Telling someone I am a pastry chef can be pretty fun. Generally speaking, people like sugar. So generally speaking, when I tell people I deal in sugar, they are more prone to like me. Their face lights up and they say
“Oh, how wonderful!”,
and for a moment, I feel a bit magical. As if I am capable of wonder, and mystery, and making their nephew’s 3rd birthday cake.
I wanted to become a pastry because pastry is art which makes people happy. Of course, there are occasions when I feel it’s a thankless task, a job for someone over-indulged and undereducated. Moments when I worry I am not worthy of respect. It’s a learned reflex, after enough conversations with doctors, or lawyers, or those in tech. So, I soften the blow of their disregard for me, the peasant, by saying,
“Would you like to see some photos of my cakes?”
And no one ever says no, because it’s cake.
Then, after viewing an album of selected creative showstoppers they say,
“Oh, so you’re really serious!”
“So you’re actually talented!”
The implication always being that, without photographic proof-of-pudding, I was some sort of housewife-hack with a dream and a hand mixer.
If you follow up in the conversation, it often goes in very predictable, almost formulaic directions:
- The “Have you seen The Great British Bake Off? You should compete on television!” conversation
- “I don’t know anything about baking, or television, or competitions. But you, stranger, should sign up for this competition show I like. I’m not just trying to find common ground by referencing popular media which I enjoy, I am genuinely commanding you to stop everything and become a reality tv star.”
- I’ve seen a few episodes. I was taught to pronounce genoise in a different way. I have no idea what a Victoria sponge is. Victorian sponge? Thank you, but it’s not a competition even meant for professional pastry chefs. Because, I am a professional. I need you to hear that. I am a professional. Yes, they are nice to each other and I love that: It’s a fairy tale, and not how the real world works. No, I don’t want to be on a competition show. No, really, I don’t want to be in a competition. No, I get it, thank you, but it’s just not for me. I am not interested in being on television! I would end up crying in about five minutes! No seriously, not interested, but thank you. Why? Because I…have a medical reason that I cannot withstand stage lighting? I am in witness protection and cannot risk being seen? Jesus Christ how do I make you stop?!
- The “I always dreamed of being a pastry chef” conversation
- “I always wanted to do that! Which I feel I am absolutely qualified to do, because I once baked muffins and it was fun, and thus baking muffins for ten straight hours in a hot kitchen while your boss yells at you must also be fun. Your job is easy, and something I, a person with no experience in a real kitchen, could do just as well as you, if only I decided to do it.”
- This is a person who has only ever seen pastry chefs in movies. Most likely Hallmark Christmas movies, where the small town candy-cane-cake shoppe is on the verge of demise, and the evil, vague corporate-y company wants to buy it on December 23rd. Before the logical, black tie, small town candy cane ball. You know, movies where pretty Canadian girls bake inexplicably small portions of the small town’s signature candy-cane-cake, all the while violating innumerable health codes: their hair hanging down, not a hair net in sight. Licking their fingers. Inviting the visiting evil corporate real estate guy to enjoy an evening of massive potential liability if he gets burned. (Is it real estate he works in? All we know is there is a deadline of December 23rd, and an impending E. coli outbreak). Then some bizarre entrepreneurship 101 project saves the day: we just sell candy-cane-cakes on Easter!
- They have also seen The Great British Bake Off.
- They also think I should become a contestant on The Great British Bake Off.
- The “You Should Be My Grandmother” conversation
- “Have you heard of this obscure pastry from my culture? This pastry that you would be culturally appropriating if you actually made it? This is a thing my grandmother made, and you should open a business selling only that thing. It has a shelf life of 12 minutes, and one of the ingredients is an obscure flour that is cheap in my hometown but unfathomably expensive here. You should open this bakery below my apartment building, in Manhattan, where the rent is so cheap. Because there is a massive market, in my mind, for this pastry that I want to eat each morning. Plus, opening a business is so easy. Everything you have ever done, any art you ever made from sugar, is irrelevant. They are nice, but they are not this one specific ugly lump of wheat and obscure flour that I love. You should make this one obscure thing, so that I have a place to buy it. “
- “Also, have you seen The Great British Bake Off?“
- The “Have you seen that video of that cake that looks like a….” conversation
- Yes, I have seen the fucking video, 18 people posted it on my Facebook when it went viral six weeks ago.
- Yes I have also heard of The Great British Bake Off
- The “My penis makes me an expert in high risk business ideas!” conversation
- Yes, because the only thing standing between me and running my own business, at a massive financial, emotional, and physical cost, is you, some dude, telling me to do it. Some guy I just met at a dinner party, or was on a first date with. I just needed you to give me the bright idea that I could sell cakes. Sure, I studied food service management for 4 years and got a degree in it. Sure, I know the profit margins and the risks involved. Sure, I’ve worked at Michelin-starred restaurants, and bakeries around the world, but it’s you, someone blessed with a big old man brain, who has enlightened me to the fact that…bakeries exist?
- It is likely, but not confirmed, that these men are the same men who write the business plans which save the small-town-candy-cane-cake-bakery in the aforementioned Hallmark movies.
- They have never heard of The Great British Bake Off.