The Proof Is In The Dough
My first exposure to true baking was with my grandma and mother when
I would intently watch them bake many things with such care and detail. I really enjoyed them long before I knew they were the best I would ever have. I have become a connoisseur of sorts simply by searching for products that remind me of those days…though to no avail. So for me, it made sense that if I could not find exactly what I sought, that I would just have to recreate it myself, and there began my journey as a professional baker. I mean, I started baking very young and continued to do so my entire life, but I didn’t realize what I was searching for until my personal skills developed and I recognized that I could bring back to life, the thing that clung to my memory the most. This is when I became a true professional. I do continue to explore and try new things in my travels and personal journey but I have found there is just nothing better than one’s own creations.
Throughout my journey, I have baked in many different bakeries and restaurants and in different regions of the country and the common denominators in the best things I have had is quality ingredients and care and love put into making the product itself, from production to consumption. If it doesn’t make your taste buds happy before assembly, it’s not going to make them happy when it’s done. When I was 15, I worked in a small bakery in a small touristy town in mid-Michigan where I learned how to make doughnuts. I was pleasantly surprised by a secret ingredient that went into the recipe because I would never have thought to even consider it. It really piqued my curiosity which spurred a love for the craft. The best doughnut I had ever eaten had come from that bakery, and I have tried some that came close but never measured up, which I will always attribute to that surprising ingredient that I witnessed being put in the bowl that night. I forever realized that the creativity behind this craft is infinite. I later found out this baker was the same baker that made doughnuts in a bakery he owned that my father took me to for my very first doughnut. One of the many truly rewarding memories of my father.
I later worked in a German style restaurant that featured their bakery, where I was charged with bagging and wrapping baked goods at night. Initially it was not nearly as rewarding or interesting as the previous job but the intent was to learn more about the function of the business and this was all a part of it. My most favorite memories of this job were during the Christmas Season, putting icing the hot Stolen bread as it came out of the oven and to my work station for cooling, expanding my knowledge base another tier. I learned how dough is shaped and panned and how to make some interesting concoctions such as Chop Suey rolls; a pound of chopped bread dough, some candied fruit, and a few fresh cracked eggs, chopped, mixed and portioned onto baking pans to proof and then bake off. I of course had my own opinion of this product but I recognized that it is another example of creativity and the different flavors that are used to tantalize all types of taste buds.
My exposure to really fresh and quality ingredients was from my relatives and influences. When I was young my mother had a garden, my grandma had a garden, and our neighbor had a garden and fruit trees. I learned about freshness as well as canning and using these ingredients in different ways. Many people had certain influences on me but the day my mother met my step-father, my palette took a turn for the better and I discovered sustainability. See, my stepfather was a farmer. Oh how he loved good rich food. I found out what good fresh meat really was, as well as farm fresh eggs and homemade sausage. We enjoyed smoked fish in the fall and summer sausage after that. And most impressively, not any of it came from the store.
I studied books cover to cover on how dough works and how to manipulate it to have it do and bake the way you want. Using my knowledge of good ingredients, recalling my personal and professional journeys, I draw on that common thread and have deepened my love of baking and cooking. Using my own hands to make bread, rolls, pretzels, buns, and everything in between for others to eat and enjoy was so gratifying but I needed to feed my soul with new knowledge so I shifted my role to the pastry department where I was introduced to chocolate, fresh fruit, pie crust, and tart shells. This turned into an explosion of knowledge that I found I could incorporate with so many things, so I just kept learning and even now, decades later, I find myself clamoring for new information, new recipes, new techniques, and now an entirely new venture with a great partner.
Throughout this path I have encountered many people and observed many skills and learned very early that it’s so easy to just be nice. Customer service was at the forefront of business when I was growing up and it was clear what made the business click. I learned what and what not to do and I honed my service skills, paying close attention to the way people interacted, noting when an unfriendly demeanor crept in and subsequently…or rather consequently, when regulars no longer came back. I learned that using honey rather than vinegar and a little friendly banter, accompanied by a good product served in a timely matter with a smile, garners respect and repeat business…and you might even share a joke and a laugh.
My son is now off to college and starting a new life of his own. I started a relationship a few years ago with former classmate named Penny, from grade school in Michigan where I grew up. Penny and I found we had many things in common. We found that she loved to cook and I loved to bake and we both expect and deserve good food and good service wherever we go. We found that service in many places is lacking and the restaurant and food service industry is so much different than when we were young, for there seems to be no attention to customer service anymore. This has troubled me because it effects the enjoyment of dining out when, for so many years, it was such a treat to do so. You can feel good service when you sit down any where. Penny and I can now go out and just about guess the level of service we will get. It is a game now because we all know what we should get as far as being waited on and served, but what we really get is a crap shoot.
So Penny came to me one day and said we should advertise on a website she happened across, providing table/food service for parties and events. I had never done it before but was very intrigued by the idea and I knew Penny’s history and experience, so I thought about it and decided to put my money where my mouth is. I demand and expect good service, so why not start by leading by example? It was very quick after placing our ad that we booked our first gig. I was nervous at our first party and asked Penny what I should expect and she said, “Just do what you would expect if you were to hire us.” I think I enjoyed it more than the client; seeing people have a good time because they can leave the work and the details to us and just enjoy their guests and party.
We have done several more events since then and my partner is priceless. We still have many things to learn about us and this business just as any business does, but I find it very exciting to be a part of this magic that just… happened. Growing pains are sure to come and we’re ready to take them on one at a time. Through it all we both agree that the bottom line is to provide service excellence to our clients. Penny and I share the same views on service which makes us great partners. We don’t always agree on everything, nor should we, but we respect each other’s ideas and opinions and more times than not we accomplish our mission and celebrate with a great glass of wine and always a terrific meal. And maybe when we have a breather from the madness, we might find ourselves taking a road trip back to the breathtaking landscape of Northern Michigan to fish the elusive speckled trout of those storied streams. And what else would you expect but an evening campfire enjoying fresh fish with garlic butter and lemon, roasted potatoes with fresh hardy dill, and grilled fresh bread. That is the taste of home from which I will always draw my fondest moments in life…and of course make new ones.