Eight women, one man and an 11-year-old girl arrived ready to roll Sunday at Pastry Chef Boot Camp in Sweet Caroline's Bakery.
Under the tutelage of their drill sergeant, executive pastry chef Michael Ostrander, enlistees embarked on a six-hour gastronomic tour of summer desserts: orange chiffon cakes, creamy mousses, strudels, bread pudding, caramel sauces, lacy garnishes and more.
"Buy nothing pre-made," Ostrander commanded his troops.
The basic training included a lesson on preparing gluten-free chocolate cake coated with European raspberry jam and topped with mousse, berries and ganache, a rich mixture of cream and chocolate.
"Dipping the decadent cake into the ganache with my bare hands was better than having sex," declared Jackie McDonough of Dunedin.
McDonough, who has attended other boot camps at the bakery, said she likes how the renowned pastry chef shares knowledge, tips — and recipes.
"I mean when I took his pie class," she whispered, "he gave us Bob Hope's mother's recipe for lemon meringue pie."
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The walls in Sweet Caroline's are adorned with many photos of Ostrander's celebrity clients and the numerous gold medals he amassed at national and international culinary arts competitions.
Ostrander, or "Chef O" as he is often called, spent 10 years in the Army — two as a drill sergeant and eight teaching in the food services division.
He also taught pastrymaking at several prestigious culinary arts programs, including the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I.
He's worked for Hyatt and Hilton hotels and served as executive pastry chef at the Showboat, a casino hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., which produced 25,000 pieces of pastry a day.
His ability to create tasty and dazzling desserts landed him a gig as Donald Trump's pastry chef at his Mar-a-Lago Club, a resort in Palm Beach.
Ostrander has rubbed shoulders with Martha Stewart and Julia Child, baked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and such celebrities as Michael Douglas, Don Rickles, Mick Jagger and Johnny Carson.
Now, at 57, he's sharing his 40 years of experience with pastry lovers in a series of Pastry Chef Boot Camps.
The cost is $100 and includes breakfast pastries, lunch, all the sweets you can eat and some take-home fare as well.
Kayleigh Hall, 11, was with her mother buying baked goods at the bakery when she saw the sign for the boot camp and asked if she could attend. She plans to be a pastry chef.
"I'm having fun and learning a lot, but I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight because I'm on a sugar high," she said, smiling.
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Ostrander begins each boot camp with a 45-minute lecture, insisting the sugar soldiers take notes in the book of recipes he provides.
"Bake with passion and love and use the best ingredients available or don't bother doing it. Your reputation, your passion, your pride is at stake."
On this Sunday, he explained that eggs perform best for pastry chefs when used at room temperature; that sugar is a tenderizer and adds not only flavor, but moisture to the mix.
And always, always, sift dry ingredients.
"It airs out the mixture and gets rid of any foreign matter," he said.
In just a few minutes, he showed the group of 10 how to easily prepare bowl-shaped, edible lace doilies that can be filled with mousse, cake, berries – just about anything the imagination can dream up.
"You are the artist; I just show you how," he said.
McDonough's daughter-in-law, Emily McDonough, 27, of Pinellas Park said the doilies would surely impress her dinner guests.
"It's always nice to have that 'wow factor' when people come over," she said.
Ostrander stressed the importance of using all natural ingredients, like pure vanilla and chocolate and real butter and cream.
"Real chocolate should have at least 48 percent cocoa mass and be conched (cooked) for a minimum of 24 to 48 hours. Otherwise you're using stuff that contains wax and paraffin — that's the kind of chocolate you'd eat on a candy bar."
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Ostrander and his business partner, Rich Cannici, opened the 1,800-square-foot bakery last November. It's named after Cannici's wife, Caroline.
Cannici, 30, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and a Marine infantry officer during three tours in Iraq, lost his job in technology sales in 2009 after the economy soured.
About the same time, Ostrander was making plans for a big shop in Trinity when the shopping center went bust.
The two men, who became friends after Ostrander baked Cannici's wedding cake in 2008, decided to partner up, and Sweet Caroline's was born.
Today the shop, which makes everything from scratch, turns out about 10,000 pieces of pastry a week.
It seems to be a recession-proof business.
"At $3, (a piece of pastry) is a luxury just about anyone can afford," Cannici said.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.