Benjamina Ebuehi never thought that she would have a career in baking. Despite having a lifelong passion for baking, she had never heard of most baking-related jobs and she couldn’t think of any black female chefs or bakers. She also wanted to do good in the world and wasn’t sure exactly how that would connect with a career in baking.
While at university Benjamina started a blog called Carrot & Crumb to help keep track of her recipes. Despite posting 15 recipes there, she told me “they were mostly for me” and she didn’t tell many others about her passion. She was worried that baking wasn’t a viable career option and couldn’t see how it would directly help others, so after majoring in economics, she decided to become a teacher.
After a year of teaching, Benjamina applied to the Great British Bake-Off without telling any of her friends and family. Because it was “just a hobby” she didn’t think that any of them would understand why she was willing to give up her job to pursue a baking television show. She doubted that she would be chosen, but she was excited to take a tangible step towards pursuing something that she’d dreamt about.
When Benjamina got an invitation from the producers of Bake-Off to “join the tent”, it upended her carefully laid career plans. She told her friends and family and to her relief, they were thrilled to see her follow her dreams. She had been baking forever and the joy it brought her was tangible for everyone around her.
On Bake-Off, Benjamina was well received for having a great sense of humor and for producing clean bakes that the judges deemed elegant and tasty. At first she felt lucky just to be there but over time, she started to believe that she had a chance to win. (Not surprising due to the sheer volume of positive feedback she received.)
In a gut-wrenching quarter final, she was eliminated and it was a major blow to her self confidence. She had put her reputation on the line by joining the show and suddenly she did not know what to do next.
Benjamina considered going back to teaching, but with much support from fellow Bake-Off contestants such as Rav and Andrew, she realized that her dream of baking professionally was at that point a viable career path. She got offers to lead baking shows, work at bakeries and teach classes, but helping people and making the world a better place were still critically important to her, so she wasn’t quite sure what to do. Where does one turn when passions conflict?
As luck would have it, Benjamina had been a long-time fan of the Luminary Bakery, so when they reached out to her about becoming an ambassador, she realized that it was a perfect fit. The Luminary Bakery works with disadvantaged women suffering poverty, homelessness, violence or criminal activity and offers them skills training, paid employment and a supportive community. They learn to bake in a 6 month program while also learning life skills that help them get back on their feet. As Benjamina told me,
“Some of these women go on to work in professional kitchens but it’s about more than that. Baking is therapeutic. [They feel like,] I’ve created this with my own hands and it’s something I’ve done from scratch, from beginning to end. That whole process is powerful- it empowers them to know they can create and survive. A lot of them don’t know how to bake anything and they leave being able to make bread and pastries. They come out with baking skills, tangible employment skills— they can succeed in job interviews. Baking teaches patience because sometimes it doesn’t work. There is a lot of failure along the way but they learn the persistence to try again.”
Baking as a metaphor for life-building and business building seems perfect not only for what she’s teaching these women, but also for Benjamina’s own career journey. She has tested, iterated, burned and learned through her journey. While being an ambassador for the Luminary Bakery and working on some baking apprenticeships, Benjamina decided she wanted to become a food stylist (a professional who prepares and make foods for photo shoots). The problem was that there were few, if any, black women working in this field to help mentor her along that career journey.