North-east baker is a busy bee
Bee’s Brilliant Biscuits is Aberdeenshire baker Bee Berrie’s first book.
But just four years ago, the Macduff-born baker was heading down a very different path as a microbiologist. We find out why she swapped bacteria for baking.
WHEN YOU WERE GOING THROUGH SCHOOL, WHAT WAS YOUR CAREER PLAN?
I study medical microbiology so I wanted to be a scientist and that was my plan. I’ve always been into science, I’m a bit of a boffin.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THAT SUBJECT THAT INTERESTED YOU?
I don’t really know. There are no medics in my family or anything like that, everyone is very artistic and musical. I think I was just the throwback. Maybe it was rebellion, who knows.
In school I was naturally good at the science-based subjects, good at them rather than enjoyed most I think. The school was definitely interested in creating more young scientists so they gave me lots of encouragement. I enjoyed the biology side more than the mathematical side.
AND WHAT JOB DID YOU HOPE TO GET POST SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY?
I really wanted to be a crime scene officer for quite a while and I actually applied for a few jobs but I didn’t get anywhere at all with them. That was the plan for a while.
I did one year at university in London and then I transferred up to the University of East Anglia in Norwich where quite a few of my friends were and I finished my degree there. It was a Bachelor of Science in Medical Microbiology.
HOW LONG WERE YOU WORKING AS A MICROBIOLOGIST?
I did about six months in a forensic lab in a hospital and then I started working in medical communications. So I was sort of running a press office for a medical conference is the easiest way to describe it. I did that for six or seven years.
WHEN DID BAKING BECOME AN INTEREST?
Cooking was definitely an interest first. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I worked in restaurants as a waitress while I was studying so I was always interested in that side of things.
I find cooking really relaxing. I wouldn’t say I was particularly focused on baking from an early age, I quite liked savoury. I started exploring it more when I had a day job. I’ve always had an interest and I’m quite good at cooking but it was definitely a pastime, not a real job in
SO YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU COULD MAKE A CAREER OUT OF THIS?
Absolutely not. I was just looking for a medical science-y job and I had a great job, I got to travel the world with it and met some incredibly talented research scientists with it. I always enjoyed the job itself, I wasn’t enjoying being part of a massive company so I went from a team of 60 to a team of me which is quite a huge change but I really enjoyed it.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
I had been with the company for five years and after five years they give you a little training bursary, just as a bonus. So they gave me a few hundred quid and I thought I’d put it towards a baking or cooking course. I did a cake decorating course at night school.
It was a terrible course but I still really enjoyed it and I found this creative streak that I never thought I had before. Science is very right or wrong answer, there’s no room for negotiation but this allowed me to come up with ideas and I really enjoyed it and I kind of got the bug from there.
I went back to work and I did some internships in my holidays working for amazing London bakers. That was when I started thinking, hang on, this is a job, you can get paid to do this. Maybe I could do it myself.
WHAT MADE YOU TAKE THE STEP IN SETTING UP YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
I got a sabbatical from work, three months unpaid leave, and I thought I would try and sell some biscuits and some cakes. I set up Bee’s Bakery and I did it for three months. I kind of hated it. It’s really physical hard work running a commercial kitchen.
Everything seemed to take so long because it was only me doing it. And it was cold because it was over winter but I managed to get some media coverage which really boosted sales and I got some interest from Harrods. At that point I freaked out, I thought I need to go back to my normal job, I know what I am doing there.
So I went back for a year but that experience had really sown the seed for me. While I was miserable the first time I did it, in hindsight I could see where I went wrong. So that was like dipping my toe in the water and then I had another year to write a proper business plan and do things differently.
IN 2012 YOU WENT BACK TO BEE’S BAKERY. WHAT WERE YOU SELLING?
We were making jammie dodgers which is the thing we are still known the most for. I just started pitching them to coffee shops and cafes, selling online and I went back to Harrods. I was working in a friend’s kitchen and going out and selling.
WERE YOU DOING EVERYTHING?
Yes and I still do a little bit of everything. On any given day I could be the delivery boy, or the person trying to get new clients or the one that is packaging things up. That’s how things go when you have your own business.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I love the mixture of science and creativity. I think there is a science to baking, it’s very precise and if you get something wrong, it won’t work but I love thinking up new ideas and new designs and new shapes, different ingredients.
Bee’s Brilliant Biscuits by Bee Berrie is published by Pavilion and priced £12.99.