From Litigator to Linzer

13 Dec

Welcome to tortefeaster, a blog about second chances, dream-chasing, baking, and food lit/news.  Before I start pounding the keyboard in earnest, I thought I should introduce myself.

Tortefeaster was born on a heart-breakingly chill December night in the Queen City.On Sunday, the 12th, I apprehensively peeled back the drapery shielding the once-charming but currently nonfunctional balcony in my rented condo unit and spied snow. Yes, snow!

Maybe it was shock, boredom, loneliness or a combination of the three that finally drove me to put the pedal to the metal and start this blog. I’d been contemplating blogging off and on for almost two years. But now? Suddenly, it seemed like the right time to be a little self-indulgent–to flatter myself into thinking that maybe some people will play along.

But I needed a name…A name for the blog. A name that would convey the crazy, epiphanic, life-changing, soul-sifting journey that I have been on for the last two years. And then it hit me. Tortefeaster!

I will back up…

In my prior (professional) life, I was a disgruntled attorney. On my good days, I felt like Ed Norton a la Fight Club in his pre-Tyler Durden era. One day greyed into the next into the next into the next…and I won’t even start on what constituted a bad day.  And then quite unexpectedly, the nightmare ended, and I found myself in free fall. Shortly after New Year’s 2009, I was unceremoniously pink-slipped. Not quite how I planned to exit the practice of law, but in hindsight, it was the catalyst I needed.

As I simultaneously applied for legal jobs, I began to bake..and bake…and bake. It started with apple pies and grew into sandwich and hearth breads, then blossomed into tarts with both pate sucree and pate brisee crusts, bagels, pizza and cinnamon rolls. And as I baked, the  shadow of a long-abandoned dream of mine emerged. What it would it be like to go to culinary school? It was a question that my loving and supportive husband only encouraged me to heed.

Poppy and Salt Bagels from my kitchen (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

The natural-born researcher in me took over. I conducted informational interviews with career changers who are currently working in a variety of facets of the culinary industry; I read every book imaginable, including  Andrew MacLauchlan’s Making of a Pastry Chef and Irena Chalmers’s 150 Great Food Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers, and Food Lovers; I briefly staged as an assistant to a pastry chef in a restaurant; and I volunteered as a kitchen assistant at local cooking classes. But when it came time to making the final decision–to go or not to go–some paralysis set in. I was not going into this naively–I knew there would be A LOT of negatives in the industry, including low pay, working holidays and weekends, and back-breaking labor. Going to school also meant starting over at the mature age of 33–a time in life when most of my peers were established in their careers and starting to have families. Yet, there was something undeniable about a career in culinary. When you love something or someone, you love them in spite of shortcoming and flaws and imperfections. I love food. It was that simple.

To that end, there was no turning back. I enrolled in the Baking and Pastry degree program at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte and since that first day in September, I haven’t looked back . . . even though I am a card-carrying member of the AARP compared to my 18-year-old classmates . . . even though on Day One I faced the terrifying machinery of a spiral mixer and the infernal heat of a deck oven . . . and even though I sometimes act like the absent-minded professor. I know that these challenges are infinitesimal compared to those I will face moving forward in the industry. I also know that they are infinitesimal compared to the rewards I am already reaping.  This is something I am doing for me and in doing it, I learned a lesson I’ll never forget: that it is never too late to become the person that you want to be.

I chose the name tortefeaster for this blog because it describes both where I have been and where I am going. A tortfeasor in legal jargon is one who commits a civil wrong and thereby injures another. First year law students have nightmares about tortfeasors, particularly tortfeasing doctors who leave surgical instruments in their patients!

A torte is a cake of Central European origin (Linzer and Sacher are the most famous, although Linzer is not technically a cake…discuss). A “feaster” in my book is one who revels or one who celebrates. I therefore coined tortefeaster as a term of reinvention and rebirth. It perfectly captures my joy in reinventing myself through the art of baking.

Now that you know a little bit about me, I hope that you will stay tuned for my future musings and mutterings on this blog. Let’s get started!

One Response to “From Litigator to Linzer”


  1. Ten Things That Surprised Me about Culinary School « tortefeaster - January 23, 2011

    […] your mind?” I’ve written about my deliberations previously in my inaugural blog post, Linzer to Litigator. I am writing this posting to give you a glimpse of my world as student in the baking and pastry […]

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