Marda Stoliar didn’t take the conventional route to become a baker, but that’s what she loves about it. After opening the International School of Baking in 1985 in Bend, Oregon, Marda has continued to inspire others and help numerous people discover their love for the craft. At 81, she’s hoping to continue to inspire others through the new documentary, Marda’s Gift.
The film tells the story of how Ezdan Fluckiger, a burned-out doctor with a daughter with Downs Syndrome, becomes connected to Marda through their shared love of baking. Because of Marda’s Gift, not only has Ezdan and his family found a new life purpose, but his small Wyoming town has as well. Read below to learn more about Marda, her plans for the future, and how she uses baking to connect with people from around the world.
How did your love of baking begin?
I was a shoe designer in New York, and I was going to Europe three or four times a year. When I was in Italy one year at a restaurant, I was served an empty round bread roll that you eat with your salad and I said, ‘I have to learn this. This is amazing.’ I told the friend I was with that I had to learn how to make it so he connected me to his friend who had a bakery. Every time I went to Italy for shoes, I would bake at this bakery in Venice and became an apprentice there. I had no intentions of doing anything with it. I just wanted to know how to do it.
What inspired you to open the International School of Baking?
I had worked as a baking teacher and consultant in China for many years. Chinese officials kept telling me they were going to send students to my school, and I thought, ‘I don’t have a school, I better make one.’ Since my International School of Baking opened in 1985, I’ve taught people from all over the world. All these years, I’ve only had four students from Bend Oregon. I have a long-time student who is here right now actually and she’s from Honduras.
I read that to make sure your students are successful, you travel with them to their homes to guide them in the design and implementation of bakeries. Can you tell me a little bit more about this process?
That’s all part of the education. I tell them when they’re ready to open a bakery I will come and help them put the equipment in place, design the bakery, give the design to an architect to work on, and explain to them because I don’t think I’ve ever met an architect that’s ever designed a bakery before — they do a lot of restaurants and will have no clue how to make a functional bakery. To that, I say I’ve helped open over 300 bakeries and I think I know what I’m doing.
I also help students see that while it’s bread and pastries, it’s crucial to give the town and customers what they want. You never know what you’re going to make in a bakery until you put in a year and the whole neighborhood has told you what they want. You have to look at your customer and their background and meet those needs.
There is a new documentary film about you in the making! What has that journey been like so far? Did you have any hesitations about this project?
No. I’ve done a lot of things, especially in China for their television and inner Mongolia — a whole series for the Communist Party. And as far as the journey, I love it and I just love the other people in it. I think I have to learn to smile more, but I’m working on that. But I am going to be 81 in less than a month and I’ve told people they should have started this earlier so I could have looked a little better.
What’s the one thing you hope people take from Marda’s Gift?
I think it’s finding people that have found real joy or purpose because of learning and coming to my school. They have actually changed directions in their life to do something they’ve always wanted to do. They had this little dream and bringing it to fruition I think has made a lot of people happy. I have had very few people that ever failed at this.
I think it’s safe to say that baking changed the life of Ezdan Fluckiger, one of the subjects in the documentary. What power does baking have to transform the lives of others?
One year I had six doctors that came to me to change their lives. They were tired of the government telling them what medicines they should use and how long they can see each patient and things like that. I think people are recognizing the things that don’t make them happy. If they really want to just bake cheesecakes, that may have seemed crazy a long time ago, but it is possible to achieve.
It’s safe to say you’re pretty busy with the school and your documentary. I know you said you have no plans to retire. Do you think that will hold up once the documentary is finished?
Oh, I have no interest in retiring. As long people will have me, I’ll keep going. I feel healthier today than I have in years.
Visit @mardasgiftfilm on Instagram, @MardasGiftFilm on Twitter, MARDA’S GIFT Film on LinkedIn, and Marda’s Gift Film on Facebook for more information on Marda’s Gift.