A delicious baked good is the result of perfect formulation, mixing, baking and so much more. In some ways, a career is the same. It takes the culmination of numerous variables to find success and a life-long passion.
Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager for Handtmann, has found that right blend of experience, technical know-how and dedication over his 22 years in the industry.
“Although I am not a baker by trade or education, the years of experience in the industry working for wholesale bakeries and bakery equipment manufacturers allow me to deeply understand our customers’ needs and empathize with the challenges they face day to day at their plants,” he said.
Mr. Zelaya offers a unique perspective as he helps bakers tackle their toughest challenges. He studied food engineering at Monterrey Tech in Mexico before deciding to pursue a career in the baking industry. He chose it over other industries because of the environment of bakeries and the ability to work with grains and flour.
He then worked in operations for several bakery locations for Mission Foods, Irving, Texas. However, he felt a draw to return to engineering and decided to leave the tortilla and bread manufacturer to work for a dough sheeting and lamination equipment supplier. He spent a few years between a supplier and another bakery, New French Bakery, which is now part of Rise Baking Co., Minneapolis. But his technical mind kept calling him back to engineering. That’s how he ended up joining forces with Handtmann
“During my first job as a process engineer for a wholesale bakery, I developed a genuine interest and passion for baking,” he said. “At some point in my career, I made a commitment to stay in the baking industry for as long as I could for the rest of my professional career. Over the years, I complemented my formal education in food engineering with relevant baking technology training such as those taught at the American Institute of Baking and other institutions.”
Today, his mission is to work with Handtmann’s team of experts to deliver training and support to bakeries around the world. He focuses his efforts on optimizing their processes as a supplier partner.
“At Handtmann, we have a team of professionals dedicated to supporting our bakery customers,” he said. “Our team includes master bakers, applications specialists, design engineers, service experts — all with different backgrounds and points of view that enable us to address the different challenges a specific project can present to us in multiple disciplines such as operational safety, sanitary design, interface with downstream equipment and more. At the end of the day, we have to agree on the best solution for the customer in terms of production capacity, product quality, equipment efficiency and reliability for the day-to-day operation of the equipment.”
And his background serves him well in finding that best option.
“After working in wholesale bakeries and having personally struggled to move equipment around; executed complicated product changeovers; experienced tedious disassembly, cleaning and reassembly processes, I always challenge our design team to find a better and easier way to take the equipment apart and put it back together to simplify the process for the operations, sanitation and maintenance crews at the bakery,” he explained.
Mr. Zelaya works with bakeries either on site or at Handtmann’s Technology Center in Lake Forest, Ill. He helps customers test equipment to minimize the risk of unexpected or unwanted results. Depending on where the customer stands in terms of the implementation of automation, he can point out specific parts of the process to improve. For example, a bakery transitioning from a manual operation may need to focus on the quality and rheology of their dough going through a machine to ensure all the final characteristics of the dough are maintained during the automation process.
He also works with customers on FATs for all equipment purchases.
“We prepare the dough or batter in a similar way the customer would at their facility. We mix, divide, deposit, proof and bake in order to get as close as possible to the finished product the customer wants or previously specified,” he said. “All this allows us to minimize the dialing-in or fine-tuning during the actual commissioning time at the bakery to reduce the production line down time or any inconveniences that comes with any new installations.”
The current pandemic has made it difficult to continue this hands-on training for bakers, but Mr. Zelaya is excited about the use of new technologies to help bakers with remote and virtual training sessions both now and into the future.
“I can personally see that trend continuing in the coming years, not only to address the current health situation but as a way to be more cost- and time-effective in terms of being able to reach out to more customers with the same resources,” he said.
Whether it’s his technical engineering background, his experience in wholesale bakeries or his passion to continuously learn more about the industry, Mr. Zelaya has found the right recipe to succeed in the baking industry.