Bread is my one true love. Being Bosnian I cannot imagine life without bread. I still vividly recall how thrilled I was to discover this amazing European style bakery.One summer morning found me pedaling madly down Gladstone so I could be there as the doors opened at 7am. I got there early! I hung about conspicuously watching Yael take out the recycling. Thankfully she took pity on me and sold me a loaf of bread before opening time. There is nothing more beautiful than biting into a warm, crusty loaf of bread right out of the bag you are carrying or tearing off bits and pieces as you walk home. Pure pleasure. It wasn’t until I started the blog that I had the chance to speak to Yael and Pat, the couple who owns the bakery, about their story and what brought them to Ottawa. My interview was with Pat.
When did you move to Ottawa?
We moved here from Montreal in 2008 to open the bakery. We have family here. I didn’t think Montreal was a big city having lived there for a lot of my life and coming here it felt like a town. In Ottawa there are tons of big city things with town mentality. They want to cultivate as much localness as possible. Ottawa was one of the forerunners in the local food scene. We got here and local food was already big here. It wasn’t in Montreal. The 100 mile thing was happening already. We knew about it but it wasn’t a thing in Montreal yet.
How did you get into baking business?
I had worked for 10 years or so in high end restaurants doing everything and doing a lot of pastries towards the end and not liking it that much. Liking working with food but not liking the restaurant scene at all because it is so high stress. Yael had done some home baking and said ‘I think you would like baking’ and gave me the Bread Alone book. It’s always the book that I recommend to people. Now I would consider Tartine as well – the bakery is more interesting, more our style. I started baking at home and liked it and we had thought about opening a restaurant before. We were looking at the interior of BC and there was nowhere to learn how to bake bread like this. Yael had worked at Le Fromentier in Montreal so we moved back to Montreal. I applied to like 100 places to try and start baking. I didn’t speak French and I didn’t have any experience. Finally I got a job at Le Fromentier the second or third time I had been there. I worked really hard for over two years and advanced really quickly. I was lucky to have so many good teachers.
We were planning on heading out back west at first and at this point we had a son and we have family in Ottawa. It also seemed that there was nothing here in this European style of bread. The bread/pastry scene is still in its infancy. The good thing about the market though is that there are a lot of people that have travelled and a lot of Europeans.
What was it about bread that was so attractive?
I like that it is physical. I like working with my hands. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to make something beautiful every day. I like that it’s transient, that someone will break that baguette and dunk it in soup, polish it off, and I get to do that all over again the next day. I like taking a pile of dry stuff and turning it into a really beautiful loaf. There’s science. There is so much I like. Everyday is different. Working with organic flour from bag to bag can change rapidly. We have to be able to adjust really fast and it keeps us on our toes. There wasn’t as much of that in my restaurant experience.
The hours are hard and for a long time I was working 10pm until 7am. My schedule now is 4am till noon. If I were to start over again I would start with the day schedule (the latter one mentioned). Interestingly enough it improved the bread – working with sourdough different environments encourage different tastes. A warm environment encourages a yogurty taste (lactic acid) and a cold environment encourages acetic acid. By changing the length of time we ferment the sourdough we can get a really good blend of lactic and acetic acid to have almost a balanced flavour.
Why own a bakery?
I always wanted to have my own place, to be the owner. Before I became the owner I didn’t really get what that entailed. I thought it was like ‘oh I will just be baking and making all the decisions’ but there is so much more I have to deal with. At times I have thought ‘wow if I could make the same amount of money and just go be a baker somewhere I would do it’. Paperwork and talking to the mill, the new year’s harvest, the last year’s harvest, them running out of things. As an owner it’s really nice interacting with customers. You get to see how important something as small as bread is to people. They are looking forward to it and they are happy.
Do you hire people have experience in baking?
I don’t like hiring people who have that much experience because it’s such a difference between Ontario and Quebec. Ontario is not a bread culture. The French heritage in Quebec is strong. There are bakeries that make breads similar to us everywhere in Quebec and everyone expects it. Something that is really fun as an owner, just being a local bakery, lots of who people come here consider themselves foodies but we also have a lot of customers that walk here because it is the local bakery and they don’t care, they just like our bread, they don’t know more about it than that. More than once people have come back from Paris and would say things like ‘you know I was in Paris and the bread wasn’t that good’ and I am like ‘YES!’ So without being super into it they have learned to evaluate it just by eating it.