Reviewed by Penny K
Confections of a Closet Master Baker: A Memoir
One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker
By Gesine Bullock-Prado
A book about baking and reminiscing a mother who’s passed on must come in the right amounts of schmaltz or risk turning completely into mush. Gesine Bullock-Prado, popularly known as Sandra Bullock’s younger sister, writes a memoir that is accessible, touching, and like her perfectly conceived macaroons, is sweet without going into a diabetic overdrive.
The story goes like this: fresh out of school with a Law degree, Gesine, the geekier of the two sisters joined Sandra’s Hollywood production company. Everything that made Hollywood seem alluring at first, turned out later to be a nightmare. From dragging her lifeless self out of bed in the morning to face “the gym chock full of out-of-work starlets” to having to fend off her famous sister’s creepy stalkers and their voice messages, to having to bulldoze through endless scripts that were all described with the same overused terms, “cute”, “quirky” and “romantic comedy”, it came to so bad a point, Gesine found herself after “doing lunch” (you learn in Hollywood, they don’t have lunch, they do lunch) one day, in her car with forehead on steering wheel repeating, “I hate this place, I hate this place, I hate this place.”
So she leaves Hollywood and starts a whole new life in Vermont setting up her own little bakery filled with hand made goodies all made with love. You see, the whole time she had been miserable in Hollywood, she had spent her nights baking in her kitchen as a cleansing ritual to the “douchebaggery” of LA – the falsity; the using her as a point of contact to getting to Sandra. It offered her stomach nutrition and her soul catharsis.
The memoir is fascinating; it elucidates life in Hollywood from an insider’s point of a view one who has seen it all and hates all of it. It doesn’t glamourise the Hollywood lifestyle; in fact, Gesine calls it “soul-sucking”. And although she hates being but a point of contact to Sandra, she does offer lots of childhood stories and other information about Sandra like how she sends Gesine couture pieces so often that they are called “Sand-me-downs”. She also talks about feeling inferior to Sandra’s better looks like being the “Before” to Sandra’s “After”. All this is indeed fodder to our mere mortal desire to know more about the lives of celebrities, but the bigger picture is simply that of two sisters who share a close bond.
Interlaced with the grand narrative of Gesine’s transition from Hollywood executive zombie to country baker is the sentimental longing for her mother whom she lost to cancer. The mother, Helga Meyer, organic eating, whole grain munching, couture wearing, slim and svelte opera singer, is remembered fondly in nearly every chapter of this book. Whether she describes her 3pm daily coffee and cake date with her mother or how she breaks down when baking zwetschgendatschi, remembering how it was the only thing that could lift her mother’s spirits while she was terminally ill, or how she just cannot look at recipes handwritten by her mother, or listen to cassettes of her mother singing, you feel the sense of loss is immense. Death is a cruel thing that separates people from those they love, after which there is a need to close the book on them or be awash with regret, sadness and memories, too many memories.
I say read Confections of a Closet Master Baker for two reasons. One: Gesine is an adept writer who tells her tale with ease, conviction and wit. I mean, try saying the book’s title quick a couple of times and yeah – smarmy eh? Two: It is so many stories woven into one; it is a coming-of-age story, a successful business story, a story about love and family and a story about the legacy of a mother’s love. You don’t even have to love baking to enjoy it! But for those who do, you’d be happy to know Gesine shares her recipes in this book.