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Benjamina Ebuehi captured hearts on Season 7 (US Season 4) of the Great British Bake-Off but what she’s doing now to empower other women will impress her fans even more than her quarter-final finish.
Benjamina Ebuehi never thought that she would have a career in baking. Despite having a lifelong passion for baking, she had never heard of most baking-related jobs and she couldn’t think of any black female chefs or bakers. She also wanted to do good in the world and wasn’t sure exactly how that would connect with a career in baking.
While at university Benjamina started a blog called Carrot & Crumb to help keep track of her recipes. Despite posting 15 recipes there, she told me “they were mostly for me” and she didn’t tell many others about her passion. She was worried that baking wasn’t a viable career option and couldn’t see how it would directly help others, so after majoring in economics, she decided to become a teacher.
After a year of teaching, Benjamina applied to the Great British Bake-Off without telling any of her friends and family. Because it was “just a hobby” she didn’t think that any of them would understand why she was willing to give up her job to pursue a baking television show. She doubted that she would be chosen, but she was excited to take a tangible step towards pursuing something that she’d dreamt about.
When Benjamina got an invitation from the producers of Bake-Off to “join the tent”, it upended her carefully laid career plans. She told her friends and family and to her relief, they were thrilled to see her follow her dreams. She had been baking forever and the joy it brought her was tangible for everyone around her.
On Bake-Off, Benjamina was well received for having a great sense of humor and for producing clean bakes that the judges deemed elegant and tasty. At first she felt lucky just to be there but over time, she started to believe that she had a chance to win. (Not surprising due to the sheer volume of positive feedback she received.)
In a gut-wrenching quarter final, she was eliminated and it was a major blow to her self confidence. She had put her reputation on the line by joining the show and suddenly she did not know what to do next.
Benjamina considered going back to teaching, but with much support from fellow Bake-Off contestants such as Rav and Andrew, she realized that her dream of baking professionally was at that point a viable career path. She got offers to lead baking shows, work at bakeries and teach classes, but helping people and making the world a better place were still critically important to her, so she wasn’t quite sure what to do. Where does one turn when passions conflict?
As luck would have it, Benjamina had been a long-time fan of the Luminary Bakery, so when they reached out to her about becoming an ambassador, she realized that it was a perfect fit. The Luminary Bakery works with disadvantaged women suffering poverty, homelessness, violence or criminal activity and offers them skills training, paid employment and a supportive community. They learn to bake in a 6 month program while also learning life skills that help them get back on their feet. As Benjamina told me,
“Some of these women go on to work in professional kitchens but it’s about more than that. Baking is therapeutic. [They feel like,] I’ve created this with my own hands and it’s something I’ve done from scratch, from beginning to end. That whole process is powerful- it empowers them to know they can create and survive. A lot of them don’t know how to bake anything and they leave being able to make bread and pastries. They come out with baking skills, tangible employment skills— they can succeed in job interviews. Baking teaches patience because sometimes it doesn’t work. There is a lot of failure along the way but they learn the persistence to try again.”
Baking as a metaphor for life-building and business building seems perfect not only for what she’s teaching these women, but also for Benjamina’s own career journey. She has tested, iterated, burned and learned through her journey. While being an ambassador for the Luminary Bakery and working on some baking apprenticeships, Benjamina decided she wanted to become a food stylist (a professional who prepares and make foods for photo shoots). The problem was that there were few, if any, black women working in this field to help mentor her along that career journey.
She worked hard to get food styling opportunities (her instagram is now chock full of this work) and then decided that she wanted to give back and help mentor other women about these opportunities. As one of only 6 black women to have competed on the 9 seasons of Bake-Off, she was uniquely positioned with a large audience to to help other women follow in her baking and entrepreneurial footsteps.
With that aim, Benjamina started a company called “The Sister Table” with her sister Bonita Ebuehi earlier this year. The Sister Table hosts brunch clubs once a month for 30 women to gather round a table and share their ideas, dreams and plans for the future. This club fosters entrepreneurship and sisterhood while being accessible to a diverse group of women. Benjamina creates a 3-course menu for each brunch and unlike many supper clubs which are expensive and upper-class, Benjamina keeps tickets at a modest 35 pounds each which means that her table is filled with a wide variety of women eager to connect and learn from one another.
Kasia Galloway, the founder of Naked Dye, told me that she started a sustainable linens company a few months before learning about the Sister Table brunches. She then reached out to Benjamina and asked about a collaboration. Benjamina was encouraging and asked her to provide linens for the brunches. As Kasia told me, “Attending one of The Sister Table brunches was on my list straight away when I discovered them, but the fact that I saw all the lovely women using my naturally dyed napkins made the experience even more special. I’m very proud to support Benjamina and Bonita’s idea of empowering women through their events, and extremely thankful for their support of my brand.”
With 5 brunches done so far and many more to come, it seems clear that Benjamina’s impact is just beginning. The food industry has not historically been accessible to women of color which made choosing to become a baker tough, but when Benjamina took the leap to join Bake-Off she set off a series of events that will change the course of baking history. Even though she fell short of her ambition to win, Benjamina has successfully built a career focused on empowering women and girls in entrepreneurial pursuits and baking. Through the Sister Table, Benjamina now offers other women entrepreneurs an outlet to share their own stories, build community and expand their ventures, and she is forging an inspiring path for many other women to succeed. The baking community is lucky to have a leader like Benjamina Ebuehi.
January 28, 2019 at 02:32PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs