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Sweet Heartbreak: Texas’ pastry problem leaves chefs unsatisfied

Photo: ESSENTIALS210, License: N/A

ESSENTIALS210

Claudia Treviño practices piping in her cake decorating class.


Several days a week, Claudia Treviño makes her way to Schakolad Chocolate Factory from her Northwest Side home. As both a part-time employee and an intern, Treviño is getting a unique look at what it takes to make it in the pastry world. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the 20-year-old will see more than her fair share of chocolate as the shop goes through several thousand pounds of chocolate-covered strawberries for the upcoming holiday.

Her days will include dipping truffles into chocolate ganache, stocking shelves, readying confections for dipping, making truffle fillings and packaging products. This could mean anything from packaging the store’s signature edible chocolate boxes with assorted candies or assembling large orders. She recently put together such an order for the St. Anthony Hotel, which included individually wrapping 750 mini chocolate tool sets, 750 tiny chocolate saws and 750 wee chocolate hammers, all while checking for consistency in the product and ridding the candies of excess pieces left over from the mold the chocolate is initially poured into.

As it turns out, making and delivering sweet treats is back-breaking work, and local students are learning that the pastry field isn’t as glamorous IRL as the Food Network might lead them to believe. Even as all three culinary schools in San Antonio crank out skilled pastry workers by the dozens, the jobs available to them are either monotonous, low-paying or nonexistent in restaurants across the city. Fanciful plated desserts and quality baked goods are luxury items and usually one of the first areas where chefs or owners cut their losses.

 

Sugar School

Treviño, who graduates from St. Philip’s College this May with an associate in applied science degree, is one of the 93 students currently enrolled in the school’s baking and pastry arts program. From 2009 to 2012, 40 students graduated from the program, which has undergone certain tweaks since its inception.

Baking instructor Cynthia De La Fuente mentions professors have had to instill a different mentality in students going through the curriculum.

“When we first started the program, we had a lot of misunderstandings from the students. I think a lot of it had to do with what TV and the media was showing them,” De La Fuente said while adding that TV producers for shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes made baking and pastry arts look easy. “What students didn’t understand is that they hone their skills over many, many, many years,” she said.

De La Fuente went on to mention students’ disappointment after leaving the school and not landing their dream job.

“They’re earning the right to the position … when students start the program now, we’re telling them they’re not super stars,” De La Fuente added.

The motives for why students join the program varies widely—De La Fuente often teaches retirees, restaurant owners, industry workers and fresh-faced students coming straight out of high school like Treviño, all of whom have to be accepted into the program via application.

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