The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

SFBI Artisan I - My Workshop Evaluation

UpcountryBaker's picture

SFBI Artisan I - My Workshop Evaluation

Workshop: Artisan I, May 2009

Course Content
This is a well-rounded program covering the art of bread making. Some people in the class were professional bakers and some of us were home bakers. I found that even though there were two groups with different levels of expertise in the class, the course was targeted to those with more experience, thus creating tension for those of us that didn't fully understand all of the information being presented.

Both the classroom and lab were appropriate and very nicely set-up. The TV monitor in the classroom was installed off to one side of the room making it difficult to see and read the PowerPoint Slideshow from the other side. The curriculum was pretty complete, even though some topics were not discussed in depth in the classroom so that a clear understanding of the procedure was reached before going in the lab and doing the work.

Once in the lab, we were pretty much following the instructor's directions as to when to hold water from the mix, switch to 2nd. speed, stop mixing, do folds, without an adequate explanation from him about what was happening to the dough at those particular moments in order to make those decisions. Even after taking the class I still don't know what to look for in the dough to make some of those decisions! Pre-shaping and shaping techniques were covered in the lab in a fairly quick and short demonstration, and the little information in our binders covering that information was insufficient. Instead, we were expected to take notes and make sketches during the lab demonstrations making it difficult to pay full attention to what was being shown. In the lab, the instructor wasn't mindful to speak up loudly enough during the demonstrations or ask students to keep conversations to a minimum, making it very difficult at times to hear what was being said.

The instructor knew the curriculum very well. Unfortunately he didn't convey the information clearly and effectively. Even though the curriculum was well-organized, the instructor's teaching style wasn't because he kept jumping forwards and backwards throughout the information in our binder during the class.

On day four I made a suggestion about his presentation and his response in front of the whole class was to just say "whatever". Frankly, I found his dismissive response insulting, disrespectful, and inappropriate for a learning setting, and it clearly reflected poorly on him and on the SFBI. At that point I realized he lacked the capacity, sophistication, sensibility, and sensitivity to properly communicate to the diversity of his students.

There were other times when I asked him a question and he would plainly ignore me and walk away from me as I was talking. It was hard for me not to take this personally but I have come to understand that he wasn't capable of simply saying "this isn't a good time for me, could you please ask me later". Thus when it came to asking questions, which I certainly did, my impression was that questions were not welcomed. And when he did answer questions his answers were sometimes inconsistent, creating more confusion and thus the need to ask a further question.

I had the impression that the group would have really enjoyed getting to know him had he joined the group at the lunch table even for a few minutes at any one point during the course of the week and this in turn would have allowed him to genuinely find out more about his students and their interests.

Schedule & Pace
The schedule was heavily packed and the pace was fast and demanding. However, all of it was achievable and very close to what you would find in a professional setting, which was great. Even though I had never made more than a loaf at a time and it would take me practically all day to make it, here we were making in excess of 25 loaves in a day out of 5 different mixes.

Balance of Time
The amount of class time, lab observation, and lab action was fairly well balanced, with the exception of those topics that were only covered in lab and not in class and vice-versa.

What, if anything, should we add to the curriculum?
More time discussing and practicing Baker's Percentages, probably from day one of the workshop. Ten minutes covering this subject and one example on the last day of class it's not sufficient amount of time spent on this topic to fully comprehend it and to feel that you can leave the classroom and do it at home.

Was the SFBI staff helpful to you? What else could we do to give you the best possible experience?
Yes, most of the staff was very helpful, friendly, and approachable, in particular Mr. Suas, the other instructors, and the people that ran the kitchen. Also the students doing the 18-week professional training program were very nice and willing to share their experiences at the SFBI. I did notice that even though the staff was very nice and helpful, they kept to themselves and seemed somewhat reserved when it came to interacting with the students especially in the dining area. It would have been nice to see the staff, including Mr. Suas and the instructor, sit with the students during lunch at least once during our week-stay at the SFBI.

What additional workshops or events would you like to see at SFBI?
More two-day workshops. Possible topics: Pizzas, Operating a small baking business.

What was your favorite thing about studying at SFBI?
Meeting the different, interesting, and diverse people who have a similar passion when it comes to baking as I do. Not to mention the wonderful breads we got to make, taste, and take home at the end of each day.

Additional comments
Taking this workshop at the SFBI was certainly a worthwhile experience for me. Mr. Suas, President of the SFBI, has put together a wonderful place for people from many walks of life and backgrounds to come together and learn the ins and outs of baking. And even though I wish I would have left at the end of the week feeling that I understood fully the curriculum I signed-up for, this experience has offered me the opportunity to learn about many aspects of baking that I hadn't even considered. Unfortunately because of the personalities involved in the process my experience was somewhat bitter-sweet. I would definitely consider taking other workshops offered at the SFBI. However, I feel that I could only do this when the points that I'm raising here have been acknowledged and addressed to ensure all students are made feel welcomed and encouraged to ask questions in a learning environment that promotes dignity and respect.

The reason I emailed this evaluation is that under these circumstances and given my personal experience I knew it would take me more than 5 minutes, rushed at the end of the long 5-day class, to fairly and objectively critique the class and the instruction. Furthermore, hearing the instructor say jokingly, though unprofessionally, that he would look through the evaluation forms and any that weren't "good" wouldn't make it to Mr. Suas, made me feel uneasy about taking the time to fill it out right there and then, and just turn it in at the end of the class.


xaipete's picture

Thanks for writing such an honest, fair-minded, and thorough evaluation of your course and experience at SFBI. Perhaps your concerns will now be addressed!


LindyD's picture

Thanks for sharing your completed SFBI evaluation.  You certainly did the right thing by answering it later, rather than immediately after the last session.  I think some contemplation is always necessary when one is asked to make an evaluation.

You traveled far and paid a hefty sum to attend the workshop and it's unfortunate that the instructor wasn't more sensitive to the needs of all individuals in the group. Especially as that class is advertised as baking fundamentals.  

If the class was filled, SFBI took in about $16,000 for that five-day workshop.  Any good businessman would contact you after reviewing your comments.

I think that Michael Susas is a good baker, and a good businessman.  I hope you get a response.

Paddyscake's picture

Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds very disappointing for the time, effort and money you spent. Did you come away with the feeling that you did gain some valuable info? Would you recommend the course even though the instructor was dismissive to home bakers? I would be interested in hearing whether you receive a response..keep us posted.



noonesperfect's picture

Upcountrybaker -

I took the class late last year, and my experience was almost the opposite of yours - my class was mostly home bakers, the teacher took his time, explained everything clearly, and stayed late to answer questions.  We baked an average of 15 loaves a day, but we never seemed to be rushing, except when loading or unloading the ovens.

I am not disputing your observations, merely saying it's a shame your experience was so different from mine.  I wonder if they have changed instructors since my class.

I look forward to seeing the response you get from SFBI.

UpcountryBaker's picture

Thank you - I appreciate all the posted comments on my evaluation of the Artisan I workshop I recently took at the SFBI.

I hope to soon hear back a response and acknolegement from them. Like Pamela well put it "perhaps your concerns will now be addressed".

I'd like to clarify that my intention with this is meant solely as a constructive yet objective criticism and it's based purely on my own experience.


CarlSF: The instructor I had also seemed friendly and knowledgeable. However, his communication and personal skills, as well as his teaching style, were simply just not up to par with what I was expecting from someone in his capacity and given the reputation of the SFBI. Frankly, I don't feel comfortable nor I consider is ethical for me to disclose his name and that's the reason I purposely ommited his name in my posting. He might or not be the same person you met when you took the class last year.

LindyD: Thank you for understanding my frustration. Actually we had a smaller class than usual (there were only 12 of us). But nonetheless, this is a matter of principle and it should never have been about personalities. I agree with you that Mr. Suas is not only a great baker, but a genuinely nice and interesting person. I trust that he's a good business man as you've stated and that he responds to my concerns in a timely manner.

Betty: It was a diffucult week for me and some of the negative interactions did take some of the joy away from what could have been a superb experience. However, I have absolutely no regrets about my investment and I certainly did learn a lot. I sincerely hope they take my suggestions seriously and address my concerns appropiately. Like I've stated in my evaluation, I would certainly return to the SFBI to take the other courses being offered once these issues have been resolved. At that point, I will absolutely have no reservations about fully recommending this course to anyone. I'd like to clarify that even though the instructor was dismissive of me, in no way I feel he was "dismissive to home bakers" in particular.

NoOnesPerfect: As I've read reviews about the SFBI and their workshops from others like you, I have wondered too what went wrong? I appreciate your comment where you say you're not disputing my observations. Being curteous and respectful it's just common sense and no one should have to be put in a position to have to demand it, especially in a learning environment. . Frankly, it sounds to me like you might have had another instructor.





cake diva's picture
cake diva

My Artisan 1 experience was the complete opposite of Upcountry baker.

Our instructor was teaching the class for the first time and you wouldn't know it.  He was very helpful, humble, and addressed each question.  Our class was full capacity and made up of people of diverse backgrounds, counting a couple of PhD's, a rocket engineer, a chemist, some retirees, housewives, 2 culinary instructors, and people looking for career changes.  Of course, with this diversity comes diversity in personalities.  I just find in these situations, as in the workplace, that one must be tolerant and learn to respect and deal with people who may not think and act like ourselves.  I had the best experience in my Artisan 1 class, even though I had not baked a single leavened bread before SFBI.  I not only learned so much, but I also came away feeling like I was now a member of a family.  And no, the staff did not break bread with us during the week-long course, but I never expected them to;  I'm sure they would have loved to do so, but someone has to keep the business going.  Michel came to address the class at the start and at the end of the week, and also came by to chat briefly during lunch.  He is truly a lovely person, and has rehabilitated the image of the snooty Frenchman in my mind.

Net:  I loved my Artisan 1 class that I went back for 2 other classes, and each time I always came out with nothing but positive experiences.  SFBI has got to be one of the best deals out there.

gcook17's picture

I completely agree with cake diva.  The Artisan I class I took (Dec. 2008) was from the same instructor and was one of the best classes I have taken on any subject, anywhere, anytime.  I also took Artisan II from the same instructor a few months later and had a similarly good experience.  These classes helped me improve immensely as a baker and were also a lot of fun.  I was really impressed with how politely and delicately the instructor (probably the same one) dealt with off-subject questions and people that were having a hard time with the material.  There is only so much a teacher can do with a class  full of people that have different backgrounds and experience levels but I think it would be very hard to find one that is better than the SFBI Artisan I & II instructor.


breadawe's picture

A year ago February I took the SFBI class "Whole grain Breads and Specialty Flours" taught by Didier Rosada.  As the oldest person in the class, and maybe the least experienced, it was nothing short of one great experience.

Didier was very patient and took all the time needed to answer, instruct and guide us through the science and art of bread baking.  Additional staff people were always available and helped me in many areas.  You know the old question.  What was my evaluation of the program between 1-10? is a 12. 

I am convinced the, well written, bitter-sweet experience from Upcountry Baker was unique and they will listen.