Butter Cream: A Year in a Montreal Pastry School
As someone who’s voraciously devoured Anthony Bourdain’s tales of kitchen misadventure, despite the heavy dose of misogynist bravado they often come with, I was excited to read Denise Roig’s take on kitchen work for comparison. The text comes complete with recipes that showcase the students’ endeavors, and gives detailed information on Roig’s fixations with particular types of pastry and baking processes. However, as Roig writes her classmates into the story as fairly vague sketches–in part as she identifies herself as being significantly older than them and therefore distanced from them–most other potential conflict or captivation gets trimmed neatly down, in favour of highlighting her personal dilemmas of taking on baking as a secondary education and career choice during middle age. About half-way through this text, it occurred to me that it was just like reading an extended Canadian Living article–somewhat satisfying but distinctly non-threatening.
If you focus on Roig’s rhapsodizing about puff pastry or her detailed description of classmates’ participation in a national baking exam, you can get drawn into the drama of kitchen work (will the bread rise? will the pastry be flaky?). She notices gendered power dynamics in the kitchen enough to pay lip service to them–nodding towards how men are regularly in positions of power and women clean up, or how women pursue pastry work more often then becoming chefs–but doesn’t truly explore the nuances of these references. Another frustration occurs at the beginning of the book, where she lumps all of her Chinese classmates into one homogenous, nameless group–seemingly due, in part, to their names being posed as too difficult for people to pronounce. Come for the food, and stick around if you can. The weak feel-good vibe of self-discovery doesn’t make for a very captivating narrative, otherwise. (Sarah Pinder)
by Denise Roig $18.95, 215 pgs, Signature editions, P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg, MB, R3M 3S7