Meet Sivan Terem
At Eat.Drink.TelAviv we are excited when we have a chance to share with you some interesting personalities in the food industry here in Tel Aviv be them bakers, chocolatiers, chefs, candy-makers, and cafe owners.
Eat.Drink.TelAviv’s Meet.Talk.TelAviv would like you to welcome our friend Sivan Terem, baker and trouble maker.
Sivan’s journey to baking started at a young age, and progressed to going full tilt after the army. Born in a small village Givat Ada, little Sivan found herself enamoured with baking. So much so, for her eighth birthday, her uncle gave Sivan her very first recipe book for baking. She admits to constantly making mistakes while she baked, and learning from them. She learned a remarkable ability to improvise with the recipes she was using. Sometimes they worked, leading her to sweet results.
After the army, Sivan set off to South America and the United States. As her “big trip” abroad was ending, she put real thought into taking her baking to the next level. While she never thought she would be a professional, she wanted to improve upon her hobby. She enrolled in an Israeli baking school and it was there she fell madly in love with baking. It was not so much to school but just the art of baking itself. Once she finished the program she zeroed in on practical work experience to further her learning.
She found work in a chocolate factory, and doing holiday donut duty for an unscroupulous baker during Hanukkah. Feeling a little wary and dejected from those jobs, she randomly called a small bakery to see if there were any openings. She called exactly one day after someone had left the bakery. With an immediate opening to fill, Sivan got the job. Sivan looks back at that moment as pure luck. “It was meant to be,” she would say with a smile.
She worked for this secret bakery, raving about how incredible her boss is, and how amazing it is that the boss had not fired Sivan for breaking practically every thing – bowls, cups, two food processors. During this time, she had also started to get really involved in the improvisation scene in Tel Aviv. This too became another passion of hers. The two – improv and baking – are a natural fit for Sivan. Both have their rules, that can be bent and broken. Both allow for mistakes. As Sivan learned from a young age, it’s sometimes those mistakes that lead you to something sweet in the end.
I had met Sivan, originally, while leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. I have been fortunate enough to have really great participants and have kept in touch with many of them throughout the years. Sivan and her fellow Israelis met up with me once after the trip while I was spending some time in Israel. When I moved to Tel Aviv, she would introduce me to the improv scene there. I would go out to support some of her performances.
Sivan made a habit of posting these incredible photos of her baking. My sweet tooth compelled me to comment on them, hoping to flatter her enough to get free cookies, but alas that never came to be. More importantly, I was always impressed by how much she loved her work. It’s wonderful when you see someone doing something they love. When I first met Sivan, she seemed quiet and reserved. But when you get her talk about her love of baking and improv, she comes alive. She is funny, quick witted with a good, positive attitude about things. Even at a young age, she understands life’s up and downs. I finally had a chance to sit with Sivan at a quiet bar just off Dizengoff Square and have her tell me her story.
Prof. NomNom: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what lead you to go into baking?
Sivan Terem: I’m twenty-six now, and grew up in a really small place called Givat Ada. Ever since I was little I loved baking. I received my first recipe book from my uncle when I was eight. He got it for my birthday, so I must have been baking before that.
Prof. NomNom: What were some of the first things you started to bake?
ST: I started with some easy stuff. There was this little cookie called a Petite Buerre. And you could get them with chocolate on top. But I would get the (plain) biscuits and drip them in chocolate, and tell everyone “I did that.”
Prof. NomNom: Pretty Clever! Were you successful or good, so early on in your baking?
ST: I made mistakes all the time, but I managed to fix them. I would see that I could change the recipes to what I liked better, but it was always against the rules of baking – baking rules are stiff. But I saw that I wasn’t “German.” Even with the mistakes, I wasn’t terrible. (Sivan explains that the slang term “German” in this context means strict.)
Prof. NomNom: Did you continue baking continuously since that recipe book?
ST: I remember baking a lot in high school. I would focus on three recipes I liked and would make those all the time – brownies, chocolate balls – I love chocolate. (Sivan got distracted so I never learned the third item she made.)
Prof. NomNom: After high school, you went to the army. Did you bake after the army?
ST: After the army I had a lot of jobs, interesting “fun” jobs, but I was saving up for my big trip abroad. I was going to the United States and South America. While I was working I would bake a lot. When I went on my trip, I still managed to bake over there only a few times. It was really hard baking over there–
Prof. NomNom: Sneaking into someone’s house and baking, and then leaving?
ST: Hahah, yes. While I was in Argentina, I started looking baking schools (in Israel). I really felt like I love baking, I am good at it, but I don’t understand it.
A friend from home wrote to me, because she decided she too wanted to go to baking school. And she told me she was going to Estella Baking School, which made me jealous. I realized then that is what I wanted to do. The school offered classes with various levels, and each level is more money.
Prof. NomNom: How’d you decide which course you wanted to take?
ST: I decided I’m not doing it to be a professional; it’s just for me to be better, as a hobby.
Prof. NomNom: So you took the lower level one to start?
ST: Yes. First off, the price of the courses were ridiculous. I was working at a restaurant at the time and knew the pastry chef. The assistant had just finished the course I was going to take, and they both told me not to do the more expensive one, because I will learn the same things on the job. During the time of the course, I realized that is what I want to do with my life.
Prof. NomNom: Was there a magic moment in class? Maybe midway thought making a puff pastry, or that one time you bit into a cookie you made?
ST: –Ah yes, and I’m like “my childhood!” (she laughs) No, no. It just felt right. I remember there was this class on pastry (sheets of dough) and you have to roll it 700 times. And it’s not easy, you are making thin dough, and then adding butter, then another layer of thin dough, and more butter. So we were doing this for two hours, and it’s hot and boring, but I was just thinking to myself “I could do this for the rest of my life.”
I am having so much fun I could do this all day. It was therapeutic and I loved it.
Prof. NomNom: What was the next step after you finished the course?
ST: I baked a lot at home, and thought of ideas on what to do. I was serving at a restaurant, while still doing the course. I was also taking singing lessons. It was my year of doing all the fun things I wanted to do, before I do my degree.
Prof. NomNom: You then went to do your degree?
ST: I decided that I wasn’t going to school. I wanted to see if I was any good at baking, to see if I could work at it for years.
Prof. NomNom: While you were in school learning about baking, you were still working?
ST: I was still working at the restaurant and the pastry chef there tried to help me. He offered me some choices, and I told him I like working with chocolate a lot. He said if you like working in chocolate, you should know how to be a chocolatier. There aren’t that many of them, and they make more money.
So I started looking for a course in Tel Aviv or close by, on becoming a chocolatier. I found a chocolate factory in Petah Tikvah, and I thought it was pretty good, so I went. But it had a lot of management issues. And I realized they didn’t have time to teach me well, we were all learning under pressure. I was not really happy with the stuff we were making. I didn’t feel it was very professional, nor helpful. So it wasn’t worth the drive – so I quit.
I started to look for work but they were horrifying experiences– getting up at 5 or 6am. They would ask me if I was strong enough. You’d need to lift dough and do it all morning long, and it will be 21 shekels an hour. And I’m like “kill me now.”
Prof. NomNom: Sounds tough, but I thought all bakers had early mornings?
ST: I found a normal place that had shifts. I like shifts. It was nice, they could teach me a lot, just what I was looking for. Apparently the boss was a dick. It was really hard working with him in so many ways. (sigh)
(Sivan stays silent for a moment)
It was a really bad experience… really bad.
Prof. NomNom: How long were you working there?
ST: Two weeks. He used me for hannukah (rush) and then fired me.
Prof. NomNom: Oh?
ST: Yeah. He told me he was working alone, and had the place for six years, and now decided he needed to take on someone full time to work with him. So he could have more time with his family. The guy practically lived there. And I was happy, thought it was good timing.
So I worked my ass off during Hannukah, because we were making so many sufganyot (donuts). So many donuts each day, you wouldn’t believe it.
Prof. NomNom: So what happened?
ST: When he hired me, he said that after two weeks he would decide if I was right for the place. But I felt like a failure after the first week, because he kept making me feel that way. Everyday I thought today was the day he’ll fire me. Which is an awful way to feel when you are working somewhere.
But it so happened that after two weeks, just when I was ready to quit, he fired me. I was really glad he fired me.
Prof. NomNom: Sounds like one bad job after another. I hear you are working now at a bakery, and you are happy?
ST: Yes! I got the referral from a friend of a friend through Facebook to work in a bakery. It was a really small place, but very nice. (I didn’t take it then) I decided to go with the chocolate factory, because… well, it was chocolate.
But, when I finished with that hannukah job… I remembered that nice bakery. So I called them up.
Prof. NomNom: What made you think of them?
ST: I wasn’t sure if I should call them. I thought what was the point, but at that moment I just thought it might still be relevant. (Relevant is the word Israelis use to indicate if it’s still available – a job, an apartment, etc.)
I called her up and said “Hi, about three months ago you were looking for someone to work with you, I’m not sure, but I was just wondering if you were still looking?” And she was in shock, because the day before I called, someone had quit.
Prof. NomNom: Talk about timing!
ST: Yeah, and she was so surprised and shocked that I called. I felt it was meant to be. I went over the next day, and started working and realized it was love at first sight.
Prof. NomNom: That’s wonderful, did you share the good news?
ST: I spoke with my mother but I was worried. I told her it was a great place, but so small, and I am clumsy and I’m going to break everything. And my mother agreed with me. (she laughs) And I did break things. Every day, I couldn’t believe how much I broke, and how my boss didn’t charge me for it. I was so happy she didn’t fire me.
Prof. NomNom: What did you break? Bowls, glasses, cups?
ST: I broke two food processors.
Prof. NomNom: Oh my! Those sound big.
ST: Yeah, it was bad. But it was a part of who I am, but it’s a joke now. Whenever someone breaks something they laugh “Oh you did a Sivan!”
Prof. NomNom: You’ve become a thing. So what’s this place called?
ST: I can’t say. It’s a secret. Secret location.
Prof. NomNom: A secret bakery, why is that?
ST: I dunno, she just likes her privacy.
Prof. NomNom: She provides to various cafés and restaurants, any that we would know about?
ST: I can’t say.
Prof. NomNom: Oh, very James Bond stuff…so you work in the secret bakery, are there Oompa Loompas working there?
Prof. NomNom: So that’s why you can’t tell us!
ST: Yeah! But they are only there on Mondays.
Prof. NomNom: What are some of the biggest challenges working in a bakery (aside from breaking everything)?
ST: That’s my personal challenge, in life. (haha) The thing is, you have to work under pressure. Imagine you have a giant timer on everything you do all day. What you hear my boss always tell us is “Do it faster!”
She says it so often, that even when she doesn’t say it, I’m thinking it. I could be doing it faster.
Prof. NomNom: You’ve been in Tel Aviv for almost 3 years, what are some of the fun things to do in the city?
ST: You can do everything here. There are all these great restaurants and bars. When my uncle came into town, my cousin, who is a bigger food snob than me, suggested Toto. I took my mom once to North Abraxis by Eyal Shani. The other places were better, but his ideas are fun. All his places – Port Said, Miznon – they have atmosphere and creative ways to serve the food. It’s always with paper on the table, they throw salt at the table. It’s fun! They encourage you to eat with your hands.
There is a lot of theatre and improvisation, as well.
Prof. NomNom: Since you aren’t going to say it, we hear you are quite the accomplished improviser – tell us about how you got involved?
ST: About two years ago I started a course at the improv theatre in Tel Aviv. My brother was the one who recommended it. I took a trial class, and fell in love with it. I had a blast, so I took another course, and loved it. So I took another course, and loved it. Then I started to perform with the Holy Sheep Ensemble. And then started my own group – an all women’s group called “Mi-poh L’Shad” (From here to Breast – in Hebrew it’s a play on words.)
More recently, I am performing the “harold” long form improvisation with a group called “Hakol B’Rosh” (It’s All In Your Head.) We are currently developing our own format of the harold called “The Hotel” where everything happens in a specific hotel that the audiences describes with their suggestions.
Prof. NomNom: How does your improv influence your baking? Or vice versa?
ST: Improv creeps into its way into life, all the time. I learned a lot. The basic rule in improv is to say “yes,” which we don’t often say in life. Improv teaches you not fight with your partner, and that’s what you can take from it.
Prof. NomNom: You find those lessons you learned in improv help in the work place?
ST: Yeah, sometimes don’t go the way you planned, and you have to think on your feet. Sometimes you run out of an ingredient and you have to think how do I make this?
Prof. NomNom: Is that how flourless brownies started?
ST: (haha) Yeah probably! But what can I do instead of flour, maybe ground—
Prof. NomNom: Ground Meat?
ST: (hahahah) No. Almonds.
Blarg: Almonds are good. Ground meat is better.
Prof. NomNom: What is it that you loved most about being at this bakery?
ST: First off, she is an amazing boss. She finds it important to have an amazing atmosphere. She is able to find the perfect balance being friends, being coworkers and being the boss. I’ve had a lot of bosses, and she is the top. It’s hard sometimes, and she admits that to us, but she says it is something she will keep trying to do (balance a friendship with her employees) because it is important.
We have a really good work atmosphere. All the people work well together. It’s so fun, with a lot of humor and love.
Prof. NomNom: Do you think there is a correlation between the chemistry you have with your improv team and the chemistry you have at work? Baking is science – you have anything to say to that?
ST: Being creative as much as you can always help you. You need to keep doing what you love, and keep saying yes. It really helped me. I had a tough journey to get to this point.
Prof. NomNom: Recently you decided to leave the bakery and finally go to school?
ST: Yes. It was hard to leave the bakery, but I am now at Tel Aviv University studying Psychology and Theatre. I’m focusing on developing my own theatre show for children. It’s an improvised musical called “Fantastory!” It’s been in development for about a year, and we are about to launch a crowd funding campaign to get it started.
Prof. NomNom: That’s a big change, it sounds very exciting. Are you still baking?
ST: I’m always baking.
Prof. NomNom: Of course! Thank you Sivan, it’s been a real treat speaking with you.