Perfect Your Craft
When I was in college, I was really struggling with what I wanted to be. I was just taking a few courses and had thought I wanted to go into computers or something, whatever that means. Kind of just floating along, I was working as a bank teller among some really great women. I found myself baking every Friday for the ladies, and was always pleased when I would take an empty dish home. One of my co-workers would always say, "This is what you should be doing," making desserts and such. Turns out she was right.
Not long after that, I looked into where I could attend culinary school and settled on a community college in Dallas where the program was the best in town. Looking back now, I was really fortunate to work with these amazing women at the bank who were leaders in their own right. The bank manager, financial advisor, and the senior staff — who all had a wealth of knowledge and inspiration — really encouraged me to have a career, not just a job.
Growing up in Texas and coming from a Hispanic family, there was always food around. I was lucky enough to have fresh tortillas at Grandma's house, and it was always a treat to have tamales and bunuelos at Christmas time. I loved looking through cookbooks and dreaming of baking something sweet. We didn't always have sweets in the house growing up, so pretty much the only time was on special occasions. I think this is how learned I wanted to bake. If Mom and Dad wouldn't buy us sugar, well I was going to make it myself. My mom baked occasionally, so we usually had the ingredients on hand, and I would ask if we could bake something together. Some things were edible; others, well, the doggo probably would be scared. The first chance I got to bake something for a captive audience was for my third-grade class. I chose lemon bars, and I remember being pretty proud of them — and even most of the class liking them, except for that one kid who hated lemons.
My real path into baking began with my father passing down his love of sweets to us. My mother would tell me that my brother and I would always come home with a huge candy bar or something sweet after a day out with him. They were both my biggest inspirations, especially my dad since he was such a sweet fiend. They would tell me if they liked whatever I had baked, but would also say if they didn't and what I needed to improve on — no participation trophies in that house. That is something I still carry with me to this day: If you're going to do something, do it right. And that was always the goal, just to have them approve of my work.
Now, in my adult years, I started off baking in Texas but am now baking in Melbourne, Australia, which has been a really great experience. Growing up as a child in small-town Texas, I never thought I would have moved to such a faraway place, but my husband had a fantastic job opportunity to help open a new restaurant in Melbourne, so I made the move. I was nervous at first, but I then realized how lucky I was to be a pastry chef and be moving to this busy city. Australia puts such a high regard on trade-qualified individuals. Having my degree in pastry was such a bonus. I started working at one of the sporting venues here in the city and have learned so much. The company caters for the Australian Open every year, and the amount of desserts we prepare is staggering. During the two weeks of just that event, numbers are upward of 10,000 miniature desserts. Luckily we have a large team. I have also met people from all over the world, at least 10 countries or more. I think being able to learn different recipes and techniques from such an array of backgrounds has been such a great experience, and I definitely have seen that Melbournians love their sweets!
In saying that, I love to hear of how things were made in yesteryear, especially during the medieval era: all of the information you learn about what was used and how they came about it. I find myself always watching programs on the BBC showcasing this and even trying out new recipes.
One thing I have really learned being 15 years in this industry, and my advice to anyone setting out on their own path into baking, is just go out and do it, and keep doing it. You are always learning, and, yes, you will break the sauce, burn the cheesecake, or even forget to put the sugar in, but we have all done it — people doing this for 20-plus years still do it. Perfect your craft. Start small, because before you know it, it can turn into something big!
Miriam is a displaced Texan who now resides in Melbourne, Australia. She attended Dallas Community College and received her associate's degree in Pastry in 2002. A few of the establishments for which she has worked for include Hotel Zaza, Central Market, Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, LeBonTon Melbourne, and Etihad Stadium. While out of the kitchen, she is an avid sewer, camper, and has dreams of getting another dog one day.
Recipe: Whiskey Cake
Words: Miriam Adame