FORT LEE, Va. -- Professional development sessions can oftentimes be bland or boring and rarely the stuff that stirs emotion.
Unless it involves baking and eating French pastries and breads like baguettes, macarons and buttercream cake.
That was the case when chefs from the French Pastry School showed up at the Joint Culinary Training Center Sept. 4-5 to teach cadre the finer points of French-style dessert and bread-making.
Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer and his assistant Chef Julien Otto provided instructors and cadre an overview on how to prepare such taste bud-arousing delights as croissant and cookies. They shared a “variety of basic methods that can be incorporated into our training and eventually to the forces and dining facilities,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Wisniewski, chief, Advanced Culinary Skills Division, Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.
Pfeiffer, FPS co-founder and its academic dean for student affairs, is not unknown to the JCCoE. He performed culinary demonstrations at the most recent Joint Culinary Training Event that attracted more than 200 participants and is considered Super Bowl of military culinary competitions. He came back because he draws inspiration from sharing his sweet tooth with others, especially those willing to learn.
“When you have a trade in your hands and you get good at it, it’s already wonderful, but when you can share with others, that’s the best part,” he said as a panful of his baguettes baked in the oven at McLaughlin Café. “What I love about being here is that the people already have self-discipline, which is an important part of being a student – actually listening to instruction. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to teach here, because the students are actually taking information and applying it. I had such a wonderful welcome in March, I told myself I had to come back and see how I can work long-term with the military.”
On first day of classes, students learned how to prepare cookies and other goodies including a buttercream cake with lemon curd and fondant. Sgt. 1st Class Florine Faendrich, an Advanced Culinary Skills Course instructor, said was the training was instructional and hands-on but also insightful, courtesy of Pfeiffer.
“Basically, he said baking pastries is like a science,” she recalled. “You have to measure your ingredients exactly to the recipe. It’s different than cooking meats where you can do a little bit of this or that. I loved it because I don’t like baking but I want to like it more. Taking this class has helped me to appreciate bakers and pastry chefs more because there’s a lot that goes behind what they do.”
During the second day, Otto spent time teaching cadre step-by-step procedures for making croissants in an upstairs classroom at the JCTC, while Pfeiffer worked downstairs at McLaughlin tending to several pastries he had prepared earlier. It was abuzz with activity as Air Force students prepared for the lunchtime meal. Gregarious and jovial, he seemed intent to break the pace, offering up his pastry delights pan by pan. Many of the students stopped to sample, many responsively closing their eyes in blissful agreement to the taste. Several could not stop at one. Pfeiffer got their attention.
“The most important thing as a teacher is to inspire students,” he said smiling. “When I see these young Soldiers and Sailors who are 18 years old, they need inspiration. They all need guidance. As a teacher, the best thing I could do through recipes is show them but also show them there’s a career out there for them. That’s the best part of my job.”
Wisniewski, who sat in on the training, said Pfeiffer’s professional development sessions were not only interesting and a boon to all who attended but will contribute to the school’s goal of preparing military personnel to better field the force.
“We’re always looking to improve the quality of food service in the dining facilities,” he said. “That’s always the bottom line.”
The FPS is located in Chicago and is part of the City Colleges of Chicago system of higher education.