A Baker's Escape From Hollywood
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Gesine Bullock-Prado has had a lifelong love affair with sugar, flour and butter. She managed to turn that love affair into her dream career. Gesine is now the owner of Gesine's Confectionary in Montpelier, Vermont. But to get there, she had to endure some miserable times as a Hollywood executive.
She used to work as a producer at her sister's production company. Her sister is movie star Sandra Bullock. Gesine Bullock-Prado has written a new memoir, called "Confections of a Closet Master Baker," and joins us from the studios of Vermont Public Radio. Welcome to the program.
Ms. GESINE BULLOCK-PRADO (Owner, Gesine's Confectionary; Author, "Confections of a Closet Master Baker"): Thank you for having me.
HANSEN: Was there a particular moment when you knew that Hollywood wasn't for you?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Well, I think I knew the minute I got to Hollywood that it wasn't quite for me. And you're always hoping that you can fit in somehow. And I had my sister and we worked together, so that made it easier, on the one hand - and then, on the other hand, harder to leave.
HANSEN: You were treated, basically, as a gateway to your sister. I mean, you were practically invisible to some of the people there.
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Yeah. And the way people try to get to you in Hollywood, it's not entirely offensive, but it's just so silly. You can see that they're being completely affected, and they give you compliments that you aren't worthy of. I didn't have the stomach for it.
HANSEN: Yeah. Now, did you start baking when you were out there to, kind of, as comfort food for yourself?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Yes. And I always have. I mean, I was in college and in law school both, whenever exams came around, I would find myself baking instead of studying. And during the weekends in Hollywood, I baked all the time and it got increasingly worse to the point where my husband said, you really have to get this out of the house.
But then my mother got very ill and I realized, in watching her die, that life's too short. You know, I can't stop her cancer, but I could certainly try to make my life happier.
HANSEN: Yeah. She was German.
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Yeah, very.
HANSEN: Very German. And it's interesting because you write about the kinds of pastries that you had when you were living in Germany for a while.But on the other hand, she was a woman that drank wheatgrass and used to make your sandwiches out of fake bologna, tofu, and things like this. So how did she influence you as a baker?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Well, she herself was an extraordinary baker. She contradicted herself all the time in that she was this macrobiotic health nut. But when she baked for holidays and for any special occasion, like birthdays, she was extraordinary. And I watched her make these delicious torts and tarts, and I wanted to know how to do that.
HANSEN: Yeah. She left recipes behind.
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: She did. When she got sick, when she knew that she was dying, she used to - Gesine, you must learn this, you know, you have to remember what all of these are. And she catalogued her recipes for me. You know, she was funny 'cause she was very, very specific. Like, you must do this. And I'm, like, OK, this shall be my job. And I'm just so happy I have them, especially during the holidays when so many of them are her wonderful Christmas confections.
HANSEN: You write very lovingly about bread and how we've lost the sense of what real bread is. So, can you explain why your favorite food is a grilled cheese sandwich made with commercial white bread and not- found-in-nature-orange processed cheese?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Oh. Well, probably because it's exactly the thing I never got in my childhood - that awful cheese. That American yellow glob is just, to me, something quite fascinating and tasty. And that bread that is pretty much made of cotton balls and not out of anything found in nature, when you fry it in a ton of butter, there's just something - the alchemy of that is just toxic and wonderful.
HANSEN: I'm speaking with Gesine Bullock-Prado. Her memoir is called "Confections of a Closet Master Baker."
You write in the book that there are some orders that arrive at your bakery shop, or people come in and place an order, that brought you to tears. You tell us about a woman who had throat cancer, and she wanted a chocolate mousse from you. And when she ate it, it was like the first food that she was able to eat. But then this elderly German gentleman comes in and asks for a very specific plum dessert, and this was one of your mother's specialties, right?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Oh, it's called (German spoken), which is the very Bavarian name for it. And it's a specific plum that only comes in the summer and at the very tail end of summer. It's the Italian plum here, or prune plum. And when it's not quite ripe, it's very green inside. And when you bake it, it bleeds red from the skin. And it smells of my mother simply because she made it all the time. And it has this really sweet, buttery crust.
And we had it every summer, whether we were in Germany or in the States. And she made it when she took me to college, and she was so upset. And she made a sheet pan of this plum cake, and ate the entire thing in her grief of having let me go. And she was both emotionally distraught and then after eating the plum cake, was intestinally distraught.
HANSEN: You made your sister's wedding cake, which actually turned into a bit of an adventure. What happened?
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: What didn't happen? There were paparazzi who knew that this wedding was going to happen, so they were staking out her house. And it turned out that I had to make the cake in her house. And when I got to her house, her oven was broken. By the time it got fixed, I only had less than a day to make this monstrous cake, and then individual cakes, for 200 people.
And then we had to transport it. And then the van broke down on the way, with paparazzi tailing us. And then getting there, I had to assemble the cake in essentially, a cooler van. I was, like, in the back of a pickup truck that had an air conditioner. And I couldn't see because the only lighting I had was pretty much mood lighting. So I couldn't see a thing I was doing.
So by the time I was almost done, there was a knock on the door. And I was the bridesmaid, and I was the only person standing up with her, aside from my father, who walked her down the aisle. So I had to be there or, you know, there's wasn't a wedding. And so I never really got to take a look at the cake until it was out in front of everybody.
And then I ran out right before the wedding and I went, uh-oh, goodness, this is tilting just a wee bit. I asked the person who was decorating the table, I said, does it appear as if it's tilting to you? I guess they were all being very - they're all, like, oh, no, no, it's fine. And my husband looked at me, he's, like, just a little. And so we made sure they turned it around so it didn't look as if it was going to fall on anyone.
HANSEN: Yeah. And you kind of put flowers around the base of it to make it look festive.
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Yes. Any mistake that I had made in the dark, I just said, shove a flower in there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Make it pretty for me, please.
HANSEN: Gesine Bullock-Prado's memoir is called "Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker." She joined us from Vermont Public Radio. Thanks so much.
Ms. BULLOCK-PRADO: Thank you so much. This was lovely.