The most important lesson that Sammy Christison has learned in her six years in the baking industry is that life is not a piece of cake. “Nothing is just handed to you; you have to work hard.”
And work hard she has. At the age of 25, Sammy now co-owns and operates a busy café in Dannevirke, the latest venture in her culinary path.
Sammy's love of baking was forged in her mum's kitchen, where they often baked together. "She used to let me experiment with recipes and ingredients. She was the one who encouraged me to consider baking as a career," says Sammy.
UCOL's Certificate in Professional Cookery (Levels 3 & 4) and Certificate in Baking & Pastry (Level 3)* provided the perfect training ground for the aspiring cook.
Although she had to commute from Dannevirke for the two six-month programmes, Sammy says her time in the UCOL training kitchens were the best times of her life.
"The lecturers go above and beyond to help their students."
Under the expert guidance of UCOL Senior Chef Lecturer and Programme Leader Ian Drew, Sammy excelled in the 2015 Wellington Culinary Fare, bringing home a gold medal for her Coffee Mousse Gateau. Sammy admits she practised and practised the recipe at home, making fourteen gateaux in the process.
"UCOL taught me to strive for perfection and excellence with food."
While cooking at a UCOL-related event in Palmerston North, Sammy met local catering icon Hester Guy who offered her a job on the spot. Sammy says working long hours in the high-pressure catering environment really honed her food skills. She also gained an appreciation of quality ingredients and presentation.
The baking world beckoned, and two-year stint in a Dannevirke supermarket bakery brought its own rewards. A condition of her employment was to complete the New World Bakers Apprenticeship.
"It was good to add to my qualifications," says Sammy. "But it convinced me that my real interest was having creative freedom and baking from scratch."
After significant research, Sammy decided to invest in a coffee cart venture where she could be her own boss and share her baking skills directly with customers. Sammy's Coffee and Food to Go was born. The first nine months were a struggle admits Sammy, but a change of location made a huge impact and soon the distinctive red cart became a firm favourite with locals and passers-by.
As sole operator, Sammy says she put in some huge hours during the two years she ran the cart. Brewing on average 100 coffees per day from 6.30am until 3.30pm throughout the week, she would then return to her registered home kitchen to bake for three hours.
Two years in a coffee cart was enough for Sammy and when she heard of an opportunity to move into café ownership. With her mother and accountant as investors, she opened Sammy's Café.
Sammy employs seven part-time and full-time staff in the High Street café. The restaurant clientele is steadily building, as is the catering and cake order side of the business.
Sammy's hope is to do more to support her community, "Perhaps fundraise for local schools through events in the café." She is also a strong advocate of the organisation Women in Business.
"I think women need to support other women, especially in business."
Her intentions to study Business have been put on hold for the time being, but Sammy can be excused; there is no doubt she is working extremely hard – to make that piece of cake.
Check out Sammy's Cafe on Facebook.
* UCOL now offers the New Zealand Diploma in Cookery, the New Zealand Certificate in Cookery, and the New Zealand Certificate in Baking.