The Pastry Nerd: Trained Neuroscientist Turns Baker

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Saïd M’Dahoma considers himself an ‘accidental’ baker. The neuroscientist turned baker moved to Canada six years ago for a researcher position after completing his Ph.D. in Neuroscience in Paris.   

Saïd M’Dahoma, the Pastry Nerd

Describing his journey from someone dealing with science experiments to experimenting with bakery items, Saïd shared, “a few years ago, after I got my Ph.D. in Neuroscience in Paris, I got a postdoctoral position at the University of Calgary. I started missing French pastries so much that I decided to make them on my own. At first, I was not really good at it, but I improved significantly by watching tons of YouTube videos, reading cookbooks from my favourite French pastry chefs, and reading blogs.”  

If there were no failures, there wouldn’t be new inventions. Saïd had never learnt or even tried baking before moving to Canada, and he was named ‘Foodie of the year in Western Canada’ in 2021. Saïd strongly believes in not giving up, something that he learnt from his parents.  

“I am an immigrant in Canada and a son of immigrants who moved from Comoros to France. One thing I learned from my parents is resilience. I never saw them give up on anything, even when times were very tough. That made a huge impact on me. If something interests you and you want to achieve it, you must give it your best and keep working on it until you achieve what you have set up for yourself.” 

However, Saïd’s family still wants him to continue with his Ph.D. “My father is not very supportive of this decision, even when I tell him that this career makes me happier. He would rather see me continue doing work in research and use the skills I gained during my Ph.D. That is probably because he is concerned for me more than anything else. He cannot understand what my future can be in the career I’ve chosen.” 

Saïd’s Ph.D. specialty was in neuropharmacology of pain. ”I was working on understanding how pain works in the spinal cord and the brain, and looking for new treatments to relieve chronic pain.” Now Said is working on how to deliver the best desserts with a mix of Comorian and Canadian flavours.  

There’s a stereotypical notion that the majority of the immigrants must have heard, ‘you won’t find a job in your field immediately.’ While that may not be true for all, you don’t have to leave your passion or field of interest behind. Exploring your passion may not happen immediately since,  you might still be trying to settle down. However, it is always good to take that leap of faith without worrying about the results.   

Saïd has a message for the immigrants who are scared of taking that risk, “It’s completely normal when you are an immigrant to be afraid to pursue your passion. As an immigrant, your life is sometimes not as stable, and the support network is not as strong as it would be back home. Before engaging in one of your passions, I recommend you create social media accounts or a blog, interact with people living from their passion, and eventually meet and talk to some of them. I also recommend working or volunteering at a workplace related to what you would like to do in the future to see if you really like it or not. Last but not least, look at the business model and see if it is possible to make money out of it, how, and how long it would take for this to happen.”  

While the transition from being a scientist to a baker and creating recipes was a smooth journey for  Saïd, the most challenging part was market and selling his services efficiently.   

Saïd who hasn’t got any financial support for the Pastry Nerd says he is trying to have a debt-free business and that he might request a loan from the government later on.   

Through the Pastry Nerd, Saïd offers classes to individuals and companies wanting to improve their baking skills. He also provides free recipes on his blog – thepastrynerd.com and on his Instagram page @Saïd.pastrynerd.  

Saïd has solid plans for the Pastry Nerd like any businessman or entrepreneur. “I plan to make the brand known all across North America and specialize in giving classes. If a company needs team building services, they reach out to me. If someone is looking for a recipe, they reach out to me too.”  

Cooking or baking is no less an experiment than laboratory experiments; quantity, heating, freezing, mixing, proportions, everything has to be on point, just like in a laboratory.  Saïd might have left his Ph.D. but not its learnings. Saïd said, “When you do a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, one of the most important things you need is accuracy, especially when doing experiments, which is very important in pastry. My background also helps me understand the chemical reactions happening between different ingredients, which is very useful when I want to create new recipes.” 

For Saïd, the biggest risk involved in the transition was financial. “My family does not have the money to help me financially. If the business does not work, I cannot ask them for help. I am lucky to have a partner with a regular job who helps me pay the bills.”  

Immigrants tend to be scared or shy, but they aren’t aware of the multi-cultural aspect, which they can use the most in Canada. Saïd strongly conveys a message to immigrants, “don’t underestimate what we, immigrants, can bring to the table. We have something that most non-immigrants don’t: multiple cultures. We lived different experiences, which helped us see the world from different perspectives. For example, I always try to incorporate Comorian or Canadian flavours into my French cakes. That is what makes us special and makes us stand out from the crowd.”

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