Cooking Like Yourself

You might think it’s odd for a baker to go out and find other bakeries on their day off. I bake all the time, and surely I can make anything I want at home for a fraction of the price. Why should I go check out other bakeries in the city?

You might as well wonder why musicians go to other peoples concerts. Baking is my skillset and profession, and I definitely make a commodity, but it’s also a craft- and I like seeing how others practice it.

The same as there are different genres of music or literature, there are different cuisines. Within those genres, everyone has their own style. A way they practice their art that’s all their own, or a kind of art that they just vibe with and respond to.

There’s lots of ways to do this cooking thing, after all.

Animated GIF of The Stranger from The Big Lebowski sipping his drink and saying “I Like Your Style, Dude.”
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to make another Big Lebowski reference.

A Difference in Style, Not Skill

Walking around Hawthorne not too long ago, I saw that a former taproom I knew had transformed into a patisserie, Champagne Poetry. For reference, if you happen to see a place in Portland calling itself a “patisserie” rather than a bakery, it’s practically a guarantee that they are trying to attract a certain clientele. The kind that love mimosas with brunch, take pictures of cute food for Instagram, and sip wine that’s “dangerous.”

That is not me, but I like checking out new places and I admire technique, so in I went.

To say the place was “pink” would not cover it. The hot pink Corvette parked outside might have been closer, if it had been loaded with Pepto-Bismol, marshmallow peeps, and nightmare bunny pajamas, then crashed into the building.

The walls were covered in trellises of fake pink roses. The floor was tiled in pink and white, the tables and chairs were pink and decorated with roses. Any cookware that did not HAVE to be gleaming steel-silver was pink or some other pastel color. In my brown hiking boots, blue jeans, and fuzzy green Irish sweater, I felt like a storm cloud strolling across a sunset and accidentally photobombing everyone’s pictures.

Then came the case. The pastries on display were perfect. Their structure, decoration and flavors indicated the modernist, Asian-French fusion style that’s lately been so popular. It’s a style that calls for specially-made silicon molds, perfect mirror glazes, and the skill to use such tools to simultaneously invoke whimsy, appetite, and Pinterest likes.

Animated GIF of a stick man staring at a screen until he vomits rainbows and his eyes glow, indicating a cuteness overload.

The pastries were lined up on the shelves as though they’d been placed against a yard stick, angling for optimum photogenic style. To a one, they were pastel and jewel toned with cute names on little signs, indicating the flavor combination they represented. I felt like I might sully their precise splendor by looking too long. Along the top of the case were arguably more free-form pastries- a few cookies, some puffy iceberg-looking cakes called “Cloud 9.” These looked closer to my speed.

As I reached the counter, a young woman in a pink chef coat and apron came up. Her long, straight dark hair was dyed pink at the ends and pulled back in a tight ponytail, fanning behind her as she turned from placing more pastries in the case. She beamed and asked what I would like.

“A dose of insulin and some Orajel” I thought for a moment, but asked for one of the cookies to go. As she placed the cookie in a little box, I said “I was just admiring your handiwork. It’s lovely.”

“Oh thank you! How did you know it was mine?!”

I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not. Somehow it seemed wrong to say “Lady, you’re wearing pink, with pink-tinted hair, baking pastel pastries in a pink bakery, and I’m willing to bet that’s your hot pink car outside. I can detect patterns when I’m not suffering from glaucoma.” Instead, I just said that I saw her working in the back and that the pastry “has her energy.”

The cookie was pretty decent. The fluffy buttercream icing was a bit much.

After hearing that, you might assume I didn’t like my experience at Champagne Poetry or that I didn’t like her pastries. Not the case. Champagne Poetry has an excellent product that is exactly what their customers seem to want. It’s simply not a customer demographic I belong to.

The chef is clearly very talented and skilled, and she runs her business with her style and aesthetic in mind- just like any entrepreneur would and should if they want to make things anyone would give a damn about. It’s no mistake that I focus on making hearty, filling pies and my aesthetic is more rustic, homey and hobbitish.

If the style at Champagne Poetry might be described as “whimsical,” mine would be best described as “cozy.” These are no more opposed than two genres of music would be. The opposite of one kind of music isn’t another kind- the opposite of music is silence.

Being Your Own Type

Where does your culinary style come from?
The same place YOUR style comes from.

When you experience enough of the culinary world (spoiler- you never do) you start to develop a style based on the things that speak to your soul and communicate your beliefs and values about food the best. You learn, experiment, emulate, and ultimately come up with a way to cook and feed others that’s as personal as you are.

A portrait of Quentin Crisp with the quote in yellow script writing beneath reading, “Fashion is a way of not having to decide what you are. Style is deciding who you are and being able to perpetuate it.”

It took me a while to figure out that “cozy” was my thing. I admired the work of people who used elaborate techniques, cutting-edge technology, or simply made every plate of theirs as much a work of art as possible. People are not set in stone- we evolve. When we stop changing, we start dying. I still admire the skill and vision of those bakers and pastry chefs- but I know that it’s not the kind of thing I like to make.

As I am right now, I see as much art and craftsmanship in a perfect apple pie as I do in a Michelin-starred plated dessert.

Make what speaks TO you and FOR you, and do that as much as you can.

Stay Classy,

The BHB's Top Hat Logo Signature

One thought on “Cooking Like Yourself

  1. I used to do the same as a hairdresser, and I now do the same as a writer. We always have to experience the way others pursue the craft so that we can learn more about what makes us tick with our own art. Only the ignorant will say that they don’t need to see what others are doing. Love the message of this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s