Melina Kelson-Podolsky ignites passion for baking
Melina Kelson-Podolsky is a rare example of someone who fits a job spec perfectly. As a baking and pastry chef instructor at Kendall College, Chicago, she is able to combine her two passions: teaching and baking. When a job fits, it can be performed extremely well. Such is the case with Kelson-Podolsky.
“I always wanted to teach, but I thought I was going to teach literature,” Kelson-Podolsky says. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Ithaca College, but grew up in the food business. Her parents were food writers, and Kelson-Podolsky landed her first job as a teenager in a scone bakery. As soon as she got out of college, she knew she wanted to bake, so she went on to earn her pastry certificate from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC).
Keslon-Podolsky worked for bakeries, caterers and restaurants and taught at CHIC before coming to Kendall as an instructor in 2005. She understands the disconnect that often occurs between baking/pastry education and the reality of the field, so she immerses herself in industry associations to connect students with professional bakers and continue learning herself.
She found a true home with The Bread Baker’s Guild of America. “The Guild changed my life. It is chock full of information you can’t get anywhere else,” she says. “As I got more involved in the Guild, I saw my education growing exponentially and I felt more excited about the craft.”
She now sits on the board of directors, and was instrumental in organizing the Guild’s three-day baking education event, WheatStalk 2012, held at Kendall College last month. Eighteen months in the planning, the event brought together 150 attendees and 30 baking and pastry teachers, including a who’s who list of Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie Team USA members as well as Team France and Team Columbia.
“We are very much a working board,” Kelson-Podolsky says. “I’m fortunate to be working with a very passionate team in putting this together. That’s what I love about the Guild– people have great ideas but also the wherewithal to execute them.”
As chairman of the Guild’s international committee, Kelson-Podolsky also organized bakery tours in Paris during Europain 2012 where the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie was held. Not missing the chance to bring students and professional bakers together, she took a group of 15 Kendall students to Paris with her to watch the Coupe du Monde and experience Parisian baking first-hand.
Kendall College also hosts Team USA practice sessions, team try-outs and Guild classes. “All this provides opportunities for students to help, watch and learn,” she says.
The number of students, and women in particular, interested in bread baking is on the rise, she says. “It used to be that everyone wanted to be a cake decorator,” Kelson-Podolsky says. She plans to continue bringing together students and mentors in the baking and pastry field and teaching the science and techniques of the process. It is her calling to ignite in others the same passion that she has for the baking industry. “It’s really exciting to flip switches on for people,” she says.
Klaus Tenbergen builds the baking community
For Klaus Tenbergen, serving the baking industry as a teacher, association leader and mentor is a fundamental part of his professional life.
“The sharing of knowledge is something we all should do,” Tenbergen says. “I think it’s our obligation to pass on that knowledge to the next generation of bakers.”
Born and raised in Germany, Tenbergen was drawn to the bakery trade at a young age. As a teenager, he came home exhausted after working in the bakery, but he enjoyed working with his hands and having the creative outlet that baking provided.
“I wanted to be tired at the end of the day. That feeling was very satisfying for me. You knew that you were achieving something,” he says.
His international baking career took him to Namibia, Bophuthatswana and South Africa where he owned a bakery and confectionery restaurant from 1989 to 1996 before immigrating to the United States to open a fine-dining restaurant in Peoria, Ill. Awarded the certification titles Båckermeister in Germany and Master Baker in South Africa, Tenbergen achieved further certifications in the United States, including Certified Master Baker through the Retail Bakers of America and Certified Executive Pastry Chef through the American Culinary Federation.
In 1998, he ventured into baking education when he became the department chair of the baking and pastry program for Kendall College, Chicago. As an educator, he takes a leadership role in industry associations to make connections for his students and support the baking community. He became the unofficial liaison between Chicago retail and wholesale bakers through his involvement with the Chicago Area Retail Bakers Association (CARBA) and Bakers Courtesy Club of Chicago. “It was a great spot to be in because I had a basic understanding of both industries,” he says.
Today, Tenbergen is the director of the Culinology program, a blend of culinary arts and food science, at California State University, Fresno, and can be found teaching well beyond his classroom walls. He recently traveled to Bolivia to consult for a gluten-free bakery, he writes the Workbench question/answer column for Modern Baking magazine and regularly teaches cooking classes to children with special needs.
“To educate is not easy. It is very demanding,” he says. “At this stage in my life, it is time to give back.”
Tenbergen’s accomplishments in the baking industry are extensive–he even earned his doctorate in educational leadership in 2010 and co-authored On Baking, a textbook of baking and pastry fundamentals.
Despite his list of honors and certifications, he is proudest of the long, loyal connections he’s made with students and peers in the industry through teaching. He keeps in touch with former students through social media and is proud to see students that have gone on to run their own bakeries, other successful businesses and even become television stars as contestants on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“In the discouraging moments that I encounter from time to time, it is worth remembering that when things go well, the reward is enormous, which makes me devoted to education. We are the leaders of today; it is our responsibility to guide the leaders of tomorrow.”