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​When Hunter TAFE baking head teacher Dean Tilden began his career at just 14, working Saturday shifts in a bakery in Tenambit, little did he know that he would one day be captain of the Australian Baking Team and a sought-after baking judge and mentor.
 
Mr Tilden, now of Rutherford, confesses that he didn’t enjoy school. “It’s ironic that I’ve ended up working in the education sector,” he laughs. “I always wanted to be a chef but the first day I worked at the bakery I thought, ‘this is it, this is what I want to do’. I loved it. I would work from midnight on a Saturday through to noon on a Sunday and then go and compete in a swimming carnival.”
 
His parents and his employer encouraged him to finish Year 10, promising him that he could then commence his apprenticeship, which was to be a turning point in his life. “The day I walked into TAFE is the day I started learning something,” he said.
 
A successful career ensued with Mr Tilden’s strong work ethic and love of baking ensuring he was a popular employee. “Back in those days I was working 60-70 hours a week. As tired as you are, you just start prep and the adrenalin hits and you strive to get it done better and faster,” he said. “It’s something I thrive on.”
 
He went on to manage a bakery as a second year apprentice. When he learnt his hourly rate would increase if he had his bread qualification, on top of his pastry qualifications, he returned to TAFE. “Not only did I gain my bread ticket, I also gained a job,” he said.
 
Mr Tilden was offered a casual teaching position at TAFE and has now been teaching at the Hamilton campus for 15 years. It’s a job he relishes while still maintaining his industry experience. “I do the odd bakery shift because I don’t want to be standing in front of students teaching them how to do it if I’m not still out there doing it myself,” he said. “The techniques change all the time. You have to be constantly updating your skills.”
 
His baking career has also allowed him to see the world and mentor other young bakers. He travelled to Paris earlier this year as coach of baker, John Reminis, who placed second in the Young Baker section of the 2016 Baking World Cup. In October he will be travel to Melbourne to judge and set up the live bakehouse for the National WorldSkills Competition, which will see the country’s best apprentice bakers go head to head.