Passion inspires people, and people who are passionate about things inspire others. I have found that whenever my friends were passionate about something—whether it was world football, real estate, or the subject matter today—they inspired me to get to know more about it, even if I had no prior experience with it. I’m not ashamed to admit that of all the subject interviews I’ve done, today’s topic is the one I knew the least about off-rip. On the flip side, that also meant I got to learn the most. Sometimes the best thing to do is to listen, and ask questions, which is what a good interviewer should be doing anyway.
This week, I reached out to my friend and former classmate, Rebecca Gilmore, to talk about “three of her favorite things”—baking, beauty, and babies. Becky is a cosmetologist, baker, business manager, and full-time mother to a spry toddler based out of Columbus, Ohio. Among her friends, Becky is known for her high energy and joyful personality. She has the uncanny gift of making anybody she’s talking to instantly feel better about life. The following is the account of a live 90-minute interview conducted in person. The interview begins with a personal narrative and progresses to address each topic in general terms. Becky’s responses stand out for their candor, insight, and experience. FYI, you can find her on Instagram @RebeccaShannan
[For a complete archive of interviews, click here.]
Tell the people a little about yourself.
My name is Rebecca Gilmore. I have been married for almost 5 years now. I have a sweet baby named James. I’m on sabbatical with James right now, which a lot of people don’t know. That’s been really nice. I love cooking. I love baking. I love all things family-oriented, especially during the holiday season. The holidays are my favorite time of year.
Take us through your journey in the world of baking and cosmetology. How did you get started, and where are you today?
Technically, I never wanted to do cosmetology. Growing up, everyone in my family—my mom, my grandma, my aunt, and my sister Brittney—really loved cosmetology. My grandma had a hair school in Trinidad, which is where my mom and dad met. My mom and dad opened a number of salons in Trinidad, and we had just opened one up in Ohio, because that was Brittney’s dream. I kind of wanted to be different, so that’s where baking came into play. In high school, I did a lot of baking, and I really enjoyed it. However, when I was a senior, my aunt ended up getting sick, and Brittney took over my aunt’s duties as the main manager of the salon. Brittney was already working full-time behind the chair. She started losing a lot of her hair from the stress. We also had about 3 employees quit around the same time. My sister needed help.
I felt bad. I was already contributing to the salon. I would clean, work the reception, and do little things here and there. I was familiar with salon life. It was the world I had grown up around. It just wasn’t my passion, and it wasn’t where I saw myself going. My dad didn’t force anything on me. He asked me if this is what I wanted to do, or whether I wanted to do baking instead. I ultimately decided that I would do cosmetology for a few years to help out Brittney at the salon, and later on in life I would do baking and pastries. I was comfortable with numbers, so taking on those additional manager duties—bills, payroll, inventory, taxes—wasn’t that big a deal.
For the next step, I completed an 1800-hour program in a year and a half to get my license as a managing cosmetologist. Meanwhile, I worked at the salon part-time, continuing my administrative role and helping to service clients. Cosmetology students would intern toward the end of the program, and so the salon is where I knocked that requirement out, as well. On many days, I would attend cosmetology school from 8 to 4. And then I would go to the salon from 4 to 9. When I graduated, the salon became a full-time thing. I worked Monday through Saturday from open around 9 AM to close. If we had a late client, we would stay until 9, 10, or even 11 PM, and so it was very common to work 12-hr+ days, 5-6 days a week.
Did you have an idea in mind early on how you were going to pursue your baking dreams?
My original plan was to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Le Cordon Bleu is a famous culinary school, and I wanted to attend their baking and pastry division. I had actually gotten scouted from a Le Cordon Bleu rep from Chicago when I was 13 or 14. He just so happened to be friends with another friend that I had baked a cake for. He couldn’t believe I was so young making these fancy cakes. He said “When you graduate, contact me, and I’d love to get you in the Chicago Cordon Bleu.” I wanted to go big or go home. I didn’t want to stay in Chicago or anywhere local. I wanted to go to Paris. I was 17 when I graduated high school. My parents wanted me to wait a few years before going to a foreign country, and that is what I intended to do.
When you’re young, you think, “I want to get away from family. I don’t want to be local. I want to go do my own thing—to be big and bad and on my own.” As an adult now, I’m thankful for how my parents handled the situation. They didn’t squash my dreams. They were very supportive. They said they would figure out the means. But I’m also glad they didn’t allow me to do whatever I wanted at the time. I’d be so terrified knowing what life would have been like being in another country away from my family at 17 years old.
You mentioned that you started baking at a young age. Who were some of your biggest influences?
I think my baking more so came from Grandma Suzan. My grandma was definitely a Jane of all trades. Anything she wanted to do, she would do. There were random weekends where if she wanted to bake a cake, she would bake a cake. When we lived in Trinidad, she and I would pipe frosting roses by hand versus using a bag. After we moved to the US, she would come visit for the holidays, and we would play games and decorate cute little cakes. My mom also cooked and baked with us. When I was 11 or 12, she signed me up for classes on baking at Michaels. She wanted me to keep busy during the summer. I also used to bake cheesecakes with my grandpa John. However, none of my family members ever baked professionally.
It’s quite common for people to have an interest in learning how to cook, but fewer people have an interest in learning how to bake. What inspired you to excel at both?
I’ve always loved baking a little more because everything has to be very precise. The ingredients are to the tee—every gram has to be accounted for. Whereas cooking is more “throw a little bit of this, “throw a little more of that,” and is based more on your personal senses. With baking, it’s so strict. Being off by a couple of grams here and there can really affect how something turns out. That being said, one recipe can be made several different ways just by changing butter to lard, or milk to buttermilk, or almond milk to regular milk.
As far as cooking, our mom never wanted us to be scared in the kitchen. She wanted us to grow up being able to feed our families and hold down the fort in our homes. She wanted us all to know how to cook and bake all the basic things. Even at 4, 5, 6 years old, she would have us in the kitchen, watching and helping and handing her things. I think that’s where my love for it originated—watching her do what she did—and teaching us how to feed and take care of a family.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get better at these artistic skills?
Professionally, I would say listen to your demographic. What you perceive as art or perfection can be different than what another person perceives. Really pay attention to the feedback you get from your clientele and focus on providing them what they want.
Recreationally, everyone’s art field is so different. What I view as art may be different from what you view as art. Just because it isn’t the normal or standard, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Keep doing what you love and makes you happy, and don’t be afraid to try new things. A lot of people are used to being in their comfort zone. It’s nice to try new things because cooking and baking are not permanent, nor is hair. You can always change it.
I also think one art field translates into many art fields. Grandma Suzan, for example, would also make clothes just because she wanted do. Cosmetology, cooking, baking—and other arts, like painting, which I love—give you the opportunity to show your passion. To experiment with different things in order to achieve a certain result.
When did the salon become a permanent thing?
The salon became a forever thing when Brittney and I decided to purchase our own building instead of lease. At that point, I had been a cosmetologist for 3 or 4 years. Before my dad purchased the building, he asked Brittney and me if this is what we wanted to continue doing, and if I wanted to begin pursuing my baking and pastry dreams. By that point, I had already traveled because of cosmetology. I had been to Australia. I had been to London. I went all around the United States, doing hair and makeup. I had also become attached to my clientele. They were my family, and I couldn’t see myself leaving America to pursue a once-was dream.
A couple years ago, you welcomed your first child into the world. James will be three in February. How did that experience change you?
Becoming a mother changed not only my personal life, but also my view on what’s important in the work-field. You want to provide for your kids and work as much as possible, but not at the expense of missing out on experiencing them. Instead of working 60-hour weeks at the salon, I opted for working fewer hours to be present with James. I also figured out how I can make more money in the hours that I was working to still be able to provide for my family. I still ordered products, did the taxes, payroll, helped with cleaning, and reorganizing, but I was not working behind the chair anymore. I stopped doing clients, and I made James the priority.
What is the hardest part about being the mother of a toddler?
The tantrums. With James having special needs, it does make things a little more exaggerated. James was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. I always feel bad punishing him, because I don’t know if that’s his way of expressing himself. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out whether you’re crushing your child’s spirit, or rightly correcting them for doing something bad. Jamesy is a great baby, and he rarely ever has tantrums, so that makes life easy.
What about the most rewarding?
Every single day. His smile and his laughter is literally the best thing. Watching him hit every single goal that they’re working on in therapy is so rewarding.
What advice, support, or encouragement would you give to new mothers?
There’s so much advice to give to new mothers, but at the same time, I think a lot of people tell moms that it has to be done this way or that way, and that’s not correct. Every mom’s journey is going to be different, and it’s a learning process as we all go. But one thing I would recommend is getting Vitamin D. Walking outside, sitting outside, and doing outdoor activities can help with post-partum depression. I think the reason I didn’t suffer from it is because I spent a lot of time outdoors. The Vitamin D and fresh air made me feel so much better.
I would also say to get yourself ready every morning. It’s easy to say, “I don’t have time to take a shower, to put on makeup, to work out,” because your #1 priority at that point is your child. You are their living life source, especially if you’re breastfeeding. You’re at the mercy of the child. But one thing my husband always made sure was that I took care of myself first, because you can’t pour from an empty cup. He would always tell me that. When you take care of yourself, even if it’s just 30 minutes, you feel better about life, and you can then give so much more to your child and family.
Today, how do you balance between baking, beauty, and taking care of the little one?
Right now, with me being on sabbatical from work, I focus on James. With the holidays in full swing, it’s beauty season, so I’ve been stopping in the salon here and there to help out the girls. That’s how I get my beauty fix. The holiday season is also the best time for baking and cooking, especially traditional food—like spiral-baked ham, homemade bread, sweet bread, fruit cake, pastels, etc. Yesterday, for example, I cooked and baked almost everything for Thanksgiving—turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, stuffing, cranberry salsa—and I really enjoyed it. I love it when people eat the food I make. For James’s birthday, I’ll probably make a huge cake and cupcakes. During the holiday, I love to gift food, whether it’s an actual meal or baking item. I also make cakes and desserts throughout the year for friends’ birthdays.
When COVID hit, my husband worked from home for 7 weeks, and those were literally the 7 best weeks of my life. We got to cook and bake and work out and do whatever we wanted every day, and we got to spend so much time together with James. Right now, our weekends are constantly being pushed around all over the place, running here and there. But those 7 weeks were literally just us. It was amazing. We had no cares in the world. When my sister retired from the salon, I had no choice but to go back full-time to keep the business running. Looking back, I’m kind of sad I did it, because I made work a higher priority than spending time with James, but I know God makes everything work out for good in the end.
In general, to balance between many different passions, you have to be really precise with your free time. For example, I meal prep now. When you are intentional about it, you waste a lot less time, food, and energy in the process.
What are some of your biggest goals moving forward?
Beauty-wise, I want to get back into a more regular routine at the salon, whether that’s 1 or 2 days a week. My next big baking goal is James’s third birthday party. It’s going to be Trolls-themed. It’s going to be lots of fun colors, cotton candy type-food, and all the flavors. I really want to try an orange creamsicle cupcake for his birthday and another cupcake that involves cotton candy in some way. Since it’s not until February, I still have time to figure everything out. Whatever it is, I know it’ll be delicious.
Recently, I dabbled in the thought of opening a coffee shop. I could sell baked goods there. I think that would be really fun, but it’s a lot of work, so we’ll pin it for now.
I’m going to ask you several questions in quick succession. You can limit your answers to no more than a few words or sentences.
Favorite beauty brand?
I don’t have one, but my two most loved ones are Too Faced and Makeup Forever.
Favorite national cuisine?
Trinidadian. But I also really like Middle Eastern food.
Favorite thing to cook or bake?
Pies. And I love to cook chile because it’s quick and easy and super delicious. I dabble into homemade pasta, as well.
Favorite comfort food?
Favorite guilty pleasure?
Favorite TV show?
I like anything that involves sci-fi or stupid comedy like New Girl and Stranger Things and Rick and Morty. They are like three completely different shows, and I like all three of them.
Most useless talent you have?
Organizing a fridge. I learned this one from one of my clients.
If you had to move, what city or country would you choose?
Trinidad or Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Dream job if money were not a factor?
Bartender. I think the main reason is for the people. Think of all the people you could talk to and learn their life story.
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love Ohio?
I only love it an 8 because of friends and family. Everything else can go, starting with the weather.
Motto or saying to live by?
I have like three posters that say, “It is well with my soul.” What it means to me is that no matter what life throws at you, God will be there to bring you peace and comfort.
One thing people don’t know about you?
That I like to do contract work. I love home improvement and DIYs.
Does pineapple belong on pizza, yes or no?
Yes. A thousand percent.
On “Hot Ones,” the host Sean Evans likes to close his interviews with, “Tell me what’s new and exciting in your life.” I know this is one of your favorite phrases. So, before I let you go, tell the people what’s new and exciting in your life.
James is starting pre-school in March. As far as the coffee shop adventures, we will see where those take me. We are also actively looking into building a new house, which is super exciting, because it would be our forever home. The new house would be an open-ranch style, which is a lot more suitable for James. I want low taxes, and I want two to five acres of land for James to run around in. I also really want a dog, but I can’t have a dog right now because of the pond in my backyard. I plan to add a very large kitchen to the new build and have all my baking dreams come true.