Detroit, USA - Baker
Interview made by Cyril Bruyelle in May 2017
I met Monica in Detroit through a Facebook group. Before arriving in a city, I often tried to identify Facebook groups with lots of people and asked if some of them would agree to be interviewed. Monica said Yes. She was born in 1977 in Detroit, Michigan. The city, once the flagship of the US and global auto industry, has been in a state of near-permanent economic crisis since the 1950s. Monica, like many others, had to go into exile to find work. It is in Miami that she went, accompanied by her husband, to work in the kitchens of different restaurants. For several years, the couple worked day and night to survive. "The beaches of Miami? I do not know them, we never had time to go, " Monica told me. She recently decided to return to Detroit to try to open her pastry. When I met her, her kitchen was in the garage of her house and she was supplying the bakeries of the city with cakes of all kinds. To her delight, she has now become the pastry chef at Detroit's Lady of the House restaurant, a popular address in the city. Her interview was very touchy and profound.
What did you want to do when you were kid?
Everything! [laughs] I wanted to be an astronaut, a ballerina, a marine biologist… but I realized there’s a lot of math involved in the last one and I was not the greatest at math!
Then I realized that I’ve always wanted to cook. I was raised over food; my grandparents had a huge garden.
I’ve always had a relationship with where my food came from and that inspires me everyday. Now I am finally doing what I should’ve been doing all that time.
With whom would you like to have a coffee?
My great grandmother. And I am already crying! [laughs]
She had a real influence on how my world philosophy developed and she introduced me to the concept of unconditional love. There’s not enough of that in the world. I’d just want to thank her and hear more of her story, what led her to be so open.
If you could choose something that could be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?
I think everybody should wait tables.
I did it for 15 years. I judge people by the way they treat the people that are serving them food.
As a waiter, you are working really hard to organize everything, to keep your cool when people are not being nice to you and when things are not going the right way. You find a way to communicate without seeming frazzle the entire time. If every single person in the world did that for six months, we would treat each other a little bit better.
To you, what’s the main characteristic that all human being have in common?
There’s a need for a sense of community, a sense of belonging. Anybody who says they don’t need that have built too thick of a wall. It is there, for sure.
To you, who is the happiest person on earth?
Hard to say… Everybody has something going on. Everything that you see from the outside might not necessarily be the truth. I don’t really know the answer to that question… I am pretty happy!
If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?
I would stop spending money on wars and start spending it on people here who need it. There’re so many homeless people, so many vets that aren’t getting what they deserve for having served their country. They actually suffered as a result of it.
Too many of them fall to the cracks and have mental health issues. We need to take care of those people.
If the resources were there, they could live productive lives and be integrated within the society.
I would try to develop more programs to make invisible people visible again.
What do you need?
I am perfectly content right now: I have a little business, which was my dream for years. I have an amazing husband, who always puts me first, which I really value.
I’ve got a brand new family since I am married and I’ve also got my family of friends that have been there for 20 years now. I’ve got an amazing business partner, I have a roof over my head, and cute little dogs and cats… I need nothing.
What’s the news that affects you the most in your country these days?
I would say pretty much everything involving Trump. How could it not? I am just angry, frustrated, watching him just tearing apart everything from the outside out. He’s changing the fabric of the American society in a way that people now think it is okay to be terrible to one another. I think the only way that we’re gonna recover from it is if we are good to one another. If we can’t be good to ourselves, how are we gonna be good for the rest of the world? Our country is supposed to be a super power but now it is a super baby, it’s just ridiculous.
What would you do if we gave you 1 million dollars now?
I would use part of it for my business. I would buy a house and put down some roots.
But I’d really like to start a program teaching baking to the kids in the city. That’s a good career, really hands on, it would be something that gives people a little bit of hope in the future and it would also be good for the city.
Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?
My daily life involves mostly baking: a nice convection oven, with a lot of space, would make my life a lot easier!
If you had to create a company, what would it be?
MOKA, which is a combination of my name, Monica G. and of my partner’s, Kassy S.
We’re just a baby right now but we’ll have a storefront next year!
Do you think your life is easier or more complicated than the life of your parents?
Better or worse sounds so negative! I don’t think there was anything wrong with the way my mother lived. I just live differently, I think I am making better choices than my mother did and living more in my means. My father was not in the picture.
At the end of the day, it is really about how you make people feel. She actually made people feel amazing: she helped them everyday! I’m just giving people sugar. So maybe she was better than me.
Can you draw something beautiful?
I am terrible at drawing!
It’s my sister’s wedding cake.
Can you sing something beautiful?
In a city life, in a city pressure, taking over me… that’s good as it’s gonna get!
What are you afraid of?
Bugs, insects… [laughs]
Actually, most of the stuff I was afraid of have already happened to me. And yet I am here, on the other side. I still have a really positive outlook and hope for the future. Something else will probably happen but we’re gonna make it through, you just got to go day by day.
Close your eyes, we are in 2100, what do you see?
I see a lot less people. Because too many people were using way too many resources for no particular reason. I also see a less commercial, less consumerist culture. We are back to more of a barter system, depending on people, with a sense of community.
What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve seen in your life?
The first five years in Miami, we were so busy: we cooked 60 hours a week! So during the day, we were vampires and we couldn’t see the beautiful beaches, the sun and the water… Except at night, when we were on the beach, with the full moon reflecting on water. That’s the most beautiful thing I have seen.
If you had to write a book about the current world, what would be the title?
Don’t forget the past.
Which of your country's cultural specificities are you the proudest of?
Music, absolutely. Especially music from here, Detroit.
Our musical culture has driven so many different genres over the generations.
Music has the power to transform and to make the saddest day beautiful.
If you could do any job regardless of money, what would it be?
I am doing it! My life was falling apart, I knew I had to leave Detroit and follow my dream. My dream school happened to be seven block from where I moved in Miami and I have been focusing on that for the last five years, because this is what I want to happen for me, for the rest of my life!
If you had to explain our planet to an alien, what would you say?
Well, it is mostly water so the Earth is quite blue and beautiful. It varies in degrees of temperature. There are lots of interesting lives to see. Some creatures on the planet like to think there are in charge of everything but I don’t think they really are…
And you, which question would you like to ask the world?
What do you think is the best feature of all the human beings?