Dave Okapal didn’t plan on becoming Temple University’s pastry chef when he attended a job fair at Temple in 2003.
In fact, he almost wanted to leave the fair.
“It was one of those fairs where you’d wait in line and people would be interviewed right in front of you,” Okapal said. “It was definitely kind of odd.”
Yet, after nearly seventeen years ago making desserts for students, his career at Temple will be coming to an end on Saturday.
Okapal will be leaving campus to work as a research and development chef for Michel’s Bakery, a private bakery in Northeast Philadelphia, where he will approach cooking from a science-based perspective, he said.
Okapal, widely known on campus as “Baker Dave,” manages the deserts and pastries at Temple’s dining halls, and usually can be seen in Esposito Dining Hall at Johnson and Hardwick Hall. He’s become known for creating unique forms of edible art on campus, whether large-sized cake creations or holiday-themed pastries.
Starting in 2011, Okapal involved students with designing a yearly “TU Big Cake,” a large cake with a Temple-inspired design for Temple’s homecoming. The cake is made of 45-50 sheet cakes and has fed as many as 5,500 to 6,000 students, he said.
“I remember one year we started serving the cake at noon, and by three o’clock all of it was gone,” he added.
Okapal was a contestant on the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” last year, where he competed for a $10,000 prize and made pajama and sloppily-wrapped present cookies.
Okapal was also part of Temple’s “Temple Made” promotion in 2013 and had his own series, “Baker Dave Presents” on TUTV, which has aired fifty-nine episodes since 2017. The show featured Okapal introducing baking recipes and showcasing ways to create edible art with students.
“I really loved being able to work with students and share my passion with them,” he said.
Baking has been a part of Okapal’s life for as long as he can remember. He learned how to bake with his grandmother when he was young.
“I used to bake at home or she’d come and visit, and I remember us making apple pies together,” he added.
He went on to graduate from Johnson and Wales University with associates of arts and sciences in Bakery and Pastry Arts in 1994. Before coming to Temple, he worked at the former Trump Taj Mahal in the ’90s, where he prepared pastries and bread for events, he said.
Students said they have enjoyed Okapal’s pastry creations on campus.
For freshman chemistry major Kai Jacketti, the pastries at the dining hall are a key part of his experience at Temple, he said.
“I definitely love the cookies and all the baked goods they have there,” Jacketti added. “It really keeps me looking forward to eating at J&H.”
Brynn Schwegler, junior advertising major said that Baker Dave’s exit will be felt across campus.
“He’s been here for so long and I think it’s so sad that he’s leaving but I’m glad he’s going to get a break,” she said. “Everyone’s definitely going to miss him.”
Okapal’s departure will leave a hole in the Esposito dining staff that will be felt for a while, said Shawnn Martin, chef food production manager at J&H.
“Dave is a highly talented guy,” Martin said. “Temple was lucky to have him for as long as they did. He was humble and really took pride in what he did.”
The best part of his career at Temple has been the love he’s received by students, Okapal said.
“I’ve been to universities and I’ve seriously haven’t found a more respectful and nicer group of college students,” he added. “There’s definitely a unique kind of atmosphere here.”