Naiveté is underrated. It was naiveté that prompted me to answer a few ads on Craig’s list soliciting resumes for pastry cook positions. I even dared being choosy – I would only apply at restaurants I was familiar with and not terribly far from home. As if.
Home, finally, was Los Angeles and the house on the hill. Six months had passed since the move I had been so looking forward to, back in the chaos of the metropolis, yet isolated in the wilderness of the canyons. The book I had started was going nowhere and I found myself thinking that a paycheck was needed, not to mention a reason to leave the house every day, despite loving it more than anything material I had ever possessed.
The only experience I had in baking was whatever my mother had transferred through the umbilical cord and my experiments at age 8, when I first learnt to make pastry cream and to flavor it with chocolate and coffee, much to the delight of my friends. Other than that, it was all pretty much self thought – a girlfriend who was working as a private chef for a Hollywood couple recruited me to bake pies and quiches and I actually thought I could pursue it professionally.
Knowing what I know now about kitchens and what chefs look for when hiring cooks, I certainly didn’t fit the profile. Way too old, inexperienced, with no knife skills whatsoever – heck, I had never heard of words such as speedracks, sheetpan, walk-ins, chinois…
Yet, it was naiveté and guts on my part and an a-mail message I sent to the chef who ended up hiring me that got me the job. It was a leap of faith on her part. Knowing what I know now and how far along I have come, amongst the many people I hired over the years, I also took a leap of faith on a 40 something year old woman and that trust wasn’t betrayed. We are dependable, curious, more experienced in getting along with the throngs of people you end up working elbow to elbow with. If our legs get tired, we make it up by producing accurate work and by displaying better problem solving skills.
America might not be the place of far-fetched dreams it once was but I owe it a great debt – I am not too sure old and stodgy Europe would have afforded me such a drastic career change. But to all you women out there, stuck in jobs you have outgrown, with some dream tucked in a drawer, it might be less impossible than you think. It takes gut and naiveté. In my case, a husband who helped pay the bills while I was crawling up the ladder at a nominal salary, prevented starvation (or, at least, some lean years). I embody that possibility and I am less alone than I ever thought. My wonderful friend Sue reinvented herself in her native South Africa, Lynne went from being an accountant to a pastry cook at an undisclosed age (that I estimated to be the late 30’s), Janice became a pastry cook in her mid-40’s. And we are all much happier in our new endeavours.
As I came to realize during this last, hard year, it’s what we don’t anatomically possess that sometimes we need most. A big pair of cojones.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU. THANK YOU FOR READING ME, SUPPORTING ME AND WRITING BACK THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. I WELCOME IT ALL.
MAY ALL YOUR DREAMS BE FULFILLED NEXT YEAR.
Be back on Monday