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Friday, December 5, 2003

She just might have the best last name in the cosmos for a pastry chef: Rich.

Her name conjures up all kinds of images like mouth-watering Napoleons, sumptuous chocolate eclairs, immensely swollen cream puffs, warm buttered cinnamon rolls and ricotta-engorged cannolis.

And ­ during the holiday season ­ who can overlook German stollen?

She makes it all...and more.

She is Abbe Rich, 25, a lifetime resident of Huntington Beach. Rich recently became Orange Coast College's pastry chef, and runs the college's highly acclaimed bakery, located in the Student Center Cafeteria.

"My job is to keep our bakery case full every day, and I'm having lots of fun doing that," she says. "Everything is fresh daily."

Rich's first day on the job was Monday, Dec. 1. She spends weekdays ­ Mondays through Fridays, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. ­ churning out delicious items from the campus bakery. On a typical day, she's involved in bread production from 6-8 a.m., then begins the hours-long process of filling the bakery case with a variety of pastries, pastries, pastries.

Abbe makes Danish pastries, cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, muffins, quick breads, apple fritters, cream puffs, chocolate eclairs, donuts, small carrot cakes, cannolis and bread puddings. She plans to add a number of new items to OCC's bakery menu, including creme broulet, puddings, individual tarts, higher-end pastries, and even quarter cakes, full-sheet cakes and wedding cakes.

"I absolutely love being a pastry chef," she says with marked enthusiasm. "Baking has become my passion. I enjoy cooking in general, but making pastries provides me with a tremendous amount of satisfaction. It fulfills my need for being creative and artistic."

An OCC graduate who earned her associate in arts degree in culinary arts, and a pair of certificates in culinary arts and advanced culinary arts, Abbe has replaced a legend. For the past two decades, OCC's bakery has been managed by German-born pastry chef extraordinaire, Gunter Rehm. Under his guidance, OCC's bakery became one of the best around. Rehm retired last summer, though he still teaches culinary and baking classes on campus on a part-time basis.

"Gunter is my mentor, I studied under him," Abbe says. "He is a fantastic teacher. I learned almost everything I know about baking from him. His are huge shoes to fill, but I'm excited with the prospects.

"Gunter made the best holiday stollen in the world. Fear not OCC community: we are continuing that holiday tradition on campus this year! Gunter and I will make the stollen together, and it will be wonderful, as always."

Rich married her high school sweetheart, Wayne Stip, a year ago and they are currently in the process of remodeling their home in Huntington Beach. Wayne, a former OCC student, is a longshoreman at the Port of Los Angeles.

"The first thing we did to the house was remodel the kitchen," Abbe says. "Wayne studied architecture and landscaping at Coast, and he's been doing lots of the remodeling work himself."

Abbe developed an interest in cooking at a tender age.

"My grandmother was instrumental in the process. I started cooking in her kitchen. Something about that experience lit a spark in my life. For many years I'd go to her house after school and cook."

Abbe graduated from Marina High School in 1996 and elected to attend Orange Coast College and major in culinary arts. OCC has a nationally recognized culinary arts program.

"On many occasions I've had people ask me, 'Why didn't you attend the Culinary Institute of America, or the California Culinary Academy, or the Art Institute, or Le Cordon Bleu in Paris?'

"I always respond the same way: 'Why would I want to spend $20,000 or more a year when I could attend one of the finest culinary schools in the country in my own a fraction of the cost? And, all of my OCC instructors went to those prestigious schools you mentioned, anyway. They've taught me everything they know, and I've received the same education they received.'"

Abbe enrolled at Orange Coast in the fall of 1996 and graduated in 2001. She was a member of OCC's culinary team that won a gold medal at the American Culinary Federation Western Region Junior Member Hot Food Championships in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and a silver the following year in regional competition on the Big Island of Hawaii. The team also captured a pair of state championships.

She traveled with OCC culinary students in the fall of 2000 to the World Culinary Olympics in Efurt, Germany.

"We attended the Olympics as observers, and it was an amazing experience," she recalls. "We had access to all the kitchens. The professional chefs from around the world who were involved in the competition were so advanced that it was unbelievable to see what they were able to produce. They were creating stuff that we could only dream about."

Later, OCC's students traveled to France to visit the Burgundy region, and attended a workshop at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

"The quality of the instruction I received at Orange Coast College, and the depth of experiences I was exposed to, were amazing. My instructors were second-to-none. I had an outstanding educational experience."

Following graduation, Abbe worked for a time at a country club in Huntington Beach, handling banquets. She later worked for the Robert Mondavi Winery as a pastry assistant in the winery's commissary bakery.

Prior to joining OCC's staff, she was employed as a research and development assistant, and, later, chef, for Sweet Life Enterprises. Sweet Life is a company that makes frozen pre-portioned cookie dough.

"I always had a feeling that I would someday return to Coast, and here I am," she says. "I've maintained many friendships on this campus, and, even after I left, my heart remained here. This is home for me, and it's great to be back."

Abbe's goal is to work at OCC for a number of years, then strike out on her own and establish a bakery.

"My dream for many years has been to start my own bakery. That dream is still alive for me, and I hope to accomplish it in the future. For now, however, I love being at Coast."

Abbe is finding it a bit difficult to adjust to her new Orange Coast College status, however. At just 25, many culinary arts majors naturally assume she's another student.

"I struck up a conversation with a student in the kitchen the other day. We both had our white jackets on. She said to me, 'I'm a second-year student in the program, how about you?' She was somewhat surprised when I told her that I was a graduate and working as pastry chef."

Abbe becomes a baking instructor each time students work on assignments and projects in her bakery.

"That's lots of fun. I thoroughly enjoy working with students, though I must admit that I'm still not used to them calling me, 'chef.'"

In addition to her OCC chores, Chef Abbe enjoys running her own small catering business on the side.

"I love to cook for catering jobs, it's something I enjoy doing," she says. "Catering is a hobby for me."

In her spare time, Abbe likes to ride her bike along the boardwalk at the beach with her husband, Wayne. She's also an avid walker.

"I love the out-of-doors, particularly during the summer months. I don't like the cold, however. When it's cold or rainy, I prefer a blanket, a warm fire and a good movie."

Abbe loves to travel and enjoys fine dining. She wants to take Wayne to Europe in the near future. Bakery stops are certain to be a part of that itinerary. One of her favorite local restaurants is an Italian bistro in Huntington Beach, called "Mangia Mangia."

"The food there is wonderful," she says.

Abbe has only been on the job for slightly over a week, but she is rapidly gaining a following on campus.

"I've already learned that the college president, Gene Farrell, has a sweet tooth," she said with a smile. "He came to the bakery counter the other day and was going to buy a muffin. I talked him into trying my new bread pudding, instead. He almost swooned when he took the first bite. I think I have a friend for life."

The young woman whose pastries perfectly match her last name is feeling pretty darned comfortable at Orange Coast College. Abbe Rich is home.