Thursday, May 13, 2021
A Message from Terri Graham, Interim President, West and Downtown Campuses
Chef Chris Russom, part-time faculty, culinary management, is teaching our students to be artists. For the past three years as a Valencia College professor, he teaches Advanced Decorating Skills, now at the Downtown Campus — and his sweet skills are being noticed.
“We have the most talented pastry artist in the world,” said Chef Pierre Pilloud, professor, culinary management. “I have seen a few in my 60 years in this trade; none matches the talent and creativity of Chef Chris.”
Part of Chris’ curriculum is teaching the foundation and essential components of creating 3-D cakes. In the course, students learn types of edible and construction materials available for use in designs, defining where and how to support the weight of a cake and sugar portions of a sculpture, inspiration and creation of gravity-defying designs, and engineering and construction aspects of 3-D cakes. The course even includes an introduction to power tools and construction methods.
“At the end of the semester, as part of the required practical, each student submits a sketch for some type of gravity-defying design that can be executed as a group,” Chris explained. Students compile and vote on the best sketch. Once selected, I re-sketch, adjusting for accuracy, support and dramatic impact.”
Students also break down the steps and stages of the design, for example, labor costs, pricing the individual artwork components and which student will handle each aspect or portion of the construction. Students are graded on the artistic quality of their individual contribution, knowledge of the assembly, construction and their group participation.
In his spring 2020 decorating skills course, his students were in the process of creating a Wizard of Oz cake. However, as our campuses closed due to the pandemic, the project was derailed.
“I wanted the students to experience some sort of validation and culmination on the project,” Chris explained. “Consequently, I invested time over the summer and fall of 2020 seeing the project through to completion. I felt it was important to give closure to the student’s ideas AND inspire NEW students, as to the degree of knowledge and artistic development available to them through the program.”
This nearly 200-pound cake — now on display at the Downtown Campus on the 4th floor in the pastry kitchen — is made of pastillage, isomalt sugar, gum paste, rolled fondant, chocolate and Rice Krispies, almost all of the available edible mediums.
“If executed for a client/customer, the cake would have a price tag of $8,000 to $9,000 dollars,” said Chris.
Chris launched, “Let Them Eat Cake,” his first bakery and coffee house in 1998. The bakery grew into an international success and eventually became Christopher Garren’s Inc., a corporation that executes thousands of celebration cakes yearly for corporations, design houses, movie premieres and movie and television personalities, from Will Smith to Oprah Winfrey. He retired from retail service in 2013.
He and his wife have participated in multiple Food Network competitions from 2002 to 2007, and from 2008 to 2011, he filmed four seasons of the reality television show “Amazing Wedding Cakes.”
His work has been featured on various television networks and shows including: “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” “Blind Date,” “The Tyra Banks Show” and international TV commercials. He’s also made numerous appearances on local radio and news programs and his art has found coverage in dozens of national and international magazines.
In addition to teaching at Valencia, he travels throughout the United States teaching continuing education and culinary classes.