As a cook who works in any restaurant, you are, in a way, seen as a perpetual child.
Your life is dictated by rules that you must follow. You have to do something one way and cut something in a very certain way every single time, or else. This is in the nature of this line of work. I've worked in many restaurants for the last 16 years of my life, and this repetitive, extremely rigid structure eventually blew my passion for food out the window.
I found myself as the head chef of a successful restaurant in LA but ultimately felt unfulfilled on the inside. I moved here from another city with the plan of opening up my own thing, but I realized that I was just killing time at this place. I always knew that I wanted something more in life, but nobody ever tells you that it's OK to leave the kitchen, especially to focus on one small creative project like a bakery. And if, one day, you are ever crazy enough to do so, it's like you've given up on being a chef, and you're a loser for leaving the restaurant world. So I'm here to tell you that it is perfectly OK to do so and that you should never be scared of being austere.
The shift that made me quit my career in cooking and open up my own small-scale bakery was when I discovered baking bread. It made me learn the art of letting go. As a chef who has been taught the complete opposite throughout his cooking career, it hasn't been easy to let go of extreme rigidity. I still trip out every day about it, actually. In this sense, bread was like a savior to me.
I like to say that bread-baking is a culmination of the day's errors, and then you just show up the next day and try to fix all those errors to make the bread better every day.
It's been a year since I quit and I'm still learning to be OK with flour being everywhere and not being so structured with my life. I still get shit for quitting cooking from my old buddies, but I don't care.
In cooking, you can come up with a new dish and a new menu, and if it doesn't work out with customers, you can swap everything out and try something new all over again. With bread, there is no escape. You have to master just one loaf of bread in an 18-hour day. I like to say that bread-baking is a culmination of the day's errors, and then you just show up the next day and try to fix all those errors to make the bread better every day.
I would compare the transition from cooking to baking bread for a living to going through a drug or alcohol detox—finally the bars were cut. Bakers are like chill hippies who totally live it up, and your average cook at a restaurant couldn't be anything further from that. I barely made it through high school because I was so high all the time, and I'm a proud culinary school dropout, so this baking philosophy jibed with me way more. Not to mention that I'm an OG skater with punk rock roots, and baking gave me the same sense of freedom and inspiration that skating gave me back in the day.
If you decide to pursue a career in small-scale artisanal bread baking, you have to not give a shit about the mainstream and not give a shit about what people want or say about you. You have to be OK with the fact that you can only make about 250 loaves of bread a day and that a lot of customers will be pissed off that you sell out so early. You have to be OK with the fact that you can't sell to every single Whole Foods market, which goes against the goals of always expanding and promoting oneself that is common in the restaurant industry.
When I realized this, I turned in my keys to the gastropub, signed my name on a piece of paper, and left. My coworker-turned-business partner did the same on that day, too.
That night, we smoked like four joints and talked about launching a bakery. We wrote the business plan and budget in one day. My old roommate, who has a house in Marina Del Rey, offered us his wall-less carport with neon lights as a baking space. Within two weeks, we bought the shittiest used oven imaginable from the back of a restaurant supply store and started to bake bread.
The plan was to do that for 30 days but we ran the business out of his backyard for ten glorious months. I remember that we had to always give free bread to the neighbors because they threatened to call the health department in u, (we did have rats that would eat up hundreds of dollars worth of flour, and there was this one day when this group of rogue squirrels stole a bunch of bread from us). It was madness but to us, all of this was the coolest thing that had ever happened.
The best part is that we ended up opening up our bakery a few blocks away from this carport, and those same neighbors who used to threaten us became our regular customers. Most importantly, this all has totally rekindled my passion for food.
Now nobody tells me what time I have to show up to work and I can blast as much 2Pac, E-40, reggae, and Slayer as loud as I want.
As told to Javier Cabral