I’ve always loved to cook and bake and I thank my Mom for involving my sister and I in the kitchen every day and putting up with my experiments (i.e. the Monkey Bread that turned into a rock, yeast is not my friend). . I loved it so much that instead of working at the Mall like all the other kids in high school, I was packing donuts, filling eclairs, and secretly dipping my fingers in the vat of whipped cream at a proper German bakery, Hahn’s Bakery in Denville, NJ. We were allowed to eat whatever we wanted, but just not in the front of the store where customers could see you. And we always had leftover rolls, cakes, and other pastries to bring home every day. Perhaps that’s why I gained a few pounds my Junior year. It’s so sad that Hahn’s is no longer in business, not because of hard economic times, but because there was no one in their family to take over the traditional business once the owners retired.
I never gave the culinary arts or pastry a thought when I was thinking about college and careers, perhaps because of my practical nature (or what was instilled into me by my parents) or because I wanted to make lots of money like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (before he got put away) and close mergers and acquisitions like Tess McGill in Working Girl (before she got caught impersonating). – Funny how music and movies can date you. – Now that I’ve had a taste of corporate America and my values and personality have matured and changed, I rethink my professional life every once in a few months when I’m burnt out and tired of the day to day. I do love analyzing numbers, making key decisions, collaborating with different disciplines, and making money, but I also love creating something of physical substance and value with my hands, be it crafts or food. Oh…if just some how we can combine the two??
So, about a month a go, late one Saturday evening, I surfed the internet and requested information from the top culinary schools in Chicago, including the Cordon Bleu, Art Institute, and the French Pastry School. It was just to see what is out there, how much it would cost, and what I would be able to learn. I think I’d be more interested in going to class, playing with the equipment, and creating yummies instead of working towards a career in a restaurant. Immediately, like I solicited to donating money to a charity, I received phone calls and emails to apply without even getting the information I requested. The French Pastry School of Chicago was the only one that impressed me. They were not overly aggressive, answered my questions, and understood that when someone asks for information that they’re just exploring.
I was invited to take a tour, talk to the administration, and watch a demo at the French Pastry Experience for free (you can too for a small fee here), so Zach and I signed up and got up early on a Saturday morning for some inspiration and freshly baked croissants. It wasn’t very commercial-y, because food enthusiasts also attend for fun. After a tour of the state-of-the-art facility, seeing student and instructor creations, we ate and watched 2 of the top pastry chefs of the world make: Lavender Honey and Lemon Madelines, Grand Marnier Caramel and Fleur de Sel Molded Chocolate Bonbons, Pecans and Nespresso Ristretto Florentin Tuile, Slow Oven Roasted Vanilla Pineapple with Coconut Basil Emulsion, and Mango Sorbet. I was extremely impressed and a little star struck when I saw Pierre Zimmerman (World Pastry Chef Champion) and giggled every time he said “viola!”, which was after every action he performed (like pouring sugar into the pan).
And voila, I now dream of attending the French Pastry School! Perhaps I’ll start with their summer camp sessions (which are 3-5 days for hundreds of dollars instead of the 10’s of thousands of dollars for 6 months.) for now and see what happens and if it’s right for me. Life’s too short to not be doing what you love, no matter what it is. Maybe you don’t know, maybe you do but don’t know where to start? I encourage you to explore and experiment (and surf the internet!). Some day soon, I know I will combine my two passions and love my professional life. I hope you do too. What is your passion and how are you or did you get to where you are today?
Goodie bag from French Pastry School of Chicago:
Chef Zimmerman & Dendauw Demo
Slow Oven Roasted Vanilla Pineapple, Served with Mango Sorbet, Coconut Basil Emulsion and Madeleine
Me with the Chefs