Thembekile Charlotte Letlape, 31, left her job as an investment banker and is now a pastry chef. She lives in Saxonwold with her parents, Mpho and Dr Kgosi Letlape, brother Tebogo, cousin, Mpho Sethusha, and niece, Kgalalelo Maseko. As an investment banker working in Sandton, no two days were the same and I loved that part of my job. On top of meeting clients and handling their money, I was also involved in deals that were worth a fortune, but could easily be derailed by a breaking news story somewhere else in the world.
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But it was demanding; we worked with banks in different time zones, which meant that sometimes I’d get in at 6am and leave at 10pm. If a client request came in late on Friday afternoon it often meant my whole weekend disappeared. I realised that my job was wearing me down and I noticed subtle changes in my mood; I felt burnt out and that I couldn’t cope – the thought of going to work filled me with a sense of dread. I visited a therapist who diagnosed me with depression, and it was the wake-up call I needed – something had to change.
My therapist suggested finding things I enjoyed outside of work and I settled on baking, as it’s always given me a sense of joy. I think it’s something that my grandfather passed on to me when I was young. While everyone in the house was enjoying their weekend lie-in, we’d be in the kitchen baking bread. Since then, I’d turn to baking whenever I had a bad day at the office. I could easily break out the eggs and flour at 9pm and retreat into the kitchen for a couple of hours. It was while mixing ingredients and decorating the final product that I found a ‘happy space’. I was asked to bake a cake for my aunt’s 60th birthday, and even though I was still working, I found myself making the time to get stuck into something I loved doing. I seemed to have a knack for baking – the birthday cake was a hit.
I thought about taking it further, so I investigated different patisserie courses. In November 2014, I was dealt a blow when I was retrenched. I did interviews for a new position in the company, until a friend asked me if I really wanted to do this. I knew that corporate was having a negative impact on my well-being. I decided to stick with what made me feel good and in 2015, I used my retrenchment package to enroll in a full-time diploma in food preparation and cooking, specialising in patisserie at the Food and Beverage Institute Chef School and Pâtisserie Academy in North Riding. Once I had completed my qualification, I opened my own bespoke baking business called The Pastry Princess.
Instead of churning out the same cake over and over, I stuck to doing cakes that were more personal and unique. I prefer to sit down with clients and discuss their event before we select a cake. From there I’ll try to match the cake’s decor and flavour with the occasion. I’ve built up a steady stream of clients from family and friends passing on their recommendations to their nearest and dearest. So far I’ve done everything from birthdays to private dinner parties. My business may be small, but I have plans to grow it into an iconic food brand. Despite how stressful starting from scratch can be, The Pastry Princess has helped make me healthier, and happier.