Life’s Learning Journey With @Thewhiskers.Sg
Teachers’ Day brings us back to primary and secondary school, writing cards and packing home baked cookies in cute Daiso bags. Seeing teachers outside school always felt strange, because it’s easy to forget that Mrs Chua has a life beyond teaching, with a family and a first name. For many, the teachers that have had the greatest impact on us might not have been within our educational institutions. For the homebaker behind @thewhiskers.sg, teachers came in many different forms – not always as a person. Here is her story told, not in chronology, but from the teachers that have punctuated her learning journey of life.
She started out in a café, where she first got the nickname Baker G. In this season of her life, customer feedback was her teacher and stepping up has been her ongoing assignment. Contrary to what you might expect, she wasn’t a baker there, not initially at least. Instead, she oversaw the operations and management of the café. So how exactly did she get ‘Baker’ in her nickname? It started with a commitment to do better for customers. The café bought their cakes from a supplier and according to the customers, they were dry and simply not worth the price they were paying. Some customers even remarked that “seen this cake at another café”. That’s when Baker G took matters in her own hands, ‘I told the owners that actually I can bake, I do bake at home and I have some past experiences in school so maybe I can give it a try and we can sell our own cakes instead.” She baked for them, they took a bite and for the next 5 years, it was her cakes that were on the display shelf. Customer feedback continues to be her teacher today as she navigates the diversity of preferences. “At the start, there will be feedback that is not as pleasant as what you would have imagined, but these are also honest feedback that will help you to improve. It helped me to know the wide range of customer’s preferences and how to find a balance to meet all kinds of preferences and needs”, she says.
But Baker G’s baking days far preceded her café stint. She started out in her own home in primary school. In this season of her life, her mother was her teacher. She recounts being filled with childlike wonder at the baking process, “I thought it was amazing that you could mix things in a bowl and make something out of it after putting it in the oven.” Even before understanding the techniques and methods behind the craft, she enjoyed the little tasks of measuring and mixing ingredients according to her mother’s direction. Decades later, Baker G is once again baking in her own home, except this time it is not just for her family but for the hundreds of customers that want her treats to grace their birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions. So, with her success in the café, why was she back in her own kitchen?
After 5 years of baking in the café, its lease ended and the owners decided to shut it down after finding no suitable location to relocate. But Baker G did not go down with the café. In true Marie Kondo spirit, she is thankful for her time there as it has given her valuable exposure to the baking world. In that season of her life, a roadblock was her teacher. Although she operates at a different scale today, her insider knowledge on where to get the best ingredients still guide her baking today. Her experience in the café also helps her to recognize when she’s biting off more than she can chew. “I had to accept that I only have one pair of hands and I can only produce this much in a certain amount of time.” The influx of orders that flooded her social media were encouraging when she first started out, filling her with the adrenaline to agree to as many orders as possible. Now, she is able to pace her orders well, with her knowledge on how long the cake making and decorating process is like.
Singaporean Gordon Ramsays
Looking at @thewhiskers.sg’s beautiful IG feed today, it’s clear that baking is an art. Her hand-painted designs, recreating client’s memorable photos in Chantilly cream. And yet, for every cup of beauty that the recipe for success needs, baking is equal parts brains. Baker G first learnt the science and techniques behind baking years ago in her culinary and pastry class in Temasek Poly. In this season of her life, local versions of Gordon Ramsay were her teachers. “It trained me well in practical skills and the science behind it like when certain things are being put together, they cause a certain reaction or what happens when you whip too much and cause too much air for example”. During practicums, these pastry chefs demonstrated the pressures of working in a commercial kitchen and the harsh demands of perfection and pace that were expected in the real world. The strict classes with little room for mistakes didn’t weigh her down. Instead, she was delighted to have the opportunity to learn from such professionals as she says “when you learn something that you’re interested in then it helps to grow your passion.”.
Baker G herself
Today, Baker G is gearing herself up for classes on baking and cake decorating in response to the many requests she has gotten. In this season of her life, Baker G becomes a teacher herself. “I believe that everyone can do it as long as they learn the basic skills and it’s just up to them to unleash their creativity, there’s no right or wrong in creativity. Her faith in her students that she hasn’t even met echo her own experiences with encouraging teachers. “There were a bunch of teachers who believed in me. My class wasn’t the best class but they believed in us that we will do well and succeed in life. I think teachers’ play a very important part of our learning journey and they shape a part of us. What we have now and what we are successful in is because we have this guidance and these ppl who believe in us.”
Is there a teacher in your life that you want to thank? Maybe it’s time to bring back our handwritten notes and home-baked goods for the first time since graduation. This time, you can focus on the letter and a catalogue of home bakers that can help with the latter.