Xavier Magazine

A Sweeter Career

Michael Van Fleet has a sweet job. As Xavier’s executive pastry chef, Van Fleet is responsible for all those cakes, cookies and calorie-laden concoctions students snap up daily. But his favorite part of the job is plating fancy desserts for banquets—such as a Kahlua flan with caramel sauce, marinated pineapple slices and toasted coconut garnish.

“That’s what I love the best,” he says. “The creativity of it and the client saying, ‘Wow.’ When I hear a ‘Wow,’ that’s the best fulfillment ever. It’s the wow factor.”

His talents were recognized in March when his four-member team, sponsored by the Cincinnati Retail Bakers Association, took second place in the national Iron Baker competition in Chicago. For their assignment—create a Chicago scene with cake—his team baked the Sears Tower on a city block on the waterfront, with edible blue sugar gelatin for water, a chocolate Tootsie Roll seawall and pulled sugar ribbons for the antennae.

But Van Fleet’s most proud of something a little less showy and far more significant. Last September he received his certificate as an executive pastry chef from the American Culinary Federation. Since 1992, he’s been working toward certification, gathering points for each level of experience, earning his degree and completing a variety of tests. He did this all while working midnight to 9:00 a.m. every day at Xavier and supporting a family at home.

“What holds me together is all this,” he says. “Food is who I am.”

Though he first cooked in his mother’s kitchen and worked in restaurants and grocery store bakeries, it wasn’t until he became an understudy for a Swiss pastry chef at the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati that he realized his passion for fine food.

Now a culinary school graduate, Van Fleet treats Xavier banquet guests to delectable gourmet-level concoctions. For former President James Hoff, S.J.’s, retirement party, themed for the Wizard of Oz, his Emerald City cake was a work of art: a tall castle smothered in butter cream, a circling blue moat, a yellow brick road, and shards of broken green sugar candy shimmering like crystals over the whole creation. “Hoff said it was the best cake he ever saw,” Van Fleet says. Wow.

Xavier Magazine

A Larger Platform

The Williams College of Business found a new way to interact with the business community to create a link between the corporate and academic worlds. The University partnered with Platform Lab, a non-profit IT test and training facility funded by the Ohio Department of Development.


Through Platform, mid-market firms lacking large research and development budgets can conduct IT test projects without investing in expensive short-term assets to increase their competitive edge. The idea is to provide flexibility and scalability for the local business community in a way that saves them about 90 percent of what it would cost to do it anywhere else.

So where does Xavier come in? “We provide faculty expertise that companies might desire,” says Mark Frolick, Xavier’s Western and Southern professor for information systems. For example, faculty members are directing IT research projects that participating companies fund collectively so they can all benefit.

“From a University standpoint, we can train faculty on the latest testing methods that we can take back and tell our students what’s going on in the business community,” he says. “And we can also put together groups of students and take them to the facility to demonstrate how disaster recovery and testing are done.”

Schools such as Case Western Reserve University and the University of Toledo partnered with Platform to the north, while Xavier is taking charge of Southwest Ohio. “Right now we’re getting it off the ground,” Frolick says. “It opens more opportunities for the University and ties us closer to the business community.”