Good evening, friends and neighbors!
I apologize for the long silence- it's been a manic few weeks, and Thursday nights have found me mentally/ physically drained to the point that I couldn't think straight, let alone type.
Tonight, however, finds me in- you guessed it- another taphouse. This one is Vagabond in Atlantic City, just off of Albany Ave./ the Black Horse Pike. It definitely has a sports bar vibe, but somewhat more homey. The rotating selection of interesting craft beers doesn't hurt either- right now, a Cape May Brewery Honey Porter is keeping the rain's chill at bay.
Part of what has kept me so frantically busy for the last two weeks was catering my friend Lauren's wedding- my first wedding gig, and an interesting one at that. Lauren and her (now) husband Keith are Revolutionary War reenactors as a hobby, and they wanted their wedding to be period 18th Century- from their attire, to the location, to (of course) the food.
No, I did NOT squeeze myself into a pair of stockings and a waistcoat. No one needs to see that. Besides, 18th Century professional bakers- given the conditions of their bakeshops, in front of open roaring fires- tended to work in their underwear or naked.
NO ONE needed to see that.
What it meant instead was that all of the desserts I made (with the exception of French macarons and the cake itself- the bride requested Red Velvet) would be from recipes from the 1700s. A fascinating and interesting challenge to say the least.
The website for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia was incredibly useful- their kitchens acquire recipes from 18th Century cookbooks and their measurements and instructions in modern equivalents, offering both the original text and the 21rst Century ingredients and instructions they've hit upon- I highly recommend it for anyone interested in food or culinary art history!
But now, a brief break for... PICTURES!
The wedding was a great time, and everyone loved the food.
Perhaps you are wondering by now, though, what the title of this entry means. It is a lesson that I have had a hard time learning, and got a full-on education in at the wedding and the day after.
In my discussions with the bride and groom, I was told that instead of a traditional tiered wedding cake, they wanted a tree of red velvet cupcakes and a small 6 inch cake on top for them to cut. Later on, the bride informed me that the groom's mother had insisted on making a cake for the wedding as well, and that it would be a "groom's cake." Traditionally, groom's cakes are not as large as the wedding cake, are gifts from the bride to her groom, and usually are made to represent the grooms personality and interests. I had no problem with this, seeing it as insurance that there would be plenty of food for all.
On my arrival at the wedding venue, however, I discovered that the groom's mother had not simply made a groom's cake, but a full-blown 4 tiered wedding cake, and had placed it on the front table, where it was reasonably assumed to be *the* cake. The cupcake tree and 6" cake I had made were subsequently relegated to the dessert table with the rest.
At first, I felt rather annoyed and irritated- in my view, I had worked hard on a wedding cake, and it was no longer to be *the* cake because someone else showed up first. To add insult to injury (in my mind,) I was then asked if I could slice and serve the wedding cake, since no one else present knew how. I felt put-upon, cheated, and betrayed that my friends wouldn't speak up and say that I was already making the cake.
A day or so later, once I had time to calm down, I put it in perspective. I realized that, in all truth, I was being egotistic, selfish, and generally stupid.
It may have been awkwardly arranged, but it was entirely reasonable that the groom's mother would want to have SOMETHING to do with her son's wedding, and that keeping her happy would be higher up in their priorities than the ego of a friend.
I was being selfish in that I had made the entire affair all about me and my wounded pride, where the entire point of the day had nothing to do with me at all- it was my friend's wedding.
Lastly, what I learned was that, in the end, my pride had nothing to do with ANY of it. I could absolutely take pride in the quality of my work (and I do), but in the end, it was THEIR cake and cupcakes to arrange or prioritize as they wished. A friend of theirs I may be, but it was also business- I was there delivering and setting up food. I had no right to expect any kind of ego stroking for what, in truth, was just the filling of a contract.
It's perfectly right and acceptable to take pride in your work. In fact, if you don't, you have other far more serious issues at hand. When you are selling your work, however- your pride doesn't matter at all. All your hard work is to help make your CUSTOMERS event happen , your CUSTOMERS day a good one, and your CUSTOMERS guests and family happy.
Keep your pride in your work... and leave it there.
"No, I don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work - no man does - but I like what is in the work - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality - for yourself, not for others - what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means." - Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"
and of course,
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
One thing the profession bakeshop is never short of is mundane tasks- repetitive, dull, simple jobs that take forever and threaten to put your mind in a permanent torpor.
When it falls to me to handle on of these necessary (but dull and generally thankless) jobs, I usually find my mind wandering and ruminating on topics I had been reading about recently, or that current events bring to mind. Now and again, I'll remember enough of my thoughts- or get to a pen and paper in time- to write them down.
These entries tend to wax philosophical, so if that isn't your speed, hopefully I can offer something more appealing next time.
The other day, I found myself having a brief conversation with the owner of a little deli near where I work. I was just coming off my shift, and we were talking about our respective days. I had just ruminated on the fact that 16 hours worth of preparation would be swept away in a banquet for about 750 people, in the space of an hour.
The shop owner said, in a heavy accent that I have not yet placed, "It is a shame- they are eating and eating and never stop to think of who made it. They do not appreciate."
I nodded and, without really knowing why, I confessed- "Recognition and praise are great, but all I really want is to meet them- to look them in the eye and see that they are satisfied. I want to know I made a difference to them that day, and for them to know the face behind their food."
Altruism is a sticky subject, and one that philosophers and students much wiser and more educated than I have been fiddling with and working out for centuries. Its dictionary definition is "belief in or practice of disinterested selfless concern for the wellbeing of others." In common use, it means giving of oneself without the expectation or desire of receiving anything in return- not even something intangible and self-bestowed, like a "warm fuzzy feeling." In Zen Buddhism, it is possibly best described as being virtuous with no thought of virtuousness- doing the right thing, but not because it is the "right thing- it's just what is to be done.
If I'm honest- it's something I suck at. Even my confessed wish to be recognized as the creator of their food and to simply know they are pleased- that is a reward, and thus my desire is not altruistic.
I found myself thinking afterward, "Is that so wrong?" I am not a monk or a saint. Is it truly wrong to crave such a simple pleasure as the recognition of a job well done, or the knowledge that a creation's objective has been met?
I don't think so.
I have long been of the opinion that a creator or artist is blessed three times: first in the work itself, second in the completion , and third in giving the work away. Why would anyone willfully deny themselves such a blessing?
Or perhaps, it is not denying the blessing, but only the knowledge of it?
Thoughts worth thinking... but later.
and of course,
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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