Blog: Diverse Beginnings | The French Pastry School

Blog: Diverse Beginnings

Diverse Beginnings
The French Pastry School |
September 3, 2009

When I stepped out of the elevator on the first day of class, I encountered a group of seventy-two silent students.  We were neatly filed into rows of chairs and sitting up very straight: the room was filled with an excited tension.  This was not like the other First Days of School we remembered—the next sixth months would start our lifelong careers in pastry—and we couldn’t wait to get started.

As I took my seat, I studied my classmates:  some had graying hair while others were clearly fresh out of high school; most were young women but the ten gentlemen of the group seemed very comfortable in their midst; I picked out several foreign accents in the reserved conversation—Russian, Korean, Spanish and Romanian, among them.

Many of the chefs and administrators were there to greet us that day and their inspirational introductions did a lot to calm our nerves.  They ensured us that their mission was to help us succeed if we were driven enough to help ourselves—nothing would fall into our laps but we would learn how to go after what we wanted.

I didn’t think that finding motivation would be a problem in this group.  Most of the students were either recent graduates or career changers: we were all adults ready to begin a new phase of our lives, in many cases, the life we had been wanting for years.  I had just graduated with an English and Spanish degree and hoped to one day become a food writer—my greatest hurdle in coming to The French Pastry School was moving back to Illinois from Boston and finding an apartment near school.

My dealings with quirky landlords were nothing compared to what others went through to get here: We shared brief versions of our life stories, seventy-two miniature biographies that showcased the diversity of the group.  One student, the son of German immigrants, had already worked at Charlie Trotter’s and wanted to get a better foundation in pastry.  Another foreign student had met and married an American military officer abroad; when they returned to his home town, she decided that this would be a great way to come into her own in a new country.  Others had no experience in the industry but had always had a constant desire to bake, a passion as strong as their other interests in music and movies.  One classmate told us he had seen Dave Matthews in concert forty-seven times, a record probably only topped by the times he had made apple pie.

No matter where we came from, we had all made some kind of sacrifice to be here but I think everybody knew that The French Pastry School was worth it.  One classmate had dedicated herself to take a three hour commute every morning to get here at 6:45am; another held a full time job as a pastry chef in a near suburb and would be working twelve hour days outside of class; one had overcome a communist government in order to travel and fulfill her dream; others had moved away from nay-saying family members and decided to set fire to their passions for the first time in their lives.
The first day was emotional for us all: after years of trying to explain our love of pastry to our friends, we were suddenly in a room filled with people who immediately understood.  It was a revelation to find people with such different backgrounds able to deeply connect because of the one thing we all had in common.  If we already felt so comfortable by the end of the first week, we wondered, what would we be like at the end of the twenty-fourth?