Learning the Meaning of “Nothing Without Labor”

At the Boys Republic Teaching Bakery, my introduction to a slice of a baker’s labor was just that: labor.  First, my instructor and I cut too deep to create the two-layered “black magic” cake, so we had to begin again. We slathered and leveled the confection with chocolate buttercream for at least an hour. I raised my aching forearm, futilely attempting to mirror David Jacquez’s practiced spatula strokes. My composure, though, was jarred when I had to perfect my buttercream rosettes on a cutting board until David deemed me practiced enough to not ruin the confection with lopsided flowers.

David Jacquez, a former student and Teaching Bakery employee, instructs the author in cake decorating.

The contrast between me, an impatient fledgling, and my instructor, a meticulous artist, was palpable throughout the lesson.
Eighteen year-old David Jacquez works full time in Boys Republic’s new Teaching Bakery. As Head Baker, he is Pastry Chef Kevin Brown’s “right-hand man”. BR’s Food Consultant Frank Frobisher beams, “David has so much potential. He is a model employee, and he was a model student here at Boys Republic.” That David now patiently passes down to me Chef Brown’s instruction is consistent with the exemplary drive he had as a student. After earning two leadership scholarships and graduating from Boys Republic, David sought—and maintained—two full-time jobs in the food industry. When the bakery opened, David asked if he could attend Chef Brown’s vocational class; after auditing for one month, the impressed Pastry Chef hired him. Now, David manages the bakery and helps instruct Boys Republic’s rising bakers, who are not so different from himself.

In fact, the Teaching Bakery nourishes a similar group of students, flourishing artists who support one another as they learn small- and industrial-batch scratch baking. The odd one out among the industrial oven and mixer, frosting containers, and clusters of male bakers is me. Between laughing with his students and providing instructions, Chef Kevin finds time to discuss how he relates to the boys. “Baking saved my life. It provided me with the structure, stability, and self-confidence that weren’t offered in the neighborhood where I grew up”, he stresses. At Boys Republic, Chef Kevin witnesses the baking process that fostered confidence and creativity in him do the same for formerly “scared and insecure” students.

The power of baking for troubled teens, Mr. Frobisher insists, is the activity’s immediate gratification. While immediate gratification for young bakers is indeed sweet, flawless products must not be confused with a quick, easy process. The extremely physical activity of mixing thick dough by hand and laboring over miniature pumpkin pies, red velvet cupcakes, and a whimsical boat coasting off a graham-cracker cake coast demands patience. A student baker must learn the correct mixture of ingredients, wait for each dessert to rise, and create visually astonishing and delicious products for others. Instead of leaving their first class with quality confections, student bakers labor for the appetizing results they enjoy presenting to staff, students, and community members. As Chef Kevin shows me pictures of David’s Frozen-themed birthday cake and the plentiful pastries the boys catered for a “Let it Be Foundation” event, it’s clear that the young bakers earn their starched chef coats, proudly inscribed with each baker’s name.

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