The nameplate outside Candi Bachtell’s classroom at Aberdeen High School bears the inscription “Chef Bachtell.”
There’s a dual purpose in the title.
It reflects Bachtell’s previous career as a cook and restaurant owner for nearly 30 years. But it also sets the tone for her culinary arts classes at AHS.
“I want my students to understand the difference between a high school cooking class and a culinary arts program,” Bachtell explained. “In a working kitchen, there is a hierarchy, with the chef at the helm. I want them to see this as a work-study program where they learn to be in an environment that is job-related.”
Bachtell, who recently celebrated her 64th birthday, admits she is learning things as well. The former owner of Montesano’s Savory Faire restaurant is in only her second year of a second career, having joined the Aberdeen High faculty at age 62.
“I was the oldest new teacher ever hired at Aberdeen,” she said with a smile.
Bachtell was no stranger to teaching, having provided cooking instruction in a variety of community settings and conducting Lamaze classes at Grays Harbor College.
She was still operating Savory Faire when the Aberdeen High culinary arts position was posted in 2012. Her husband, Randy, urged her to apply.
“I felt I needed a little stimulation at that point,” she said. “That was the first time I had to do a (job) interview in 30 years.”
“She came to us with an incredible wealth of experience from the culinary world,” Aberdeen High Principal Rocky Rocquin said. “She brings relevance to everything she does in the classroom.”
Bachtell did double duty for the first year, working her classroom responsibilities around her restaurant chores.
“I was still baking in the morning and doing the books in the afternoon,” she said. “I had every intention of staying in business.”
Maintenance problems at Savory Faire’s longtime home on Main Street, however, led to the closure of the popular restaurant last year.
She had intended to reopen the restaurant at a new location (actually the site of her first business) on Pioneer Avenue. Although characterized at the time as a scaled-back operation, Bachtell said it would have included seating and take-out and counter service.
“Our menu was going to include some breakfast offerings and dinner entrees to go,” she noted.
For reasons she was unable to determine, the new building was not ready for occupancy some 2 1/2 months after the scheduled opening. At that point, Bachtell reluctantly pulled the plug on the venture.
“Progress was at a stalemate,” she noted. “The pockets of my investors — which was me — were emptying. I couldn’t go without a business for that long. I had to make the heart-wrenching decision it was over and I released my employees to get jobs.”
In the Classroom
Bachtell teaches three culinary arts classes at Aberdeen. During the first semester, she also instructs two classes of Independent Living, a course that covers a variety of life skills that range from child care to sewing to handling home finances.
“Just the basics of trying to take care of yourself in the big world,” she said.
In the second semester, she teaches Sugar &Spice Baking, focusing on cookies and pastries, and International Cooking, in which students fix recipes from other countries and also conduct research on international cuisine. She also handles one period of counseling per semester.
Even in her culinary arts classes, Bachtell stresses workplace behavior. Since unexcused absences and late arrivals can be cause for termination in the business world, she displays little tolerance for tardiness among her students.
“The class is about work ethic and being responsible and knowing that a job is a gift,” she observed. “If we’re not happy with the job, you move on, but in a responsible way. And we never stop working as hard as we can until we make that move.”
One common denominator in all of Bachtell’s classes is the initial dish prepared.
“The first thing in all my classes is to learn how to cook eggs,” she said. “Because eggs are the most difficult thing to make correctly and everybody thinks they can do them well.”
French scrambled eggs — a softer, moister version of the American egg — are a specialty of her classes, as are omelettes. Her students usually move on to cookies, side dishes and pasta.
The days of female-only cooking classes, she said, have long since passed.
“I may have more boys than girls and they have been some of my best students,” Bachtell reported.
Any fears of a generation gap between Bachtell and her students have been dispelled.
“She is able to make those connections with students that are so critical to being an effective teacher,” Rocquin said. “The really cool thing about her class is you get to eat the product you make, so you receive instant feedback on the quality of work you are producing. I have watched her critique kids and she manages to get the message across to them in an extremely positive manner and the student can take that feedback and improve.”
Bachtell admits that she is a demanding teacher.
“I do have high standards … but I give (students) the option of coming to me and we’ll work it out. They don’t hesitate to tell me that I’m mean,” she said with a laugh.
Those references, she pointed out, are usually made affectionately. In return, Bachtell likes and respects her students.
“I didn’t anticipate having the teenagers of today to be so caring and so understanding of each other and their lifestyles, but they are,” Bachtell said. “They work together as a team and I love that. They are our hope for the future because they accept each other.”
Labor of love
If Bachtell treats her students as an extended family, it would be consistent with her previous job. Particularly in the latter stages, her restaurant operation was very much a family affair.
A Montesano resident since her early teens, Bachtell began her business career operating a kitchenware shop in the rear portion of Montesano’s Sunburst Health Food Store in 1984. Admittedly bored with retail work, she added a small bakery and taught some classes before moving to the Main Street location.
Originally only a bakery and kitchenware/gift shop, Savory Faire was expanded to include lunches. Breakfasts were later served for some 20 years and dinners were periodically offered throughout the life of the restaurant.
Bachtell’s son, Josh, eventually became the primary cook — teaming with his friend Brook Schurr to run a well-received dinner operation for about 18 months before it became too time-consuming to continue.
During the final years of the restaurant, he would prepare the majority of entrees, soups and salads, while Candi made the pastries, desserts and bread and Randy Bachtell set the bread every morning before traveling to his teaching job in Olympia.
Candi Bachtell remembers the restaurant business as a labor of love.
“Owning a restaurant is very difficult because the profit margin is very small and you are always at the mercy of the climate, crop failures and waste,” she said. “There are long hours, hard work and the constant balance of staffing and food production, along with always wanting to please our customers. But it is in my soul and I loved it. I miss most parts of Savory Faire, especially my staff and customers and working with Josh every day.”
She has, however, also faced challenges in education.
Last October, one of her classes was assigned to cater and serve a Career and Technical Education program dinner.
Although given only a week’s notice, her students prepared a three-course meal (with chicken as the entree) to positive reviews.
Bachtell said the second course of her professional life has been as rewarding as the first.
“I love to teach,” she concluded. “I really had no idea how hard this was going to be. I always thought running a restaurant was the hardest job around. This is like working with a new crew every single day. But I do love the kids and I like their personal quirks.”