Written by Molly Greenheart

A Baker Abroad

A Baker Abroad by Molly Greenheart

By: Sam Rong, Videographer, Greenheart International

“Ne fait pas de gateaux.,” a young Theo Gallon would always say to his mother. “Je m’en occupe.”It roughly translates to “don’t buy a cake, I’ll make one.” Theo’s creativity and sweet tooth would take over as bowls clattered and ingredients flew.

“I cleaned up,” he recalls with a smirk. “Sometimes.”

I met Theo on a Sunday afternoon at a coffee shop in Evanston, a suburb an hour’s drive from Chicago, where he worked. As our conversation began, his passion for baking became immediately clear.

“I love to eat; I love working with my hands,” he said, carefully enunciating each word. “It’s a good job for me.”

Growing up, Theo spent hours in the kitchen for holidays, friends’ birthdays, and the occasional self-indulgence. Baking naturally turned into a lifestyle and career. In high school, he became an apprentice at a pastry shop in his hometown of Lyon, France, where he learned the basics of professionalism and discipline. As Theo explored subsequent jobs in the industry, he became motivated to start his own bakery.

But in his mind, France was not the place for that.

“The French are known for their croissants and pastries, so we have shops everywhere,” he said. “Everyone looks for experienced bakers.”

So the 22-year-old needed not only to master his craft, but also gain entrepreneurial know-how. For Theo, the United States was a logical next destination. In a country where quality French baked goods are still relatively rare finds, he felt confident about procuring opportunities.

Theo arrived in the U.S. for the first time in 2015 and worked for six months in Boston. After finishing, he returned to France only to make a second attempt to get back across the Atlantic–this time on a J-1 Trainee visa sponsored by Greenheart’s Career Advancement Program. Following what he described as “anxious waiting,” Theo received his papers a month after applying and returned to the U.S. in April 2016.

“Greenheart was very supportive,” he said. “After I got here, they connected me to the local community.”

His new employers, Patisserie Coralie, is a French-style pastry shop in Evanston, where he arrives every day to prepare fresh croissants, breakfast pastries, and other sugary delights.

“Some days I come in at 4am. Then I really get to sleep in,” he says with a shrug and a smile.

While it seems like a sleepless schedule, Theo firmly believes in the rewards. Working in a small shop like Patisserie Coralie, he is not just baking, but also has to manage some of the logistics.

“You have to figure out what ingredients to buy, how much to buy, how much to spend,” he said. “I’m learning how to run a business. Every day it’s something new.”

As Theo finishes his current program at Patisserie Coralie, he is already looking ahead.

“I have to keep moving forward, keep moving up.”

Grow your professional experience in the U.S. with Greenheart’s J-1 Intern & Trainee program.