Wednesday – September 17, 2014

 

MATC Instructor Tom LaPierre Reaches Upper Tier in Baking and Pastry Arts Field

November 2013

MATC instructor Tom LaPierre joined an elite group of baking and pastry arts experts in June, becoming one of only four people in Wisconsin who currently hold the American Culinary Federation's designation as a certified executive pastry chef. Fewer than 350 people in the United States have this distinction.

Earning the certification includes a written test and a four-hour practical exam before a panel of judges. Candidates must hold other certifications and have professional experience in the field. The practical exam includes making four identical plates of two types of desserts; two cakes – one decorated with Italian buttercream frosting and another glazed with chocolate ganache; and 24 dinner rolls made with the same dough, finished in three different ways.

"During the practical test, candidates are judged on organization, sanitation, final presentation and taste," LaPierre explained. "Getting this certification is definitely one of the highlights of my career. It took a lifetime of training and study to qualify."

From Board of Trade to the Kitchen
LaPierre took an unconventional path to becoming a pastry chef. He had considered becoming a chef, but also was intrigued by a career as a commodities trader. He attended night classes at Northeastern Illinois University while working days as a runner for the Chicago Board of Trade. Eventually, he decided he didn't enjoy working in the financial world, left his job and attended day classes, graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science.

After graduation, he experimented with jobs in collections, customer service and automobile credit. "But every desk, phone and computer was the same in those jobs," he said. "They felt like stale, lifeless environments to me. I couldn't see myself staying in those situations."

LaPierre returned to school to train to become a savory (hot food) chef. "I had made baked goods and homemade pizza with my grandmother when I was younger," he said. "I also worked in a pizzeria. I enjoyed that and was motivated to become a chef in part because I wanted to travel and I knew that I could take those skills anywhere."

He earned an associate degree in culinary arts from Kendall College in Chicago, while working in a small restaurant's in-house bakery. "There were no baking and pastry arts schools or programs at that time," he said. "But I took every baking course I could as a part of culinary school without realizing that was what I really wanted to do."

Interest in Baking "Clicked"
LaPierre held jobs as a line cook, a banquet chef and eventually a kitchen manager at a microbrewery. When his wife landed a job in Wyoming, LaPierre found a job as the bakery manager at the University of Wyoming. "Once I started working full time in a bakery, it clicked," he said. "I knew that was what I really loved."

Baking is very different from being a savory chef, LaPierre explained. "There's a difference in the pace of production. In baking, you can begin preparing things two to four days ahead of time. I love the science of mixing the ingredients, the chemistry, the exactness and the precision of baking. I really enjoy working that way. Some chefs hate the exactness. You can make adjustments as you cook. But if you make a loaf of bread and you've done something wrong, it doesn't come out right."

Tom LaPierre

Tom LaPierre

 

Sugar Work 2010

LaPierre poses with one of his sugarwork designs at a "Wine and Dine Wisconsin" event.

Following his experience in Wyoming, LaPierre held a variety of baking jobs, including two extended stints on tropical islands. He worked as a pastry cook at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and as an executive pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.

When his wife took a job in Rhinelander, Wis., LaPierre became a full-time stay-at-home dad. Eventually, he returned to work as a part-time baking instructor at Nicolet Technical College. In 2009, he joined the MATC faculty as a baking and pastry arts instructor.

"I like passing on my experience and information to the next generation. I work with so many students from different backgrounds and with different personalities. I try to make each and every class a wonderful experience. When I see a student struggling, I try to instill confidence in them and convince them that they can do anything. I’m here to guarantee their success."

- Tom LaPierre, MATC baking and pastry arts instructor

Teaches Advanced Classes
LaPierre teaches most of the advanced classes in the Baking and Pastry Arts Associate Degree program, including plated desserts; French pastries; and chocolate, confections and sugar work. Students in those classes make showpieces which are "the most advanced, artistic pieces you'll see in this field," he said.

 LaPierre with student

LaPierre teaches advanced classes in MATC's Baking and Pastry Arts Associate Degree program.

He enjoys teaching. "I like passing on my experience and information to the next generation," he said. "I work with so many students from different backgrounds and with different personalities. I try to make each and every class a wonderful experience. When I see a student struggling, I try to instill confidence in them and convince them that they can do anything. I'm here to guarantee their success. When they succeed, I can see how good they feel about themselves. It makes me really happy to see them so proud of their accomplishments."

LaPierre recently helped designed a new state-of-the-art baking lab, which opened in late October on the first floor of the Main Building at the Downtown Milwaukee Campus. Next to the lab, the college also will open the Bistro Café, which will offer coffees, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. Student-made bakery products will be available for purchase. "It's an amazing facility," he said. "We're excited to share it with the college community and the public so everyone can see what the students are doing."

 

For information on MATC's Baking and Pastry Arts Associate
Degree program, see:
http://www.matc.edu/business/degrees/baking-pastry-arts.cfm
 

For information on MATC's Baking Production Technical
Diploma program, see:
http://www.matc.edu/business/diplomas/baking_production.cfm

 

LaPierre demonstrating with frosting

LaPierre shows his students how to make designs with frosting.