An enthusiastic cook and baker all my life, I was drawn to the kitchen early. I remember
sitting on a small stool watching my mother braiding her Sunday bread. She always
included me by giving me a piece of dough to experiment with, and I loved to shape it
into dogs, cats, rabbits and rolls. I learned from her that during proofing and shaping,
the dough has to be treated with care, and that only the best ingredients and techniques
yield excellent results. When the bread was in the oven and the house started to smell
like a bakery, I knew that my little world was intact.
My mom was not the only family member who instilled a passion for food in me. There
was great aunt Bertha Schnyder, a nonconformist, who in the 1930s had founded a
home economics school for women - mostly farmer’s daughters - in Switzerland. I still
own a copy of the booklet she authored about baking bread in the farmhouse kitchen.
There are photos inside the publication with smiling children proudly carrying freshly
baked tarts from the small community oven house to their farms. The
picture above was taken during World War II when food was rationed. After the war, my
mother’s parents enrolled her at Bertha’s school, so she would learn the “tricks of
the trade” that a good housewife and mother was expected to master. Not only did she
graduate from the school, destiny had her meeting my dad who happened to live in the
same hamlet where the school was located. After they married, cooking and baking
became my mom’s favorite activities. Without ever considering herself a pioneer, she
practiced the virtues of preparing unprocessed food, aka “intelligent eating”, three times
a day until a few weeks before she passed away in her 84th year. To this day, her
neighbors talk about her beloved and acclaimed Sunday bread called Zopf, and my
siblings and I will never forget her Swiss pastry specialties Brätzeli, Tirggeli and
The apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree, so when I turned fifteen, I decided to
become a chef. Even though my parents felt that there was nothing wrong with me being a
passionate baker at home, they felt differently about me choosing it as my career. To them, it
was a man’s world and therefore unsuitable for me. Instead, I entered college, and later matriculated at the University of Bern. It was through my discovery of Maria Montessori’s philosophy that I found a way to integrate culinary arts back into my life.
Montessori was a gifted medical scientist and teacher who realized that very young children seek independence early on. Her guiding principle for learning was; “Help children do it themselves”. I was so fascinated by this approach that I founded a day preschool in Bern - the first of its kind in the country - based on Montessori’s philosophy. Besides multiple creative ways of working with specific learning materials, our enrolled students had the opportunity to engage in many practical activities, amongst them cooking and baking. At the age of six, most kids had acquired decent knife skills and knew how to prepare simple dishes. Baking rolls and small fruit tarts became part of their weekly schedule, and students and teachers equally loved it.
Fast forward to 2008, when I was working as a Swiss foreign correspondent in
California. It must have been meant to be that I wrote a series of articles about the so-called
Food Revolution in the Western United States. Visits to countless restaurants, bakeries
and chocolate shops brought back memories of my old, unfulfilled dream. Every single time I entered a kitchen, I knew that this was the place I really wanted to be. Yes, there was a lot of enthusiasm - but there were also lingering doubts and questions. Would it be possible for me to pursue a culinary career after all these years? What if I failed?
I had opened Pandora’s Box and had no idea how to deal with it - until I realized that it wasn’t Pandora’s Box. It was more like a lucky jar. As it said on a card that a friend gave me after I graduated from pastry school: “Dreams don’t happen because we dream them...they happen because we do something about them. Nothing marvelous was ever accomplished without a little marvelous risk.” Eleven years later as the owner of a busy chocolate business, I could not agree more.