While lots of people talk about quitting their desk job to do something more creative, Reshmi Bennett – founder of award-winning artisan patisserie Anges De Sucre – actually did it, swapping a career in banking for a career in baking.
After making the decision to leave her city job Reshmi went back to school, chef school in Paris, no less. Back in London Reshmi started Anges De Sucre initially as an online business which she ran from home. Last year she opened a super-pretty boutique in London’s Kensington, selling macarons, muffles (a marshmallow truffle mash-up) and brilliantly-bonkers cakes that have to be seen to believed topped with candy-coloured popcorn, meringues and buttermilk doughnuts. A Time Out Love London award and a Zagat listing as one of the best patisseries in London soon followed.
Read on to find out more about Reshmi’s inspirational career journey, what she’s learned along the way and her advice if you’re considering a career change…
You studied economics and statistics and worked in the city, had that always been your ambition growing up?
Like most kids I went through phases of wanting to be different things – one year I wanted to be an air hostess until I got really air sick, another year a doctor until I got queasy around blood, and then a criminologist or forensics investigator until I thought the whole being queasy-around-blood-thing might be a hindrance. I wish I could make this sound more rock n roll but I was pretty geeky – I got into economics and politics, and always loved maths, so choosing it for university and working in the city was a natural progression.
Tell us about working in the city…
I covered quite a few job roles in my four and a half years in banking. I started in equity sales in a big bulge bracket bank in the city, then went on to do prop trading in a big Kuwaiti bank, and then finally went on to do mergers and acquisitions advisory back in the city. The thing I liked most were the people I met; some of my closest friends are from those years. Oh and the money! What did I dislike? Again, some of the people I met. Banking can attract awesome people full of great energy, and also some real arrogant suckers. Investment banking hours for analysts are horrendous too, it wasn’t unusual to pull 18 hours days and work for weeks without a weekend’s wink.
Had you always hankered after being a chef?
I grew up in a foodie family and food, in general, is a major focal point for socialising in the middle-east. But I didn’t start cooking until I moved into student halls at uni where the food was borderline inedible. That was probably what sparked my creative cooking streak. I taught myself how to make a mean veggie chilli and tofu tikka masala using just a kettle and a microwave oven – how gourmet is that?! The idea of becoming a chef didn’t actually come into play until I became a chef after graduating from chef school in Paris. I fell in love with the creative outlet it gave me, in a way no spreadsheet could.
Was leaving the city a hard decision and what advice would you give to RMS readers who are at a career crossroads?
It was one of the scariest decisions of my life – taking time out of work to go back into studying, and the niggly doubts of ‘what if I’m totally hopeless in a commercial kitchen and this is all a big mistake?’. I now think it’s normal to be nervous making any big change like that and what makes it easier is realising that ‘the only thing constant is change’. If a venture goes pear-shaped, chalk it up to experience and move on with all your transferrable skills. Having a solid plan B isn’t always necessary as I feel sometimes it compromises the gusto for plan A, but considering alternative options in advance just in case plan A doesn’t quite work to plan helps calm the nerves before taking the plunge!
After leaving the city you trained as a chef in Paris. What was that like?
I chose the intensive French Cuisine programme at one of France’s established culinary institutes – Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi. The hardest thing about the course was having to eat meat (I was a vegetarian for most of my life, followed by turning pescatarian). I’ll spare you the grim details, but it played havoc on my guts. I also had a real lame cry-baby moment on my second day at school where we were given a big bucket each full of live crabs which we had to kill, one by one, and make a bisque out of. I thought about being more humane and putting the bucket in the fridge where they would fall asleep but when I went back in an hour they’d all creeped out of the bucket and crawled out everywhere and I was on my hands and knees in tears chasing after them, getting pinched by pincers trying to get them back in the bucket. It was embarrassing to say the least.
How did you get into patisserie?
While my training was classical cuisine, my work experience was in Michelin-starred haute-cuisine. One of the restaurants I worked in had a sudden vacancy in the patisserie section in the summer and as the hot kitchen was like a sauna I jumped at the chance at being tucked away in the cooler patisserie-side of the kitchen! That’s where I started my patisserie journey.
How did you find living in Paris? It’s basically everyone on team Rock My Style’s dream!
Living in Paris was one of the best years of my life. My then-boyfriend Patrick (now husband) was there with me too and we ate great cheese, drank great wine, and had the most wonderful time. It’s a beautiful city that totally lives up to its reputation of romance.
What happened after the course?
When we moved back to London in 2011 I spotted a gap in the market for high quality macarons in imaginative flavours after having worked with them in the patisserie kitchen. I decided to start a small business from home, baking to order and supplying events and weddings, launching a website eventually with a shop online. At the time macarons were very ‘on trend’ in the UK foodie-scene but now they are ubiquitous, almost a staple, and even though Anges has grown and become much more than macarons, growing out of our home kitchen where I’d make 100 macarons a day into large commercial premises where our team of three awesome chefs make more than 1500 a day along with marshmallows, cakes, Muffles etc, macarons are still very much a cornerstone of the business.
What was the journey from online shop to actual shop?
The idea of opening a shop stemmed from identifying yet another dearth in our local area – the lack of good coffee. We found ourselves going up to Notting Hill before heading to the kitchen just to get a decent cup so thought, “Oh hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have a place with great coffee near us along with my naughty nibbles that go well together?” It took us almost a year to find and secure premises we liked and then a long painful build as neither of us had previous experience in fitting out a shop. We had some terrible experiences with cowboy builders (ones that were attempting to steal our tiles while threatening us at drill-point!) and also got to know some great and very skilful tradesmen however as we had a limited budget we did the bulk of it ourselves, including the design, pulling in friends and family to help along.
Have you faced any other challenges, and what have you learned about yourself along the way?
Starting a small business, building a shop and running it is a continuous learning curve and I’m still learning each day. The most important realisation I had was that I cannot do it all. There are certain things I’m good at and certain things I’m not so good/hopeless at and identifying the latter in time has been a challenge in itself. Initially I was trying to manage the shop, the online business and the kitchen all myself and it was hell. I couldn’t focus, I made brash decisions in order to tick boxes, I missed reading the fine-prints and above all I was tired of feeling tired. We recognised that I couldn’t manage myself with all these different responsibilities and decided to hire a shop manager and things started falling into place, allowing me to focus much more on what I enjoy the most – creating, which incidentally is what keeps the shop and the team fresh and exciting!
Your husband Patrick is also involved in Anges De Sucre, how does that work?
Patrick is the Operations Manager of Anges and his increased involvement has spear-headed growth in our small business (he Geophysical engineer and also works as an Oil and Gas consultant). This may sound clichéd but we have distinct skills and roles where I’m more of the dreamer and worrier and he’s the do-er and fixer – makes delegation a doddle! We can’t help talk ‘shop’ at home but it is a shared passion where we both believe in what we are building together and it’s very much our lives. It’s a privilege to be able to work with my best friend and the love of my life and I do think we are lucky in that we are able to rely on each other both personally and professionally. My advice to couples who would like to work or start a business together is to ease themselves into it gradually, defining clear roles and treating each other as equal partners.
Anges De Sucre is open every day of the week, can you ever switch off?
We are open seven days a week and I found myself to be too involved, spending long days at the shop or kitchen and not having a weekend. It’s my business, and I love it which is why I get drawn into it so easily but without any breaks I found myself getting burnt out and consumed by noise every so often, which really hurt my creative juice flow. So we decided to move out of Kensington into a much quieter place which is an hour away from the shop. This has forced me to get more organised and I actually feel more mentally relaxed! My favourite way to chill at the moment is hopping into our little dinghy which is moored in the Thames and going up to the lovely leafy riverside pubs along the river.
What’s next for Anges De Sucre?
I’d love to take the brand back home to Kuwait and look into having a presence in fabulous cities such as St Petersburg, Istanbul and Mumbai but I think that is a while away yet. In the meantime we’re working on new product ranges, conceptualising workshops and a YouTube channel!