Escoffier Student Suhalia Gant Trades Push Ups For Pastry

Escoffier graduate Suhalia Gant went from personal trainer to pastry cook. Find out how Escoffier’s online baking & pastry program helped her get there.

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July 19, 2023 9 min read

From personal trainer to pastry cook isn’t a transition that most of us expect. But when you get joy from helping people to live their best lives, it’s not as far of a stretch as it might seem.

For Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduate Suhalia Gant, two decades as a personal trainer was her first act. Now, she’s delighted to be exploring her second act in the delicious world of pastry!

“Everything in Moderation”*

Chicago native Suhalia has always loved to bake, ever since her mom taught her as a kid. But baking took a back seat to her personal training career, which is where Suhalia focused for over 20 years. After 15 of those years in Los Angeles, she moved back to the Chicago area with her husband and three children. And she was reminded how different the training world is in Chicago versus LA.

“It is more of a necessity for actors and people in the entertainment industry to be fit,” she says. “They work out every day all day. There is a greater demand for trainers in Los Angeles and [the work] is more consistent.”*

Suhalia with her husband and stepchildren on her wedding day

Suhalia with her husband and children

So when COVID hit, Suhalia was already looking around for something different to do—something that wasn’t as hands-on as the very “up close and personal” training and musculoskeletal work she had been doing before.

She toyed with the idea of film school. But while watching Zumbo’s Just Desserts on Netflix, she found the inspiration she needed.

“I just thought, ‘I love to bake,’” she says. “It’s creative and artsy. And I love being of service. I want to be in an environment that would help make people feel happy. So I wanted to marry those two worlds.”*

The irony of a transition from personal trainer to pastry cook isn’t lost on Suhalia. “My clients were like, ‘How are you going to go from training us to making desserts?’ But I’ve always said, ‘Everything in moderation.’ You can have [pastry], but you have to get active.”*

Turning the Home Kitchen into Baking HQ

Suhalia began by looking for a culinary school near her home in Oak Park, Illinois. But when she found that Escoffier offered online baking & pastry programs, she knew that was perfect—especially at the time when the pandemic was keeping people indoors. Plus, the program let her remain present for her stepchildren.

Suhalia was so committed to her program that she even gave her kitchen a mini-makeover, turning her dining area into a specialty baking nook just for school!

Comparison of Suhalia’s dining area before culinary school and baking station during culinary school

Suhalia’s dining area before culinary school (left) and baking station during culinary school (right).

Among her favorite Chef Instructors were Chef Stefanie Bishop and Chef Steve Konopelski. “Chef Stephanie was so helpful and supportive throughout my whole time at Escoffier,” Suhalia says. “She constantly prepared us with great slideshows and Google charts to follow. If I ever needed any help, she was always a call or email away. I had Chef Steve Konopelski alongside Chef Stephanie in a class and he was simply full of life and brought so much joy. Both of them together were so much fun!”*

Suhalia Gant headshot“The Chef Instructors were very open and available, so I would be the first one to call or ask a question. It was great that they were so open to helping us at any time.”*
Suhalia Gant, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate and Pastry Cook, Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie

Suhalia was surprised by how much she enjoyed learning about baking bread. “I didn’t think I would love making bread, because I don’t really like eating it. I tell my [personal training] clients not to,”* she laughs. But she loved learning how to make French breads!

“The classes hit on everything I’m doing at the pâtisserie I’m working at now, like pâte à choux, croissants, and macarons. It just encompasses everything.”*
Suhalia Gant, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate and Pastry Cook, Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie

Keeping the Externship Close to Home

For her baking and pastry externship, Suhalia knew she wanted to find a position near her home. “In winter in Chicago,” she said, “you don’t want to have to go too far.”* With cold temperatures and a good chance of snow, we can’t blame her!

So she researched bakeries and patisseries in her neighborhood and hit the pavement. “I just walked into places that I thought were really great,” she says. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m a student looking for an externship. Do you have an opportunity for me?’”*

Suhalia didn’t go into these places empty-handed. Escoffier’s Career Services department helped her put together a portfolio and resume, complete with photos of some of her baking and pastry assignments.

A strawberry cake and a chocolate cake made by Suhalia

Some of Suhalia’s ornate creations

The approach worked, and Suhalia secured a spot at Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie in Oak Park, Illinois, just 10 minutes from home.

Suhalia Gant headshot“Some students would say, ‘Oh, I’m still trying to find my externship.’ But they only wanted to reach out to people online. So I said, ‘You should walk in, take your resume, and talk to people!’”*
Suhalia Gant, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate and Pastry Cook, Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie

Bonjour, École Ducasse

After spending six weeks at her externship at Sugar Fixé, Suhalia was amazed by how much she had learned. But she thought she could benefit from some additional training, especially since she hadn’t had back of house restaurant or bakery experience in the past.

And where better to get additional training in pâtisserie than in Paris?

While researching programs, she found École Ducasse, a wonderful culinary school founded by legendary chef Alain Ducasse, who has held 21 Michelin stars throughout his career. The school offered a short summer program, which would be an intensive hands-on course that covered many of the same techniques that she had learned at Escoffier. “I thought it might be beneficial to go over techniques again, to get more experience with everything I had learned,”* she said.

Before leaving for Paris, Suhalia was offered a permanent role at Sugar Fixé, so she knew she’d have a job to come back to!

Suhalia and her classmates at E?cole Ducasse posing for a group photo outside

Suhalia and her classmates at École Ducasse

Suhalia loved her time in Paris. She met students from all over the world, and got to further refine her skills in pastry and chocolate with in-person Chef Instructors in an amazing program on a beautiful campus! “École Ducasse showed me how valuable my Escoffier education was,” she says. “[École Ducasse] is a very full-on and intensive program that challenges everyone from beginners to the most experienced students. But our Chef Instructors gave us the tools and instruction necessary in order to create beautiful pastries. Chef Farhat Lahmer was absolutely amazing. I’m so thankful for the excellent education that I received over my summer program in Paris. It was a dream come true!”*

Suhalia smiling for a photo next to a street in Paris

Suhalia in Paris

Escoffier & École Ducasse

If education from both Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and École Ducasse sounds like a match made in culinary heaven, you’re in luck.

Escoffier and École Ducasse have recently announced a new academic collaboration. Qualifying Escoffier students who have completed their associate degree or diploma programs in Culinary Arts may be eligible to enroll as second-year students in École Ducasse’s three-year bachelor’s degree program. There are also shorter international study certificate programs available.

Get more information about how you could study Culinary Arts with both Escoffier and École Ducasse!

Daily Life at Sugar Fixé

After her time in Paris, Suhalia came home to her family and her job at Sugar Fixé. As a baker and pastry cook, she makes viennoiserie every day, including lots of croissants, entremets, macarons, opera cakes, kouign-amann, and more. The only thing she doesn’t do is decorate, as they have a specialty decorator on staff.

While she respects the French approach—do one thing, and do it flawlessly—she loves being able to do a bit of everything!

Suhalia holding a pastry in her hand while working at E?cole Ducasse

Suhalia working on her latest pastry project at École Ducasse

In the near future, she hopes to get time to do more chocolate work, like truffles. And in the long term, she would love to open her own bakery, incorporating boba tea and pastry. “Boba is a great complement to pastry!”*

Make Sure to SMILE

While she loved her previous career as a personal trainer, Suhalia was courageous enough to imagine a different life for herself. She took her desire to be a positive force and channeled it into something new. Now, she’s well on her way to another successful career—this time, in pastry.

Suhalia Gant headshot“My personal motto is SMILE… Stay Motivated In Life Everyday! I continually want to SMILE in everything I do! But first and foremost, do the things that make me SMILE. Making pastries has been such a passion project. I love it most because it brings joy and happiness to everyone.”*
Suhalia Gant, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate and Pastry Cook, Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie

Whether you’re contemplating your first, second, or fifth career, education could help pave the way. Contact our Admissions Department to learn more about Escoffier’s programs in Culinary Arts, Baking & Pastry Arts, Plant-Based Culinary Arts, Food Entrepreneurship, Holistic Nutrition and Wellness, and Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management.

For more information about baking and pastry, try these articles next:

*This information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors such as geographical region or previous experience.

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