It’s been almost a year since I published my first blog post. At the time I was in New Zealand, staying there a few months and roaming around, waiting to return to Europe to attend pastry school. I did indeed return home and, in April, I started at a prestigious culinary institute. For nearly three months I commuted the two and a half hours to London (1-hour walking, 1.5 hours’ on the train) and back every weekday. I ironed my uniforms, took diligent notes and achieved good grades. The recipes were classics, some of it was tricky, but ultimately it was fun and I didn’t feel out of my depth in the kitchen. I learned a huge amount in such a short space of time. But something was wrong. Working as a chef is exhausting, this is no secret, my classmates were frazzled by the intense classes and their own inner city commutes. But I was, on some level, more exhausted than everyone else. A kind of tired that seeped into my bones and made me want to curl up on the pavement somewhere between Holborn and Waterloo.
It became harder and harder to deal with the 4am starts (morning classes started at 8am) and I felt, eventually, like I was running on empty. My mood became erratic and I knew I wasn’t coping. I had to do something I’ve never done before. I had to quit before I was done. What made this worse was that, after those years of teaching, this was supposed to be my calling. Pastry school was supposed to have the answers to who I really wanted to be. I pinned a lot of hope on the results of those nine months, on who I would be on the other side. Instead I found myself in a doctor’s office, hearing the results of a blood screening. The doctor asked me when I’d had glandular fever, I told him that I didn’t remember being diagnosed with glandular fever. He told me that my blood tests indicated glandular fever and that I had, most likely, never been treated for or recovered from the virus. He told me that, as a result, he believed I was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I packed up and I left England. I had a crisis of confidence. I was exhausted. I couldn’t comfort myself with the cosiness of baking, I was too worried about doing things wrong, about things not being perfect. I felt embarrassed too, that I had talked so optimistically about finally studying something I loved. There was an opportunity for me to appeal to the school, to be allowed back to study at a later time, but by this point my life had changed.
I live in Germany now, the land of excellent bread. I feel physically better, I have the time and the space to bake at leisure and to play with food without the pressure. I realised that, despite the technical knowledge I was gaining from the course, I felt nothing for the things I had created. I felt no connection to yet another glazed, French, mousse gateaux. I made Italian meringue, piped chocolate and baked bread but I didn’t feel warmth by doing so. It occurs to me, these months and weeks later, that the very essence of my connection with baking isn’t about finesse or technical understanding, I’m motivated only by my emotional experience. Reflection upon this highlights how apt my original choice of name was. ‘Sentience’ is defined as the “ability to feel, distinguished from the ability to think.”
So it is with bitter sweetness that I look at where I am now. The pastry course would be ending soon, my classmates will collect their diplomas and head off into the world to work as professional pâtissières. Meanwhile I’ve been on my own journey, only my achievements won’t grant me a certificate to prove it. I’ve accepted that it might take some time to feel better and to find the energy I had lost. I’ve also accepted that it might take some time to turn my passions into a lifestyle, but I think I’m okay with that, passions are for lingering over. This little blog started as a side project, a place to record my efforts and explorations, and it remains so. Over the year I started paying more attention to my photos, I included stories of travel, I started an Instagram account and I started writing a regular baking column for a small newspaper. I like the organic nature of what Sentient Baker is and what it gives me, essentially a platform for my love letters to baking, coffee and beautiful cities. It will remain a free-form project until further notice.