I didn’t start out when I was 18 thinking I would like to spend all my creative energy building beautiful, luscious plates of cuisine or baking gorgeous cakes and pastries. Instead I went into the Fine Arts- kinda the same thing but in an inedible way.
I attended Malaspina College as an art student in 1976 unbeknownst I would again return as a student many (many) years later, for not only their Professional Baking program but also, again a few years after that, as a Culinary student.
The baking came first. I had done some baking when I was the breakfast chef at the Beaconsfield and Abigail’s Inn in Victoria in the 80’s making fresh muffins each morning as well as cooking breakfast for up to 20 people, but the real inspiration hit after my husband and I returned from a vacation in Mexico. I had brought back with me the deep impression of how industrious and entrepreneurial the Mexican’s were. I was so fired up that I began to cast around for something I could do that could be my own business.
The catalyst came in this magazine I had at the time with a picture of Lionel Poilane on the front cover and inside a beautiful story about him and his famous bakery in France, not to mention gorgeous photos of his deeply colored crusty loaves, oh and the rustic foccacia’s and fougasse’s. I was fully smitten. I would bake bread.
I began to experiment with sourdoughs after picking up a great bread book ” The Village Baker” by Joe Ortiz, my favorite being the apple sourdough, and I found that a grape sour made exceptional crust and crumb when I explored Nancy Silverton’s recipes. This became my regularly used sour because it was easy and potent!
I was in rustica heaven.
I next decided to branch out to my island neighbourhood Pub and Eatery to see if they would be interested in maybe buying some of my bread. I knew they used kaiser buns for their burgers so I whipped some up and strolled down to the Pub. Hilda the owner sampled one, loved it and we struck a price and quantities.
I then spent the entire summer May to October kneading, (no kitchen aid dough hook thing), proofing, shaping, egg washing, applying poppy seeds, proofing again, slashing the tops and baking several dozens of Kaisers from my kitchen each week for the pub- and I enjoyed it!
I envisioned my own bakery.
So I enrolled in the Baking Program to get the necessary training.
While I enjoyed the classes I really wanted more. Funny, now in 2014 the Professional Baking Program at VIU (aka Malaspina) is awesome because they have incorporated a beautiful wood fired oven along with a French pastry section, added just a couple of years ago, with a pastry chef instructing. That is what I was looking for at the time! Ah well.
And I did succeed in opening a small bakery in my neighbourhood for a couple of years when I finished the Baking Program.
I had searched out and gathered all the equipment I needed: a used Hobart 20 qt. mixer, a big beautiful new 5 rack Vulcan convection oven, a used 7′ deli case, a used upright freezer, a used refrigerator, three new sinks, used bakers rolling racks with a new plastic cover that would double as a proofer, sheet pans, metal bowls, cuisinart, and a big work table I found in the buy, sell and trade for $40. I still have that table in fact.
And as I live on a small island without a car service ferry this involved hiring a small barge to move everything over.
I hired a gas fitter to hook up my oven for the two propane tanks I brought over and a carpenter neighbour to lay the linoleum, build my counters and install and plumb the sinks, had a coffee rep in to set up the machine and supply my coffee.
I made a variety of baked goods all summer long and was even able to put in a long window that looked out over the water, and a small counter with chairs so people could have their treat and coffee inside. My sister worked with me as well as my two kids and a girlfriend who lived on the island. The summer transient boaters along with my neighbors were great supporters.
But then, integral to lack of longevity, small island logistics became overwhelming.
Twice to three times a week I had to go to Costco to resupply as my little bakery was only 350 sq. ft., no room for dry storage, and this meant: get in boat drive 1km across water, tie up boat, walk to parkade to car, drive uptown, shop, load the car, drive to boat basin to dock, unload car (walking up and down boat ramp several times carrying heavy stuff like 20 Kg bags of flour, 10Kg bags of sugar etc.) load boat, go park car back in parkade, walk back to boat , drive boat 1 km back to the Island, unload boat (walking up and down boat ramp several times carrying heavy stuff like 20 Kg bags of flour, 10Kg bags of sugar etc) put everything away, go dock and tie up the boat.
I would have already been up at 4 that morning baking.
Oh, almost forgot having to take a propane tank into town every two weeks to have it filled.
I couldn’t just call up a supplier and have everything delivered to the back door.
In the end it was all far too much work.
Did I say I had a 14′ open aluminum boat at the time? And did I mention that if it decided to rain that day it did so as soon as I would be in the middle of the bay and usually when I’m coming back with my load, having me scramble to cover my dry goods?
I burned out before I could figure out a strategy in how to make it work more fluently and less exhausting. And yet when I closed it down I felt as though I lost something dear to my heart. Seriously sad for months after.
I still love baking and I still have enticing thoughts of opening a shop somewhere or having a small Inn or B&B – somewhere a delivery truck can drive too~