Santa Rosa Junior College bakery will reopen after 2-year pandemic closure
Among the many Santa Rosa Junior College classes forced to adapt to difficult circumstances over the past two years, culinary students had perhaps one of the most unusual pandemic experiences.
The in-person lessons that have trained legions of the school’s food and hospitality students went online, as aspiring cooks huddled up in their own home kitchens, whipping up dishes for remote appraisal by teachers.
The school bakery, which for about two decades has sold students’ scones, coffee cakes, artisan breads and other foods, also was shuttered.
But it will reopen to the public Thursday, marking a new beginning at the Burdo Center for Culinary Arts, a prized learning environment and launchpad for students entering the food and hospitality business.
Breakfast and lunch goodies created by SRJC students will once again go on sale starting Thursday at 8:30 a.m., said Betsy Fischer, faculty member and chair of the Culinary Arts Department.
“I don’t even know if I can express it in words,” she said. “Everybody is so excited.”
For some of the students in the specialty baking class that provides the wares for the bakery case, this half of the spring semester is also one of their first opportunities to be back baking on campus, rather than logging on to classes from home.
“I love it,” said Leisha Tow, a student in the culinary arts program who is in the specialty baking class. “I’m super excited for what I’m going to learn.”
Throughout the past two years, Tow, like her peers in the culinary arts program, had to try to recreate the experience of in-person cooking classes — but on the 16-by-39-inch countertop in her home kitchen, instead of a professional-grade kitchen with her professor a few steps away.
“It was fun, but challenging at the same time because of the fact that I don’t have any counter space in my kitchen,” she said.
Tow had to improvise, making space to roll out dough using anything from stacked storage totes to a piece of plywood she brought home. At one point, her refrigerator broke, which forced her to travel to her parents’ apartment in the East Bay to complete her assignments.
While cooking, students had to take videos of their process and pictures of the final products that they would send to their instructors in lieu of being able to work in the same space. They also had to characterize their dishes in written essays, describing taste and texture to try to re-create sensory experiences only possible in person.
Beyond the changes to the instructional format, students also dealt with challenges related to child care for their children who were also at home. Many, including Tow, work two or three jobs. They dealt with illness in their families and economic hardship, Fischer said.
“I still look back and think we were living through this slow-motion nightmare,” she said.
But now, Tow said, “being in the production baking area and having the space and the teacher to help you throughout your struggles is amazing.”
Producing for the bakery will help students hone other important skills, such as timing and teamwork.
“I really think that putting the students in the bakery and giving them an actual job opportunity helps them with their lives, ” Tow said. “It gives them work experience.”
For all the difficulties of the pandemic and its effects on the service and hospitality industries, students persisted in their studies. Tow, who has years of experience working at both the B&V Whiskey Bar and Grill in Sonoma and the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club, has held fast to her dream of opening her own small business for cake decorating.
She voiced gratitude for the culinary arts faculty for keeping students enthused and engaged during difficult periods of remote learning.
“That guidance … you can’t (just) get that anywhere,” she said. “It takes a certain type of person, and those are definitely the culinary arts teachers at the SRJC.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.
Education, The Press Democrat
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