Hello Internet!

A while back, I got the idea to do an informal blog series on people with really cool jobs here in Austin (and possibly elsewhere) to figure out how they did that. It always blows my mind whenever I meet a professional dog walker / ice cream taste tester / tightrope walker etc., and after each encounter I think, oh my God you are so awesome. Then I realized, wait a minute. I know some of these people.

So I decided to open this series with pastry chef and caterer Andrea Duty, owner and operator of Bake Sale Austin. I met Andrea through my friend Camille a few months ago, and was so impressed that she literally made delicious sweets on her own, for a living. Not a hobby, an honest-to-God living!

The former pastry chef for FINO and Asti Trattoria here in town, Andrea made the leap to one-woman-operation a few years ago, and I figured she’d be an awesome person to start off this series. After all, who doesn’t fantasize about chucking all and baking glorious cakes all day? That’s exactly what Andrea does (plus just a wee bit more).

Below, she tells us how she did it.

1. Hi Andrea! How did you get your cool job?

Well, I made up my ideal position and hired myself as boss lady. But before that, I attended the French Culinary Institute where I delved deep into my passion of butchering animals, making stocks and scaling fish. Despite knowing all these fancy techniques, I somehow kept landing jobs as pastry assistant and eventually as pastry chef and surprised myself by somehow loving the sweet side of the kitchen just a touch more than the savory. I paid a few years dues in restaurants, but decided I wanted a job that allowed for a bit more variety than just churning out the same menu over and over. Dessert catering certainly fits the bill – allowing me create new menus on a weekly basis while maintaining super flexible hours to boot.

2. What does your typical day at work look like?

1. Put butter and eggs on the counter to warm to room temp.
2. Turn on oven.
3. Bake. Bake. Bake like mad.
4. Package and run a few deliveries.
5. If the order is for a wedding, I’ll set up a dessert buffet at the venue and double check everything with the planner on hand.
7. Answer emails and do menu planning for upcoming weddings.
8. Read loads of food blogs and flip though cookbooks.
9. Eat a cookie.

3. When you’re self-employed, I find that it’s sometimes hard to track progress — folks with corporate jobs have raises/promotions to vie for, but it’s different for us freelance folk. How do you stay motivated, and make yourself feel like you’re taking meaningful steps forward?

My main form of motivation comes from those around me. I’m always looking at what other amazing bakers/chefs/business owners are doing and, I have to say, it always makes me feel like I’m lagging behind somehow. They say that comparison is the thief of joy, but I think that in my case comparison is the spur that kicks me in gear.

4. What would you recommend to someone who wanted to become an awesome pastry chef caterer like you?

Work for as many restaurants, chefs, bakers, or caterers as you can stand before you go off on your own. In most cases, you will work for low pay or no pay, but it is the most invaluable experience you can get. Culinary school isn’t necessary, but this is. I wish I had done more internships before I opened my business as there is always so much to learn in the food world. I still knock on bakery doors every once in a while to work for free as a “stage” for a couple of days. Staging is one of the coolest little deals in the culinary world. Basically, you volunteer to work somewhere for free for a couple of days or for a long stint in exchange for whatever knowledge you can glean in someone else’s kitchen. It’s a fantastic way to see get new ideas and keep yourself primed.

5. If you weren’t running Bake Sale Austin, you’d be: 

Working 13 hour days in your friendly neighborhood restaurant.

Thank you for stopping by Austin Eavesdropper, Andrea! 

Have an idea for “How’d You Get That Cool Job?” Email me (Tolly) at austineavesdropper [a] gmail.

Images courtesy Bill SalansBake Sale Austin, Camille Styles, The Nichols, Paige Newton, and Hayden Spears.