ON FRIDAY MORNING AT FIVE A.M., it’s a cold, dark walk to the main building. When I arrive, the place is already humming with activity. This is a production kitchen, and the students here will make 13 kinds of bread in five hours: jalapeño sourdough, bialys, English muffins, brioche, croissants, babka, and more. Instead of having stoves, a pastry kitchen has long lab-type counters, rolling bins of flours and grains, and several ovens like kilns along a far wall. I am constantly in the way as rolling racks of sheet trays are pushed around, and it feels like I’m trying to master a complicated dance step. I’m lost and badly undercaffeinated.

I’m assigned to English muffins with Karys, a mature 20-year-old from Tucson, Arizona. She’d planned to go into neuroscience until her mom noticed she was rushing through her homework to make brownies. “This is a good fit for me because it’s half science,” she says. Indeed, the whiteboard is covered with numbers: water temperature, final dough temperature, bulk ferment time, final fermentation time, and mixer friction. It’s too much for me before sunrise, but Karys is moving confidently through each step, checking temperatures like a nurse.

Our chatting is momentarily interrupted for a babka-shaping demonstration. Watching chef Eric Kastel demonstrate shaping butter-yellow brioche dough into braids reminds me of how a potter handles masses of clay -- shifting raw heft into increasingly delicate shapes. Later that afternoon, the chocolate babka, still warm, is passed around for tasting. Kastel offers me the center slice, the tenderloin of the babka. I leave class licking chocolate off my fingers.

I snoop around the dorms before dinner. The newer lodges are named for spices: Clove, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg are sprinkled around the two small lakes on campus, called Lake Velouté and Lake Béchamel. The ground floors have three eight-burner Viking stoves. I had hoped to find truffled popcorn topped with fleur de sel, a type of sea salt, in the snack machines, but no such luck. Word is that the washing machines clog occasionally from the Cascade students use to keep their chef whites stain free (they are graded on cleanliness and professionalism). The fridge is nearly bare, but the pantry items give away something of the paradox that is the CIA: A small bottle of fig-infused white balsamic vinegar and an industrial-size bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup are cheek by jowl. I am, after all, on a college campus.