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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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From left to right: Gina Rebanio, Jessica Wylie and Katie Therrien (Photo: Jim Brady) From left to right: Gina Rebanio, Jessica Wylie and Katie Therrien (Photo: Jim Brady)

Let Them Eat Cake…and Cookies too

The SDSU bake shop supplies 14 catering and concession outlets on campus.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

“Once you come to a place like this, it’s hard to go back.”

New student orientation at San Diego State University begins July 13, and there’s one question all incoming students and their families are almost certain to ask: “How’s the food here?”

Jessica Wylie
can answer that question better than most; for nearly 20 years, she’s been preparing baked goods for SDSU students, faculty and staff. In addition to bread and rolls, bake shop staff—employees of Aztec Shops—produce croissants, cinnamon rolls, cakes, cookie bars, pizza dough and numerous other treats.

Their repertoire includes more than 2,000 individual recipes, several hundred of which are used on any given day. Those walking past the bake shop’s unassuming entrance south of Nasatir Hall will detect the aroma of freshly baked goods destined for 14 dining, catering and concession locations on campus plus several at Viejas Arena.

Learning to modify

Ever-changing dietary habits are an impetus for expanding the bakeshop’s recipe book, Wylie said. She and her staff have added vegan and gluten-friendly items to the menus.

“We try to make these look and taste exactly like the original gluten-based products and we succeed about 95 percent of the time,” she said. “Chef Wanda White from the University of North Texas taught us a few tricks, like how to substitute garbanzo bean juice for egg whites to make meringue.”

Professional development is essential because it’s difficult to find bakers with experience, Wylie said. SDSU has reached out to culinary schools, restaurants and even pizza parlors to fill positions in the bake shop.

“Jessica does an awesome job in leading a team of individually highly creative people in a way that fosters creative empowerment,” said Paul Melchior, director of Aztec Shops. “That is the main reason the team is so successful in making amazing baked goods for the campus community.”

Teamwork is the key

Wylie joined SDSU as a “scratch” baker, a specialist trained to make an assortment of specialty dough from scratch. Today as the bake shop’s senior pastry chef, she supervises a department of 23 that is staffed six days a week from 5 a.m. to about 10 p.m. A handful of student assistants help the staff wash up, cut fruit for fruit cups and if they are interested, they can pick up a few tricks of the trade along the way.

“The bakers taught me to make pastry and create fondant people for the specialty party cakes,” said civil engineering student Tyler Newman, who works at the SDSU bakeshop.

Teamwork is at the core of the bake shop’s success, agreed Wylie and the bake shop’s production manager, Vania Taylor. Bread and pastry chefs make the dough in the afternoon and leave it in the proof box overnight so the early shift staff can bake it in the morning.

“We all need to be on the same page,” Wylie said. “But that’s not difficult because most of our staff come from restaurants, where they worked late-night shifts and weekends. Once you come to a place like this, it’s hard to go back.”