Baking program gives women new skills and confidence so they can rise

WINNETKA — A 10-week baking program is teaching women from underserved Chicago communities the recipe for success one pie, one cake, one cookie at a time.

If you ask 27-year-old Kyla Mullen of Chicago, the single mother of three said she hasn’t always been a baker— or a good one, at least. But with time, tutelage and practice with The Floured Apron she is now baking with the best of them, and turning her new love into a long term plan for her family.

"When i’m in the kitchen baking it’s like everything just soothes me... everything I am going through in my life, it just takes me away. It’s like my escape," Mullen said. “I hope maybe one day to work in a bakery or maybe even start my own business."

The program's classes are held in a commercial-grade kitchen in a church basement. Originally from Maryland, Bilinda Pringle was down on her luck in Chicago when she heard about the classes.

“I had been in the corporate world forever. I used to work in a bank. The bank got taken over by another bank and I got laid off and I just want to do what I want to do,” Pringle said.

What she desperately wanted to do was to bake. The nonprofit screened her application and in its first year, The Floured Apron taught her more than just how to crack an egg or mix some batter. The organizers baked in a support system at the same time. First she was a student. Now she is an employee.

“I realized how much confidence I lost. They build that up," Pringle said.

So much like baking, the program starts with raw materials that when measured and mixed well together turn out something totally new, totally different, admired by many.

“The women coming to our program are in some sort of transition. Whether coming from domestic violence situation or a homeless shelter, or just laid off from third job, and need that confidence boost," founder Emily Boling said.

The program is a 10-week full-time commitment with both hands-on and classroom experience. The group of no more than five at a time is free to students. They learn to bake, of course, but also learn how to be interviewed for a job and dress for that interview. There are written and practical test. They have mentors and hear from celebrity bakers. The goal for most is rolling their new found passion into a profession.

“It’s continuous reinforcement. So by the time you are out there and ready for your first day of work, I felt pretty good walking through the door,” Pringle said. “I graduated on a Friday and started at Mariano’s on a Monday."

“If you’ve ever baked with anybody else you find that through the smells and sheer hands-on piece of it, it brings people together,” Boling said.

“At graduation, people are talking about how they were transformed, or how they were broken when they came in and now feel put together,” Jeanne Ebersol, the program's Director of Student Development, said.

"It’s all about what’s happening around the recipes, rather than the recipes themselves,” Ebersol said.

The women who graduate all leave with certifications to take to a food or restaurant employer, and 92 percent of students who are placed in jobs following graduation stay in them for 6-12 months.

Floured Apron baked goods are also available online and at select farmer’s markets in the area.