Culinary art for students

Baker Dave teaches a series of courses at Tyler for students to learn food-based art.

Students learned how to construct chocolate roses in Baker Dave’s most recent class held at Tyler. | Skyler Burkhart TTN
Dave Okapal teaches students how to construct chocolate roses in Tyler School of Art and Architecture. | Skyler Burkhart / THE TEMPLE NEWS

David Okapal, better known by students as Baker Dave, wanted to be a musician before he found his passion in baking. But this semester, he’s sharing his strategies for creating beautiful food with students through classes at Tyler School of Art.

“I always wanted to be creative,” Okapal said. “I’ve played music since I was 4, so I have always had that creative outlet.”

After making the switch from music to culinary school, Okapal said he was able to find his most fulfilling outlet for creative expression.

“I noticed that the first five or six years out of culinary school I was still writing music, because you spend a lot of time baking muffins and Rice Krispies Treats and stuff like that,” he said. “Then I had gotten a job at the Hotel du Pont and I was able to design some of my own wedding cakes that ended up in Philadelphia Magazine, and as I was doing that, it kind of dawned on me that if you’re a creative person you just need an outlet, but not necessarily the one you thought you needed.”

Okapal’s discovery prompted a series of instructional events he is teaching at Tyler in hopes of helping other artists and creative thinkers discover a similar outlet in the culinary arts.

The first event, held on Sept. 26, was designed to help students translate a talent for art into creating edible decorations and artworks.

“I think art is really important and I don’t think a lot of people get that,” Okapal said. “I hate the idea that if people go to art school they think they have to do whatever it is they went to art school for. But you don’t always think that way.”

Okapal hosted another event Thursday, in which he demonstrated how to create chocolate roses. He said he hopes people that participate in these activities will realize there are many ways to express their talent, whether it is through sculpting, painting or baking pastries and designing cakes.

Students said they noted similarities to their own areas of specialization in art while learning culinary expression.

“The [fondant] we’re working with here is very similar to the clay medium. It acts the same way,” said Leo Stadnik, a senior painting major with a focus in education. “I’m a [certified teacher], so I come to these events to help me come up with potential activities for students, because kids love art and they would love it more to be able to eat it afterward.”

In addition to holding these events as a form of entertainment, Okapal and other organizers hope both non-art majors and Tyler students see them as chances to expand their skills and get a taste of something they otherwise might not experience.

“If you’ve ever seen the Charm City Cakes show, all of those kids [working on the show] were art students at [Maryland Institute College of Art],” Kari Scott, coordinator for Student Life at Tyler, said. “I would watch and it looked like so much fun, and I thought it would be great if we could show students how to translate their art into something new and different.”

The main idea behind the events is progression, Okapal said. He hopes that eventually, as more students attend and master the basic strategies, the classes will be able to expand to more advanced material.

“For the later classes, I don’t have the equipment for them yet,” he said. “But I am hoping that as these things progress, people will take interest and possibly invest.”

Tyler does not offer any classes in culinary arts, and while Okapal said establishing such a course does not seem entirely feasible, students expressed interest in the idea of a cooking course.

“I really enjoy these kinds of [events],” said Ashley Gander, a senior speech, language and hearing science major. “I think that if they offered a class a lot of people would probably be interested.”

Students also reflected on the general education system that requires students to take a certain number of elective credits, suggesting a culinary course would be a welcome addition to many schedules for baking and cooking afficionados.

“I know a lot of people that take silly electives,” Julianne Kemmler, a senior speech, language and hearing therapy major, said. “I love to bake, so I think a class like that would be a little more pertinent to my life.”

Okapal said he is looking to continue these classes as informal and fun activities to get students thinking and experiencing art from a different point of view.

“The main message I want to send is that I don’t want everyone to become pastry chefs,” he said. “I just want them to look outside the box and realize that there are a lot careers out there where they can still be creative and still feel fulfilled.”

Alexa Bricker can be reached at

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