What I Do: Suman Shekar of Companion Bakery
Suman Shekar has a sharp eye for detail. Even while chatting at Companion's West St. Louis Campus, part of her attention is focused on the bustling bakery visible through the cafe’s glass walls, watching for any hiccup. Her role overseeing process improvements and quality assurance combines her lifelong passion for cooking with her inclination for order and efficiency. Add a culinary degree and an MBA, and it’s easy to see why 29-year-old Shekar landed such a vital role at one of St. Louis’ largest bread-baking operations.
“I was always excited to learn something new, start something new and establish a procedure in place, even if it was something as simple as my personal laundry.”
“I always say this to other people – and maybe it’s the wrong thing to say – I don’t know how smart I am on [the science of baking], but I know I work hard to figure it out.”
“The culinary industry isn’t just cooking. It’s sanitation, it’s order of operations – it’s all-encompassing. ... I make sure that I’m using my culinary experience to achieve and transfer that information to [staff]. Maybe I’m not physically [cooking] every day, but the experience I gathered from cooking, I use every day that I’m here.”
“You’ve got to be direct. You can’t mess around with it. I think what I’ve learned is that everybody used to tell me that you have to be a little more aggressive or assertive, and I said I will be, but in my own style. … If you're not direct with somebody, I think the message is lost.”
“Every time I try to make [Indian food], nothing tastes as good as my mom’s ... Sometimes I watch her and I’m like, I understand the concept, but there are so many things like, ‘A squirt of this, a bit of this, and now you cook for another half an hour or 20 minutes, and use your pressure cooker.’ She has a book this big from when she was 19 [in which] she handwrote every recipe she could possibly know, so when she came to the States, she would have it.”
“We do this thing called Wandering Wednesdays. Two or three times a month, [my friends and I] try to pick a new place to go that’s on our random list. … We did Pizza Head over on Grand; we tried to catch it on the day they did the masala pizza. I want it so bad!”
“Coming in every day and smelling [the bread] – oh, it’s so good. The fun doesn't end on that part. People always [say], ‘Oh, two years at the bakery, you probably don’t even smell it anymore.’ I’m like, ‘No, every day I come in, and it smells so good!’”
“The ciabatta is the best one here. It’s so simple and good. It’s just the best. Even the regular baguette is so good here. It’s hard to describe it. It’s just such a satisfying feeling when you’re eating it because of the way it crunches and the way it’s so soft on the inside.”
Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.
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