Thursday, April 26, 2012

G.G. Interview: Apprentice Pastry Chef Gemma Liston

Gem is an inspiration to all frustrated food lovers out there. After working in a ‘boring and horrible’ office job for a number of years, she was at the end of her tether so took some leave and decided to find a job she enjoyed doing – ideally involving baking. Although she went through a lot of trouble finding something that suited her, eventually (through dedication and some help from a handy twitter network), she found the perfect position and is now happily employed as an apprentice pastry chef in Brisbane. 

Those who know you, know you are a gutsy lady and giving up your job to take on an apprenticeship in your (very early) 30’s is a gutsy move. What gave you the determination and drive to quit real life and pursue this direction?
After years of trudging along in a nicely paid but generally bland role in the government, one day I just thought “Why am I doing this? This isn’t a life, it’s horrible!” I thought about what I could do that would make me happy, and also make me (a small amount of) money, and I knew I had to try and pursue a career in making cakes. I’m lucky to have a really supportive partner, Kim, who actively encouraged me to make the change. I think he’s benefiting from it too, because my general mood has definitely improved!

Hospitality seems like an exciting industry to be in, especially with the explosion of food culture and appreciation in Australia, what is your favourite aspect of your new job?
I am thoroughly loving learning new skills. I’m really lucky to be working under a really passionate and talented pastry chef who appreciates my own passion for the industry and is very generous in his teaching. Obviously it’s not all fun and games and it’s a lot of hard work but it’s definitely rewarding. When someone compliments the things I make, it’s a pretty special feeling.

Can you give us a glimpse into a day in the life of work as Gem?
I’m up at 5am to be at work by 6 (prior to this new life, I was definitely NOT a morning person... lets just say I’m still adjusting). I get straight into baking fresh muffins every morning, and once they’re in the oven I move on to decorating other baked goodies like cupcakes, macarons, and whole cakes for the pastry cabinet. Once that’s done, I’ll usually be baking for the rest of the day or helping with components for the bistro’s a la carte desserts which are usually a bit more techy. Lunch service usually sees me escape the kitchen for the cool, quiet surrounds of the cooking school where I can mix up and pipe out a few batches of macarons in peace. After the hectic service is done, I’m back in the kitchen, usually finishing out the day by whipping up a few giant meringues.

Tell us what it’s like to be an apprentice?
It’s hard work for not much coin, but basically I’m being paid to learn so it’s not so bad! I’ve had a few issues with the agency who’s signed me up (and shall remain nameless) getting things right for me, so it’s a bit of a struggle to get things done and to get y various entitlements in that regard, but luckily as I’m a bit older and more “traveled” I’m fairly assertive about these things (or some would say surly..) and am slowly whipping them in to shape. I haven’t started my tafe blocks yet, but I’m really looking forward to that.

What is your favourite treat to bake?
Macarons, always!

What is your least favourite treat to bake?
Brownies. Only because I do such giant batches of them, I always end up elbow deep in chocolate, and get it on my nice white chef’s coat, and usually end up with streaks of it across my face... kindly co-workers choose not to share this information with me!

Can you still go home at the end of the day and much down on a sweet treat or is sugar the last thing on your mind after spending the day playing with it?
I am so over sugar, it’s not even funny! I have to taste things all day, so the last thing I want when I get home is anything sweet. I do still love dark chocolate though.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some of your creations and they were fab before you started. I can’t imagine what you will be capable of whipping up with a bit of guidance. What do you look forward to being able to create when you get some new techniques under your belt?
I’m really keen to learn more about working with sugar, and improving my decorating skills. I definitely need to hone my finishing skills, I have a long way to go!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Who are your culinary inspirations?
I have so many! 5 extremely different inspirations: Katrina Kanetani, David Lebovitz, Rosio Sanchez, Adriano Zumbo, and Phillipa Sibley.

The change from being in an office to going to working in a kitchen couldn’t be more pronounced- is there anything you do not like about it?
I am still struggling a little with the early mornings (although a 6am start is by no means early in this industry) and it took me a little while to adjust to working on my feet all day, but apart from that it’s been smooth sailing. I think because of my long term public service background and the feeling of job security that comes along with that, I’m a little freaked out by the way this industry works - it can be quite high turnover and people move about a lot - by choice or otherwise, but I’m sort of just learning to go with the flow.

Can you tell us the handiest hint you have learned yet? Something that you just wouldn’t know unless you are a pastry chef?
The importance of an accurate digital thermometer when working with sugar! It’s essentially just a tasty form of science. A few degrees out and it can change the whole outcome. I have learnt to be quite pedantic with everything.

Where can we expect to see you in the future? What are your aspirations?
Once I’ve got a bit more training and experience under my belt, I’d love to start my own dessert emporium. It’s probably a few years off at the moment, though!

Fave places to eat in Brisbane – top 3?
Sake for special occasions
Euro/The Laneway for burgers
Malaya Corner at Sunnybank for a char kway teow fix

So, dear readers: Have you got any questions for Gemma? You can ask them here or follow Gemma on twitter - @OMGemma_

5 fabulous comments: said...

Ahhh the science involved with desserts whilst being a pastry chef is so important.. I have learned that a few times at TAFE in practical lessons :D Fantastic article, I hope to read more and see more of you Gem!! Goodluck during your apprenticeship (although I doubt you will need it with a positive attitude and passion like yours)
- Lolly

Not Quite Nigella said...

Great interview GG! I can imagine being around that sugar would be a great dietary mechanism! :D

Ladybird said...

Great interview - good on you, Emma! All the best to you :)

Ladybird said...

My apologies, I meant *GEMMA*

kitcheninspirations said...

Great interview! I would have loved to do that, great move Gemma!

Post a Comment

Like or don't like what you see? Got any good recommendations for me??

Blog Design by April Showers Design Studio