Show me you kitchen – Michelle Braganza

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Michelle Briganza is a history buff. Last year, she brought a good friend to Aarhus University to show her the buildings which were bombed during World War II: afterwards, she popped into the cafeteria at the Royal Library for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. And after she’d eaten the last crumbs, she applied for a job there – and was hired as a pastry chef a few days later.

2018.02.09 | Marie Groth Andersen

Michelle Braganza works as a pastry chef in the cafeteria at the Royal Library. Every day, five days a week, she creates 8-10 different desserts and cakes. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Michelle Braganza’s workday starts at 5 am. Five and a half hours later, she has eight to eleven different baked desserts ready to go on the cafeteria buffet.

Is there a time during your working day you particularly enjoy?

“Yes, I actually like the early morning hours when I have the whole kitchen to myself, and there’s peace and quiet.”

Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Michelle has been a professional pastry chef for 22 years. She trained in London, her hometown.

“But I’ve been living in Denmark for eighteen and a half years. I met my partner in London, and we had a long-distance relationship for five years before I moved to Denmark. I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of London and move to a smaller city where the busses run on time and that sort of thing.”

Michelle has only been working at the Royal Library for four months. In fact, she more or less got the job by accident.

“I’m extremely interested in history, and I like to visit historical monuments, cemeteries and places where historical events have taken place. And so I got in contact with Palle Lykke, the university historian, because I wanted to see the parts of the university that were bombed during the Second World War. In August, I came here to show a friend the historical sites at AU, and afterwards we went to the Royal Library cafeteria for coffee and cake. Before I left, I asked if they needed a pastry chef. And a few days later, the boss called and asked whether I’d meant that, because they needed someone to make desserts and bread. And so I got the job.”

Michelle has her own domain at the back of the kitchen where she surrounds herself with sacks and sacks of organic flour, mounds of chocolate and cake decorations of all kinds. And a small witch.    

Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

What is this doing here?

“It was on the buffet, but I pinched it to keep me company. I’m pretty much on my own back here,” she says with a laugh. She shows me how to make the witch shriek while its eyes glow with a wicked red light.   

Really delightful company.

“I have a hard time throwing out metal and plastic. So I collect it and drive it to the recycling centre. It’s important to me, and my co-workers are sympathetic. Saving the planet has always been important to me – even though it’s just a small contribution. I also collect TASSIMO coffee pods which I can trade in for money that I donate to charity.” Photo: Ida Marie Jensen 

Even though Michelle savours the quiet mornings in her own company, she also enjoys her working relationships with the rest of the team in the kitchen and meeting the many customers who visit the cafeteria.

“Every Tuesday, I get to operate the till for two hours. And that’s really something I look forward to. I love talking to our customers. After a few weeks here at the cafeteria, I was on a first-name basis with a number of them, and the students are just lovely.”

“I’ve always been quite outgoing, but when I moved to Denmark, it was hard to make friends. I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t speak the language very well, or because of the colour of my skin. But then I started going to salsa dancing, and I met a lot of people there. It was great, and now I encourage all the foreigners I meet to come to salsa with me,” she laughs.     

Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Are there any desserts you particularly enjoy making?

“Danish cream cakes. Because I get to be creative with the decoration and make the cakes look really pretty.” 

On the other hand, are there any desserts you think are a bother to make?

“Hmmmm, no – but it can be difficult to make new things and vary the selection. I have to make 8-11 desserts every day, five days a week, you know. And I’m also limited by what ingredients I can get from our supplier. For example, I can’t get pistachio nuts.”

Where do you get your inspiration?

“Sometimes I look at recipes online, but I don’t really use cookbooks. I also take my inspiration from what ingredients we have that need using up. For example, we had leftover mangoes today – so today I made mango cheesecakes.”    

Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

But I see a book by Mette Blomsterberg [popular Danish pastry chef and TV presenter, ed.] right here on the shelf?

“That’s true, but I haven’t really used it, actually. I don’t watch the ’Den Store Bagedyst’ [Danish version of The Great British Bake Off, ed.] either. It’s not my style. I would never make a chili pepper mousse or something like that – I guess I’m more classic.”

“A lot of people ask me for my recipes. But I don’t want to give them out, because I’m the one who’s spent time finding them and adapting them. And then it’s not interesting anymore, you know, if I just give them away.”

“But believe me, I’m happy that they like my desserts. It makes me happy when I hear a customer who’s standing at the buffet say that they look delicious.”    

Michelle Braganza has written down all her best recipes in a spiral notebook she keeps in the kitchen. But the notebook is for her eyes only. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen    

Michelle looks at the trolley where she’s placed all her desserts for the day. She’s ready. A little ahead of schedule.

“Now I’m just waiting for them to clear the breakfast things from the buffet so that I can put out my desserts.” 

The lunch buffet has to be ready by 11 am, when everyone in the kitchen meets to present their contributions to the day’s selection of dishes.    

Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Michelle presents the desserts she’s made today, which are displayed on tree stumps, between old book crates from the State and University Library: “Here’s chocolate truffles, chocolate mousse, mango cheesecake, raspberry tart with yogurt, lime pie, meringue cookies, blueberry muffins, Danish pastry...”

“We do this so everyone knows what we’re serving, and what allergens are in the different dishes,” she explains. A lot of the food served by the cafeteria is lactose-free, she says. 

After I leave, what are you going to start working on?

“I’m going to tidy up, wash up and mop the floor. And I need to figure out if I need any supplies for tomorrow. My shift ends at 1 pm, and then I’ll go home and take a nap.”     

”The cafeteria just won an innovation award from ISS [A major facility services company based in Denmark, ed.], and that’s wonderful to be a part of. And it’s kind of wild, because we’re a relatively new team. Only two of my co-workers have been here for more than a year.” Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Translated by Lenore Messick

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Revised 12.07.2018