From Banking to Baking: my escape from the City

Decorating Bakit’s Chocolate and Hazelnut Torte (photo by Angela Pham, thank you!)

In August 2017, I left my job in banking to see if there was anything else to life. There’s quite a lot, as it turns out. I am now running a baking kit business, and do freelance business operations and strategy work on the side. My life has changed completely, and although it has by no means been easy, it is definitely for the better!

This blog will be focused on baking, recipes, and finding the loveliest cakes in London and wherever I happen to be… but I first wanted to share Bakit’s story, and my own.

I’ve been obsessed with food forever. I started cooking with my mum and granny when I was little. For some unfathomable reason, my mum used to let me go through the cupboards and make weird mixtures with whatever spices and herbs we had, mixed with flour and water. I tried to make my poor family eat it. Thankfully that phase didn’t last long, and I quickly moved on to making real food. I think the first proper meal I ever made was a leek, potato and tomato soup from a recipe I found in the village library. I was about 7, and very proud!

We grew up in Belgium, France and Luxembourg, so my cooking has taken on European influences. My mum and gran aren’t recipe followers, it was more of an instinct for them. I am the same, when it comes to cuisines I am familiar with — Spanish, French, Italian, British. But when I am cooking something more adventurous, I am a stickler for recipes! I have cut outs of recipes all over the place, mountains of cookbooks, and well bookmarked pages of the feedfeed

I never thought of making a career out of my passion for food. I went into Banking after my studies, and was there for 12 years. I enjoyed the first few years — it was challenging, I met some people who I am still really close to now, and it was good to save up some money for rainy days! But in the last few years, I didn’t really feel like me any more. I had very little energy left after a long day’s work to do the things I actually wanted to do (I wasn’t even cooking). So what was the point? After years — literally — of wondering what else I could or should do with my life, I finally decided to leave and just find out. I could always go back, right?

I left without a real plan, but with some savings to make sure I could pay my mortgage for a bit and ‘figure things out’. A friend and I had a few ideas for various start-ups but ultimately, I kept coming back to food. I am one of those people who thinks they need a course to justify their ability to do anything, so I dutifully enrolled in ‘how to start a food business’ at Leith’s, and a French cuisine cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu, in London. I knew I didn’t want to be a chef in a restaurant, but wanted to be a COO / operations / general doer in (ideally) an incredibly successful food start-up :)

Looking fancy at Cordon Bleu

So in all this, where does the baking come in? First things first — I am not a natural baker. So in November, when I was starting to make my Christmas cake, I was looking through my cupboards at the half empty packets of raisins, glacé cherries and mixed spice that had been sitting there since the previous year, when I thought… wouldn’t it be nice if someone could send me the exact amounts I need to bake my cake? I hate having to buy a massive packet of sultanas only to use 50 grams, it seems like such a waste. HelloFresh do this for main meals, but no one seems to be doing it for cakes and sweets… And so the idea for Bakit was born! I was going to send people baking kits in the post with a gorgeous, mouth-watering recipe, and all their ingredients, already prepared and measured out. Then people would have all the fun of baking, without the fuss!

My hope is that if I can make baking easier, less daunting, and less fussy, that more people will take to it. Maybe we’ll spend less time on screens (the irony of me writing this on my laptop is not lost on me…), and more time making lovely things for the lovely people in our lives. Nothing makes me happier than cooking — or baking — something delicious that people can come together and enjoy, it makes me feel so proud! #homemadeisbest — and if I can do it, I promise you that you can too.

People will tell you that an idea is worth nothing without good execution. The next few months certainly proved that! I had what I was convinced is a great idea, but I hid it behind spreadsheets, and numbers. Because that’s what I know, and that’s how I’ve operated. In theory, I knew what I needed to do. I needed a product. I needed customers. And I needed a way for my customers to find out about my product.

Enter Escape the City — a game changer. I enrolled in their Idea Accelerator course (yes, another one). The aim was to get from idea to first sale in 12 weeks. It is difficult to put into words how energising a community we formed. 30 or so of us, plus the awesome Escape crew, all trying to push ourselves and each other out of our comfort zone. It was terrifying, but one of the best things I have ever done. Their ‘done is better than perfect’ attitude is what got Bakit off the ground. By the end of the course, I had a (rather embarrassing) product — a real box, with real ingredients and a real recipe, that had been tested, and that worked. I had started my Instagram, built a website, and crucially, I had my first ever sale! My boxes have thankfully evolved since then, and now come in beautiful craft boxes that even fit through the letterbox.

The first version of your product should be embarrassing: check!

Since finishing Escape, I have had a stall at Taste of London (and met Selasi!), sold baking kits outside my local butchers and at office pop-ups, created 4 baking kits, one of which has sold out twice already (the Chocolate and Hazelnut Torte, since you ask). It is hard going, especially on your own. I have been very lucky to have a lot of support from friends, family and my lovely patient partner, and I’m very grateful. It is so easy to agonise over small details that feel like make or break decisions (they never are, especially since you can always change your mind!). Surround yourself with people who will be positive, boost you, but also help you cut the cr*p. It has taken me 6 months to write this blog post, for fear of what? Embarrassment? No one reading it? The most embarrassing thing would be to keep talking about it, rather than doing it — so here it is!

Me at the Bakit stall at Taste of London in November 2017

I promise that the next blog post will be focused on my newly developed passion for baking and all things cake. I hope you have enjoyed reading my story so far. I know I have a long way to go, but done is better than perfect, so here goes… xx