Dropping pans, botching recipes and washing dishes were familiar inconveniences to junior Brooklyn Hotte. She held a long-term love for cooking and baking, not only because it allowed her to create her favorite delicacies, but also because, since starting 11 years ago, it had become part of her identity.

Hotte’s grandmother was the reason she discovered her interest in baking at a young age. On Sunday mornings, she would watch her make cinnamon rolls. “It began with that, and then it spiraled,” she said. “Every Sunday, when I would go over to her house, we would start baking and spend the entire day making everything. I go over there every once in a while to this day.”

 Hotte learned much about baking during these sessions. “I’ve learned a lot from her, for sure. When I cook and bake, I don’t measure anything, and she’s definitely helped me with that,” she said. “I don’t usually measure stuff because it takes too much time. I also don’t want to do the dishes, and measuring cups are so hard to clean because there are so many little grooves.”

Eventually, Hotte began to pursue the hobby independently. She believed that in the time since she was a little girl sitting on her grandma’s kitchen floor, she had made great progress. “I’ve improved so much. I don’t know what I was doing when I started. It’s interesting to see how far my designs for decorating cookies and cakes have come,” she said. “I’ve been cooking and baking since I was five. Eleven years of progress is a lot, and I’ve come a long way.”

One factor that contributed to her improvement was ready access to a variety of ingredients. “My house is an ingredient household, so we have stuff everywhere. Since I don’t use recipes, I’ll just be hungry one night and throw something together,” said Hotte.

A job at Panera Bread was the next step in Hotte’s culinary career. She compared working to solving a puzzle, saying, “Work is like a puzzle because you’re reading off the screen and entering stuff in. Panera isn’t the same as somewhere that I would have to make actual food. All I do is throw some bread in the oven or some lettuce in a container. It would be different if I was working on a grill or stovetop.”

Though she was fine with working fast food, Hotte didn’t know if she would pursue a career as a chef or baker after high school. There were moments when she aspired to follow that path, but they were undermined by the obstacle of education. “I see all of these private chefs online, and I want to be like them, but culinary and pastry schools are so rigorous. It all looks so complicated,” she said. 

Hotte also feared that turning the pastime into an occupation would lessen her love for it. “If I made cooking my job, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I will continue to pursue it as a hobby, though,” she said. “I can’t see myself abandoning it in the future. It’s been part of my life for so long. I grew up with it, and I would feel weird without it.”

There were lessons Hotte learned from cooking and baking that she felt extended beyond the kitchen. Perseverance was an important trait that she developed. “Before, I was one of those kids who would give up. If I didn’t get something right the first time, there was no way I would keep going. Now, I’ve learned how important trial and error is. I can fail, keep going and still get a good end result,” she said. “If I kept with the mindset of giving up when I didn’t get it right on the first try, I wouldn’t get anywhere in school, work or friendships. That is one of the most important things to learn in life.” 

Because Hotte had firsthand experience with this kind of mindset, she understood the feelings of frustration. She advised anyone deterred from cooking or baking because of its difficulty to not give up. “Start off with recipes and make sure that you read them and follow the directions. Baking is literally a science. If you add a little bit of an extra ingredient, it can ruin the whole thing. Read carefully, and make sure you’re measuring properly,” she said. “It’s totally okay to mess up -- especially with decorating. It does not matter how that thing looks, it’s still going to taste good. You can’t go wrong by starting with simple stuff because then you won’t be as discouraged.”

Story by Kayden Aishe