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With a couple of baking labs that can hold 24 students, a butchery area and research kitchen at her disposal, Sabine Heinrich-Kumar and her colleagues are ready to help Conestoga College’s culinary arts program reach new heights.
Overseeing Conestoga’s baking and pastry arts program, Heinrich-Kumar is a new faculty member who has been both a Centennial College and George Brown College culinary faculty member. With that background and her global experience in the industry, she describes Conestoga’s new University Avenue facility as “simply amazing.”
“This is state-of-the-art, and I don’t believe I have seen anything better,” Heinrich-Kumar says. “It’s very spacious and very well thought through. I wish I had been a student here.”
She would also agree that the case of “build it and they will come” with regard to the College’s culinary program has already happened, even in the first term of the new facility. “It was very successful that our first intake here was not one but two sections. That’s big,” Heinrich-Kumar says. “People want to come, and we have a mix of local and international students, so it’s a really good balance.”
Heinrich-Kumar arrived at Conestoga this past summer, and she brings with her experience from the culinary schools in Toronto but also vast experience in the industry from around the world where she perfected her skills in pastry, baking and sugar arts. She has worked alongside chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire and Gary Rhodes and honed her teaching skills over the last six years. She has worked in Zurich, Vienna, London and Dubai. Her skill set is equally wide-ranging, and she says she no favourite pastry area or technique. “It’s a question I get asked a lot. It’s all about a balance. I love everything involved. But I do like Pierre Herme because it’s clean and modern. I like his approach. Ultimately, though, I want students to create their own identity.”
“It’s very spacious and very well thought through. I wish I had been a student here.”
In the transition from restaurants and hotels, Heinrich-Kumar says she just loves teaching culinary. “It’s a really rewarding profession, so when I saw the opening here, I just had to apply.” Having now settled in to the College, she’ll be focussed, among other duties, on the students in the one-year certificate and diploma programs and ensuring they have established the foundations of short and yeast doughs, fermented doughs, cakes and quick breads, masking and piping and many other techniques.
She will also help the College build the continuing education program. “That could be a chocolate program or cake decorating and what is needed here in Waterloo,” she says. “I’d like to offer international pastry too and draw on our relationship with Institut Paul Bocuse so our students have the opportunity to travel for some European training.”
While in terms of time, Heinrich-Kumar has spent a good portion of her career in professional restaurants leading pastry kitchens, she’s quick to add that that includes on-the-job teaching as well. “You’re a teacher there too in many respects. It’s not an educational setting, but you have to lead and coach your colleagues. If not, no one gets anywhere.”
Born in Germany, Heinrich-Kumar did her formal training in Germany and Switzerland and says she’s enjoying getting to know her new home. “I love it here in Waterloo Region. It’s very inviting and the size of the cities really speak to me.”
From what she’s seen in the last several months, she says that Conestoga students and faculty have a significant opportunity to build a first-rate program. “The base is set to be the best. It’s up to us, the faculty, to set expectations high to help make the students the best in Ontario.” She recognizes the importance of staying current but also anticipating what’s ahead. “You have to be always on the current trends and know the state of the profession in order to be successful. Culinary instruction and pastry is now taught at a very high level as the whole industry has become more popular and better understood.”
In order to do that, Heinrich-Kumar says that students must first have sound fundamentals in the kitchen before they graduate and head into a professional kitchen.
“They need the base knowledge to succeed, but I’m also here to believe in them and empower them. Most important is the mindset and being ready to work as a professional,” she says, adding that a sense of achievement and accomplishment goes a long way too. “Be proud in this profession because anything can happen.”
A few quick questions for Sabine Heinrich-Kumar
Conestoga College: What’s your proudest culinary accomplishment?
Sabine Heinrich-Kumar: There are so many, I couldn’t pick just one. Mostly working with great people and seeing your trainees become trainers themselves.
Favourite dish to make?
Heinrich-Kumar: I love to cook with sweet potatoes.
Favourite dish to eat?
Heinrich-Kumar: Sauerbraten mit rotkraut (red cabbage) und kloessen (potato dumplings).
Favourite ingredient to work with?
Favourite recipe of all time?
Heinrich-Kumar: I don’t have one.
Strangest thing you’ve eaten?
Heinrich-Kumar: I eat nothing strange.
Chef you’ve learned most from?
Heinrich-Kumar: My Konditor Meisters in my education.
Chef who was your idol?
Heinrich-Kumar: I don’t really have one.
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