Bernard Michael Tostanowski III

My Mentor and Pastry Chef

In People on December 13, 2009 at 6:05 PM

Stefan Riemer - Regional Pastry Chef | Disney's Yacht & Beach and Boardwalk Resorts

The Beginning

In my short time on this planet I have run into so many people. Each with their own character and demeanor but none quite like the one I am going to explain in this one post.

Last year I found myself working at Disney’s Boardwalk Bakery, a small retail bakery supplying pastries not only through its storefront but also to the many venues located at the Boardwalk Resort.  Stefan Riemer, Regional Pastry Chef of both the Yacht & Beach Club Resort and the Boardwalk Resort approached me one afternoon with an opportunity to work at the Yacht & Beach Club Bakery. I would get to work under his guidance every Saturday morning and complete a pre-determined project at the end of the day.

My first assessment had very few guidelines. I was instructed to create one 10” cake. It could not be a dated style and had to be my own. I could use anything that was already produced in the bakery and I had only one hour to assemble the cake. Being the coffee addict that I am, I immediately thought of a cake using sweetened espresso as the simple syrup base to soak each layer. Secondly I made a gianduja with equal parts hazelnut paste and tempered melted chocolate and folded in feuilletine flakes in which I made two thin, round disks that I had sandwiched and let crystallize between silpats. The last element of my cake was a chocolate buttercream which held each layer together and finished the outside. Garnished with white chocolate shavings and chocolate filigree it was complete. I cleaned up my station and it was time for evaluation.

The Boardwalk Bakery at Disney's Boardwalk Resort & Villas

The Evaluation

Two other students, Brittany Hannah and Merry Off were completing their cake project along side of me that day. When we gathered around Chef with our cakes for our critique he told us that he wanted us to give feedback to each other as well. My cake was up first. I took one slice out of the cake and laid it on its side…..mistake #1. Whenever so much time and detail is put into layering a cake, it doesn’t make sense to lay the slice it on its side. Chef told us that in Germany, If a customer was served a cake flopped over on its side that it would be refused. Even if the layering was not even and neat, some people may be inclined to return it as well. I was taken back when he told us this, because in America, I’ve never seen someone return a cake because the layering was uneven. It made me happy to hear this because then I knew that there really were people out there (maybe not as many in America) that cared about the quality of pastry they were eating. More to come on this subject in just a few paragraphs.

As my lousy piece of cake lay on its side, we all grabbed a fork and took a bite. Mistakes 2, 3 & 4….oh crap. First of all it was a real struggle to get a forkful of cake. When I made my crispy gianduja disks, I didn’t make them thin enough. They were so thick, it was like cutting through a candy bar with a plastic spoon. To make it worse, not only was the chocolate to thick, but my sponge cake was over soaked making it even harder to cut. Although these were two very critical mistakes, they do come with practice and I have perfected both techniques. As we tasted the cake, my eyes almost bulged out of their sockets; the sweetness of that one bite was extremely overwhelming. After Chef choked down his portion, he paused and of course made a complement before stabbing me in the heart. He told me that the flavor combination was great then proceeded to tell me about the construction of my cake and the high level of sweetness. The two other students also gave me some great feedback. After all was done I was given a score of 7 out of 10. I was really disappointed to hear this. I knew that my cake didn’t deserve a score even this high. When Stefan asked me what I would give the cake, I told him a 4. I truly thought my cake was awful but that I could learn a lot from my mistakes. After evaluating the other students, Stefan let us take our cakes home. I hated mine so much that it sat unopened, untouched in the front of my fridge for the next two weeks. I looked at it every day and took notes on what I would do differently next time around. I really wanted to learn from my simple mistakes and better prepare myself next time.

Over the course of the next few months, project after project I received amazing feedback. From assembling a Pre-Con to making my favorite bread, I pushed myself harder every time. Chef always kept me upbeat and always pushed me harder. My skill set was not quite up to his standards so I always strived to do better with each challenge and show him that I really had the stuff.

End of My Externship

I finished my externship in late May of 2008 to return to CIA and finish my second year of school. In the short 18 weeks I was at Disney, I learned just as much as I did in school. Maybe not as much about baking and pastry but more from real world industry experiences. Chef Stefan created a mark for me professionally and still to this day, I look back at advice he has given me and see it coming into realization a year later.

When I graduated, I realized that one day I will return to CIA as a Chef Instructor. But first I have to learn as much as possible in order to pass on every experience of mine to each and every student. To create a legacy so I will never be forgotten.

Graduating from the Culinary Institute of America

A few months before graduating from CIA, the ‘Great Recession’ was taking its toll. Everyone was terrified about finding a job and the even bigger worry of paying for our massive student loans. I was lucky enough to still be working at the same Bakery & Café that I had been at for 7 years. I put in a lot of time there but knew that one day soon I had to move on.

Before I even graduated, I sent my résumé all around the world. Four hundred résumés and $500 in postage, not one solid job offer. I couldn’t believe how hard the economy had been hit. Then finally after loosing all hope in finding a job in Dubai or some far away place, I received an offer from The Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, PA. But only after an intense two-day, 16 hour display of my skills. It was a fierce competition between six other applicants and myself for a Pastry Sous Chef Position which included over 8 interviews with every chef within the resort. I eventually declined the position after a long thought process and consulting Chef Stefan on the job. He blatantly discouraged me from going into the position because I didn’t have enough management experience which was personally my biggest reservation for taking the job so I kept looking until I found the best place for me.

Removing My Toque To Receive My Diploma

Smiling After Being Recognized

Returning to the Yacht & Beach Club Bakery

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend that was currently working for Chef Stefan and she mentioned that they had a position opened. I emailed Stefan and asked about the position. Three weeks later I found myself moving down to Orlando and starting back as a Pastry Cook 1 at the Boardwalk Bakery. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to fine tune my skills and give me support to develop myself as a pastry professional.

About a month after starting back at Disney, I came into work one morning and saw that my name was crossed out on the schedule and Yacht & Beach was written next to my name. I had a huge smile across my face for the rest of the day and was so glad to actually work there. At first I thought I would only be working at Yacht & Beach for a few weeks. I was filling in for a man named Carlton. He was in charge of the bread shift and had been working there for over 16 years and had just had a stroke. I worked hard to prove myself on the bread shift in hopes that I would be able to stay and not go back to the Boardwalk Bakery. It’s not that I dislike the Boardwalk Bakery but I like the feeling of being in a bakery that Chef Stefan is at for most of the time so I can be pushed and challenged every day. And so week after week went by and Chef finally asked me if I would like to stay and so I’m still here as happy as ever!

I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be right now. I know that I am in good hands. Chef Stefan is a very wise man and has traveled all around the world from his birthplace in Germany to India and everywhere in between. He is very forward in thinking and always cuts to the chase. He may tell you things you don’t want to hear sometimes but it’s always for your own good. I rely on him as my mentor and have more trust in him than any other chef I’ve had. He can see through a person and know their potential. He once told me that he will be most proud when he sees that one of his students becomes a better Pastry Chef than himself. I am taking him up on this challenge and will hopefully one day make it true.

Yacht & Beach Club Resorts

Developing Myself as a Leader

I’ve never been one to take many notes on paper. But recently I wrote down a list of things that I am constantly updating. This list includes fundamental skills and ratios that should not only be memorized by a pastry professional but should become second nature to myself. I have always been very curious about the scientific aspect of baking and pastry and am always researching and reading books on this subject. I’ve realized that knowing how to do something is just a small part of being a great pastry cook, but until basic fundamentals, ratios, and the understanding of the chemical processes in baking and pastry are mastered in addition to being a natural leader are mastered will a pastry cook will someday evolve into a true Pastry Chef.

I strive for this goal every waking moment of my life. I know I will not be at Disney for the rest of my life but in the many years that I will be here I am learning as much as possible. Every day comes with its own unique challenges and I can only ask to be challenged even harder every day to develop myself even more.

  1. Bernie, I love you ! You kick so much butt. You are awesome. I wish you many many many joys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Thanks Leslie! One day I will get enough money and hire you to create a great website for me!

  3. Hey Bernie! This so great and inspiring. You are realizing and living your dreams so early in life-never lose this amazing momentum! You are a good man with a kind heart and I am proud to know you. Congrats!

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