Writing a memoir is essentially an act of intimacy. To offer up one's life, thoughts, insights and feelings to an unseen, unknowable conglomeration of strangers- who will each read your words as solitary souls, your words to their "ears"- takes not just a bit of nerve and guts. And generosity.
Gesine Bullock-Prado's new memoir, Confections of a Closet Master Baker, is a lively and valuable addition to the genre. For you see, Gesine (pronounced Ge-see-neh) confides to us on numerous occasions that she is not truly a social animal by nature. She describes herself alternately as painfully shy, frequently inappropriate and basically misanthropic and sprinkles enough examples of this element of her persona throughout her book to keep us at arm's length. And yet a few pages later she will open up to us, trust us with specific and telling details of her world, welcome us in to her inner sanctum. Suffice it to say these push/pull polarity shifts shape our reading experience, keep us on our proverbial toes and, most importantly to the reader, create, intentionally or otherwise, an honest and near full circle view of the many charms and foibles of our hostess throughout our all-too-brief 240 page journey with her.
The book is cleverly organized into chapters by hour of the day. It is a charming and useful set up that allows us to witness the daily routine in the life of the country confectioner while also allowing Bullock-Prado to deftly weave in stories from the bakery's founding and various tales of life in her new quirky, challenging and ultimately heart warming home in Montpelier VT. Perhaps even more so, we are cleverly and bit by bit introduced to the very roots of this "master baker". In continuously drawing lines to her childhood, frequently through glimpses of her earliest years in Germany, Gesine deftly weaves a compelling back and forth narrative detailing the beginnings of her fascinations with the world's finest sweets and the traditions of her mother and grandmother that so profoundly shaped the baker she grew into.
Interspersed through the chapters are recipes for some of Gesine's favorite creations. The specificity and attention to detail is truly commendable. If you attempt to recreate Bullock-Prado's "Starry Starry Night" cookies or her delectable apple pie, for example, she is determined that you have every gram and nuance of detailed direction that you will need to succeed at recreating her masterpieces.
By and large, despite all other topics covered- which, in addition to those mentioned above, include occasional flashbacks of her not so dreamy dream job in Hollywood before her "born-to-bake" revelation sent her packing eastward- the primary theme of Confections... is confecting, and that is where Prado's work shines brightest. There is a romance to the bake shops of old France and Germany, to the timeless traditional craft of forming near pure magic from the simple core elements of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. A charm that whispers and calls to the hungry child and closet gourmet traveler in all of us. Gesine lives and breathes this magic, romance and mystique. Although she may share with us the arduousness of making the near-impossible happen day after day amidst the numerous obstacles faced, always she returns to reminding us how integral to her very spirit the process of baking is. One may very easily begin this book saying, "Master Baker, where does she come off...?" By the end of this work, however, if not much much earlier, it is evident that through knowledge, passion and experience, Gesine Bullock-Prado is, beyond a doubt, a master baker- and a quite gifted chronicler of said master baking to boot.
The identity of her sister being heretofore not mentioned because, although it does frequently play a part in Gesine's story, the fact that big sis is the actress Sandra Bullock is, early on, rendered all but inconsequential by an inescapable fact that is revealed to the reader; Sandra is not the only Bullock girl who has something special to offer the world. Let's just hope the amount of attention this engaging and well crafted memoir will inevitably bring to the more introverted of the two sisters doesn't drive her away. We are all still very much in need of more of her culinary- and literary- magic to dazzle our greedy little palates.
Other VT Tidbits...
Gesine's bakery "Gesine Confectionary" was opened in Montpelier in 2005, and owned and operated by her and husband Ray until the end of 2008. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine