FIND WHAT YOU LOVE and do it for the rest of your life. The first advice from most career counsellors will probably sound like this – but at times, we find ourselves wanting to do something entirely different.
The Scottish Ruth Barry exchanged her blooming fast-paced career in the London art world with the insecurity of running her own business and combining it with something she was never able to get enough of: pastries. Six years ago, and with nothing but a cheap oven and a few baking tins, Ruth Barry laid the foundation for the Black Isle Bakery – recently having been awarded one of the most excellent patisseries in Berlin by the renowned German newspaper Tagesspiegel.
We meet Ruth in her Berlin kitchen, where she has spent the majority of her waking hours, over the past year. Within the space of this kitchen is where the magic happens. Tucked in between high-end fashion brands and small art galleries in Berlin-Mitte’s Linienstraße, Black Isle Bakery fits right in with its art decor and the sparkling personality of its owner.
The First Hard Year
“I don’t have this legacy of a mother or grandmother who baked. I knew that I would have to go and learn from professionals. In Paris, I learned a lot about integrity and letting things take the time they need – there is no cutting corners, you have to do it right. That was a valuable experience,” she states as the melted butter reaches just the right temperature.
“I knew that I would have to go and learn from professionals...”
Ruth Barry is making the lemon curd and cheese filling for a roulade, while she takes us from her childhood fairyland on Black Isle, the Scottish peninsular, to where she is today; one of the finest pastry makers in Berlin.
Black Isle Bakery didn’t exist in its current form from the beginning. She started out catering at parties and events in London with the advantage of knowing the crowds and people who threw all the right dinners. She relocated her London business in 2014, moving her entire life to Berlin where she had to start from scratch – without the support of friends, family or an embedded network.
“Berlin was different from London because I didn’t know anyone here,” she tells and elaborates: “Here, I had to ask for it - which was good because for the first time I was forced to convince people that it was worth taking a chance on me.” A tough first year later, she feels happy about the move:
“Berlin is ready for the next step – for the food revolution. I think we’re in the middle of an exciting time and the food scene is changing dramatically. It is going from a place of limited options and quite distinctively average quality, to a melting pot of everything from street food to high-end Michelin restaurants.”
Pastry and Poetry
Usually, a bakery is a small shop where you go in, get your bread, and leave. But after Ruth Barry’s apprenticeship in Paris, she knew that wasn’t what she wanted, she tells:
“When I quit my job and starting baking professionally, the goal was always to have a shop at some point. But I realised that I didn’t want a traditional bakery with nowhere for people to sit.”
The briefing for the architects of the café was to create a space which resembled that of an art gallery. The result is a scarcely furnished space with distinct custom-made furniture. A copper plate covers the wall and creates a stunning back-rest, becoming a favourite among Instagram-savvy customers. And though the primary materials are steel or brass – cold, hard materials – Ruth Barry stands in her own space, surrounded by childhood memories and fairy-tales. A beautiful and curious mirror of the young pastry chef, who has poured her heart and soul into her business:
”When I quit my job and starting baking professionally, the goal was always to have a shop at some point. But I realised that I didn’t want a traditional bakery with nowhere for people to sit.”
FFollow the road to the top of the hill, pass the tree house and the gorse bushes bumbling with bees. Keep the honeysuckle to your left.
The passages on the wall are in simple blue writing, not necessarily something noticed at first glance. She has transformed myths and childhood memories from the Black Isle into poetry, giving the space a touch of the beauty and mysticism of the Scottish coastline.
Her upbringing and background are also mirrored in the selection of sweet and savoury pastries, made daily with high-quality ingredients and love. With her passion for salty baked good, which are also vegetarian she realised she would have to make them herself:
“I wanted to have a unique product that wasn’t a cupcake or macaron, all those things that are super trendy. I was thinking about the cookies and biscuits that I loved as a child. Like the Scottish ginger cake, one of our most popular cakes. I grew up with that recipe, and I really love having recipes that tell a story,” she says.
Like the decor, her pastries are on point. There is no fancy frosting or excessive fondants – her small tarts with simple, seasonal fillings not only look good in their simplicity, but they will also send you dreaming of weekends in the countryside.
“I only make things that I love to eat myself. I don’t want any element which doesn’t feel absolutely necessary. Recently, someone asked me how I get such a true lemon taste, and really, the secret is just to keep it simple. And naturally, to use the best ingredients,” she reveals.
Up and at ‘em
A career in the art world entails a lot of late evenings with openings and wine. Ruth Barry’s new direction strays far away from that route and follows that of the traditional baker: she is usually up and in her kitchen before 6 am each morning. Add to that, the pressure of starting your own business from zero. Nonetheless, her happiness and satisfaction are undeniable as she pours the dough from a bowl to the baking tin.
In the corner of her bakery, her new companion is taking a nap. Sally, a short-haired, brown dachshund, is buried under a blanket. Sally comes to the bakery every day, and Ruth Barry counts her as one of the best things she’s done for herself.
“I have to go out with her every day. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, the dog needs you. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it really is rejuvenating.”
The only time she doesn’t turn on the oven herself is on Sundays. Starting her business and running a bakery has taught her to treasure the small things, she tells. The baked dough is resting on the table, waiting to be filled and rolled up again. “I really treasure Sundays,” she says with a glow in her eyes, revealing that time off is a rare luxury.
She spreads out the delicious mix of lemon curd and cream cheese, carefully rolling everything up, before letting it settle for in the fridge. Her way of moving around the kitchen is impressive, her carefree way of arranging steaming hot baking tins fresh out of the oven - without even wearing mittens. Ruth Barry is rarely at home, but it is evident to anyone stopping by Linienstraße, that she feels home right here in her kitchen.