David J. Balla, CEPC
Baking & Pastry
The Art Institute of Michigan
As much as students are learning from me, I'm learning from them too. David Balla , Chef Instructor , The Art Institute of Michigan
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
My defining moment came early. At eight years old, I cooked my first eggs...in a poaching pan…and I didn’t put water in the pan! The eggs came out rubbery and over-cooked, and at that moment I decided I was going to strive to do better. My inspiration to become a pastry chef came from the birthday cakes my aunt sometimes made for me. They were bright, colorful, and fun. I enjoyed looking at them—and eating them. And I try to bring that joy into the classroom.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
I base classroom lectures around creating a dialogue with students to discuss industry and personal experiences. Everyone, no matter what their age or background, has life experiences that can be brought to a classroom discussion. I open up with some experiences of my own, then invite students to talk about theirs.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
I always challenge students to think outside the box. A great example is the use of “ice breakers” in Management Supervision. I encourage students to think more as supervisors and beyond their own viewpoint. Breaking students into groups based on their personal preferred communication style, then having them describe what they prefer, is a learning experience for everyone.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success?
Products made in Artisan Breads class and European Cakes & Tortes are sold in the A la Carte class and in the restaurant. Students are taught that what’s made in the industry is often intended for others to utilize and consume…and not necessarily by themselves.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
Just because you learned certain techniques here, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do things. There’s always a new way to approach every challenge—and everyone has their own idea about how to do it. Learn from it, evaluate the process, and move on.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m a chef first, and an instructor second. Above all, I’m still a student. As much as students are learning from me, I’m learning from them too.