I’ve been in the baking industry since I was 15, starting as an apprentice in Mornington, Victoria. I’d start work at 2am, sometimes working up to 20 hours a day. I was passionate and I persevered. A pastry chef was what I’d wanted to be since I was a child, and I knew I wanted to be one of the best.
In the past 20 years since I’ve been in the baking industry, I’ve come to realise there is a dichotomy in the world of pastry. Think of your local cupcake store and people tend to imagine a female at the helm; but think of the finest pastry chefs at the country’s most expensive restaurants and you’ll likely see a male behind the chef’s table. Dessert Professional’s 2016 list of top 10 pastry chefs in America featured only two women – a result not too dissimilar to the lists of years before it.
I find this so intriguing. What happens to the passion in country kitchens and why doesn’t it lead to the tables at esteemed restaurants? As a pastry chef, I pride myself on producing delicious, delightful and exquisite desserts that push creative boundaries. I use the best products, I put in the best of my time and effort and am fortunate to do this around the world. My gender has no part to play in what I produce.
If you had told me when I was 15 that there would be a limit to how far I could go in my profession, I don’t know how I would have reacted – would I have stopped working so hard? Chosen not to persevere? Unfortunately, that is what many budding female pastry chefs are confronted with when they open books, magazines or read lists online. It seems as though female pastry chefs are good, but not good enough to make it to the very top.
This is part of the reason why I opened Savour School in 2002. My passion was chocolate and pastry, but even more so teaching it. When I discovered that my delight came from sharing the joy chocolate craft can bring, I realised I had an important role to play in expressing that to every person with an interest, not just those that had the best chance of succeeding.
The school hosts several classes every week, with hundreds taking part, but I’m even more excited by the hundreds that take part in our online classes. No boundary should inhibit a passion, and that’s what makes Savour’s online classes so fantastic. Even if a budding baker is in the Northern Territory, or the suburbs of Sydney, or is lucky enough to be a native to Noosa, they can still have access to classes that will teach them the best so they can be the best.
When Pierre Herme won the award for World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016, he said something I wholeheartedly believe: “My advice to those who want to follow in my footsteps is to be proactive. Don’t wait until people decide to teach you. Demand to learn. Passion is very important.”
He’s right. Passion is the place that your greatest work comes from. It forms your drive, and your unwillingness to give up, and women in our baking industry need to hang on to the passion that started them on this path in the first place.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be juggling everything that comes along with being a woman and trying to establish a career – or even just to follow a passion. I’ve been elated to see the number of women taking part in the classes – their gender plays no role in how they craft, but their passion plays a part in how far they’ll go with it. My online classes mean that no one has to wait for a session, a seminar or their favourite chef to be in town – it’s accessible, dynamic and puts the power directly into the hands of students, and especially into the hands of women.