October 19, 2022

In a perfect world, everyone would begin the race of life from the same starting line. But we all know that this isn’t the case.

The different financial, familial, and even societal spheres that we’re born into can impact who we become and what we do with our lives. The way our minds and bodies work, too, can create challenges for some that others don’t face. Some are born to wealth, others to poverty. Some get access to the best schools, and others do not. And some live with physical and mental disabilities, while others don’t.

For Escoffier baking and pastry graduate Cassie Wallace, an auditory disability was described by medical personnel as a limitation. But with some accessibility tweaks on her part and a lot of hard work, Cassie has found a niche that she loves—and where she can excel.

Proving the Doctor Wrong

At just 8 years old, Cassie was diagnosed with central auditory processing disorder. This condition is an interference in the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, particularly when there’s background noise. This can make environments like classrooms, sporting events, or social situations particularly challenging.

“With traditional schooling (before Escoffier) it took a lot of effort for me just to make good grades,” Cassie says. “I had an individualized educational plan (IEP) which gave me the tools I needed to succeed. For example, I got time and a half on tests to make sure I could take my time. I could also go to a different room to take my quizzes and tests which was quieter.”*

While she got the help she needed at school, she was also told that some normal childhood activities were off-limits for her. “The doctor basically told me I couldn’t do sports,” she recalls. “I couldn’t play my flute, which was my instrument of choice.”*

Unsatisfied with these limitations, Cassie decided to prove him wrong by continuing to play the flute and participate in Tang Soo Do, a martial art in which she excelled.

“I went back [to the doctor] a few years later, probably when I was 13,” Cassie says. “I took my black belt with me, which I had earned a few weeks prior. I slapped it right down on his desk and said, ‘Tell me again how I can’t do this.’ He just looked at me in shock. ‘You weren’t supposed to be able to do this.’ But I did it.”*

“I was doing so many things that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do.”*
Cassie Wallace, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate

Cassie in uniform tossing flour

Cassie getting floured up for her job at Shyndigz.

Finding Her Path

Initially, Cassie studied early childhood education at a community college in the Philadelphia area. But her time in school proved that a career in education wasn’t the right fit. So she left school and got a job as a Starbucks barista. Cassie found that the routine and hands-on format of the coffee shop worked well for her.

After a move to Richmond, Virginia left her homesick, she took up baking. “I just started baking and baking and baking, and bringing stuff in to my coworkers [at Starbucks]. They were like, ‘You need to do this for a living. This is your calling.’”*

Cassie was skeptical at first. But when a family friend echoed her coworkers, she began to consider it. With her auditory processing disorder, she had thought that a restaurant environment was out of the question for her. But Cassie had already defied the odds…why not do it again?

While researching baking schools, Cassie found that Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offered online programs. That sealed it. “The online program worked best for me,” Cassie says, “because I could do my full-time job and be a full-time student. It was easy because it was flexible. I took off, spread my wings, and never looked back.”*

cassie wallace holding cupcakes

Cassie with a plate of her strawberry olive oil cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting

A Hands-On, Online Education Provides the Support that Cassie Needs

With the traditional college format, Cassie had struggled. But at Escoffier, she found a hands-on program that worked for her—just like her previous success in martial arts and at Starbucks. She found the flow of written recipes and mise en place to be a wonderful equalizer.

Plus, the online format removed some of the auditory challenges that she faced in a traditional classroom. Learning from home, there are fewer noisy distractions—other students shuffling, side conversations, the noise of the kitchen. So Cassie was able to process the instruction more easily.

“I felt like every other student [at Escoffier],” she says. “I was able to reach out to my Chef Instructors via text, email, or private Zoom call if I needed clarification. That helped me a lot.”*

Cassie feels that the Escoffier programs and Chef Instructors are a great fit for people with disabilities. “[Escoffier] makes sure the instructors are there for their students. Knowing that we can get that one-on-one time to make sure we understand the assignments—I was able to graduate with honors because of that.”*

“That [one-on-one attention] is what makes Escoffier so different from any other culinary school I researched. That’s what a lot of people with cognitive disabilities need. They need that clarification.”*
Cassie Wallace, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate

For her baking and pastry externship, Cassie worked at The Mixing Bowl Bakery in the west end of Richmond. Owner Tracy Stevens has had several Escoffier students as externs over the years. “She is fantastic,” says Cassie. “I loved her. She helped me develop my skills a little bit more, and wrote me a great letter of recommendation when I went for my job [after graduation].”* This letter helped Cassie to get her post-graduation job at a beloved Richmond bakery.

Cassie Wallace shares her Escoffier experience.*

After Graduation

Cassie’s graduation coincided with an industry-wide revitalization. As the country emerged from COVID restrictions, many businesses were re-opening their doors. Cassie and her fellow graduates found themselves on the front lines of helping the industry to get back on its feet.

“Helping to revitalize this industry to the level it was before the pandemic is so inspirational. I’m glad I get to be a part of that and bring back the industry.”*
Cassie Wallace, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate

After graduation, she found an ad for a full-time cake decorator at Shyndigz, a boutique bakery and market in Richmond that makes a wide variety of cakes, pies, bars, and more. With her diploma, externship experience, and recommendation from Tracy at The Mixing Bowl Bakery in hand, Cassie had the job locked down in less than a week.

And within just seven months, she received a promotion to shift lead for the retail market next door to the bakery. “It’s a cute little market,” she says. “I love it. If you are ever in Richmond, I encourage you to check it out!”*

Cassie at Shyndigz

Cassie at Shyndigz.

In addition to her work at Shyndigz, Cassie also has her own side business, a cottage industry bakery called Joan and Pearl’s Bakery. While she has mostly worked with family and friends at this point, she’s in the process of building a menu and getting her name out.

“Play to Your Strengths, Because You Will Succeed In Life”

While Cassie has had an extra challenge in the form of her central auditory processing disorder, she encourages others like her not to let disability define them.

“Find your niche,” she recommends. “Because if you find that niche, you’ll go places. I found my passion, and I was able to leave my old job… Now I’m living my best life. Play to your strengths, because you will succeed in life.”*

“Seeing how I defied the odds, owning my own small business, working as a shift-lead, as a cake decorator, and being successful, I see what people were talking about two and half years ago when I initially started researching.”*
Cassie Wallace, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate

If you’re doubting that culinary or pastry school is an option for you—due to a disability, financial concerns, or any other challenges—we encourage you to get in touch. Our online programs have made it possible for students from all walks of life to pursue their dreams in the culinary and pastry arts. Now, it’s your turn!

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*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.