Tom LaPierre is one of only three people in Wisconsin who hold the American Culinary Federation’s designation as a certified executive pastry chef.
He didn’t start out wanting to become a chef. LaPierre first tried his hand at commodities trading and worked for a while as a runner for the Chicago Board of Trade. After figuring out that wasn’t the kind of career he wanted, LaPierre completed a degree in political science.
For a while he tried jobs in collections, customer service and automobile credit.
"But every desk, phone and computer was the same in those jobs," he said. "They felt like stale, lifeless environments to me. I couldn't see myself staying in those situations."
LaPierre returned to school with the goal of becoming a savory chef because he thought those skills would be a ticket to travel. While earning an associate degree in culinary arts from Kendall College in Chicago, LaPierre worked in a small restaurant’s in-house bakery. He started taking baking classes wherever he could find them.
When his wife landed a job in Wyoming, LaPierre took a job as a bakery manager at the University of Wyoming. “Once I started working full-time in a bakery, it clicked,” he said. “I knew that was what I really loved.”
Baking is very different from being a savory chef, LaPierre explained. "There's a difference in the pace of production. In baking, you can begin preparing things two to four days ahead of time. I love the science of mixing the ingredients, the chemistry, the exactness and the precision of baking. I really enjoy working that way."
Following his experience in Wyoming, LaPierre held a variety of baking jobs, including two extended stints on tropical islands. He worked as a pastry cook at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and as an executive pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.
When his wife took a job in Rhinelander, LaPierre became a full-time stay-at-home dad. Eventually, he returned to work as a part-time baking instructor at Nicolet Technical College. In 2009, he joined the Milwaukee Area Technical College faculty as a baking and pastry arts instructor.