Pastry Arts Certificate Program: Sheri Gaskins Spotlight
Like many of our students, Sheri Gaskins always had the dream of attending culinary school without the means. Living in a small town in Colorado, her only option was a 2-3 hour drive away in the Denver area, an impossible feat for her busy life. Then, one day she was on Facebook and an Escoffier ad happened to pop up. She clicked, put in her information and the rest is history. A graduate of the Certificate in Baking and Pastry program, Sheri’s experience with Escoffier Online has not only changed her career but also her life. Now working in the hospital kitchen she did her externship at, Sheri will be the first to tell you about how much she learned and gained from her education.
Sheri took some time to catch up about her life since graduating, how she had to get creative for her externship and what advice she has for students.
EO: Why did you choose Escoffier Online’s Certificate in Pastry Arts program?
SG: I had been planning on opening a bakery in our small town (pop: 750), for several years. I have the building, the nearest bakery is a 26 mile round trip, and our town needs all of the businesses it can attract. There was no way, as a stay-at-home grandmother, that I could afford to attend a physical campus, the nearest being in Denver and Boulder, 2-3 hours from home. One day, I happened to be on Facebook when I saw the sideboard ad for Escoffier Online. I called that day and spoke with Faith in the office. I discussed it with my husband that night and enrolled the next day. Two days later I left on a week-long business trip and began classes the day after I returned! You might say it was a whirlwind romance with Escoffier.
EO: What advice do you have for students when it comes to their externship?
SG: When I began looking for an externship, I was extremely limited in my options. I had two restaurants in my town, neither of which were possibilities. The next town over had only slightly more options. I had to think outside the box. My husband is the IT Director at our local hospital, so I approached the CEO about having me come and work there for my externship. He had been a frequent guinea pig for my assignments, so was thrilled to have me come on board. I came in as the prep cook, and much to my surprise, was actually paid!
Back to your question, what advice would I give to other students looking for an externship?… It would be to look outside the box. There are many places that offer food service, outside the normal restaurant/bakery setting. Hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers… all need food service workers, and most offer desserts as a part of their service.
EO: How did the Pastry Arts program help you in your career?
SG: When, in one’s 50s, one gets a wild idea, like opening a bakery in a small rural town, and one doesn’t always realize everything that goes into the planning, production and business knowledge needed to be successful. I received a truly, eye-opening education, which has made me re-think many of the ideas I had. From menus to floor plans, staffing to marketing and competition, my Escoffier Online instructors; Chef Anne Lanute and Chef Michael Reyes, were, and still are there for me every step of the way… allowing me to bounce ideas off of them. If I get an idea, I can hear their voices cheering me on, or, even more importantly, steering me in a different, more productive direction.
EO: What was your favorite part of the program?
SG: My favorite part of the program? All of it! Honestly, I would have to say it was the support that I and my fellow students received from our chef instructors and each other. I am still in contact with several of my classmates, and we know that we are there for each other, day or night, if we have questions, to cheer each other on, be on the lookout for deals, or if we need a sounding board or just a shoulder to lean on.
EO: What were the top 3 most helpful skills that you learned?
SG: Top three helpful skills I learned on the pastry side: brûlée torches are great for killing wasps! No, seriously…I would have to say, gluten-free and other alternative diets. I use that one at work, as we have several gluten-free staff members, and they appreciate the desserts that I offer. Second would be making chocolates and frozen desserts. This is something that I had considered offering in my bakery, but wasn’t sure if I could handle it. The lessons I took away from class showed me that I certainly can! Third, I would have to say the business skills: looking at my competition, knowing what I can offer that they can’t, and visa-versa. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of wanting to offer everything. Chef Reyes helped me to look at things realistically, helping me to focus.
EO: You are currently working at the place where you did your externship. Tell me about how that came to be.
SG: My official last day of my externship was, I think, December 3rd. The hospital/ residential care facility just hasn’t let me leave yet! The hospital kitchen manager put me on an as-needed basis following my externship and so far they have needed me pretty much on a full-time basis. I work Monday through Thursday, with an occasional Friday or weekend thrown in if they have someone call in. In fact, my supervisor put me on full-time status and forgot to tell me about it!
EO: What does your job entail?
SG: As prep cook, I make all of the desserts, breads and salads, including preparing the salad bar. I make an enormous amount of jello and pudding cups, which are used to assist residents/patients to take medications. In addition to that, I help serve meals, wash dishes, and have even made several of the main menu items. We have a tiny kitchen staff, so we all chip in and lend a hand where needed.
EO: What is the one ingredient you can’t cook without?
SG: Spirits! I love to cook alcohol infused desserts. I don’t drink much, but I like the enhanced layers of flavor complexity that whiskey, brandy, and even Absinthe add to a recipe. The other ingredient that I absolutely must have is butter! As a kid I never liked the flavor of butter, preferring margarine. As I got older,and learned that margarine is one molecule away from plastic, I switched loyalties. Now, bring on the butter!
EO: Who is your culinary idol?
SG: Well, beyond Chef Anne and Chef Reyes, I would have to say William Curley. For our chef spotlight assignment, I knew I wanted to report on a Scottish chef. I could have chosen Gordon Ramsey, but instead I found the remarkable William Curley. He and his Japanese wife own several Patisseries in England. I have now purchased both of his books, which not only offer the recipes, but present the production of the recipes in artful photographs. One of the things that I admire most about Curley is that he employs young people, teaching them the art and giving them a firm foundation in the field. He also hosts classes in his shops so others can come and learn the art as well as classes on YouTube for those who would not be able to attend an in-person session. My next visit to the U.K. will definitely involve a visit to one or more of his locations.
EO: Where do you hope to be in your career in 5 years?
SG: In five years, I hope to have my bakery not only open, but successful enough to be able to hire staff to assist in the daily operations. Like William Curley, my goal is to be able to offer the young ones of my area a starting point to a career that they can utilize wherever their lives take them.
EO: Why would you recommend the Pastry Arts program to others in the industry?
SG: I would, and most certainly do, recommend the online Pastry Arts program as well as the Culinary Arts program to those inside the industry and those I meet who have a love of cooking. I am always trying to talk my son into the online culinary program. He is an amazing and creative cook! It is in his five-year plan. The financial aspect of the course makes it affordable, while the flexibility of classwork is paramount! The skills that are taught in the Escoffier Online program are not only beneficial to someone wanting to work in the industry, but anyone who loves to bake. The business skills taught in the program are easily transferable to any business. The chef instructors are knowledgeable; they care about and work with their students to help them to succeed, taking a genuine interest in their lives.
Most of all I let them know that the Escoffier Online program is PRICELESS!