University City

Cake boss keeps UNCC campus life sweet

With 25,000 students on the roster at UNC Charlotte, and more people visiting day and night for events and activities, someone on campus is always thinking about their next meal.

People often anticipate cakes, pastries and other treats as much as the main course. So you'll find Executive Pastry Chef Joseph Torcasso working his way through 600 pounds of flour, 300 pounds of sugar and 75 quarts of liquid eggs every week to keep up with demand for sweets and breads for multiple campus dining halls and snack shops.

When a new building opens on the grounds, the campus cake boss usually engineers a tasty replica of the building to mark the occasion.

Brides call Torcasso from all over the city for wedding cakes, and fraternities cap off tailgate parties by sharing hunks of sweetness covered in 49er green-and-gold icing.

He can ice and decorate a full sheet cake in less than five minutes, once his supplies are set up. That comes in handy in this operation.

Daily output for the staff of three includes 100 dozen assorted cookies, 9 dozen croissants, 8 dozen Danish and other pastries, 7 dozen muffins, 12 sheet pans of brownies, 400 hot dog rolls and 25 to 30 cakes, as well as catering for up to 40 campus events.

Torcasso finds the work rewarding because it is challenging and calls for creativity.

"It's an art," he said. And: "No day is ever the same."

While his confections are easy to spot all over campus, Torcasso happily works mostly behind the scenes, in the back rooms of the Residence Dining Hall, close to the high-rise UNCC dorms near University City Boulevard.

The 47-year-old Mooresville resident's mission from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays is to ensure that students and visitors get fresh-baked goods rather than packaged ones when they eat in the two main restaurants - Residence Dining Hall and Crown Commons - or at other locations contracted to Chartwells, part of Compass Group.

"From a culinary standpoint, it's a huge difference," said Roger Lademann, operations director for Chartwells at UNCC. "We take pride in producing food here and not just opening boxes or cans."

Ultimately the curtain will be pulled back on the wizardry of the central bakery. The university is making plans to move and expand operations at the 30-year-old Residence Dining Hall, which houses one of the main cafeterias. The bakery operates in the back rooms.

"There are constant challenges in a building that old for an operation that's running seven days a week," said Ray Galleno, director of Auxiliary and Business Services. "We're cognizant of the energy we consume in a place like this."

Work on the new site is scheduled to start in June. Construction is scheduled to wrap up in December 2013 or January 2014.

In the new space, near the high-rise dorms in the South Village, Torcasso and his team will share the spotlight with the food they create. Part of the bakery will be visible from the dining room.

The new bakery will be another big step from the Italian and German neighborhood bakeries on Long Island, N.Y., where Torcasso trained and polished his skills, beginning at age 16.

Even in a large institutional bakery with multiple locations, the mission is pretty much the same.

"Were still producing for customers and still making customers happy," he said. "I still miss the one-on-one."