COD Student Finalist in Raisin Bread Competition

Marija Benson

By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage Baking and Pastry student Marija Benson was selected as a finalist in the sixth annual America’s Best Raisin Bread competition hosted by the California Raisin Marketing Board (CRMB).

This prestigious baking industry competition is designed to recognize professional and up-and-coming bakers from across the country. Preliminary contest judging took place in August, during which 36 finalists were selected to receive a complimentary trip to the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 6 to 9, where they baked their formulas during two days before a panel of distinguished judges from both the artisan and commercial baking industries. Winners were selected based on their recipe’s taste, appearance, originality and value.

A Naperville resident, Benson competed in the commercial category and though she didn’t receive a prize this time around, she was pleased with the experience, particularly because this was the first competition of any kind that she has ever entered.

“I was a bit nervous, but I learned a lot, and I met a lot of talented people,” Benson said. “Overall, it was a fabulous experience. It’s a great feeling to know that your products are enjoyed by other people.”

Benson earned her B.A. in Liberal Arts and Education from Northeastern Illinois University and her MBA in Business Management from Roosevelt University. She worked as a human resources professional for a number of years and as an independent consultant for her own firm, MBD Services.

Benson began at College of DuPage in 2011. After taking some interior design classes, she enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Arts program.

“I’ve always felt I’ve had a creative bent and I was searching for a creative outlet,” Benson said. “I believe I’ve finally found that in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at COD.”

Benson credits Baking and Pastry Arts instructor Chef Nancy Carey as being particularly encouraging and describes her as a “great mentor,” but adds that she’s very pleased with everyone in the program.

“There’s a real sense of community in this program,” she said. “The instructors are excellent and highly supportive. I’ve also found that through the fabulous facilities and curriculum, the program offers a tremendous range of experience in terms of mimicking a real-life, professional environment.”

The Baking and Pastry Arts program at College of DuPage offers an A.A.S. degree and a certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts. Students work in a fully equipped commercial bake shop and learn from highly skilled instructors with years of educational and professional industry experience. This program features courses that build on the foundations of basic baking and continue to the most advanced pastry techniques, as well as topics related to the culinary industry including concept design, equipment and supplies purchasing, marketing management, sanitation, and supervision.

The Baking and Pastry Arts program is housed in the recently built Culinary and Hospitality Center. This $25 million facility includes classrooms, skills kitchens, fine dining and casual dining kitchens, and a culinary amphitheater. The Center also features a professional boutique Inn with six fully-appointed suites, two award winning gourmet restaurants and a culinary market. In addition, the facility was constructed in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification, making it the first culinary learning facility in the nation to receive this prestigious designation.

Click here for more information about the Baking and Pastry Arts program.