Making cake for a living. Doesn't that sound like a dream? The best job in the world. A mountain of frosting waiting to be conquered.
It's all of those things.
But today I want to get into how I got into this profession, and what I would do differently if I could go back in time and do it again.
I was 20 when I decided this is what I wanted to do. I discovered pretty quickly that this is really on the older side of "training age". At one point, my head chef was 24. Right now, my head chef is 27, and I am 24 (almost 25, let's not rub it in), and I have a long way to go before I can get to the top of the food chain.
That's not always the case - sometimes your head chef is 40; sometimes he's close to retirement age. But in the age of celebrity chefs, Masterchef, everyone-has-a-cookbook, you don't want to be training under the oldies. I'm not saying it's the wrong thing to do - the oldies often have way more experience than the rest of the kitchen combined - but we want to be where the action is. The action is often the instagram post, but I think that will be a whole other story, written at a later date.
So yes, I was 20, in the middle of my BSc Natural Science, when I decided this wasn't something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It had been a tough year:
- My parents had split; my dad was moving out
- We were having some financial issues that I was supposed to not be concerned about.
- I was lonely and sad, and hadn't found my niche in 3 years of uni. I have kept exactly 2 of the friends I met at uni. My roommates at the time made me so uncomfortable and feel so unwanted that I had to move out and go live with strangers.
- I had applied and been rejected from 2380917 graduate programs, and had no interest in doing a Masters Degree. The one post-graduate course that I applied to didn't want me.
Now, I know this post is starting to be a little depressing. I'd apologise, but context is necessary for this post. They won't all be like this, I promise. It's just been one of those reflective days, what with the weather outside being awful and everything.
So I was in Marylebone, London, when I walked past a bright pink sign, stating that La Patisserie des Reves was hiring.
And I mean PINK.
But I emailed in my CV, I kept plodding along trying to finish my dissertation on Malaria, and went from there.
Lo and behold, a month later, I was working there. I was front of house, not in the kitchen, but it didn't matter. I was surrounded by cake, people who loved cake, and could talk about cake for days. Those of you who knew me then, knew I was an obsessive baker. I'd bake at night when I couldn't sleep; I'd bake between lectures instead of having lunch; I'd bake for birthdays and for church functions and for "I just want to feel better" days. One thing that campus accommodation was great for - you'd leave 12 cupcakes in the kitchen, and they'd be gone by lunchtime. Just in time to whip up another batch, if you ask me!
Great thing about a boyfriend too, especially one with a big family.
About two months after that, I finished my course, and signed up for another. This was to be a part-time Level two NVQ Pastry Course. If you're not of the trade, the NVQ2 is your basic qualification. I'm not quite sure how many NVQs there are, but I definitely know there's three and four, which are the more specialised ones, which then allow you to teach others.
So I would work five days a week, excluding Tuesdays because I'd be at school/in the kitchen. I found time to fit in yoga a few times a week in Hammersmith - yes I know, not round the corner from Marylebone, but sue me, I liked the studio - and sometimes I got some sleep.
My mother says I never really took a break after school, that I went straight into work. Which is quite possibly why about a year later I had a complete nervous breakdown. So maybe if I had to do it again, I'd take one last summer to enjoy some seaside and sunshine, before throwing myself at this new venture.
But then, if I had to do it again, I'd probably not do my degree, and get myself two extra years of experience in the kitchen.
My father spent the best part of my first year out of school telling me it was a phase and was I sure I "didn't want to do a Master's," swiftly followed by was I sure I didn't want to "go to proper pastry school?" Once they could tell it had stuck and I wasn't going back.
If I could do it again, I still wouldn't go to pastry school.
Yes, there's a lot of techniques that school will teach you. But it's a whole other kettle of fish once you get in the kitchen, and I am no less qualified than my colleagues of the same age who did the Cordon Bleu. At least, I don't feel it.
I think this is enough for one day.
But that's how I started - with stubbornness, and not a lot of support, and as a way of running away from everything that was wrong.
Now it's a way for me to run towards what I want.
What a difference four years make.