ELLSWORTH — After 41 years of teaching culinary arts — the last 15 of which have been at Hancock County Technical Center (HCTC) — Bill Baker is hanging up his apron and retiring.
As director of the center’s culinary arts program, Baker has taught students who want to improve their cooking skills as well as those whose sights are set on attending postsecondary culinary institutions, forging a career in the food service industry and possibly starting their own businesses.
Witnessing and being a part of the students’ journeys is what he is truly going to miss.
“I’m gonna miss most, and I think I’m starting not taking it for granted … the interaction daily with the students,” Bill said in a recent interview.
He warned The American he might shed a tear while discussing his teaching career. And he did. Especially when recalling how meaningful it has been to see students triumph both in the kitchen and in the outside world.
Most of his students decide to attend college, often embarking in programs at institutions like Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
Even years after they leave his class, Bill enjoys bumping into his former students and hearing about their families and careers.
“I’m gonna miss those, those are my cherished moments,” Bill said. “That’s why I teach.”
And his pride and support in his students produces real, momentous results. They often earn medals — including several gold — in annual, statewide culinary competitions. This year, 11 students medaled and five took home gold.
Many even go on to compete nationally.
In one standout year, Bill had a student win a silver medal at a national competition.
The impacts of winning these competitions, especially at the national level and especially when scholarship money is involved, is what Bill called life-changing.
“You remember it forever,” he said.
These successes are often carried out of the classroom.
“Every restaurant wants a student of mine,” Bill said, noting that local establishments are quick to hire HCTC students, something he is especially proud of.
“If you named a restaurant, I’ve got a student there,” he said, listing Ellsworth’s Union River Lobster Pot, Finn’s, Margarita’s and Flexit Café, just to name a few.
This support from the community, which also includes support from the public who attend HCTC’s weekly restaurant, The Brookside Restaurant, has not gone unnoticed by Bill. He travels to work from Bangor and was not initially part of the Hancock County community.
“I want to give a shout-out to the community for just supporting HCTC,” he said. “They’ve been so wonderful to me and my students.”
These past two years, the support has continued as students pivoted to operate The Brookside Restaurant in a to-go format. Two weeks ago, the restaurant, which operates on Wednesdays, set a record serving 127 take-away customers. Like a well-oiled machine, they prep, cook, plate and assemble the full meals in elegant white paper bags that are whisked out to waiting customers in their cars and trucks.
Even in these uncertain times, Bill’s students have remained focused on their assigned tasks in the bustling kitchen. With mask mandates and other guidelines easing, he says a sense of normalcy is returning to the HCTC campus.
Whether he is teaching something technical — like how to make the best pie crust on the first day of class — or sharing the benefits of social skills, like being a team player and being a hard worker, Bill’s steadfast caring for his students is ever-present.
He notes, however, that a strong work ethic is innate in his students and those who call Hancock County home.
“They’re workers,” Bill said. “They come from families who work hard.”
He said that kind of dedication is what technical centers are all about; helping students find employment and achieve success in the workforce. It’s an attitude that is crucial to working in the food service industry, he added, especially since many technical skills can be taught, but social and emotional skills come from within.
“It’s a hard job,” Bill said of the industry. “It’s really hard and you have to be a people person and you have to work as a team.”
“But if you’re a good person and you can get along with people … that’s most important.”
Bill has seen the program benefits student who aren’t bound for the industry, too.
“All my students end up successful whether they are in the food service industry.”
Students learn lifelong lessons from making soups and sauces to decorating wedding cakes and cooking banquet-style meals. They take with them recipes for life.
Students see the whole process of putting a meal together, from gauging food costs to waiting on deliveries to trying out new recipes.
His lessons coincide with the message that is at the core of his teachings to his students:
“I love you because I want you to be successful,” Bill said.
At Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth, The Brookside Restaurant’s weekly takeout takes place on Wednesdays except when school is not in session. The menu, which features a choice of entrees with sides and dessert, is posted in the preceding days on HCTC’s Facebook page. The order form is posted the Friday before pickup, and must be submitted before 11 a.m. on Tuesday. Pickup is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Customers park in the designated parking places marked with orange cones. Students bring out the bagged dinners to the awaiting vehicles. They take payment and return with change and a receipt. For more info, call 667-9729.