. It will be bittersweet thinking back to the two Cheryls talking me into getting a bread club together all those years ago. I loved my time at LCB and I love my students to this day. They are what made the bread guild great all through its long history.

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