Guest Chef Chris Deutsch, of Belleville Bakery, instructs students in C. Love Baking Academy about the art of making croissants. The three-month-long program is teaching immigrant women about the ins and out of making bakery items. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Beatriz Jose worked as a chef in South Africa from 2016 to 2018, but the South Portland resident is hoping a new baking academy gives her the skills and connections to work in the bakery or restaurant industry here. “I came here with a dream to learn different styles of cooking,” said Jose, who is originally from Angola and came to the United States two years ago.

Beatriz Jose and Natacha Uwimana roll out dough as part of C. Love Baking Academy’s class on croissants July 12. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Jose is one of six immigrant women taking part in the inaugural  C. Love Baking Academy, an offshoot of C. Love Cookie Project, launched by Katherine Slevin in May to teach baking and also “to create a space where women felt welcomed, empowered and confident.”

Slevin said the women, who will earn a certificate in pastry-making when the program concludes next month, were chosen from a field of 20 applicants.

“I was looking for passion, not so much skill level,” Slevin said. “With a creative craft like baking, I wanted to see the passion there.”

Slevin sees the academy as a way to share her love of baking with a new audience, which includes Portland resident Simane Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, originally from Djibouti, a country on the Horn of Africa, has tried to hone her baking skills a number of times but “it was never really something I got into.”

That changed with the C. Love Baking Academy.

“Now I bake every chance I get,” said Ibrahim, who particularly enjoys making macaroons, Chinese coconut bread, focaccia bread and French religieuse pastries as part of the academy. “I go home and I bake all the time. I don’t go out and buy things. If I can find the ingredients myself, I bake it instead. It’s become so second nature to me.”

Scarborough resident Natacha Uwinmana, originally from Congo, said she has gotten much more than baking skills out of C. Love Baking Academy.

“Ever since I started in the class, I’ve made a lot of friends,” Uwinmana said. “All of these people were strangers, but now they are like family to me. I am happy to have found my small community here.”

Since May, the group has learned to make a variety of baked goods, including muffins, banana bread, biscuits, cakes, cookies, soufflés, meringue and tarts.

On Monday, the group was learning how to make croissants with guest chefs Chris Deutsch and Amy Fuller, of Belleville Bakery.

“Her mission is certainly inspiring,” Fuller said of Slevin. “This is exactly what the community needs to help women and folks new to the United States with what it is like to enter the American workforce and get a great skill set.”

This is not the first time Slevin has been using her bakery background to help local immigrants. Since starting C. Love Cookie Project in 2017, she has donated 21% of sales, or more than $22,000, to local non-profits that help the immigrant community in greater Portland.

The pandemic caused her to switch C. Love Cookie Project to curbside cookie pickup for her wholesale clients and to rethink the business’s.  The project was put on hold while Slevin focused on planning for, and now executing, C. Love Baking Academy.

“During the pandemic, I started dreaming up where C. Love can go from here,” she said.

Slevin hopes to be able to replicate the C. Love Baking Academy in the future and publish a cookbook with the program’s recipes.

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