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This iconic south Seattle pastry school may be shuttered

Most Seattle bakeries have employed graduates from South Seattle College’s Pastry and Baking Arts program. The school is a pipeline for notable restaurants and bakeries like Macrina, Bakery Nouveau, and Grand Central.

But now the college is looking to cut $1 million, and the baking program is a target.

The first thing that greets you when you walk into the program's kitchen is the sweet aroma of baked goods. One day recently, students were working intently on pastillage, a sugar paste that can be molded into different shapes.

“They’re made of gelatin and confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch,” said fifth-quarter student Ann Hoonhout-Cooney.  She pointed to the white pieces on her tray. Once put together, they’ll become a cake topper.

“I’m making a pond,” she explained. “These are the lily pads, these are my flower petals, these are the fish.”

Hoonhout-Cooney and her classmates were still reeling from the news about the proposed closure. The six-quarter program has been around for more than 40 years.

For students here, the program is about more than learning how to make puff pastries, decorating cakes, or plating desserts. Rikki Nelson said it’s given her leadership skills, too. Nelson is in her final quarter and has responsibilities similar to a teaching assistant.

“We are sous chefs in our sixth quarter,” said Nelson.

She added: “We do a lot of training with the earlier quarters, we help the new students. We have certain responsibilities like running the storeroom, and it gives us experience in the kitchen with managing or being kind of a lead. So when you go out in the industry, you have those qualities built up.”

Joey Bale, also graduates this quarter. One of the more memorable pieces he worked on was a cake topper for Dale Chihuly’s birthday cake — a replica of the artist’s glass chandelier.

“That cake topper took a lot of time, a lot of after-school hours that we worked on it," he said. "There were a few students that helped do the project, and it was a very detailed and time consuming project. But the end result worked out really well, and he was really happy with it.”

South Seattle College officials said the program is being recommended for closure because of its high costs and low enrollment. This spring, 31 students are in the program; six of them are expected to graduate at the end of the quarter.

Supporters have offered to help with marketing. And Brittany Bardeleben, a pastry chef at Tom Douglas Restaurants and a program graduate, said the announcement couldn’t come at a worse time.

“Bakeries are more popular than ever,” she said. “Local bakeries are opening second and third locations. And so jobs are waiting for them.”

Bardeleben said she's having a hard time finding qualified people for Dahlia Bakery.

“A lot of people are like, I love to bake, I do it at home and maybe I’d like to do it professionally," she said. "That’s great, and maybe they’ll end up being a great baker. But I need someone who’s been through the program and understands the science — and could just hop right in.”

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