The Pennsauken-based industrial baking company commits to a 10-year, local vocational program designed to prepare students for careers in commercial baking.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 7, 2022
For the past six years, Pennsauken High School students have had the opportunity of expanding their core curriculum education with career and technical education (CTE) courses designed to prepare them for specific vocational fields.
These include cosmetology, building trades, health occupations, criminal justice, music engineering, EMT/fire safety, and U.S. military ROTC (reserve officer training corps) programs.
And for the first time this year, the district will offer a concentration in commercial baking, thanks to a local partnership with Puratos.
The 103-year-old, Belgium-headquartered company, which operates a campus in Pennsauken just a mile away from the high school, provides ingredients to bakeries, patisseries, and chocolatiers.
Its charitable arm, the Puratos Bakery School Foundation, has established bakery schools across the planet, in developing places as far-flung as India, the Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico.
The partnership with Pennsauken High School represents its first bakery school in the United States, and a 10-year commitment to its neighbors in the community. Students who complete the four-year curriculum will graduate with a certificate in baking and pastry and a Retail Bakers of America certification.
Jaina Wald, Vice-President of Marketing at Puratos, said its bakery schools are established in
communities where students may want for training and educational opportunities.
In addition to providing equipment, ingredients, and maintenance funds, Puratos is working to create “a pipeline of partner organizations looking for this talent upon graduation,” Wald said.
“We’re committed to kids finding jobs with Puratos or our industry partners,” she said. “[This school] opens up a world of opportunities to connect with students and experts around the world.”
Program instructor Kendall Elliott, a veteran of the vocational program at Cathedral Kitchen of Camden City and innovator of the “Camden Cookie,” said his students have “a great opportunity” within the program, regardless of their aspirations.
“Some are looking for it as a career, and maybe to open a restaurant or bakery,” Elliott said.
“Some are looking at it as a hobby; some find it interesting because they needed another elective,” he said.
“They’re showing interest,” Elliott said. “They want to learn some baking.”
In the first year of the program, students will learn how to work with lean, enriched, yeast, and laminated doughs, baking hard and soft breads, muffins, and pies. In their second year, they’ll tackle short-crust doughs for tarts and pastries. By the third year, students will manage cake batters and cream pies, and by the fourth year, they should be polished cake decorators.
“We’re the first Puratos bakery school in the United States,” Elliott said. “I want our students to feel proud.
“I’m looking forward to creating great bakers,” he said; “the next great bakers, out of this awesome program right here.”
Just a few days into the program, Elliott’s students haven’t had the opportunity to do much in the kitchen yet, but were attentive to his instruction and enthusiastic to try their hands at the process.
“I’ve always been better at cooking meals than baking,” said sophomore Matt McDaniel, who already prepares his own scratch pasta meals at home. “I just want to learn how to bake better. I think it’s awesome that we have all this equipment.”
Likewise, Senior Steven Moulier enjoys baking at home, and hopes to be able to hone some of his own recipes during his time in the class.
“I really like making new foods, seeing other people try things, and seeing them enjoy the food I made for them,” Moulier said.
Freshman Abigail Sanchez is part of the inaugural four-year cohort that will graduate from the program with a certificate in baking and pastry.
She believes that could spur her into a food-based business in adulthood.
“I really like food,” Sanchez said. “I really like eating it; I like making it and giving it away.
“I make brownies, cakes, cookies; I just like baking.”
All three described the opportunity of engaging physically with the curriculum as another selling point for students.
“I like that I don’t have to sit still the whole class,” McDaniel said. “I get to move around.”
“I like not having to be in one place,” Sanchez said. “I don’t like being still.”
“It’s good being able to have the hands-on work,” Moulier said; “it helps to be able to learn it better when you’re doing it.”
Pennsauken Superintendent Ronnie Tarchichi said the bakery school was established with a $1-million commitment from the district and a $400,000 initial investment from Puratos. It complements the culinary arts training program that’s already underway at the high school, and fits his vision to offer something of interest to every kind of student there.
“What we’re building here in the school district is the opportunity for students to take anything they can think of,” Tarchichi said. “When a ninth-grader walks in to high school they should have a feeling of excitement. You should enjoy something you’re going to school for.”
The baking program has already generated significant interest: initially offered only to a class of 25 incoming freshmen, the district opened another section to students in the higher grades. Enrollment is now just shy of 60 students.
“We approached our seventh- and eighth-graders with it, and there’s always a waiting list,” Tarchichi said.
“It got picked up really quick.
“We allowed [upper-grade] students into this program because they wouldn’t get to partake in it otherwise.”
Beyond their personal enjoyment, however, the CTE programs are designed to place graduates in careers.
Puratos is committed to placing graduates of its baking school in jobs with the company itself or with one of its affiliates.
To Tarchichi, that’s the critical component of the program that aligns with the needs of students in the district.
“Baking is one of those professions where there’s a great need,” the superintendent said. “Puratos’ mission is to help people in developing countries; we’re a Title I district. Our students are in need, and they fit that criteria.”
To commemorate the first four-year-cohort of students joining the Puratos Baking School, Tarchichi hosted a “chef’s coat ceremony,” meant to parallel the whitecoat ceremonies that launch medical students’ advanced education. The superintendent was inspired by his brother’s own whitecoat ceremony.
“I remember his face,” Tarchichi said. “He was so proud of himself, and I just want to see that for the kids.”
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