The next few years Salt Lake Community College’s Culinary Institute is putting in place Hospitality and Restaurant Management (HRM) and Baking/Pastry degree programs.
One key ingredient for its recipe is Chef Laura Marone, who combines her European background with real-world experience and studied alongside leading master chefs. Marone provides a unique flavor to SLCC’s current and future plans.
“She’s got the right mix,” says Basil Chelemes, Associate Professor in Business Management and a 23-year teaching veteran of SLCC. He also serves as the faculty coordinator and liaison between the Culinary Institute and the college administration and as faculty advisor to the Culinary Club.
“It’s a tremendous asset to have her in the program.”
Marone, an adjunct instructor teaching baking since 2010, has studied with some of the world’s most famous chefs.
“I have a culinary degree from the U.S., but I then go study wherever there is somebody famous,” says Marone. “Ron Ben-Israel, Colette Peters, Marina Sousa or world pastry champions like Chris Sumner or Dimitri Fayard in the French pastry school, Maggie Austin—a bunch of them. Ron Ben-Israel—he’s the best in the country for cake decorating right now.”
Chelemes recognizes Chef Marone’s studies are paying off, and it benefits students to learn from an emerging master.
“I think she is phenomenal. Sometimes we become generalists in culinary. Everybody thinks ‘so you have a culinary degree, you can do everything,’ but she really focuses on her love of pastry and baking. Every year, she travels across the country and overseas to get these classes in decorating cakes. Some of things she has created are just mind-blowing. She has good creativity,” says Chelemes.
“She is really passionate about baking and pastry, but you don’t notice it much because she is not loud, not boisterous and not a bragger. Her work speaks for itself.”
Chef Marone brings this creativity and first-hand learning from the industry’s elite to the classroom.
“I don’t just give things from a book but rather from real-life, how it really works. Then when I go to meet these famous people, I ask them questions,” says Marone.
So all my experience with them, all the tricks and comments, I bring back with me and share. Not only do I share the recipes, but I share the comments. They don’t just get the theory of it.”
Fourth-semester culinary student Rachelle Vandruff recognizes the value of this teaching approach for her own learning.
“It’s a more experiential teaching environment rather than lecture-based. You make your own mistakes,” says Vandruff.
“She shows you what you’re doing right and wrong as we go, and it really solidifies the information you receive. That’s why I appreciate her style of teaching.”
Marone learned her way around the kitchen at a young age in her hometown of Napoli, Italy, the southern city commonly known as the birthplace of pizza and for its use of red tomato sauces for pasta.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandmother Nonna. She taught me,” says Marone in her native accent. “I also have cake recipes from my mother. Everything made was from scratch.”
Chef Marone’s formal training in the kitchen ultimately emerged during her years in, and following the university, where she was enrolled for another career path.
“After high school, I went directly to the law school doing completely something else, but I did like to bake. I started making cakes for friends and family, and people began asking for more and more and after two years in law school, I dropped,” says Marone.
“I just started to sell those cakes for other people, for friends of friends and by word of mouth. It was a full time job in no time.”
Chef Marone’s approach has always been to use fresh ingredients and never boxed mixes.
“I didn’t have a store; it was just for cakes. There was enough work, and I wanted to keep it small. I didn’t want to use premix anything. I wanted it to be that way,” says Marone.
Large bakeries almost always use premixed ingredients to eliminate variances between employees’ methods and for economies of scale.
Where the U.S. baking industry was invaluable for Marone was in learning the art of, and latest trends in, cake decorating in order to “keep current,” according to Marone.
She learned from bakers in various locations, including Toronto and Chicago, and after relocating to the U.S., earned her culinary degree from Jefferson College in Missouri.
“Even then in Italy, it was nothing like it is now. In Italy now, cake decorating is popular. The things they are doing now; I was doing 15, 20 years ago when I was young because of coming here to the U.S. to take classes. Cake decorating is big in the U.S. It was big in the ‘60s,” says Marone.
“I was the only one doing that in Italy then, I think.”
For Chef Marone, the practice of “home-made” assures quality and teaches exactness in baking, a main part of her methodology in the classroom.
She began teaching baking, pastry and cake decorating at both Jefferson College and at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park prior to her move to Utah.
“I love her. I’m a baker, so it really interests me,” says Vandruff.
“Her teaching style is the way I like instruction. She will set us forth on a task and go around to everyone and tell you what you are doing right or doing wrong and show you how to do it the correct way.”
Chelemes often visits the labs while in session to see how classes are going and witness first-hand some of the teaching, including Marone’s baking class.
“You can’t cheat on recipes in baking. Students critique their own work in her class. They have the ability to taste and see what they’ve done, and when there is a mistake, they try to figure what happened. Sometimes you put in too much baking powder, and it explodes,” says Chelemes.
“With baking, it’s so precise. Everything is about precision. It’s funny because she’ll find things in Italian and then converts them for her students from metric to standardized English measure.”
“Half of our baking is the same; it’s French. All the famous chefs in the world do French pastry. It’s only slightly different. They’re very close, like wine and cheese. There are just different kinds, and they compete because they have the same quality. The tradition is French. We do pate-a-choux, but it comes from France. There are some desserts that are Italian, like tiramisu. But the basics are all French,” says Marone, whose own recipe for tiramisu has found popularity among students and faculty alike.
“I will tell you Laura makes a mean tiramisu,” says Chelemes. “It’s probably—I’ve been all over Italy and a lot of places here, and I still say her tiramisu is probably the best.”