Many real-life bakers have plied their alone trade in cavernous kitchens, thriving in semi-obscurity. Bakers create both bread—the staff of life—and frivolous desserts for celebratory occasions. In fiction, a number of baker archetypes emerge; some bear unfulfilled longing, while others are totally chill and confident in their own skin.
The Hunger Games co-champion doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but rarely complains. Peeta Mellark changes two fates when he gives burned bread to the starving Katniss, and his cake-decorating skills wind up coming in surprisingly handy in more than one battle-to-the-death. He doesn’t seem comfortable in the spotlight, and would likely prefer to remain in the bakery, unseen but noticed and appreciated silently by all (but Katniss, in particular).
The famous pies in the Victorian melodrama Sweeney Todd (later adapted into a musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, and in 2007 adapted into a movie by Tim Burton) aren’t what they seem—just like their creator, Mrs. Lovett. This cunning, manipulative, murderous baker takes the bodies provided by her equally murderous cohort in the barbershop upstairs from her 19th century England pie shoppe and, ahem, upcycles them into something delicious. In a moment of pure psychopathic joy, she even sings a song about how delicious those pies are.
Nick Park’s claymation characters open a bake shop in A Matter of Loaf and Death, but Gromit, the silent but humanistic dog, ends up being the only one who is competent in the kitchen. He foils a murder plot, saves the bakery and still gets all his orders made and delivered, with nary a compliment. A hearty sigh signifies his frustration, and even then, it passes almost instantly as Gromit returns to his life as Wallace’s faithful companion.
The protagonist of the Aquabats’ song “The Baker” does all the work, while decorators get all the credit. He wants to bake desserts, like the baked Alaska (truly the opus of bakers everywhere), but his is the morning shift, and he’s got work to do. He does not mind, because he loves the work, and knows in his heart of hearts that feeding the children of the world delicious bread is more important than winning awards and receiving kudos.
Fred the Baker was Dunkin’ Donuts’ pitchman for over 15 years, through the ‘80s (when the white powder-covered baker was ultra perky) until 1997, when he had an official retirement ceremony and the company gave out a free donut to every customer in his honor. His catchphrase, “Time to Bake the Donuts!” may have been a misguided effort by Dunkin’s marking folks to make the fried calorie bombs seem healthy, or maybe Fred was just a big fat phony and never really cooked a day in his life. Either way, he sure loved doughnuts.
Played by Pittsburgh comedian and actor Don Brockett, Chef Brockett was one of the only characters in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to exist in both the real world and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. He sometimes dropped by Mister Rogers’ house to demonstrate to the television audience how to make healthful snacks. In one espisode, he entered his cake into a baking competition at the local mall. To his dismay, the judges didn’t even taste the creations, they were judged solely on appearance! He sure was frustrated that day, but it taught him a valuable lesson: the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is a better place than the mall.
The oven isn’t the only hot thing in the bakery in Stranger Than Fiction, the indie flick that showed the world that Will Ferrell is also a dramatic actor. It also showed Maggie Gyllenhaal’s badass side. She’s a young business owner following her passion of baking. Her tattoos and bandana complete the hipster girlfriend dream package, and her I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-the-IRS demeanor elevates the whole thing another notch.
The baker from Raymond Carver’s short story “A Small Good Thing” makes a cake specially ordered for an 8-year-old’s birthday. Spoiler alert: the boy dies, but the baker doesn’t know that, and bitterly calls the family multiple times to let them know the forgotten cake is ready, but refers to it by the boy’s name, Scotty. When the parents finally figure out who is calling and confront him at his bakery, he explains, “Let me say how sorry I am… God alone knows how sorry.” Lyle Lovett played the baker in Robert Altman’s opus of strung-together Carver story adaptations in Short Cuts.
Does it bother anyone else that a ball of dough is selling other balls of dough? He’s advertising for his brethren to be cooked and consumed! The blissful ignorance is evident through his constant smile and punctuated by the hellish giggle emitted when he’s poked by a human hand. Never asking questions, he’s just content to rake in the dough while selling out his kind. The Doughboy’s always looking out for himself, and that has kept him out of the fire so far.
Nicolas Grizzle is a freelance writer in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @NicolasGrizzle.