PROFILE: Around the World With Love (and Cookies)

BY: GENNY BOOTS ’18

A whole host of different ingredients go into the cookies and cakes that are made in the Pacific Lutheran University bakery. But Erica Fickeisen’s ingredients have come from all over the world. From the streets of Paris, to the slopes of Antarctica, the PLU campus baker has seen it all.

Erica looks on while student workers Leondra Daniels, senior, and Amanda Curran, junior, prepare snickerdoodle cookies for the oven. These cookies will be served for desert with dinner in the University Commons. Photo courtesy of Genny Boots.

PLU’s Dining and Culinary Services is responsible for feeding more than 3,000 students, faculty and guests every day. From breakfast to dinner –– and snacks in between –– the food at PLU is created and cooked in house. Unlike universities that hire out to food service companies, PLU has real people behind its plates.

All baked goods for campus are made and organized through Erica Fickeisen. Tucked away on the edge of campus, above the Tahoma Cafe, Erica and five student workers spend their mornings in “Bakery World,” as Erica calls it.

The team listens to NPR, pop radio while baking. “It’s all very organized,” said junior Amanda Curran.

With shining blue eyes and a bandana covered in flour, Erica flashes a well-worn smile as she talks about her path to this point.

“Bakery World” began for Erica in 2002, when she decided to quit her desk job and try baking.

“I just thought ‘I just don’t want to sit on the phone, work at a computer.’ I would really like to move and produce something that is gratifying to people. Not just slave away and hope that what I am doing is good,” Erica said.

She packed up and went to Paris in 2002. Erica attended the patisserie program at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Le Cordon Bleu is widely known as one of the top culinary institutes in the world, according to the culinary academy’s website.

Erica spent a year in Paris, taking a short break to work in Alaska. The adventure didn’t stop and after graduating, Erica headed to Antarctica where she worked as a baker at the McMurdo station on the South Pole.

“It was kind of weird decision, but it was great. I wasn’t paying rent and I met my husband.”

Within one year she had criss-crossed the globe, and not for the first time. Erica has traveled through Asia, Australia and New Zealand to name a few.

“I really do love traveling,” Erica said. “I’ve always tried to go some odd place or another.”

Now for the first time in a long time, Erica is truly settled.

“Unfortunately the thing that all this adventure leads to is that when you are not doing something exciting, you’re thinking ‘why am I not doing something exciting?’” she said.

Erica now owns a house in Tacoma, with a cat and a husband.

“It’s okay to be in one place. We have a nice life here and I don’t need to be running off to another corner of the globe,” Erica said. Although she is quick to point out her retirement travel plans.

Erica removes a sheet of cooked cookie crust for pumpkin pie bites to be served for students in the University Commons. The crust is a mix of salvaged cookies that were frozen from past events. Photo courtesy of Genny Boots

This nomadic, free-spirited lifestyle gave Erica a full passport and a novel’s worth of stories. “I didn’t make my plans with a lot of thought. I just sort of made decisions on the will of the wisp. Like ‘oh this seems like a nice place, I’ll stay’ or ‘that seems interesting. I’ll go do that,’” she said.

For Erica, global mindfulness means something a little different.

“Probably the most important thing for me is that all the important stuff about the world is in all of us. To me, there is not anything of the exterior of myself that’s worth anything,” said Erica. “If it is somewhere within me to have good decision making, to be loving, to be caring, to be compassionate. It’s all in here and I don’t have to look anywhere else.”

Like the cakes and cookies she bakes, Erica is made of many different ingredients. Both her stories and her smile reveal a woman who has shared herself with adventure and with the world, and shares those lessons with the people in her life.



Categories: Community, Nation & World, Other, Profile, Profiles

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