What it takes.
The other day Cúán and I met for coffee. It happened to be the day NOMA announced it was “closing”. Our social media feeds had been inundated with striking headlines that the world’s best restaurant would be shutting its doors. René Redzepi’s face pictured beneath the scrawling titles. Conveniently, most outlets failed to lead their stories with the crucial fact that NOMA is in fact staying a little while longer in its Copenhagen location. That fact being, it is reinventing itself (like many 19 year olds) into a food laboratory. A very fine example of knowing what sells - papers and bums on seats! Our conversation turned from click bait to passions. ‘What are you most passionate about?’ Cúán asked me. ‘God, what a bloody huge question to unpack over my oat flat white Cúán’, I thought before fumbling for an answer. Later that day, and since then, I’ve been thinking about this question and contemplating how your passion can often manifest itself through perfection and obsession (*cough* NOMA). So much so, it can get anxiously tied up with perceptions of success.
For me, this tapestry of questions comes at a time when I, myself, am going through my own transformation. Maybe not quite as newsworthy as NOMA, but in less than a month I’ll no longer be baking at Scéal Bakery, which has been my home away from home for almost 4 years. It is in this small little bakery in the heart of Dublin that I accidentally found my passion, lost it for a little while, and found it again.
So where did it all begin?
Almost six years ago, I was sitting in the back of a hire car with my two sisters driving along the jagged coastline of Northern Ireland. A girls trip, tracing the footsteps of our grandparents. I had been complaining the whole time about my job as a personal assistant and decided it was now or never to take the plunge into something new. My student debt and English degree haunted me, telling me I shouldn’t waste all that time and money! A chef, I thought. That’ll be perfect. I’m sure I’ll pay back my £60,000 (plus interest and still accruing) worth of debt. Oh, how I laugh now. Luckily enough, my sister knew some people in the industry back home in London, so I ferociously emailed every one of them without bothering to look out the window onto the Atlantic Ocean. When we returned to the big smoke, I began following up with all these chefs, food stylists and restaurants hoping one of them would give me the light of day. Luckily, they did and so began 2 years of on/off work experience, where I absorbed kitchen life whenever I could whilst also holding down paid jobs.
Let’s fast forward to 2019, through the tears, the burns, the uncertainties, to landing myself back on this island, in the little kitchen at Scéal where I found my passion. When I joined I’d never worked in a bakery, nor lived abroad, but my eagerness to learn somehow convinced Shane and Charlotte (my bosses and now lifelong friends) to give me a job. Within a year of nurturing, I graduated from pastry creams to laminated doughs and began a love affair with Ronda (a table top sheeter manufactured by Rondo), with whom I’ve spent many an hour. The regimented lines produced by feeding stacks of butter and dough through the mechanical rolling pin gives me the ultimate amount of satisfaction. Just look at those layers! From here, I levelled up, taking on the bake shifts. It was in those wee hours of the night that I first noticed those perfectionist tendencies reveal themselves. I began questioning every small variable, ‘why are the tips of the croissants falling over?’, ‘why is that cookie a little flat?, ‘why hasn’t that ganache whipped to that perfect soft peak?’ The fussing, the nitpicking and the second guessing made me irritable and unsatisfied. Nothing seemed to meet the high standards I had set for myself. In hindsight, this inevitably pushed me forward to be a better pastry chef / baker, to fall further in love with what I do, but it also came with its downsides.
What’s it like working in a bakery?
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