Many of you have asked me where I'm working in London. I'm coy. I say everywhere, but no where you've heard of. I say you've eaten what my company of bakers has had their hands and hearts on and in, but you don't know us.
We: speak dozens of languages, are mostly men but have room for more women, are various shades of white and brown, and we produce hundreds of thousands of units of bread, pastries, candies, laminated doughs and the like. We are big. And yet we're invisible. Almost.
My job title is equally big and varied. I am chef, mentor, teacher, writer, photographer, trainer, document maker, system creator & implementer, organizer, baker, student, pastry chef, restaurant liaison, wholesaler, retailer, boss, employee, co-pastry chef, seductress, translator, arithmatician, developer, lover, Diplomat, exporter, inspirationalist, health & safety official, cleaner, motivator, parent, innovator, and mediator.
In other words, I am everything, and more. I'm sure I'll find out what all else I am when the owners turn over rocks they haven't gotten to yet.
But more than any of these titles, descriptions, adjectives; I am me. I bring all of me to this London table. I wear every hat I've ever been fitted for. And while my uniform has shifted slightly (we wear all white here, plus fancy hairnet), I get to use everything I've ever learned and seen in all uniforms whose long line of buttons I've buttoned.
I am both honoured and awed to be here.
I'm a little confused.
I don't know why I'm here.
Why London? Why now? Why did I leave Northern California? Why this company? Why a bakery and not a restaurant? How long will I be here? Where will I go next? And how will I know when it's time? Time for what? The next change.
I have a lot of questions. But no one's rushing to the answer front. God's holding out. Cards mighty close to that broad chest of sky and ocean.
I know a few things ~
~ This is the biggest job I've ever had. More responsibility than ever before. Expectations are at their highest. A vast amount of product is under my control, raw & finished. The team is big, and so is the equipment.
~ Being and having a co-pastry chef is an experience beyond edit. To manage and create and stay up late with and challenge and be challenged by and have words with and appreciate and get frustrated by and organize and watch and listen and back and come clean to and practice unflinching honesty with and taste alongside and critique and hold accountable and be accountable to someone else, at the exact same level
is extra ordinary. And emotional. And spiritual. And and. Gorgeous.
~ This might very well be the first time I've worked in the industry for people who are not in the industry. Being one of a handful of chefs in a massive, multi-faceted company is like riding a wild horse with a saddle. Or herding dogs with one sheep. The business of baking is just that to them. A business.
And why shouldn't it be? God knows I've worked for enough people who thought all they needed to know about opening and operating a restaurant, paying employees a living wage on time, and getting famous for wearing a double breasted white jacket, was to love cooking.
Learning the numbers side of baking is necessary, yes, but hidden from most non-owner bakers. If you needed only one word from me to describe the process of learning, hearing about and being accountable for/to the financial side of my amazingly creative industry, I wouldn't hesitate to say
I don't mean the pain of having your perfectly baked cheesecake rejected. Or the discomfort of testing product after product only to have the client say it's too this and not enough that and why o why can't you do X, even though X is produced from a myriad of variables they don't know and can't describe.
Seeing the numbers of baking, not the fractions and multiples of recipe building, is profoundly disturbing. Bread numbers are much kinder. As are cocktail and coffee numbers-- those ones are happy even.
The truth hurts:
Making pastry finery: employing finesse, hand frosting cakes, twirling laminated dough into hand cut and formed lovely ribbons, skillet griddling each English muffin, decorating with tiny cranberries and hand piping whimsical words
takes skill and time and a lot of people no matter if you write and create and deploy and manage systems for efficient production especially if you're open 365 days a year. And a lot of people with a lot of skill
costs a lot of money. And that money has less return when you're selling wholesale. Especially to retail customers. Oof.
~ Passion is not quantifiable. I do what I love. And I love what I do. Even when I do everything. Or one thing. Whether it's baking, creating, learning about baking, eating, testing, teaching baking science and history, bakery hunting, photographing baked goods, reading about sweet things, or writing and thinking about and dreaming up possible baking, I'm in my element. Swimming in the ocean. It's natural. And a lifelong education.
Love is a verb. And I'll fight for love. /For this love. I'll keep on baking even when I'm outnumbered. Ha!
~ Up and moving to another country is lonely. Transitions are discombobulating. Being brave and strong and up-for-anything isn't as air tight as one might hope or imagine. Quiet is both delicious and difficult. Adventure is sometimes exhausting. Friends as community and family is a real thing. Neither come easily. Leaving people is like hidden papercuts and the promise of squeezing a case of lemons.
~ I'm not supposed to know why I'm here. More will be revealed. Time takes time. Time to let go and have faith. Trust in the process. Look in the nooks and crannies, and butter them with the best I can buy.
~ This feels a lot like the crazy adventure I took when I got a call from The French Laundry and took a job with a pastry chef I'd never met because someone I'd worked for a few years earlier recommended me. I counted down the days from 365 and worked for TK for 3 years. Never "went back" to NYC.
One never knows.
I know only this.
Living in London, working for this massive company kind enough to have me, is a profound learning experience / challenge. Getting plucked from my past 11 year home in Northern California, and country of origin, at the age of 40, is crazy. Living in questionmarkland feels even crazier.
Not to complete a journey,
but to make one.
And While I know how to bake, and have been baking for many years, I've taken a turn. Inwards. A deeper learning; layered, thick and supple like croissant dough, is happening.
Negotiating. Working with. Managing. Unfurling wings and taking flight. The business of baking. My fears about numbers.
All these and more are my daily lessons, my fears to face, my homework to contemplate and do. And do I will.
Perhaps one day I'll get to share it with you. The failures and the delicious.