Things I learned while getting my chemistry degree:
1. If you call your dessert a science experiment, it becomes educational instead of indulgent.
2. Other things about molecules and stuff.
And that’s how I became a baker.
It may seem like a big leap from the lab to the kitchen, and in some ways it definitely was–junior year of college had me doing theoretical physics calculations about nuclear fusion while my senior project revolved around cocoa powder. Just a little bit different! But for me, science in the kitchen makes total sense. Figuring out how and why a recipe works takes whatever I’m making to a whole new level, for both my head and my tastebuds.
I’ve always loved to bake (my parents love to tell the story of me having to stand on a step stool to reach the mixer while making chocolate chip cookies), but it took a while to find my way into a professional kitchen. A little over a year ago, I was working in science outreach and loving it, but spending just about every evening and weekend in the kitchen. Driven partly by curiosity and partly by pure cabin fever (I was recovering from foot surgery and couldn’t walk for a few months), I started applying to baking jobs on Craigslist. Given that the resume I sent them included a bake sale I’d run with my sister a few years before, I was honestly surprised when a restaurant gave me an interview and then pretty much shocked when they offered me a job. Were they sure? Apparently yes.
So I started working there on weekends, making biscuits and eggs and pies for the brunch crowd, and I fell in love with it. Sure, there were early mornings and long hours and the days when the oven ran hot so the pies burned or we managed to run out of everything all at once, but I just felt like I belonged in that kitchen.
Long story short, I left my “real” job with, you know, benefits and such, to pursue baking. I worked full-time in a couple of Chicago restaurant kitchens for a couple of years, and now I’m living the dream and working as an intern at America’s Test Kitchen. Sometimes when the alarm goes off while it’s still dark or I’m rounding the 300th hamburger bun of the day, I wonder if I’m crazy. But then I pull a tray of perfect little brown baguettes out of the oven, or I taste the new dessert and swoon, and I know that for this scientist, the kitchen is my laboratory and my home.