Do you ever sit around and think about all the people who have influenced you along the way? I’ll always remember Cass. He terrified me. He was old and grumpy and couldn’t help to remind you that everything you were doing was wrong. But at 92 years old, that man knew what he was talking about.
About a year after I graduated from culinary school I landed a job as a baker at Iversons. This place was amazing. The recipes were at least 100 years old and if the ovens could talk, every sentence would begin with “well, back in my day…” We offered everything from homemade cannolis, to fresh fruit tarts, wedding cakes, and cookies. This is where I really learned how to bake. We had an old deck oven and the most impressive carousel oven you’ve ever seen. That thing took 6 hours just to get hot.
Cass was in charge of our danish and pastries and wouldn’t let anyone, including the owners, touch them. Some of our biggest contracts were supplying Jewish temples with all of their pastries for their after service gatherings. So to say they had high expectations when it came to the authenticity and execution of their beloved treats was an understatement.
One day Cass looked at me and said “kid, come over here and watch what I’m doing.” For hours I was only allowed to watch and take notes. Here was this man that I tried to avoid that seemed to yell at me every day. And for the first time, I looked at him in a completely different light. He believed in me and offered to train me with his knowledge, talent, and experience.
The day had come when I was finally able to help, not just listen. Over the next few weeks he taught me everything. The schneckens and rougelach; babka and fruit cakes. I went from no clue as to how to make such tasty and delicious treats to making hundreds of them a day.
I remember asking him one day why he chose me to teach this to? He simply responded, “Because you listen and you care.”
One day I came in, and Cass had called in sick. As far as I knew he had never called in sick, ever. So I thought something pretty serious must be going on. The rest of the week it was up to me. I knew I had to do it right, or he was going to let me have it when he got back.
But he never returned. He ended up passing away shortly after. Looking back, he knew his time was short, and I was honored he chose to take me under his wing.
I like to think he would have been proud of how far I’ve come.
Every time I hear that song “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall I laugh. I don’t know if he hated that song, loved it, or thought about making fun of it. For a man that didn’t say much and liked complaining he sure liked to sing along in the kitchen by shouting “woohoo…woohoo” whenever the song came on the radio.
I think it’s important to remember those people who got us to where we are. Because honestly we would be nothing without them. A man who terrified me and at times drove me crazy ended up being one of the most influential people in my life. And I’ll always be grateful to him.
Cheers to you, Cass!