So here I stand in my spotless chef whites, tool box in hand and taste buds at the ready. This column will follow the highs and lows as I attend 6 months of pastry school in a valiant attempt to start building the business I’ve always dreamt of. It’s the beginning of a journey that will undoubtedly be littered with blunders and triumphs, from sunken middles to the perfect crumb.
As a single woman at the symbolically-loaded age of 33, I’m doing this for me. I’ve lived in my beloved Kentish Town for 8 years and have the support of wonderful friends and family who’ve endured my misery and indecision long enough. I’m excited, determined and scared, but the overriding factor is simply the regret of not trying.
I’ve always had an affinity for baking; one of my most visceral childhood memories is eating raw cake mix straight from the bowl – or covering everything within a 5 mile radius with luminous hundreds and thousands. I vividly remember coming home after a morning spent baking fairy cakes for Brownies only to discover that everything, including the paper cases, had disappeared. With the guiltiest expression an animal can muster, my dog crawled out of the kitchen in slug-like fashion and went straight to her bed. Undeterred (and with the dog shut out) I whipped up a second batch to the later admiration of my fellow Brownies.
At 16 I won a national modelling competition. A skinny, gawky redhead, I was never a hit with the boys, and winning was as shocking to me as everyone else.
Sat in Kings Cross waiting for a train home after the first competition shoot and with a doughnut half in hand, half in mouth, a woman approached me and revealed she was a scout for Models 1.
That was it – the bright lights of London and a new exciting life beckoned, and as soon as school finished I was off travelling and working in New York, Paris and Milan.
Back in London I took a degree and having glimpsed the magazine world, decided that was for me. I landed my first position as Beauty Assistant at Marie Claire and enjoyed a couple of years there until the novelty of the perks wore off, the excitement turned to boredom and the monotony of office routine set in. When I started suffering from anxiety I quit and entered what I call my ‘wilderness years’, working where I could to pay the bills while pondering my next move.
After volunteering at an Oxfam shop, I took a job managing an Oxfam Boutique. The stable income was a relief and in my spare time I started to cook again: dinner for friends, birthday cakes…basically any excuse I could find. There were some disasters but mostly my tasters’ reactions were positive. It was ‘baking therapy’, and it prevented me sitting around worrying about everything. I ploughed though cookbooks for inspiration, religiously followed numerous cooking shows, and simply thought ‘I can do that.’
So at the beginning of this year I started a part time introduction to patisserie at Westminster Kingsway College and found out I loved it. Laden with baked goods each week, I tested them on friends and found myself convincing people the items really were made by me. Their reactions spurred me on and when it was over I knew I had to keep going. I handed in my notice and in July progressed onto the International Patisserie Diploma. It is a big commitment but it’s hugely important to me to train properly and feel confident that I really know what I’m doing.
So, for the next six months the pastry kitchen will be my home. I’ll report back on my experiences as I progress and add in some recipes, photos and tips from the chefs along the way. To kick things off? Raspberry & Lemon Curd Madeleines. Yum.
So please, drop me a comment if you have any baking questions and I’ll do my best to help you out. Happy baking!
Words & Pics: Clare Zerny