In case you were wondering, it’s not a typo; Savary is my maiden name. (I know some of you were questioning my spelling ability. Admit it!)
I used Savary in my blog name because I wanted to show that even though I’m a formally trained Pastry Chef, I still very often use the recipes and techniques my Mom – a self-taught cook with more tried and true recipes for squares and cookies than probably anyone you know – taught me before I had any professional experience in the kitchen. For example, I make pie crust the way my Mom taught me, and there’s no way I’m changing that.
So how did I get here?
That’s a good question.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef, even in our house, where warm baked goods emerged from the oven almost daily. In fact, the closest I came to baking when I was growing up was to beat an egg for Mom if the recipe asked. I took that job seriously, though. “What color do you want it?” was my way of asking how long to beat it…as if there were a hundred ways to beat an egg with a fork. Mom would always reply patiently “until it’s all the same color”. The funny thing was at that time I couldn’t imagine just how many ways there actually were to use that egg – mousses, meringues, custards, doughs and batters – and the list goes on…I’d find out many years later, though, on my first day of culinary school in Manhattan.
After high school, not yet realizing what it was that inspires me, I worked as a flight attendant (a job I adored); was a student of costume design (don’t EVER ask me to sew anything); a student of fashion merchandising; and also a retail buyer, then merchandiser and store window decorator. Ok confession: I dreaded the exhausting change over of the window displays every few weeks for the major retailer I worked for. But I always milked it and spent as much time in the windows as possible ‘working’ because, hey, at least it was quiet and I could drink coffee and people watch…Oops.
For someone with a penchant for style, beauty and all the pretty things, these jobs in fashion should have been an ideal fit. However there was a major factor missing. I am a creative person, and I need to be able to create to feel fulfilled. Working for these companies and following their manuals down to the letter about how the store should look and how displays should be styled was really bumming me out.
I needed an outlet!! And I was soon to find it.
Up until this point, my experience with cooking and baking bordered on frustration. I had attempted some things in the kitchen, but was getting tired of making mistakes from lack of knowledge. And boy, were there some mistakes. (Fyi I learned the hard way that olive oil has a really low smoking point). I wanted to understand the ‘why’ of cooking, not just the ‘how’, and my craving for understanding led me to want to learn about something more than I ever had in my life.
Having grown up in a mainly meat and potatoes family, for me there was a whole new world of flavors out there. Not only had I never cooked with a lot of the ingredients I was reading about in recipes, I had never tasted them! I wanted to learn about herbs and spices and how to combine them and with what foods. How to time the meal so everything was done simultaneously (how the hell did people do that?!). I desperately wanted to host elegant dinner parties, to be the kind of gracious hostess who welcomes company with ease and has everything under control, to be able to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine with them and to not be tied to the stove. The kind of hostess who, when she runs out of mayonnaise for turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day and the stores are closed, calmly whips up her own from scratch (I witnessed this in pure awe, Liz. You have forever inspired me).
So I read. And I read. It’s funny to say I read about cooking and didn’t actually cook, and read about having parties without actually having a party, but that was how I built up my confidence. By the time I finally put down the books and plugged in my KitchenAid mixer, I was so hungry to make all of the things I had read about, there was pretty much no stopping me.
Shortly after I left my job as a window decorator, my husband and I moved to a picturesque little town in the suburbs of Philadelphia and bought a house with a beautiful kitchen. We also had a Williams Sonoma down the street from us and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Tell me where was this store when I was filling out my wedding registry?! Perhaps then I wouldn’t have ended up with 11 muffin tins. Not that I’m not grateful. I love muffins. If you ever need 11 dozen, call me.
By now I had found what drives me – baking had given me the creative outlet I was so missing. I made a small business out of baking and event planning and was very content. It was successful and growing. I loved all that I had taught myself in the kitchen, but I knew that I still wanted a formal education.
So after researching the best culinary schools in the US, off to New York City I went to attend the International Culinary Center’s intensive 6 month Classic Pastry Arts program. To say that I thrived is an understatement. I flourished. Which is really no surprise after the experiences I had there: living in SoHo, interning at some of the coolest spots downtown (oh, hi Karl Lagerfeld – did you enjoy the fruit plate you ordered, made by moi?), attending amazing industry events like what I’d read about in Saveur magazine. It was an incredible time, and I still think of it every single day.
After a year in NYC, I was excited to be joining my husband DJ back home in Nova Scotia, Canada. In addition to the Classic Pastry Arts Program, I had also taken Culinary Entrepreneurship through the ICC on a scholarship, as well as Food Styling. A move back home would mean I could start my own business! Also, DJ wouldn’t have to commute back and forth between Nova Scotia and the dreaded Newark airport every couple of weeks, and bonus, my living space would be growing from a teeny 350 square feet to a palatial 1800! (And yes, the rent was about the same. Gotta love it.) The day we moved in I actually did twirls, simply because I had the room.
When I started my business I knew early on I had something really special – I was making an original no one else in the city offered (Italian doughnuts, anyone?). But the best part was that running my own business allowed me to combine my creative outlet with my love of style and entertaining. I loved tying up my pastries with crisp parchment paper and soft pink ribbon inside a beautiful white bakery box, or displaying them on a Pinterest-worthy table decorated with colorful cake plates wherever I was selling them that week. This was the original Sweet & Savary and I grew this business for about a year and a half before a new opportunity for us came up in Toronto.
It’s pretty great to make people happy doing something you absolutely love, even with a 2:45am wake up call. It’s incredibly fulfilling. To me, when someone tastes something I’ve created from scratch and exclaims “Oh my God! You made that?!” there is no better feeling. Here’s how I explained it to a friend of mine who once asked me why on earth I had bothered to make my own onion dip, for a football party, from scratch. I simply replied that no one was going to taste a bowl of store bought dip and say “Oh my God! You drove to the store and bought this yourself?!”
I feel extremely gratified when I hear that I’ve inspired other women by doing what I love. That includes cooking, baking, entertaining, and living with style. What I hope to accomplish by putting all of my thoughts, opinions, ideas and recipes here in one place is that you will feel inspired, too.
Thanks for checking out my story.