After Homelessness, An Austin Pastry Student Finds Stability in the Kitchen

Escoffier baking & pastry graduate Merisauh Gamble shares how she went from a homeless teen to an educated baker with an externship in Ireland!

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November 22, 2022 8 min read

School is a place to learn. But it can be so much more than that. It can be a place to discover your passions. To hone your talents. Even a place to find yourself.

For 20-year-old Baking & Pastry Arts graduate Merisauh Gamble, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts was a place to find solid ground after a period of instability and uncertainty.

Find out how she went from a challenging time in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida to an emerald future in Kilkenny, Ireland!

Housing Insecurity Leads to Struggle

High school can be a turbulent time for any teenager. But for Merisauh, her troubles went beyond the norm.

Throughout high school, Merisauh and her family struggled with housing insecurity. Her mother, Michelle, has a doctorate degree and specializes in helping her clients to heal through healthy food and spirituality. But as a single mom, she struggled to keep the family afloat.

Finally, during Merisauh’s senior year, the worst happened.

“My mother couldn’t afford the cost of our home for the year, so she rented it to another family,” Merisauh explains. “We slept for a few days in my brother’s small apartment, but it wasn’t the best environment for us. So I reached out to my friend, and her family was kind enough to offer a spacious room for [us and] my mother.”*

While the family had a roof over their heads, losing their home was hard on Merisauh. “It was the darkest year for me. I was so confused about everything.”*

Mentorship Helps Merisauh Find Her Path

Even during this turbulent time, Merisauh’s mother always encouraged her children to follow their dreams. Merisauh had always been interested in food—as she says, because she didn’t really understand how it worked. Her mother’s focus on healthy food meant that lasagna in the Gamble home was made with tofu, veggies, and superfoods instead of meat and cheese. And snacks were always healthy, like dehydrated vegetable crackers. This “unusual” food made her stand out among her peers.

Merisauh told her mom that she wished she could take cooking classes at school—which the school administrators wouldn’t allow her to do. Merisauh was turned away year after year, although she still isn’t sure why. So during this difficult time of homelessness, Michelle encouraged Merisauh to attend a nearby technical school that had a dual enrollment program, allowing her to finish high school and take culinary classes at the same time.

It was there that she fell in love with pastry, aided by two passionate Chef Instructors—a father-and-son chef educator duo. “They taught us everything they knew and always encouraged us to express our talents through cooking and baking,” Merisauh remembers.*

A mirror glaze cake by Merisauh

A mirror glaze cake by Merisauh

She was fascinated by the scientific and creative aspects of baking. “[Making something] with my hands [was comforting] because it was something I could create and bring life to. Something I actually had control over.”*

Though her senior year of high school was a difficult time, “I stayed focused on my path, getting things done, and being with the right people. I was very close to my chefs and my teachers. [I let] them know what was going on so [they were] aware, but [they still pushed] me to become the best person I could be.”*

Merisauh Gamble“I’m pushing myself and trying to get out of my dark place.”*
Merisauh Gamble, Escoffier Baking & Pastry Arts Graduate

Discovering her love for baking and pastry—as well as getting back into stable housing—helped the pendulum to swing in a more positive direction. Once she and her mother were established in their community apartment, she began volunteering in the local kitchen to help out, having just been through such a tough time herself.

Merisauh at Chez Zee in Austin

Merisauh at Chez Zee in Austin

Going All-In at Escoffier

After high school and her short program at Lively Technical, it was time to figure out what was next. Once again, Michelle helped Merisauh to take the next step. One of Michelle’s friends was always making wonderful food. So she asked this friend how she was such a good cook…the answer was that she had gone to Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

It was clear to Michelle that Escoffier was where her daughter should go, too. So Merisauh began an Associate of Applied Science Degree in the Pastry Arts at Escoffier’s Austin campus in August 2021.

“I left Florida to drive all the way over to Texas to be part of the Escoffier program and learn from the amazing chefs, like Chef Michelle [Hall], Chef Tammie [Barnhill], and Chef Cara [Anam],” she says.*

Once she was in Austin, Merisauh knew she’d have to earn some money to support herself. So her first step was to use her new Escoffier resources to find work. “I went to the school early, asking them how I can find a job [in Austin]. Ann Derrick [former director of Career Services at Escoffier] introduced me to a place called La Pâtisserie.”* Merisauh started as their morning baker and then transitioned into cake decoration.

Practicing cake decorating skills at Escoffier.

Practicing cake decorating skills at Escoffier.

Another resource Merisauh didn’t sleep on? Applying for scholarships. When Chef Tammie mentioned the opportunity to apply for a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Austin Chapter, Merisauh jumped at the chance. She put in the work to create a compelling application and won a valuable scholarship that helped her to cover a portion of her education expenses. She also received a scholarship from the Escoffier Scholarship Foundation, which she secured by writing an essay about her experiences.

Merisauh Gamble“I was determined to complete any work to get a chance for any scholarships I was eligible for.”*
Merisauh Gamble, Escoffier Baking & Pastry Arts Graduate

Working and learning at the same time has been a challenge, but Merisauh has met it. She’s worked hard, but she’s also grateful for the support she’s received from her Chef Instructors and from her family back home. That hard work has paid off. In Spring 2022, she earned a place on the Escoffier President’s List with Distinction, an honor reserved for those with a GPA between 3.75-4.00 and exemplary attendance.

Merisauh Gamble flexing behind her finished cake

The final product and a proud baker.

Traveling 4,600 Miles for an Externship!

We already know Merisauh is brave. She packed up and moved from Florida to Texas for culinary school, sight unseen. But how’s this for brave—for her externship, she’s gone 4,600 miles to Kilkenny, Ireland to work at a bakery called Cakeface.

Why Ireland? It’s where Merisauh’s boyfriend lives, and it seemed like a wonderful chance to explore a different locale and learn in a new type of environment. In the end, it was a simple long-distance phone call to Ireland that made the connection and piqued the owner’s interest. With help from the Austin campus Career Services department, Merisauh got all of her paperwork in place to complete her externship overseas. And that’s where she is now, making everything from marshmallows to mousse cakes to chocolate decor at Cakeface.

Merisauh and her boyfriend in Kilkenny

Merisauh and her boyfriend in Kilkenny

Cooking in Ireland has been an adjustment! For example, while the U.S. uses a three-compartment sink in most kitchens, Ireland uses a two-compartment sink. “I never knew how big the difference would be, but it’s massive,” she says.*

Then there are the numbers. Ireland (like most countries outside the U.S.) uses Celcius and the metric system, instead of Fahrenheit and the imperial system.
Even basic recipes are different. “When I was working for La Pâtisserie,” she explains, “the scones had medium-to-large chunks of butter and sugar for structure. At Cakeface, the butter is in small peas and never is sugar added.”*

Merisauh Gamble“I must say this wouldn’t have been possible without the support I have been given from my mother, loved ones, Escoffier, and scholarships like Les Dames d’Escoffier.”*
Merisauh Gamble, Escoffier Baking & Pastry Arts Graduate

Merisauh and a coworker at Cakeface

Merisauh and a coworker at Cakeface

Use Every Resource If You Want to Succeed

Many Escoffier students have had struggles to overcome in order to pursue their culinary goals. How do they do it? Like Merisauh, they take advantage of all the resources at their disposal. And they find mentorship in a faculty that cares about their students and is invested in their success.

We want every Merisauh out there to have the opportunity to follow their dreams, starting with a quality education.

If baking and pastry school was possible for her, don’t you think it could be possible for you too? Contact our Admissions Department to find out.

To read more real student stories, try these articles next:

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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