I just finished my bake this morning; the loaves came out of the WFO just lovely, and I am proud of the new night mixer I have trained and graciously added to the team. His end game isn't baking, in fact, its medical studies and the sort. But he mixes some amazing doughs consistently, and works very hard each shift. I appreciate his efforts, and have been reminding him daily that I find his work ethics impressive and honorable.
An alarm went off on my phone at 3:30 a.m. this morning, I was already about two hours into my work day when I checked to see if it was a message from my partner telling me about her closing shift and how she is walking on her way home safely, or perhaps my Mother informing me of how my sick Grandmother was doing.
Turns out that it was a reminder.
Four years ago today I started my first position baking for a living. I remember exactly that moment too when I looked at the clock. I know, it sounds so movie-sentimental. But really, lately, everything I have been going through with my first Management position in the baking world...it has made me realize what I chose to do that day, and what it takes at times to follow something you love. I wonder if I would have done this if I knew how different professional can be from home at times!
I remember waking up at 2:30 a.m. and being so bleary-foggy-headed that morning/night and thinking, "What on earth...", my fiance at the time rolling over and covering her head with a pillow because of my alarm ringing was thinking the same. But I did it! I awoke. From that day forth and still to this day, I have never been late for a 3:30 a.m., 2:30 a.m., 1:30 a.m. or even a 12:30 midnight shift at a bakery. I guess I was just born to do this kinda thing.
It was chilly, I drove with my music blaring loudly, something punk rock I am sure, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Minor Threat...something. That hasn't changed still to this day. No amount of tea or coffee could make my body understand why I was up right now. That really hasn't changed either. For a moment I asked myself what I was doing. I was a bread enthusiast, baked some loaves at home, took a class or two prior with my fiance, owned a few books on the topic, but I was a medical major in college and was working a nice paying job full-time as well. A nice paying job I quit to start something I didn't even know if I had the potential to do. I suppose it was the push from my fiance to do something I actually enjoyed instead of considering money and 'down-the-line' all the time. It also seemed so romantic -to bake bread for the community! Regardless, I pulled in to the Great Harvest to see a fellow already scaling some ingredients. He greeted me with a kind smile and the heat of the bakery hit me. I was welcomed kindly by two other bakers and the owner. I was to be put right to work mixing the first sponges and some pastries as well; muffins, scones, cookies. The morning moved quickly and I did a bit of everything that day; Mixing using a large hobart, scaling ingredients, prep work, shaping loaves, baking and taking home my first loaf of bread I 'professionally' baked. I could go more into detail about the exacts of my shift, but I'll hold off.
Eight hours later though I was done and on my way home with a smile on my face, also a nap on my mind. When my Grandfather found out I was baking, he laughed. Before the war he baked in a European-minded bakery and always used to mention how hot the ovens were in the morning for the rye bake, and how he hated cleaning the pans more than anything. Suppose it is in the family too...
The years passed and I continued to bake and learn more and more, never happy with my results, always striving for more. The following years saw me complete my degree in restaurant-hospitality management, become an ACF Pastry Chef, become a head-baker at a small shop, work a stint out of state, work another mid-sized bakery, become a main-mixer at a world-class bakery, and now a manager at an organic, wood-fired oven bakery. I am young, and sometimes I ask where the time has gone. I need to look no further than the loaves of bread that I am pulling out of the oven, or the sourdough starter I am continuously stirring each day.
I haven't posted a lot, and that is in part because I haven't baked much at home at all lately. I've learned what management can mean in this business (restaurants in general to I suppose), and what it takes at times to triumph through some hardships. A little glimpse would be this: I was finally able to take my first day off in over two solid months this past Saturday for my partners birthday. The best gift she said she could have asked for was for me to be able to sleep-in next to her -I haven't had two days off in a week yet since March either. Part of it if the state of the current bakery and my effort to turn it around, part of it is employees leaving for school, changing jobs, covering prior scheduled vacations, trying to adapt to new hours, all the normal facts you face in the industry and running a business I suppose. Last time I talked to my Father who has run corporations, has traveled constantly for work, and now is a VP for a North American operations again, laughed whole-heartedly at me when I told him I was tired. He understood, but knows I will continue to persevere. There was a month period where I was working 2:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., then returning to work from 5:00 p.m. till 9:30 p.m., sleeping my day away, then sleeping for a few hours at night and doing it all again. The hiring process was slow and unforgiving, my partner was so accepting of it all and stood by me and that was more than I could have asked for. I had lost a relationship prior to the oddities that are baker hours. So it goes.
So what made me not throw in the towel?
As I pulled some loaves of organic Caraway rye with Rye flakes outta the oven, some pumpkin pecan rolls too. I set them aside, jumped back to shaping up some batards of locally milled sifted-wheat and rye. The dough felt exceptional this morning. Perfectly hydrated at 77%, the canvases lightly floured, my hands repeating the motions like it was all they know. Keeping my eye on the clock, turning up one of my favorite hardcore songs that was playing and realized that it is because of bread that I keep coming back each morning. It is like my mornings are secret at times, in a sincere, special, romantic sort of way. Me, a co-worker on occasions, the heat of the brick oven, some of my favorite vinyl spinning, and the loaves of bread that will feed some people that I may never get the chance to meet. I work through the night, till the early morning light. The small issues of management/staffing/ect. that I am facing is temporary, like much in life. The happiest part of my day is moments like yesterday when I talked to a young lady on the phone about how she was so happy to know I was baking more of the sourdough caraway rye. She talked and talked about how no one else around town makes it like me. She thanked me and told me I made her day. I just said, "Thank you, and you can expect the loaves on the shelves tomorrow."
Seldom in my four years have I experienced gratitude personally from customers. I wake in the middle of the night, bake away my energy, load the shelves with fresh baked goodies, then manage to go home, spend some time relaxing and being tired by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Friends my age typically are partying the weekends away, some are finishing their doctorates, some have started families. Sometimes when the bars get out, my friends stop by and wish me a good day of work. I appreciate it.
Four great years have passed and no, I haven't baked the perfect loaf yet. In fact, far from it. And I have many miles left to go too. Where I am now is not where I will be in a year from now. But I will be baking a year from now as long as my body lets me, and I will be sure to let everyone know where as well.
Four years, not even really that long of a time...
But damn, if I could only recall just how many loaves I have shaped, scored, baked and yup...eaten as well. Good thing I like to run and work-out. And darn it, I have a full sleeve of tattoos dedicated to baking. Yup...I am in it for life.
Thanks TFL, and those that took a moment to read a personal blog.