North Texas Daily

Master baker heads Clark Bakery, shares love of craft

Master baker heads Clark Bakery, shares love of craft

Master baker heads Clark Bakery, shares love of craft
April 24
01:19 2014

Matt Wood // Staff Writer

In his white chef’s smock, black cap and wire-frame glasses, Bill Hunter oversees his domain in Clark Bakery.

Just this morning he crunched numbers, baked cookies, managed delivery equipment, met with salesmen, took inventory and scaled pizza dough to prepare for baking. And it’s only 11 a.m. on a Friday.

“We have a big order Monday morning, bright and early,” he said, nodding at the kitchen.

Hunter, 55, is the executive pastry chef of Clark Bakery and a certified Master Baker – a prestigious titled shared by about 200 bakers across the country. In Clark Bakery, he oversees 15 workers and helps manage the distribution of baked goods on campus.

On Jan. 1, Hunter was hired to his current position and has been in charge of creating the framework for the bakery’s operation.

Clark Bakery started producing pastries late February and currently provides the baked goods for all UNT retail outlets as well as Bruce, Kerr and West Hall. The bakery produces about 6,000 units of baked goods each day, which are delivered by truck to each location.

Since the bakery is still fairly new, he said he’s still working out the kinks in getting everything sent out on time.

“It’s surprising how much effort is involved in the planning of that, to get a loaf of bread or a cobbler to the end customer at the right time,” he said. “If you trace it all the way back to even ordering the ingredients, there’s a lot involved in that.”

Humble beginnings

At age 14, Hunter got his first full-time job doing dishes at a college food service cafeteria. The closest food preparation area happened to be the bakery.

“Any time I got caught up on work with the pots, I would go and help in the bakery,” he said. “It was always an area of the kitchen I gravitated to.”

From there, he said he “caught the bug” for baking and decided that’s what he wanted to do.

Hunter studied food service at El Centro College in Dallas, and then got his first culinary job as a baker’s helper at the Neiman Marcus commissary bakery in 1978. There, he helped shape and pan dough for all of the pastries sent out each day.

The majority of Hunter’s career, 20 year’s worth, was spent as a hotel pastry chef. The system he used there was akin to Clark Bakery’s, with one central baking location distributing goods across various vendor locations.

“It’s very similar in that respect, it’s just the numbers are so much bigger there,” he said.

Hunter also taught baking part time at the Art Institute of Dallas and El Centro College.

Bill McNeace, executive director of dining services, said Hunter’s experience in producing high volumes of pastries was a key point in hiring him.

“Our volume of food production swamps most chefs,” McNeace said. “But Bill has the high volume, practical hands-on experience necessary to make fresh on-site baking a reality at UNT.

All of Clark Bakery’s goods are made fresh on-site, but the fruit used arrives pre-cut and frozen.

Anna Adams, one of the three full-time bakers in the bakery, said she appreciates Hunter’s management style and willingness to work with people.

“Bill [Hunter] is in here all the time,” she said. “He’s always willing to just jump in and show us what to do. He’s not like most managers where he points and says ‘you do this.’”

Master Baker

The title of Master Baker is issued by the Retail Bakers of America, and is the final title issued after completing a series of prerequisite certificates.

For his final test, Hunter had to answer 200 questions and do a practical test over a two-day period. During the exam he made bread, Danishes, chiffon cake, rolls, icing from scratch as well as muffins.

“The intent is to keep you so busy that there’s a solid possibility you’ll make errors. And I did,” he said with a laugh. “But most anything is fixable when you have enough experience.”

Three judges watched him during his practical, and a panel of five additional judges evaluated the finished products. The judging criteria pertain to the chef’s appearance, professionalism and cleanliness, as well as the taste, appearance and texture of the baked goods.

An added element of strain, Hunter said, comes from not being in your own kitchen and trying to find each cooking utensil. Though he felt a bit nervous, Hunter was confident while taking the practical.

“I felt good about it. I felt there wasn’t anything there that wasn’t too big of a challenge that I couldn’t overcome it,” he said. “But at the same time it is stressful because there is a lot to do.”

Love of the craft

Hunter said his inherent love of baking comes from the finesse it takes to execute a perfect pastry.

“It’s precise. It’s not just a little of this, a little of that, or just making it up as you go,” he said. “It takes forethought, planning and it has to be done a certain way.“

In his work, Hunter said he particularly enjoys the detailed aspects of the job over the creativity.

“I don’t describe myself as an artisan,” he said. “I think of myself as a technician.”

McNeace recognized this in Hunter, and said that his certifications were a testament to his cooking prowess.

“[Hunter] is incredibly knowledgeable,” McNeace said. “Baking is science. Chefs work with recipes and “feel.” Master Bakers work with formulas and equations.”

Hunter said he has enjoyed his work so far and is excited for the new opportunity the bakery creates for UNT. He hopes to create organizational systems that will outlast him at the bakery.

“I really love it. I think it’s a terrific situation,” he said. “And I look forward to spending a long time here baking away.”

The bakery offers brownies, cookies, Rice Krispy treats, peanut butter bars and three kinds of muffins to UNT retail outlets. But Hunter has his own personal favorite.

“Presently, I like the dark chocolate cookie with the white-chocolate chips,” he said with a smile.

Feature photo: Master Baker and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Hunter brings his culinary experience to UNT. Hoping to convert the Clark dining hall into a store front and bistro lounge, Hunter and his kitchen currently produce baked goods for other dining halls and food pavilions around campus. Photo by Byron Thompson / Staff Photographer 

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