MARQUETTE - Say you are 10 years old. If you want to learn to play piano, your parents can sign you up for lessons. If you're into sports, you can sign up to play anything from football to luge. Art lessons, dance, music - opportunities for kids to learn new skills are almost endless.
Unless your passion is baking.
That's the problem 10-year-old Alex Park ran into.
Alex Park, 10, of Marquette looks over one of his cake creations. (Photo courtesy of Courtney Park)
Since the age of about 4, the Sandy Knoll Elementary School fourth-grader has not just dreamed about becoming a pastry chef, watching shows like "Ace of Cakes," he has taken to his family's kitchen, crafting his own cakes and desserts.
"You can do whatever you want with it," Park said of working with cake. "With some desserts you have to make it the same every time."
But he wanted to learn more.
That led his mom Courtney Park to contact area bakeries and restaurants, looking for a chef that would be willing to give private lessons to a 10-year-old. And they found a willing teacher in Rosemary Fields, pastry chef at the Marquette Baking Company.
"His mom came in and she had pictures of cakes that he made," Fields said.
Since November, Alex has spent two hours every Saturday working with Fields at the Marquette Baking Company, learning everything from the basics of baking to cake decorating to cookies to breads and other pastries.
"We do a lot of basic skills," Fields said, including fine muscle control. "Learning to write with icing is completely different."
Working at the bakery is giving Alex not only the chance to learn from a professional, but also to learn how to work in a professional setting, making large batches of pastries and cookies.
"We're doing real production," Fields said. "It's realistic."
The knowledge he is gaining he has carried over to his own cooking, which he does usually on weekends. In January, Alex won first prize in the youth category for the second annual Winter Wonderland Cake Decorating Contest, winning with a cake decorated to look like an iceberg with penguins engaged in various winter activities.
The cake took nine hours of work to complete, from baking to making the penguins out of modeling chocolate.
Most of Alex's cakes take between five and six hours of work to complete.
"I think I'm probably going to be a pastry chef and hopefully own my own bakery," Alex said.
Even if he ends up choosing to do something other than bake for a living, Courtney Park said she felt the experience of working with Fields would be invaluable to her son.
"He had a desire to learn how to do something," she said. "There's more to be gained from this experience than the fundamentals of baking a cake."
Among those skills is learning to plan and then complete long-term projects.
"He comes here and he learns and listens," Courtney Park said. "Those are skills you can translate to anything."
For now, Alex said he is concentrating on his baking, including his favorite type of cake - sponge cake, which he says is structurally sound for building a cake.
"I think it tastes good and it's fun to make," he said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.