Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 1999
University's bakery whips up tasty treats

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University's bakery whips up tasty treats

By Dan Heuchert

Stephanie Gross
Baker Wilson Craig can decorate a cake in a matter of minutes.

The first thing that hits you is the divine, cinnamon-sweet bakery aroma. The kind that, if it ever got into a building's central air system, would cause sudden and massive absenteeism as inhabitants rushed out to satisfy instant cravings.

Fortunately for the rest of the University, the main bakery at the Fontana Food Center is hidden at the heart of the off-Grounds facility on Old Ivy Road.

Stephanie Gross
Dan Anderson, left, and Jim Swift, prepare balls of pizza dough. The two bakers have 66 years of service between them.

The pleasant atmosphere masks a very productive operation. At one table in the huge kitchen, Jim Swift and Dan Anderson -- who have 66 years of service between them -- prepare balls of pizza dough as pop music eases from a nearby stereo. Across the way, Nancy Garrison prepares apple turnovers; nearer, Wilson Craig holds a cake aloft with one hand while using the other to slather it with sweet, creamy frosting. Further down the line, Mary Ali wheels sheets of cookies from a walk-in "rack" oven and wraps them for distribution to the various dining facilities on Grounds.

On this day it is still early August; soon, the five-person day shift will double, and a four-member night crew will be added to meet the demand when the students arrive for the fall semester.

Once they hit full production, the workers' daily output is staggering: up to 250 dozen bagels, 300 dozen donuts, 230 bar-type desserts (like brownies), 190 dozen cookies, 50 dozen breakfast pastries -- the list goes on and on. Cakes. Pies. Biscuits. Breads. Rolls. Cobblers. The whole menu of offerings goes on for 13 mouth-watering pages. You can put on 10 pounds just reading it.

"These guys work extremely hard," says Darryl Rudge, director of bakery operations for ARAMARK, which runs the facility. The employees he supervises are a mix of state and ARAMARK workers, as some incumbents opted to stay with the state system when Dining Services was privatized several years ago.

Stephanie Gross
Mary Ali readies a sheet of chocolate-chip cookies for transport to Grounds. Ali says that after seven years at Fontana, she is no longer tempted by the center's tasty treats, but warns, "if you're new, you can eat yourself silly."

Ali calls Rudge a "scratch person,"meaning that he prefers to make all the products from scratch, rather than use frozen batters and dough. That approach seems popular in the bakery. "A lot of the frozen stuff doesn't turn out the way it's supposed to," Ali said. "Scratch tastes better."

"Things from scratch make a better product," agreed Swift.

While the products receive a lot of personal attention, much of the process is automated. The long, rectangular room -- mostly white, but trimmed with burgundy tile -- is arranged to maximize efficiency. "It has to flow with the amount of volume we have," Rudge says.

At one end, near the supply rooms, there's a line of mixers, one with a 120-quart capacity, the other three, 90. Various flours and other ingredients are carefully measured out before they become dough and batter.

Some products require more hands-on treatment, like the apple turnovers Garrison folds and crimps and the pizza balls that Swift and Anderson shape at tables in the center of the room. Others are almost completely mechanized; therešs an automatic cookie depositor here, a bagel-making machine there, and a whole donut-making assembly line over there.

One interesting piece of equipment is the "sauna," where yeast doughs are placed to speed the rising process. The kitchen is pleasantly air-conditioned, to keep the yeast from prematurely fermenting; the sauna is basically a box where the conditions are kept at a summer-like 100 degrees and 92 percent humidity.

It's considerably hotter at the far end of the room, which features both the afore-mentioned walk-in convection oven, and a bank of conventional ovens. There's also another assembly-line area for preparing the end products for transport on Grounds, reminiscent of the famed "Lucy" episode in which Lucy Ricardo is overwhelmed by a speedy conveyor belt and ends up stuffing her mouth and clothes with candy.

Ali doesn't seem to have much of a problem passing on the delicious-looking treats that come her way. "Once you see everything and taste it, you get tired of it," she said. "But if you're new, you can eat yourself silly."

There are exceptions.

"Everybody in here likes hot bread and butter," said Swift, who often makes an extra loaf for internal distribution.


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