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Liberty’s Kylee Hodgson has a vision

Liberty High School student Kylee Hodgson makes potato soup in the culinary arts class at the NEWTECH Skills Center. She has attended class there for the past two years. (Dan Pelle)
Liberty High School student Kylee Hodgson makes potato soup in the culinary arts class at the NEWTECH Skills Center. She has attended class there for the past two years. (Dan Pelle)

Kylee Hodgson can smell her future, and it’s filled with the aromas of fresh-baked pastry and good coffee.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while: I want to have my own bakery and coffee shop – I want to have my own business,” the Liberty High School senior said. “I got the idea from my favorite aunt – whenever we’re together we’re always baking. She went through (culinary school at) Johnson & Wales.”

Hodgson is well on her way toward that goal. She’s spent the past two years going through the culinary program at the Spokane Skills Center. And she’s a two-time regional champion in the Skills USA Commercial Baking competition, placing twice in the state competition as well.

“It’s an interesting competition,” she said. “You bake six different items in six hours. You’re judged on your appearance and how your finished product looks, how clean you keep your work area, how well you keep your oven regulated so that it stays at the right temperature for what you’re baking, and, of course, how it tastes.”

This year competitors had to prepare a range of items, from white pan bread and tea biscuits to such favorites as chocolate chip cookies and apple pie.

“You also had to show that you could decorate a cake – frost it, write ‘Happy Birthday’ on it and pipe on a border,” she said. “Last year it was a much better-organized competition. This year the items you need weren’t laid out for you; you had to search around for them and that took away from your preparation time.”

Hodgson has her own prep time planned out.

“I would love to go right into some place like the Art Institute of Seattle or Johnson & Wales to study culinary arts, but I’m going to hold off on that,” she explained. “First I’m going to spend two years in the Business Management program at Spokane Community College, and then transfer.”

Exactly where she transfers, she hasn’t decided.

“I have family in both places, so I can go to either one,” she said. “I have family in Seattle that I can stay with while I study. And my aunt just moved back to Florida and I can stay with her if I go to Johnson & Wales, which is just outside Miami.”

Hodgson is equally unsure where she wants to set up her bakery – Spokane, Seattle or Florida.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” she admitted. “Florida doesn’t have bakeries and coffee shops the way we do up here. We’re used to having coffee shops on every other corner. In most of Florida you’ll have an occasional Starbucks, but not much else until you get down to the Florida Keys, and then you start running into Cuban coffeehouses, and that’s a different kind of a thing – they specialize in Cuban black coffee.”

Meanwhile, she said, she will continue to bake sweet treats for family and friends.

“I enjoy baking cakes for people when they have a birthday or a special occasion,” she said. “I like to bake them their favorite kind of cake, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a cheesecake, and I always bake it from scratch.

“I get a kick out of when they taste it. They always ask what I did to make it so good and I just tell them that it’s not from a box.”

One of the many things she looks forward to gaining is something she says she’s long admired in the three instructors she’s worked with at the Skills Center.

“I know how they can all just look around and start putting ingredients together and make something wonderful,” she said. “They don’t have to even look at a recipe to do the most incredible things. It’s because they’ve done it so many times that it’s just part of them.

“I want that. I want to understand all those things you have to know to make recipes work, to build them from the ground up because you just know how and why things work.”