Bakers Life -  Life Lessons from a Kitchen and Failure

A lot of people ask me what time I get up each morning.  When I answer, 3am, they look at me like I'm an alien.  Nope, I'm not an alien - I'm a baker-pastry chef and commercial kitchens have taught me some my most important life lessons.

Running a bakery and kitchen that makes made-from-scratch donuts, cakes, dessert pies, cookies and other baked treats on a daily basis, takes a lot of dedication and time.  Think about it.  How long does it take you to make a cake at home?  Or cookies?  A dessert pie?   Now think about providing those every day for a month in a large quantity, consistently the same quality and checking you have them made by 7am each morning.  Maybe you'll start to get the picture before demanding a holiday at the end of that month.

It takes a special kind of person to be in the hospitality industry, and work in kitchens.  You have to more than love it. You have to live it.  It's easy to love the great moments when you create something delicious and everyone raves about it, but you also have to love the moments when you have spectacular fails.  You have to embrace those moments because when they happen there's no pat on the back from anyone letting you off the hook saying never mind, give up and move on.  Instead you have to double down and make those things all over again in order to have them ready on time. There's no place for anger, no place for tears, tantrums or any other passionate forms of expression. You just have to complete the task at hand with good grace and care.

For me, working in commercial kitchens has taught me more about life than any other position I've held.  It's an exhilarating, exciting and passionate environment.  It's also an extremely frustrating, tiring and challenging environment.  Hours are long and the clock means nothing when there are orders to make, bake and serve.  Weekends are non-existent and the days can blur into each other.   You learn fast if you can stand the heat (excuse the pun), or whether you should have stayed with that desk job. 

I'm extremely lucky here at The Pie Piper and Doornuts.  We have an amazing team of people in the kitchen and bakery who are passionate about what they do.  They are also very vocal about what works and what doesn't. All of us bring our individual experiences and skills to the kitchen floor and happily share them with each other.  It's a safe environment to embrace our successes and failures as a team.   And man, do you learn from failures.   It's those failures which are a key to our success.  Let me give you an example.

When we first starting developing our vegan yeast raised donuts, they were terrible.  Early on we made batch after batch and inevitably something would go wrong.  If it wasn't one thing, it was another and as we tried to improve the dough, nothing seemed to work.  The whole team was getting frustrated with the process, the recipe and our inability to get it right. 

I vividly remember one particular day when the whole team was standing around a work table looking blankly at a tray of very unhappy looking donuts.  We were running out of ideas on how to fix the problem with the recipe even with our combined experience. It was a dire day.  After weeks of making recipe after recipe, it seemed like we were never going to get the high quality product we wanted.  Uncertainly set in.  We started asking ourselves, could we even produce a vegan donut that acted and tasted like a regular yeast raised donut made with dairy and eggs.  Maybe we were setting the bar too high?  

Then something special happened and a little by accident.  Dewi Schmidt, who is one of our amazing experienced pastry chefs and a senior member of our team, decided to handle the dough a bit more.   We had some old dough left over and we were about to throw it out.  Instead she decided to take that old dough and worked it harder than ever before. That action in combination with one more tweak to the ingredients started yielding us amazing yeast raised vegan donuts.

It took the whole team to reach that success point.  We had to fail in order to understand what would work.  The whole process wasn't only about the recipe and ingredients, it was about the acceptance within the team of the failures, the attitude and perseverance from each one and contributing to pushing through that mental barrier which tells us to give up.  And the improvement to our vegan yeast raised donuts didn't stop there.  It's a continuous daily challenge as we face changes in humidity, temperature and even changes in ingredients too.  

Yes, failure feels bad.  I often hear from my students in my pastry and pie classes that they tried something, but because it didn't work the first or second time they give up. But perhaps the change needs to come from within ourselves and re-frame our thinking into an understanding that failure is a path to our successes. 

Even if you don't ever step foot in a commercial kitchen in your lifetime, I hope that next time you eat fantastic yeast raised vegan donut, or an amazing slice of pie or cake, that you think about failure in a new way.  Accept that it's part of life, a process, and reframe it so that it means you're only a step or two away from success.

Thanks for reading!

Yours in Pie and Happiness,

Danielle Butler Owner, Baker and Pastry Chef at The Pie Piper and Doornuts

Danielle Butler - The Pie Piper and Doornuts - Pie and Donut Creator

Danielle Butler is an entrepreneur and the owner of The Pie Piper & Doornuts, in Auckland, New Zealand.  She's an expert baker and creator.  Her specialty is in American dessert pies, cakes and other desserts.  Danielle has been featured in magazines like Denizen, New Zealand and Australian Women's Weekly, and has been a guest on radio spots, a judge on baking competitions and guest speaker sharing her knowledge of all things baking and entrepreneurship.  She wants to empower people to create their own special moments with friends and family through food.  Danielle is passionate about combating food insecurity in our communities.

 Copyright © 2020 Danielle Butler. All rights reserved.









The Pie Piper was one of my favourite places in Auckland to go to for a slice of pie, a donut, a cup of tea… you were my place to sit and read at, to people watch, to sigh over dessert and life… I’ve since moved to Nelson and I miss this place terribly… I’m honestly considering making a trip to Auckland only for a slice of pie!

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