WESTFORD -- Nashoba Valley Technical High School hasn't had a baking chef in about 15 years.
But a recent upswing in the popularity of cakes and cupcakes, generally credited to the rise of the Food Network and TV cooking shows and personalities, revealed a need that was not being fulfilled: Some students wanted to learn the baking side of the culinary arts as well as the cooking side.
"About 20 years ago, the industry had a real need for pastry-arts chefs," said Nashoba Tech Chef-Instructor Steve Whiting, who has been teaching for close to 30 years. "But then, with the trend of pre-made cakes, the industry kind of fizzled out.
"But now that's coming around full circle with the craze for cakes and cupcakes and the Food Network," Whiting added. "There's an excitement around cakes and cupcakes. It's all the rage, and kids want to learn that. Plus, there's the special dietary needs of people -- gluten-free, nut-free, allergen-free. So Nashoba Tech saw a need to add a baking chef."
Enter Carley Engle.
Nashoba Tech is the Terryville, Conn., native's first experience teaching at the high-school level, though she taught middle-schoolers in Nashoba Tech's Summer Experience, as well as adults in Nashoba Tech's Nashoba @ Night community education program.
She's not new to baking, though.
"I've been decorating cakes for about 10 years," Engle said. "My mom and my grandparents always baked with me. And they were all teachers."
Engle graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., with a bachelor's degree in baking and pastry, and was a teaching assistant at the Johnson & Wales Inn. She has also worked for Bianco's Catering in Tyngsboro.
She's happy to be at Nashoba Tech and leading the resurgence of the baking program, which is part of the culinary arts curriculum.
"A lot of the kids in culinary arts are excited about having a full-time bakery teacher," she said. "I love being around kids, and I love knowing the kids get inspired by what I do."
Engle said she plans to teach students the basics about cookies, cakes and cupcakes, and to create custom-made cakes for the public. She also wants to introduce the students to one of her specialties -- wedding cakes.
"I want to show them the basics of how to do it," she said. "And organic baking is huge right now, so I hope to get into that. But right now, everything's cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes."
The public can sample the new bakery items at Nashoba Tech's award-winning in-school restaurant, The Elegant Chef, which is open to the public Tuesday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when school is in session. Reservations are not required, but if you would like to make one, call 978-692-9958.