21, No. 16, March 21, 2002
On the Job: Eric Larson
By Sharita Forrest,
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
Eric Larson is a pastry chef in the Housing Division. A seven-year employee
of the university, Larson began working in restaurants as a teen-ager.
While studying business at Loyola University and working in Chicago-area
restaurants, Larson decided to obtain a two-year degree in baking and
pastry arts from Johnson and Wales University, Providence, R.I., before
completing his business degree at Loyola.
What is a typical workday like for you?
You have to roll with the punches. The cooler went down today, and we
lost a lot of eggs and other items. A friend of mine in culinary school
was a Marine, and he always said, Improvise, adapt, overcome,
and I believe he was right. The days can be long: It can be a 16-hour
day or a regular eight-hour day. Sometimes I can work 14 or 15 days
straight without a day off.
Are you baking for the residence halls or where
do your products go?
We make desserts for the specialty restaurants in housing. We make breads
and sweets for the daily luncheon at the Union. We do a lot of catering
for the board of trustees, various departments, alumni, student organizations,
weddings and events at the union.
We probably go through a couple hundred pounds of sugar and flour a
day. We make about 50 cakes a day, 20 pies and 240 dozen rolls a day.
Football season and the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas tends
to be a busy season. In the summer, we start doing a lot of weddings
through the Illini Union.
What is culinary school like?
Johnson and Wales was the only institution in the country at that time
that was offering two-year and four-year degrees in baking and pastry
arts. In the pastry courses, you learn how to work with chocolate and
make doughs and laminated doughs. You also have regular curriculum courses
on how to run restaurants, food costs, starting a restaurant from scratch
and computer courses. They consider youll be in a management position
so there are courses on how to handle people in various situations.
Ive always liked sweets. People always remember dessert when they
dine at a nicer restaurant. It just makes you feel good because they
always remember the pastries. Pastries are more creative. You cant
do as much creative stuff with regular food as you can with pastries.
I might consider it to be the best job at the UI. I get to work with
sweets and with chocolate and be creative. I get to make cute little
pastries, and I get to sample the stuff constantly. Ive looked
at some other positions, and Ive thought to myself, would I feel
fulfilled doing something else? And I dont think I would.
Are there any particular types of desserts
you specialize in?
Anything chocolate. I like making chocolate sculptures. I like being
creative with it. I dont feel creative just making regular cakes
and pies. Besides making something taste as good as it can taste, I
want to make it look as good as it can look. Lots of people eat with
their eyes before they taste it.
Where did you work after culinary school?
Between my first and second years of culinary school, I got a summer
job at one of Chicagos nicest restaurants, Charlie Trotters.
After I got my culinary degree, I worked for some of the larger restaurant
companies, Lettuce Entertain You and Restaurant Development Group, opening
restaurants for them. After four or five years, a friend of mine hooked
me up with the university because they were looking for a pastry chef,
and I came down here.
What kinds of things do you like to do when
youre not working?
I finally purchased a home a fixer-upper from the 1920s period.
Its small 1,100 square feet and I couldnt
imagine owning a bigger house. I and some friends just sanded all the
floors and have been painting the rooms and putting up new ceiling fixtures.
Im going to redo all the wiring and the insulation. A friend and
I just retiled the bathroom. Theres just project after project
for me to do, so Im still living out of boxes even though Ive
been in the house for six months. The neat thing is the house has all
the original kitchen cabinetry from the 1920s, which is what people
are putting in now. The house has great character, and that was the
reason why I bought it. It was very well maintained; it just needed
to be brought up to date.