Erika Dimmler is a producer for CNN's American Morning.
Carolina Garcia was searching for the perfect French baguette. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Garcia had spent two years in France enjoying some of the best breads and pastries the country had to offer, and now, as a resident of Arlington, Virginia, she was having trouble finding a baguette that met her expectations.
Even worse, she had just been offered a job she knew she would hate. An economist by trade, Garcia was contemplating a position as an assistant in a firm where she was told point-blank that there was very little room for growth above her current position. After years of studying economics, and then earning her masters in international business, she would be booking flights and organizing breakfasts.
In order to de-stress after searching high and low for other opportunities, Garcia turned to baking. It was her "relaxing therapy." Despite her baking prowess, she studiously stayed away from baking bread. After all, Garcia had tried it once before and the results were disastrous. According to family legend, her grandmother had to leave her "bread" in water for a week so the birds could eat it. Her brother makes fun of her to this day.
Garcia realized that she actually enjoyed the art of bread baking. One month later, she was baking for eight hours a day - and looking for another job the rest of the time. Pretty soon, she had enough bread on her hands that whenever the couple was invited out to dinner, she took some bread with her. People loved it, and always asked Garcia why she didn’t try selling it. Her response was always the same. "Well, no, it’s not my job."
Eventually even Garcia started asking herself, "well, why not?" As tasty as her loaves had become, she knew they still didn’t quite match those she had encountered during her time in France.
The answer to her dilemma came from an unsurprising place: the city where her love of pastries began. His name? Arnaud Delmontel, a French baker who won first prize in the 2007 Best Baguette in Paris. Garcia decided to write an e-mail to Delmontel, asking him if she could come to Paris and apprentice in one of his three bakeries.
The weeks that followed became a time of massive handwringing for Garcia: Was she making the right decision? Would she be better off if she stuck with economics and found another "serious" job in her chosen field? As Garcia tells it, "there was this one night where I was almost collapsing. I was really stressed out. My god, what am I going to do? And I said, please god, send me a sign, because I am totally, totally confused."
The next day, Garcia received her sign. Delmontel had invited her to Paris. One week later she was in France, learning how to bake.
It was backbreaking work. For three weeks (and 300 Euros plus airfare), Garcia picked up almost every shift at a rotating mix of three Delmontel bakeries. Oftentimes the first shift began at midnight, and would end at 4 a.m. Garcia would head home, sleep, have dinner and then head back to work. She was given the flexibility to do anything and everything, and she took full advantage making quiches, tartlets, breads and croissants.
Toward the end of her apprenticeship, Delmontel gave her his book of recipes and told her that while she couldn’t take the book home with her, she had his consent to copy down whatever recipes she would like.
Garcia headed home armed with an increased passion, newfound confidence and lots of plans - but Delmontel warned her that even though she felt like she had a lot of ideas, the reality was that there was still a long way to go. After all, the United States doesn’t have the same exact water as France. Or the same altitude. Or flour. As Delmontel saw it, everything was different, and she was going to have to work her way through the differences until she hit upon the perfect combination.
And he was right. For one whole month Garcia found herself baking three times a day. Put more water in. Take some water out. More yeast. Less yeast. Tinker with the temperature. After a month and a half, she finally had the recipe done but the opinions of those around her were still divided.
Some friends were encouraging and believed in the product she was creating, others thought she was crazy and told her so. One wondered how many years Garcia would have to bake bread before her salary would match the one she might earn in a more traditional field, at a "normal" company.
After she won a local contest that asked for the best small business plans, Garcia knew she was on the right track - despite the naysayers.
Now, business is booming. The business model Garcia has adapted is simple. Everything is made to order: raspberry tartlets, chocolate croissants, chouquettes, madeleines, various quiches and an entire array of breads are all available for delivery.
As for the name of her enterprise, LeoNora Bakery, Garcia decided to combine Leonor, her mother’s name, with Nora, her aunt’s. Both of them instilled in Garcia her love of cooking and baking, and she points to their influence as being the defining reason for her appreciation of good food.
Besides sheer determination, Garcia is a firm believer in the notion that when you cook, the food you cook reflects your mood. The love and passion she pours into each baguette almost assures its deliciousness. Not to mention a little assistance from Arnaud Delmontel.
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