I am a lover of food, though the word ‘love’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s not just a simple admiration of its flavours and textures, or even the techniques or cultures from which it came: it goes much deeper. I am indebted to food.
About a decade ago, I was on the brink of death and it was food that saved me. For many years I suffered from deep depression, existing in a dim space where nothing was distinguishable except for numbed shapes and hopeless silence. Day after day, I floated through emptiness, searching for something to keep me afloat. I was not looking for answers: that would have been much too ambitious in my state. I was merely looking for anything, however small, that would give me a moment of relief, of comfort. When I began to search, memories emerged from hidden places before my grief had settled in, and I remembered something happy: a chocolate chip cookie.
How satisfying it was to eat them, warm and oozing, the sweet, nutty fragrance of them as they tanned and crisped in the oven. I ate one each day, sitting at my desk or at a neighbourhood bakery (much like my Beaucoup Bakery), and I was unknowingly healed by something so unassuming.
As a few years passed, it was food that reminded me what it was like to be curious again. It drew me into the kitchen, where I began to live through strange spices or a perfectly roasted chicken, helping me to climb out of the darkness. I made my way through volumes of cookbooks, like a lifeline, learning as much as I could, eventually selling homemade sweets at farmers markets when my insatiable appetite for baking had grown too great for the appetites of my friends and family. (They complained of growing waistlines.)
When I decided to shut down my design firm to attend pastry school in Paris, it was my dear food that I followed. A decision that would have struck such a fear in me years prior now seemed exciting and logical because, by that time, food had made me more passionate than afraid. In Paris, I indulged in my love each day with a pain au chocolat, inspired and renewed by each baba au rhum and each lazy day spent sipping wine at cafés. When pastry school finished, I followed food passionately around France and Italy, tasting every morsel, exploring each marketplace. And as I did, I discovered I had a love for other things too, for travel and, surprisingly, for myself.
Upon returning to Vancouver, I recalled all those moments of comfort, courage and inspiration that food had given me. I was fed in so many more ways than I could have imagined. So I decided to create Beaucoup Bakery from this place of immense gratitude. I wanted nothing more than to provide a space, like the ones I had been healed in, for those who were also in need of inspiration or a chocolate chip cookie, and I opened my bakery with that intention.
I was a novice. I had never worked in a kitchen, save for a month of internship in Paris, but my desire to feed others grew into an obsession. I became so crazed to see this far-fetched idea succeed that I worked incessantly. Prior to opening, I even worked for 72 hours straight, months on end, taking a 20-minute naps on the concrete floor during long nights of croissant rolling, never stopping to question my own sanity.
As food-lovers filed through our door and I felt it safe enough to rest, it was food that pushed me again, but this time it was to learn and accept my true strengths and weaknesses. Despite my original fantasy, I accepted that I was not happiest working daily in the kitchen, that my strengths were best utilized as an owner. On the hardest, sleep-deprived days, I learned how to let go of control, the difference between a preference and a necessity, and how to delegate.
I saw how avoiding my own weaknesses and fears created blind spots that hurt my business or my team. I learned that I was responsible for my team, and that I didn’t know how to be a leader. How was I to lead with integrity and fairness? How was I to know what to do when the choice was between hard and just as hard? How do I create joy and satisfaction in the workplace? How do I inspire everyone to care about the purpose of Beaucoup Bakery as much as I did, to inspire others and each other with quality and care?
Food taught me along with trial and failure, and I showed up day after day determined to learn. We were not always perfect and I made many mistakes over the years, some which hurt so much that I cringe at the idea of repeating them. But, in my opinion, I became a business owner that I am proud of. I created scholarship programs for chefs and baristas, a culture of kindness at Beaucoup Bakery and a workplace that many felt inspired to be in. I created a place that taught skills to those wanting to learn, a business that became a springboard for those wanting to rise to other challenges. I learned to make hard decisions and how to trust my intuition. I created a healthy business that contributed to my community. Best of all, I heard many times over the years that Beaucoup Bakery gave comfort, rest and inspiration to those who may have needed it.
Food taught me to be a leader that is honest, fair, inclusive, tough as nails, tenacious, determined, creative and courageous. And the precise moment I learned to be proud of what I, along with many others, have accomplished, I became full, satiated. There was nothing more I wanted to do with Beaucoup Bakery, nothing new to contribute. I was ready to move on to the next adventure.
So, I’m passing the gift of food to two members of my team who have been with me since the start, a sister and brother team, Betty and Jacky Hung. Betty, first came to me as a lover of food and a designer with little formal food training much like myself. She barely knew how to open a commercial oven and, with determination, overcame every challenge, eventually becoming the head chef. Jacky, came and went as a barista, his time dotted with his studies until eventually he came to realize that nothing made him happier than being at Beaucoup Bakery, chatting with the regulars and immersing himself in his passion for coffee. My hope is that food will teach them too about failures and triumphs, about passion and leadership, and that it will draw out their beautiful talents, as it did for me.
And for me, what will I do now? I’m not completely sure. In the last few years, food had also led me down the path of travel & food writing, and to writing a memoir called The Measure of My Powers. The memoir is my story, much like this one, one about how my life was saved and how I was shown the beauty of living.
I’m not quite sure where this path will lead, but it really doesn’t matter much, because I’ll just keep doing what I do best, living life with as much beauty, passion, curiosity and courage as my stomach can handle.
And for you, thank you, to all of you who have followed along and supported this journey and for those of you who continue along with me, and the next generation of Beaucoup Bakery.