After leaving behind international corporate life, Anastasia Sarycheva was feeling lost and lonely in her new Derbyshire home – until she discovered baking. Fiona Stubbs learns how a hobby became not only a thriving business but the recipe for happiness.
THE plate of exquisitely-crafted tartlets and macarons on the table in front of me look like a work of art. And then comes the taste! Each bite reveals intricate layers of flavours and textures… I’d never imagined there could be so much complexity in such dainty confections.
So it’s quite a surprise when Anastasia Sarycheva casually announces: “I couldn’t bake until three years ago. I used to be very bad at it! I mean, really bad. Whenever I made anything, people would say: ‘It’s okay and it tastes lovely. That’s what matters.’ But I think they were just being polite…”
It’s a very different story now, as Anastasia’s Perfect_Peaks_Patisserie, which launched on Instagram in 2021, attracts an ever-increasing, and grateful, audience.
The turning point for Russian-born Anastasia came three years ago when, finding herself bored in a new country – and missing her former corporate career – she enrolled on an online baking course.
“I was a bored housewife, not knowing what to do with my energy, my head or my hands,” she says. “I didn’t know a thing about baking, so I guess I took the baking class to become a better housewife. I thought that, when we had people round for dinner, I could make the dessert rather than serve shop-bought.”
The benefits turned out to be far greater as baking led her to a new career, new friends and – ultimately – happiness.
Anastasia’s journey from Russia to Derbyshire began in her native Sakhalin, an island close to Japan. While working there in the oil industry for ExxonMobil, she met her British husband, Martin, who worked for a different oil company.
A job transfer led Martin and Anastasia to move to Houston, Texas, where they lived and worked for five years. During that time, they also welcomed their three sons, Jacob, now aged 14, and 12-year-old twins Oliver and Charlie.
Further transfers followed to Perth, Australia, then back to the USA, to New Orleans. “Throughout our moves, I kept working in the oil industry,” recalls Anastasia. “I was juggling children and work until we arrived in New Orleans. There was nothing there, workwise, for me, so I thought I’d take some time out to spend with the kids.
“I’d never been very mumsy, though, I felt I’d missed out on play dates and things. In New Orleans, I had the chance for the first time to do all that and I enjoyed it.
“Then Martin lost his job, which was scary but opened up new opportunities for him. I think he felt quite homesick and wanted to return to the UK. He was originally from Lancashire but had friends in Derbyshire so, whenever we’d visited the UK, we came here.”
The family lived in Chorley for a while before settling in Darley Dale. Anastasia confides: “I didn’t really want to move to the UK – I wasn’t 100 per cent happy. I couldn’t help thinking ‘what am I doing here in the middle of nowhere?’ The kids were older and I was sitting at home doing nothing.
“I missed my career. ExxonMobil was a good company to work for. I earned good money and they looked after you. I’d always felt proud of myself, working for such a big corporation.
“After we moved to the UK, I went to see a friend in Amsterdam. We’d started out in the oil company together and she was still working for it.
“While I was staying with her, we met up with other colleagues. They were all smartly dressed and professional. I felt I was ‘just a housewife’. Afterwards I told my friend that I felt jealous of her and she said: ‘Are you crazy? I’m jealous of you!’ I guess, sometimes, we all want something we don’t have.
“So, I suppose it was a combination of things that led me to baking. I saw something on Instagram and thought ‘that’s pretty’. Then I enrolled on the course.
“I literally started with a bowl and a spoon. Martin was laughing at me, asking: ‘Are you baking?’ My first cake turned out okay – at the time I thought it was almost perfect and it inspired me to do more! I made another and another – and I realised I was really enjoying it.
“I started sharing my bakes with neighbours and friends and I was getting lots of compliments. Then people said I should sell them.
“The idea slowly crept into my mind but it took me a year to admit to myself that I wanted to do this as a business. Even though I admired other bakers who were doing it, I was scared of what people would think.
“My career until then had been corporate rather than creative. I’d worked in procurement – I was a numbers person. I wasn’t a ‘making’ person.
“A couple of friends said: ‘Just start on Instagram’. That, in itself, took me a couple of months to do. But, when I posted some pictures, people started asking to buy.
“I wanted to sell mousse cakes but customers were asking for macarons. They’re trendy, luxurious. They’ve become my signature now.”
Anastasia creates macarons in a wide range of flavours and colours, some reflecting the seasons and calendar highlights, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Tartlets are also in demand – beautiful to look at and to eat.
So has she really never been artistic? “No!” she exclaims. “I never thought I was creative. I know other bakers who say ‘since I was a little girl, I’ve loved to bake’. I didn’t!
“Maybe it was just sitting in me, waiting for the right moment. I do love to experiment with flavours and like to develop seasonal recipes or work to individual orders.
“I personally like dark chocolate and quite intense, rich flavours. I don’t like things too sweet. If there’s fruit in a bake, there should be an element of tartness or sourness so that it balances the sweetness.
“I reduce the sugar in my macaron shells – it helps the other flavours to be more pronounced. They still contain sugar though – they’re still a treat.”
Macarons are posted around the country and Anastasia also supplies a shop in Lancashire. She adds: “I’m no longer ashamed to say I’m a baker – I’m proud to say I’m a macaron specialist.
“And, I now love living in Derbyshire. I think, in the beginning, I wasn’t happy with myself, so it was like ‘let’s blame England’!
“I keep meeting lots of lovely people and the UK is the first country (since moving from Russia) where I’ve made real friendships with local people.
“I’m constantly taking courses, learning about food and trends – and I love sharing my bakes!”
Editor’s Note: Follow Anastasia on Instagram @perfect_peaks_patisserie