Solveig Tofte had always wanted to learn a trade, something that she knew she could sustain her. When her work in the software industry proved unfulfilling, she went back to school at the California Culinary Academy. The year was 1999, and the Bread Bakers Guild Baking Team USA was in the midst of training for the Coupe du Monde, which became a large part of her classwork with Peter Reinhart.
“I got it into my head that I might want to try out for the team because it seemed like such a cool process. I just had a lot of respect for everyone involved,” Tofte says. “I was a newbie, and if I could ever get to that point, I just thought that would be so awesome.”
After finishing school, she moved to Minneapolis and began working for Turtle Bread Co., where she is now head baker. She had joined the Bread Bakers Guild of America when she was in school and started attending every event she could. “I just knew they had the key to my knowledge, and I met a ton of awesome people. Everywhere I went, everyone had such generosity, such openness and were so happy with what they were doing,” Tofte adds.
Harvey McLain, owner of Turtle Bread, strongly encouraged her to become involved in the Bread Bakers Guild Team USA, so she attended prep classes for the 2005 team. By the time 2008 rolled around, she thought she could give it a serious try. To her surprise, she made the team and went on to compete at the Coupe du Monde during Europain in Paris.
She has remained involved with the Bread Bakers Guild and is helping train this year's team for the Louis Lesaffre Cup, to be held during the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in September. Tofte also shares her knowledge by teaching classes for the Bread Bakers Guild and for home bakers in the Minneapolis area.
“I hate it when people talk about the energy of things, but the energy of the students is really great; they're really enthusiastic,” she says. “When you're just working in your shop, you're on automatic pilot, and you forget that a lot of people think it's pretty cool what you do. That's fun for me.”
Teaching helps keep Tofte energized. “When I teach, I kind of think of myself as an evangelist. I know that a lot of people I teach won't go home and make breads, but they understand the process and they understand what a good loaf of bread should be. So when they go out in the world and they get a horrible loaf of bread in a restaurant, they can say, ‘This is really bad bread.’”
She urges all bakers to get involved in education by teaching to all skill levels and taking classes themselves. Tofte rarely says no to an opportunity to teach or speak.
“Each time I do one of those things, my life as a baker gets more interesting and my world gets bigger,” she says.
Education has always played an important role in Lynn Schurman's life, so it is no surprise that she now serves as the educational director of Retail Bakers of America (RBA).
In the '90s, she joined the board of the Minnesota Bakery Association (now the Upper Midwest Bakery Association), becoming president in 1993 and serving in that post for 4 1/2 years. She moved onto the national scene when she represented the Minnesota association at RBA's Affiliate Congress.
“I've always been the type of person that if I'm going to be involved with the board or on a committee, I want to be doing something,” Schurman says. “When there's a project to do, I've always volunteered. I think it's important that if you're a board member or a committee member that you do participate and do your share of work.”
After serving as the Minnesota liaison for the Affiliate Congress, Schurman became an RBA board member in 1999, eventually being elected to the executive committee, serving as president of RBA from 2008 to 2009.
She was part of the negotiation process that brought RBA, ABA (American Bakers Association) and BEMA together to produce the educational program for the upcoming International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE).
“I feel that as part of RBA, part of the focus has been to make sure that there are educational programs that are successful. That's my passion,” she says.
“The good part about my involvement with RBA is that I have had a chance to travel and meet bakers and go through their bakeries.”