In the Alberta Baking Apprenticeship program there are four exams, one for each term of study and then the Red Seal, which acts as sort of a Canada wide final. The Red Seal is also the only one of these exams that has any sort of consistency within the industry. Unlike the other trades, baking has no manual, no set of procedures. What happens at one bakery will be completely different from what the procedure is at others. In the industry this is fine, because it doesn’t take long to pick up a new bakery’s routines and procedures once you get into the swing of things. The disconnect becomes a problem when you have several bakers from all walks of the career creating the final exam. If the owner of a bakery from a small town becomes a member on the apprenticeship board, the way they do things can make it on the exam, even if those things are way out of the norm. Often times these procedures contradict what’s in textbooks and what’s taught at schools. The same thing can be said about the grocery chains who each have their own unique way of doing things. The way you attach an edible decal to a cake at Co-op isn’t going to be the same as the way you do it at Safeway. This would be fine if there was a handbook, but as it stands there isn’t even an agreed upon textbook for the program. On top of all that, the professors aren’t allowed to know what’s on the exams, they teach the course as best they can, however, there’s only so much they can do with the material they’re given.
This has lead to all kinds of problems within the program, including entire classes failing exams. The most notorious of these exams is the second year exam, which I passed by the skin of my teeth. There were questions that I knew the answers to, but those answers weren’t a multiple choice. It was one of the few exams where I wished there was more math, because then there was a bit of certainty.
I’d taken most of my studies with the same group of students and I assumed that most of them would be taking third year the following block. It turned out that I was the only one who had been given permission to have the full four months off of work. My third year class ended up being only three people, I was a little surprised that classes weren’t cancelled due to numbers. We were quite a rarity and I think that we might have been the smallest class in SAIT history.
Having a super small class was amazing. The three of us worked really well together and any questions we might have had were instantly answered. Our head instructor was Master Baker, which is the highest honour one can receive in baking. We were able to get way ahead of the program, delving into recipe creation and experimentation. my favourite was a red wine and sprouted quinoa bread I came up with, which was great for sandwiches. There was also an extensive portion on cake decoration, chocolate making and sugar blowing.
Outside of school, my car had been cubed, and my husband and I had moved into a bigger place. In a matter of days I’d gotten a new house, a new car and a new name (when my husband and I got married we both legally changed our names to something new, which is a process that takes a lot of dollars and many months). Over the course of the move I’d caught a cold, but had powered through it, which sucked because of the way the apprenticeship program is set up, you can’t really miss any classes without a risk of being thrown out. Then less than a month later, I got sick again which was strange because I’ve got a decent immune system and it’s rare for me to get sick once a year let alone twice. Little did I know that this was the first of the many symptoms I would experience during my pregnancy.
My husband and I were planing on having the kids talk once I was out of school. I’d told work that we were planing on trying in the not too distant future, but nothing had been set in stone. I hadn’t even planed on having my IUD removed until we’d had that talk and all of that depended on whether we actually wanted kids or not. After being a couple of weeks late, on the day after my thirty-third birthday I took a pregnancy test on a whim and boy were we surprised.
Being pregnant and being enrolled in a program where all you deal with is food was not pleasant. Well, the whole pregnancy was unpleasant to say the least. Pregnancy nausea kicked in right when we started the units on cake and ice cream, there are still pictures of cakes I made that I can’t look at because of how sick I was at the time. Once again I found myself powering through and I managed to win the Dean’s Award and got a tiny little scholarship by the end. Considering how talented my classmates were, this was quite the accomplishment. All I had to do was get through the third year exam and the Red Seal.
The third year exam was a hell of a lot easier than I thought it would be, which worried me at the time because I compared to the second year exam it was a little too easy. The Red Seal was the next day and I started that morning off by nearly missing the bus due to morning sickness. The first part of the test went well, then I got to the section on ice cream and the very idea of ice cream and everything in it made me sick. I ended up guessing on everything, just so I didn’t have to read the questions. On the breakdown of my exam there’s a consistent 80 to 90 percent average until you get to the ice cream section where it drops to 30 percent. Despite that, I did pass both exams and at thirty-three completed my post secondary education. I wanted there to be more of a story to this, but it was more a variety of stories that aren’t all that remarkable. So here are all of the things I made in my final year, I’ll try not to look at the cakes.