I have always loved sweets. My family used to joke that every tooth I have is a sweet tooth and when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I loved the idea of owning a bakery, "Let's eat cake all day long!" However, I didn't think it was a "real career", so I set about to become a lawyer. But along the way I realized that feeding people made me happier. When someone marvels at how tasty something is that I've made, I get all warm and glowy inside.
My "aha moment" came three years ago when I was 30 years old. I had just married an amazing man and despite feeling stuck in a desk job that didn't challenge or excite me, life was rosy. I had been with the same company for nine years and though I wasn't full filled by my career, I didn't define myself by my job. One sunny July afternoon, my husband called me over to the computer. He was reading Steve Jobs' (CEO of Apple Computers) commencement address to Standford University, and had felt that it contained a message I needed hear. As he began to read aloud, tears started rolling down my face. Jobs said, "You've got to find what you love. And that's as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."
I had taken my time (and dated quite a bit) before finding the love of my life to marry, so why had I settled for a job I didn't like? Steve Jobs mentioned in his speech that he looked in the mirror in the mornings and asked himself, "Do I love what I do?" When the answer was a resounding "no" for too many days in a row, he simply changed what he did. Was it that simple, I wondered? And if I changed what I did for work every day, what should I do? What DO I love? My husband stopped reading and put his arms around me. He wiped a few years away with his thumb and said, "If you were just now graduating from high school, what would you do? Would you go to college?" I sniffled and replied, "I'd still attend my undergrad university, because I had an amazing time there and have fond memories, but immediately upon graduation, I'd go to pastry school." My husband shrugged and simply said, "So go to pastry school." I replied, "But we have a mortgage, we're still paying off our huge student loans...how will we afford it?" He shrugged again and simply said, "Go to pastry school." My husband kept telling me, "Go to pastry school." He new what was in my heart, and what I really loved.
Once we moved past all the superficial reasons why I couldn't or shouldn't go back to school (on top of almost $300,000 in combined student loans), I began looking at the local Le Cordon Bleu patisserie program. There was a new session beginning in a month, and with my husband's full support, I enrolled in classes. Having been diagnosed with an auto immune disorder when I was twenty, I was restricted to a gluten free diet. Maintaining a gluten free lifestyle when none of your friends understand what that means (or where gluten can hide) is not easy and pastry school was no different. I'd arrive at class at 6 am every morning and start mixing my bread dough, or kneading and rolling out the croissant dough, or pouring out cake batter. All day long, the smells would entice me and it was a testament to my willpower that I was able to refrain from eating everything in sight. I'd come home after class and begin experimenting with gluten free flowers, such as millet flour, quinoa flower and potato starch, and see if I could recreate what I had made in class that day. There were a few hockey pucks, rather than light, fluffy biscuits, and there were some crumbly piles of sandy crumbs, instead of a moist springy cake, but as I kept experimenting, I gradually developed a handful of trusted recipes so I, too, could have a treat at a friend's BBQ or birthday party.
At potlucks, I'd always bring something I knew I could eat, since I wouldn't be able to read the ingredient labels on the sauces and dips and dressing that garnished the food on the communal table. Being gluten free meant skipping out on the desserts (invariably gluten-filled brownies, cupcakes, muffins, scones and cookies that I couldn't touch). Really, being gluten free meant sitting out on part of the celebration, and it wasn't because I wanted to be excluded - it was because I'd get sick if I indulged.
With increasing awareness about Celiac Disease and other autoimmune disorders (such as Colitis, Crohn's, Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis) that can benefit from a gluten free diet, more and more of my friends and colleagues knew someone who had recently switched to a gluten free diet. In addition, many people who haven't been diagnosed with one of the above illnesses, find that they too feel more energetic and healthier by avoiding gluten. Eventually, I was so busy with this "side business" that I quit my day job to focus exclusively on Crave Bake Shop. Initially, we were only a custom order and by personal request online store.
Last December, I was featured on the season premiere of the Food Network's popular show "Cupcake Wars". I was overwhelmed by shipping orders from around the country, as well as personal stories of people who had heard the judges reviews and finally had hope that they too could eat a delicious gluten free dessert. I also heard from many parents who were thankful that they could serve something delicious to their child who had a restricted diet. From there, we just kept gathering momentum...and we recently opened our first brick and mortar location. I get feedback from customers telling me that they have been gluten free for 3 years (or 7 or 15) and in all that time, have never had a gluten free cinnamon roll that actually tasted like a cinnamon roll...until mine. Indeed, most of the gluten free baked goods that I had tasted prior to starting Crave Bake Shop weren't products I would care to eat on a regular basis, and certainly weren't delicious. It seems that many companies are simply trying to capture on what they see as the "gluten free fad". What they don't realize is that for most of us, "it's NOT a fad, but a lifestyle that we must maintain in order to stay healthy.
My experience with pastry school not only taught me about the function of ingredients, but also honed my taste buds. I am able to taste when a product is made with cheap shortening and artificial flavourings, and I find it to be a turn off. Our products taste so good precisely because I use pure vanilla extract and Callebaut Belgain chocolate, and sweet cream butter. We test and retest recipes. Our gluten-eating friends try everything before we put it on the menu. Our goal isn't just to make Crave Bake Shop pastries the best gluten free treats, but to make them the best treats period. The pastries have to wow and delight and tantalize buds and make people immediately crave more. What gives me the most satisfaction is creating a new product or new flavour that thrills people. I love when they take a bite of something I've made and their eyes rolls back into their head and they moan in delight, "There's no way THIS is gluten free!" I just smile and quietly assure them that, yes, indeed it is gluten free and that they can safely eat it all.
Of course, that's not to say that there aren't times when I'm frustrated or tired and don't want to further develop a recipe. We all have those days. What really motivates me are the letters and emails that pour in from people around the country, thanking me for what I do and telling me how they cried tears of joy when they took a bite of my cinnamon roll - their first in 15 years - and it was delicious and tasted like the best cinnamon roll they could ever imagine. I have one repeat customer who was addicted to eating scones with here morning coffee but had to forgo that for the past 6 years. That was until she tried our orange currant scones. There is another family that calls me their "Cake Angel" because for the first time ever, their 3 year old daughter got to eat the same cake that all other kids enjoyed at the birthday party, and she got to feel included and "normal".
Whenever I think of these stories, it touches me. There is such an emotional component to food in general; we all have memories of our favourite family meal and scents of those foods can evoke strong nostalgia for the feeling of being safe, loved, happy and crowded around the table. When you introduce a serious food allergy or intolerance into the equation, the sense of nostalgia is even more powerful, because it's often combined with a sense of loss, of never again being able to eat that particular food. I think this is a big reason why so many of my customers are vocal about their opinions of my cakes, cupcakes and cookies and so on. It's strange, thinking that by doing what I love genuinely helps people, but when I reflect on all the stories my customers share with me, I can see that people definitely feel like I am making a positive impact on their lives. I'm just grateful that I am able to help! If that's not enough reason to keep on baking and doing what I do, then I'm not sure what is.
460 Fifth Street
Lake Oswego, OR 97034