April Simpson-Gruver, owner of Vanilla Pastry Studio, in East Liberty near Pittsburgh, Pa., was the keynote speaker at the 2013 IUP Academy of Culinary Arts Baking and Pastry Arts Toque Day ceremony on Friday, May 17, 2013.
California-born April Simpson-Gruver has cooked and baked around the country in notable places such as Rover’s in Seattle, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, and the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh. She’s taught pastry arts at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, and now, after a second child, she’s opened her own business: Vanilla Pastry Studio, in East Liberty.
The shop is stocked with creative cakes, cookies, brownies, and scones. Her signature confections are soft-centered “Lollys”—desserts on a stick—offering such enticing flavors as salted caramel custard, white chocolate raspberry, and key lime pie. She also works with caterers to custom design wedding and special event cakes. April resides in Pittsburgh with her husband, John, and her two children, Allyson and Andrue.
Chef Simpson-Gruver shared with students and guests her passion for the profession and her advice on how to be successful. She encouraged students to never give up, and said that everyone has bad days—even she has been known to “cry” in her fondant while working on a wedding cake.
Of the 28 students that received their toques on Toque Day, 89 percent had excellent attendance (missing less than two days during the two semesters of their program) and 96 percent of the students made the Dean’s List. The Baking and Pastry students will be doing their externship at 15 different sites and in five different states.
Some of the sites include:
Biltmore Estates, Asheville, N.C.; the Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.; Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville, N.C.; Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Farmington, Pa.; Pinehurst Resort, Asheville, N.C.; Vanilla Pastry Studio, East Liberty, Pa.; the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Col.; and the American Club, Kohler, Wisc.
Also in attendance at the ceremony was Academy Advisory Committee member and original Punxsutawney Trust member responsible for the creation of the program, Mrs. Linda Deabenderfer.
IUP Academy of Culinary Arts