Baking is a career that attracts people from all walks of life. One of the bakers we’ve enjoyed working with here at Bread and Butter Bakery is Jule, who arrived in New Zealand a year ago. Coming from my homeland, Germany, gave us something in common, and I was interested in finding out more about this member of our team.
Jule is 24, and she fell into baking almost by accident. As her high school years came to an end, she didn’t feel ready to commit to university and didn’t want a job with too much social interaction, preferring to work alone or as part of a small quiet team. The careers advisor at her high school may have taken this the wrong way, suggesting Jule work at a funeral home making the dead bodies look as attractive as possible, and while this may have been a relatively solitary role, the idea of dealing with the emotions of grieving families wasn’t appealing.
Throughout Jule’s teenage years her mother was working and Jule did a lot of baking at home. Baking, no matter where you do it, is a very productive endeavour, and this really appealed to Jule. With every cake and loaf she learnt a little more about the magic of baking, that wonderful alliance of science and art that has been feeding humans for centuries. Jule was vegan in her teens and baking her own breads and other foods meant she had control over the ingredients and could be sure she wasn’t eating anything she would rather avoid.
Deciding baking was a suitable career, Jule embarked on an apprenticeship as a pastry chef. While this is usually a three-year course, for Jule it took just two and half, and was followed by 18 months training as a bread baker in an organic bakery. Again, and this is not uncommon for the female apprentice bakers, she finished early, skipping the first year. According to Jule, the best part of her apprenticeship was learning about more than just baking. She says she learnt many valuable life lessons and enjoyed the ‘closed world’ feel of a bakery at night time. While the rest of the world sleeps, a baker and their team enjoy the warmth of the bakery, the magic of dough and the satisfaction of the final product. She also met people that she may not have met in any other profession, and as I’ve said, baking attracts people from a variety of walks of life.
I asked Jule what she like most about baking:
“I like making things. I like touching the dough and making things that make people happy. When I was working as a pastry chef, we sometimes made wedding cakes that were so big they had to be assembled on site. That was a lot of fun, when people got all excited about what we had made and thanked us for the awesome work. I really liked it.
Bakers work a lot with their hands. Rounding and shaping hundreds of pieces of dough is an essential part of the artisan bakers job. Touching dough teaches them a lot about how the bread is going to come out in the end.
With bread I like that it is such basic food – I mean pastries and cakes are kind of a luxury, but bread is simple and basic and necessary for everyday life. I like that part of it.”
We talk for a while about bread, and I ask Jule what she thinks are the biggest challenges for artisan bakeries.
“People don’t understand how difficult it is to make consistently good artisan products. Bakers often don’t understand that either, because in many bakeries they work with premix. It’s just open a bag and add water . They don’t even know how to make a proper sourdough starter because they have a ready-to-use sourdough extract to make their “sourdough” bread. Customers also don’t understand that when products are a little different each day, that’s a good thing – it’s a sign of quality and that the product is genuinely handmade.”
Baking is a male-dominated profession, and I asked Jule if she found this challenging. She said that early in her career she had found it really upsetting:
“In my feminist thinking, I wanted to point out all the discriminations, but now I have just become used to it. I realize not every male is a hard core sexist, they often just say these things without realizing how it sounds and how it affects others.”
Jule has found that as a female in male-dominated profession she has had to work harder to be accepted and valued as a good baker. I asked her if she had any ideas for attracting more girls and women into baking.
“The pay isn’t great, the hours are unsociable and the work is physically hard. The everyday sexism doesn’t help. Overall I guess it’s not a very attractive proposition! I think a change in attitude of the Bakers’Guild might help, along with changing the way baking is taught, you get taught about food safety and health issues, why not include something about diversity and sexism and make people aware of how what they say affects others. Baking is more than just a craft, it’s an artform, and it deserves that people treat each other with respect to make the hard work more tolerable. It deserves that kind of appreciation.”
One of the first things that strikes you when you meet Jule is her tattoos. She is a walking work of art, an advertisement for the skill of the tattoo artist. We talk for a while about the history and meaning behind her ink.
“I tattooed ‘fuck the system’ on my ankle when I was 14 but luckily it fell out after a few years. I started getting my real tattoos when I turned 18. I was an anarchist at the time, but as I grew I developed into a Trotskyist. The tattoos tell my story when words fail to do so. My aim is to become completely covered in tattoos apart from my face.”
I ask about the tattoos I can see on Jule’s arms and neck.
“I have a lot of warrior women. The Nordic warrior on my right hand is my latest tattoo, and I also have one of Medusa right above her. Medusa is a classic example of victim blaming. She was raped then turned into a monster and was cast out of society. I have my favourite author, Virginia Woolf, on my thigh.”
“On the left side of my neck I have a monster skull representing the bad thoughts and self-doubt you have. I also have a mandala, which reminds me of playing with my sister when we were young and happy. In the middle is an ornamental snowflake that represents me – underneath it says “demons in you” almost as an explanation of the whole neck tattoo.”
“I have a lot of references to books, including one from Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf. I read all the time – that’s probably why I have to wear glasses. When I was little I would read by flashlight under the covers after I’d been told to go to bed!”
Jule will shortly leave Bread and Butter Bakery to return to Germany. She says she left in a hurry so is keen to see her family again and spend some time with them. She hopes to share her time between baking and studying linguistics. Eventually she wants to open a small café and bakery in Norway where she’ll feed passing hikers and spend quiet days writing books. But first – more travel.
“That’s one of the great things about being a baker, you can work anywhere in the world.”
Happy travels Jule, and thanks for being part of the Bread and Butter bakery team.