Unique skill set provides novel perspective
Ciril Hitz is a hybrid. He's part bread baker, part pastry chef. He's part industrial designer, part food artist. And he's as comfortable firing up a kiln as he is an oven.
Hitz followed an unusual road to accumulate his seemingly disparate set of skills. He parlayed a Rhode Island School of Design degree in industrial design with a ceramics focus into an apprenticeship as a pastry chef in his native Switzerland. After several years apprenticing, and several more back in the American baking and pastry industry, he found a calling in education. Ever since, he has served as both a pastry chef instructor and a baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I.
But it was not until an annual Johnson & Wales trip to a New York food show that Hitz's incongruous background really began to coalesce.
At the show, the school entered a competition requiring a bread showpiece. Hitz was coaxed into taking the assignment, and surprised even himself when his entry won first place.
That competition started him on a path that led him to the Bread Bakers Guild of America and a silver medal in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2002. He then won the gold medal in the culinary event company Carymax's National Bread and Pastry Championships in 2004, sweeping the showpiece, breakfast and bread categories. He also assisted the gold medal winning Coupe team in 2005.
“I've been involved in every team since mine. My passion is education, and my goal is that people can take my formulations and ideas and develop them into their own,” Hitz says. “My skill set and vision is to make bread visually appealing beyond what we expect. The display, packaging and marketing of that goal, hopefully increases sales potential for bakers I train.”
When not instructing at Johnson & Wales, he heads the artistic bread design category for the Guild, training the next set of international teams.
“I think the Guild's mission is education, and being an educator, the logical progression was for me to give back to the organization that trained me and helped me to do what I do,” Hitz says. “Even though I haven't gone the traditional route of most bakers — I'm a slash between pastry chef and baker — the Guild has embraced me as a key member.”
Hitz also created an instructional series of DVDs spanning the baking industry, from pastry to bread to artistic design. With a foot on each side of the aisle of bread and pastry, he has worked with Carymax to teach busy pastry chefs how to develop bread lines, and vice versa for the bread bakers of the Guild.
Last October, he and his wife, Kylee, penned a book on baking bread. They have a new book on breakfast pastries coming out in November. Meanwhile, he continues instructing at Johnson & Wales and with the Guild.
“Sometimes we focus on education, sometimes competition. The two go hand in hand,” Hitz says. “Not everyone will be on Team USA, but everyone gains from the knowledge and practice gained through competition.”
Reaching out on bakers' behalf
Minerva Nadler's husband Hans was the one who, until recently, carried the title of International Director for the Retail Bakers of America (RBA). But most correspondence between the RBA and the international baking community was and is, at some point, channeled through her.
“My husband speaks several languages — French, German, Spanish and more — but because he's such a hands-on baker, it fell to me to handle correspondence and e-mail replies,” Nadler says. The two own Nadler's Bakery and Deli in San Antonio.
Also, much of the international correspondence is coming from Mexico and South America, and Nadler speaks fluent Spanish.
“I am RBA's official contact with Spanish-speaking organizations, and we partnered with the Mexican bakers organization CANAINPA, whom we featured in the most recent American Bakery Expo in Atlantic City,” Nadler says. “This was all new for Mexico. They hadn't freely done these training seminars or hands-on workshops, but this has helped them open up their minds and eyes to the fact that when hands reach across continents, we all seem to have the same goal in mind. We should help each other.”
Also, Nadler recently was recognized as the Grassroots Patriot of the Year from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) thanks to a storefront letter-writing campaign she led to alert several levels of government to the plight of bakers during the commodities crisis. The campaign also alerted customers to the situation and encouraged them to endorse individual letters that Nadler created and provided. She even paid for postage.
“We don't want our industry to die,” she says. “These things bother me because ours is a fine industry.”
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