The Joe Head cake, created for an art director at Campbell-Ewald
Sometime over the summer, I got a little ahead of myself and had an “audition” at a local, well-known bakery just to have the experience and see what happened. I’d say it was an ambitious move on my part, because up until my recent decision to take culinary courses at OCC in Farmington, I was a self-taught baker and kind of took pride in the fact that I knew enough to have gotten a little baking business started. However, I found out that wasn’t quite enough to work in a bakery.
For one thing, I couldn’t do buttercream roses, which is a staple in traditional bakeries such as the one I found myself in that summer morning. I’d never been asked to, I explained to the owner, who quickly showed me how to do one and then pretty much dismissed me for the day. I went home, having learned my lesson and looked forward to my next class at OCC, which was to cover basic cake decorating skills.
Oh, if only that bakery ad had been after I took this course. After five weeks I had made not only buttercream roses, but royal icing flowers galore. I was also happy to discover that I had actually figured out how to do some things correctly on my own, but there were still a lot of neat tricks that I learned in that brief time. It was fun, and exciting to gain new and practical knowledge that I could apply to my business.
But there were a couple of things during this course that didn’t really fly with me. The class, I soon discovered, was meant to teach traditional ideas - as in things you’d find at your typical market or corner bakery. Stuff your mother or grandmother would fawn over, like pastel roses with trailing vines, and perhaps some delicately piped garlands. I think it was the garlands that upset me. They’re so…I don’t know, 1955. For some reason, they irritated me like Steve Allen and his completely unfunny sense of humor. I believe they make me want to punch someone.
There were also some things the chef instructor commented on regarding my work that I just didn’t agree with. Colors, she insisted, had to be on the intense side – reds the color of tacky nail polish, blues the shade of a gumball. Yes, all appropriate on children’s cakes and the like, but not my style at all. I complained to my commercial interior designer husband one afternoon about theses outlandish expectations, and he responded with some good advice: Take what they teach you, and make it your own.
I took his words to heart. Once I got through the damn course with its garish greens and over-stimulated oranges, I’d use my new skills to further my designs and hopefully make myself more noticeable in the market and, ideally, successful in what I do. And I know I ain’t gonna get rich from it, but anyone who has a creative outlet knows the joy of being in that zone and just letting what’s inside come out and have a day in the sun. And that, I know, is something they can’t teach.