Chef Sébastien Canonne, MOF; Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer–cofounders, French Pastry School
Growing up in France, Sébastien Canonne and Jacquy Pfeiffer’s career path to becoming pastry chefs was fairly clear-cut: apprentice with another well-known pastry chef to learn the skills needed to become a pastry chef in your own right. Canonne apprenticed with legendary pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre in Paris and Pfeiffer apprenticed at Jean Clauss Pâtisserie. Both then moved around to various hotels, restaurants and famous families before finding themselves in Chicago.
In the United States, the path to becoming a pastry chef was not so well-defined. “After moving to the U.S. in the 90s and realizing that there was a great need for education dedicated entirely to pastry, I built a kitchen on the west side of Chicago to teach continuing education classes with Sébastien,” Pfeiffer says.
The small kitchen that opened in 1995 has grown into the French Pastry School, which instructs more than 1,000 students yearly in its three main programs: L’Art de la Pâtiesserie, a full-time 24-week pastry and baking certificate program; L’Art du Gâteau, a professional, full-time, 16-week cake baking and decorating program; and L’Art de la Boulangerie, an eight-week artisan bread baking program. The school has not abandoned its continuing education mission and offers three- to five-day courses for professionals as well as food enthusiasts. They cover French pastries, artisan breads, chocolate, sculpted cakes and savory treats.
“The school gives students the skills needed to raise American pastry to a level of excellence that can compete with the rest of the world,” Pfeiffer says. “Pastry is fascinating because it’s an ever-changing craft–a lifetime isn’t enough to learn it. It’s a never ending story.”
The school’s mission is to offer an innovative and effective education to equip students to achieve excellence in pastry, baking and confectionery arts. Class sizes are kept small so students have access to the equipment and tools they need.
“As I say to my students, how many industries can bring tears of joy to their customers? Pastry demands a lot of hard work, but it is a very rewarding profession,” Canonne says. “Likewise, teaching demands hard work, patience and passion, and seeing the success of our alumni is the greatest gratification.”
Felix Sherman, The Ambrosia Bakery
After a merger nearly two decades ago, Felix Sherman found himself jobless at a point in his career when most start thinking about retirement. He had plenty of years left before retirement age, but what to do with that time? His wife Cheryl had worked in a bakery as a decorator, so the couple decided to open a full-line retail bakery, The Ambrosia Bakery, in Baton Rouge, La.
His experience had been in the soft drink industry, so Sherman needed baking help. He joined his local Deep South Retail Bakers Association and found the group so helpful that he served on the board for a couple of years. Through his work with the local association, he was introduced to the national Retail Bakers of America (RBA). About 10 years ago, he joined its board and then moved to the executive committee four years ago. This year, he is serving as president of RBA.
Through his association with RBA and Deep South, Sherman has been able to tour bakeries around the country. “I think the key to growing your business is you have to learn and know what’s out there. And be creative,” Sherman says. It was while in a bakery in Chicago that he first saw a strawberry slicer. Ambrosia’s best-selling cake is strawberry cake, and the staff spent a lot of time slicing strawberries. He purchased the slicer, and during a recent tour of his bakery, another baker was awed by the slicer.
“I’ve learned a lot and I credit my business to what I’ve learned from RBA,” Sherman says. “We’ve grown tremendously over the past six to eight years and that’s because of the association. I want to encourage other bakers and start-ups to do the same–get involved with the association.”