Why I am not following my dream

Around this time last year I was full-swing in the midst of my pastry school experience and I cannot deny that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Seriously.  You can read in my previous posts about why I chose to go, and how intensely I am passionate about baking. I love both the science of it and the artistic elements required to make beautiful desserts. I have grown particularly fond of cake decorating, as you may have noticed in my Instagram feed.

Julia Child says, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

I have to admit, this quote still rings true for me but I view it differently than I did last year.

Last year, I believed very strongly that if you follow your heart and do what you love, the rest will follow. I thought if I just rocked the pastry program (which I did, by the way) and headed out into the pastry world that I would be able to make a career of it, eventually (I was realistic enough to believe it would take a while though). A few things that I did not realize about working in the food industry included needing better transportation, i.e. a car, to get to the early early baking shifts (when public transit is not an option). The places I wanted to work would be impossible for me to get to, so I basically couldn’t (and didn’t) apply. I have managed to live in Vancouver for the past 16 years without a car because transit is actually a pretty good system. But, not if you want to be a baker… I also knew that the wages were not very good (compared to other jobs I’ve had), but it wasn’t about the money, it was about doing what I love, right? I was willing to try and see if I could live off of a pastry cook’s wage. It’s not easy.

Here is a great article about the cost of cooking for love. One of my Chef’s from school recently shared it on social media, The High Cost of Cooking for Love.

There is a bit of a culture in the food industry that chefs are fuelled by passion and don’t need a personal life or to make money (or very little anyway). This lifestyle can be endured and succeeded-in by very few. Food TV popularity and media seems to have increased everyone’s belief that it’s a glamorous industry to work in, and celebrity chefs make lots of money. Just because a food business is in the media, doesn’t mean they are thriving necessarily, profit margins are very tight for food business owners. This heightened awareness of the industry has increased the the number of people who fantasize about quitting their day job and one day opening a cafe or a restaurant one day, becoming a Chef / or Pastry Chef.

I was one of those people, sort of. I dreamed of one day going to pastry school, for years… And I mean years. I just could never afford the time, or the cost of going to school (because going to culinary school is not cheap either) until last year it was possible. I made it happen, without missing a beat. My dream of going to pastry school and one day having my own bakery was now in present time, no longer a one-day vision. But I soon realized some of the realities in my dream, and learned it was more of a fantasy than a realistic dream. Don’t get me wrong, I actually haven’t given up necessarily, but I have quickly come to realize that working full-time in the food industry (as a baker) is not going to happen right now for me. I actually can’t afford to work in the industry and live in Vancouver. It just isn’t possible for me, at this time, nor is it possible for me to open my own business after the expense of going to culinary school (and I will fully admin I still have a bit of student loans left from my first degree).

I am fortunate that I have a strong resume of professional experience to fall back on. I am now exploring how to combine the two, using my background in marketing & communications and somehow be a part of the food industry in other ways (big or small).

Recently, I read a brilliant article by Ryan Holmes (@Invoker), of Hootsuite, When to (Not) Follow Your Heart. He raises many good points, and I particularly liked where he talked about discovering a passion within another passion.

This is where I am at now, I have come to realize that I simply enjoy creating things, and using both technical and artistic skills to do so.  I followed one dream, and learned that dreams may be refined based on experience and it’s an evolutionary process (at least for me). I am still very much interested in marketing & communications and over the last year I have learned a lot about running a small business and what entrepreneurs are up against before “overnight-success” dreams can even have a shot at coming true.

Another article I read from MindBodyGreen really spoke to me as well, How My Dream Job was Destroying My Health. This person had a job travelling around to amazing places all the time, but the conditions of the lifestyle were effecting her longterm health poorly. There needs to be a balance.

After working in the industry for just a short while, I started to have some wrist problems and needed physiotherapy to fix it but did not have the benefits to cover the treatment. I am fine now, but working in the food industry was going to require more physical conditioning for me to endure that lifestyle (read: working without much of a social life). After a long day what you really need to do is go get some exercise but I would be totally exhausted and just want to get off of my feet (i.e. nap). I know that most of my experiences were not even really intense compared to others, because I had breaks, and scheduled shifts. It was still an adjustment though, to stand all day too. I tried it, and I did not fall in love with that lifestyle.

Sitting all day in an office isn’t good for anyone either, however, at least with that routine, I was able to make room for a workout in my day that kept me in better shape. I used to run half marathons, regularly, but I basically stopped because I wanted to focus on pastry school, and I haven’t returned to run club since (but I’m working my way back now, a year later, with extra pastry to burn off!!).

After my short experience in the food industry I quickly realized I don’t want to bake on someone else’s terms, I just want to bake for myself (at least for now). I don’t want to have my own full-time business either, where I don’t actually get to do the part I love—bake—because I am consumed by other challenges of running a small business.

I ultimately do not want to lose the joy of baking because of baking too much or from dealing with people who don’t value the price of good food and quality baking (and that is a whole other topic on its own). For these reasons, I’m choosing to not follow my this dream, and that is totally okay.

This blog has been a place of passion for me for five years now, and I am thrilled that I have kept it going. I am now a member of Food Bloggers of Canada, too. Another proud achievement. I will absolutely continue to bake (don’t worry!) and enjoy the process, trying new recipes and experimenting, for me—and I’ll continue to share those experiences here, with you.

Now, I have begun to dream new dreams, and it is exciting to think of what possibilities lie ahead. I already know what taking a leap of faith requires of me, I’ve now made a few, and I will do it again, I am certain…

The Uncommon Cake Sweetie – Jill Shumka

On a sunny afternoon in Vancouver, Jill Shumka welcomes me into her south Main Street kitchen. I feel like I am walking into a food TV set – a brightly lit and spacious kitchen showcases a double broiler overhanging an extended island stove top. Jill returns to her kitchen and begins to stir what appears to be lemon butter.

A professional ballet dancer turned foodie sweetie, Jill has been passionate about cakes and pastry art since her days in Europe. The mother of two is owner of The Uncommon Cake – a home-based boutique bakery, delivering customized artistic cakes and delicate cookies on request. I am experiencing a tour of her kitchen, and the chance to learn more about her business.

While living in Europe in the late ‘90s, Jill was looking for a career change out of ballet. Switzerland, where she was living, proved to be the sweet inspiration she needed. “Every other store has little marzipan du

cks all in a row and tons of other pastries”.

Slowly whisking butter into the lemon yellow mixture, Jill tells me about her return to Canada and how her business began. “I saw Martha Stewart Living everywhere and learned a lot from there,” but she signed up for culinary school too. “[The school] encouraged me to go to culinary school over pastry because it would give me more opportunity…I also took a night class in cake decorating, but it was very traditional cake designs.”

Jill was looking for more, “I essentially taught myself everything I know [about cakes]”, and she learned from one request to the next as orders came in through friends and referrals. Soon her website was born, bringing us The Uncommon Cake.

As Jill sieves the lemon into a receiving bowl, it dollops through into silky lemon curd – a filling for her next creation!  She continues to wrap the curd and I asked her a few more questions:

What keeps you inspired to bake?

It’s the final product, feeling rewarded by the end result and seeing that you have done a great job – feeling satisfied at the end of the day.

What advice do you have for a new pastry student/entrepreneur?

Learn from a mentor, to dive in and learn a lot in a shorter time.

What is your favourite recipe?

My shortbread cookies. They bake well, cut well and last. It’s a go-to recipe.

What do you enjoy eating, when you’re not making cakes?

If we have time away from our kids, we love Habit Lounge on Main in Vancouver.  They make really good Brie and carrot perogies.

Who do you follow now for inspiration?

Elisa Strauss in New York, of Confetti Cakes, she made a cake for Charlotte & Harry’s wedding on Sex and the City; and Studio Cake styles. For cookies, I like Elenis.com.

Hand crafted fondant art for Jill's next cake creation

Do you consider yourself to be a foodie?

I would have to consider myself a foodie because of my obsession with desserts. Maybe sweetiewould be more accurate.

It would seem she has always been an artist, from the dance studio to what now appears to be her baking studio, Vancouverites are fortunate that Jill Shumka brings an uncommon quality to her uncommon cakes and beyond…