Delivered with true baker’s flair, Mario Fortin was born between two bags of flour. And he hasn’t left the bakery since.
As a baker and a consultant, Fortin has accumulated nearly 30 years of technical baking expertise, lending his knowledge, training and private laboratory to many commercial bakeries across Canada, including Canada Bread, Weston, and Gadoua.
What do you like about Research and Development for the baking sector?
Working a year on technical services is more experience than 10 years in the same bakery plant. We work every day with different equipment, different people, different ingredients and different processes. Creating new products is a passion. Helping people to do it right is my challenge. Improving the quality of existing products or developing a new product keeps me at my best. I keep my eyes open, and discover day after day it makes me feel good, and proud of what I do for my industry.
I like to walk into a grocery store and have a look at the products that I’ve helped develop with customers across Canada.
When you were growing up, did you work at your parents’ bakery?
My first job at the family bakery was as a student. I made cake boxes for my parents at seven years old, and then watched the cake doughnut machine the next year. In 1972, I started working in the family bakery on bread production.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am very proud to be a baker. It is a passion for me, and if you believe in yourself, and have confidence in what you do, with hard work and determination, there really isn’t anything you can’t accomplish. If you love baking, you can be a baker anywhere. Being the coach of Team Canada gave me global contacts, and I have since travelled around the world.
How did you become involved with Team Canada and the World Baking Cup?
In 1999, I visited the Europain show, and spent three to four hours a day looking at the competition of “La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.’’ The question I asked myself at that time was: Why is Canada not represented in this international contest? The answer was that nobody showed any interest – yet. A few years ago, I put a Canadian team together. I like being involved with Team Canada because, for me, The World Baking Cup is the summit of the baking industry. Like any Olympic athlete, for me, being part of Team Canada represents the power of a dream. In the last Cup, Team Canada finished second, behind Mexico with a difference of only 12 points out of 300. With that second place, Team Canada is the substitute team to replace Mexico in Paris in 2008, in case they can’t fulfill their duties. Finally, the good news is: Team Canada has been invited by M. Jean Claude Broutin, president of the Europain organization, as a demonstration team on the opening day in March 2008.
What is one of the biggest challenges you helped one of your clients to overcome?
In 1984, I had a customer who had many problems because his dough was getting old after 10 minutes. After trying different things, I decided to call the water filtration plant of that city. I asked them for an analysis of the pH, hardness and minerals, etc. The city claimed they’d lost control of their treatment, and sometimes the water did not contain the right balance of minerals.
It gave me the answers I needed, and I recommended my client drill their own artesian well. As soon as the baker got his own water, he never had the same problem again.
Forma-Lab will soon be celebrating its 10th anniversary – what does the future hold for you over the next decade?
I am taking a Spanish course, and by next year I will offer my services to countries speaking this language. Because Spanish is the third most important language in the world, it will open doors for me, and it is a different way to not limit my frontiers. Another dream of mine would be to make bread in every country in the world.
How has consulting for the baking industry changed over the past 10 years?
The market is now more open for consulting. At the time I started in technical service in 1980, all companies employed a few technicians in house, and many of the services offered by the flour or yeast companies were free for the bakers because they was included in the price of the ingredients. The challenging part of being a consultant is that you have to be ready to work anytime/all the time. I feel that I am successful because I am available when a customer calls. I believe that you don’t get to be a consultant before you turn 40 years old – because you’ve got to prove you have the experience.
How do Quebec bakers differ from the rest of Canada?
Quebec bakers are not that much different. The only thing that may differ is our approach with the customer, which is closer to the Europeans. We pay attention to customer service. We consume more cheese and wine than anywhere else in Canada, and bread, too. We are more open to trying something new.
What advice can you give to bakers who are just entering the industry?
Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Starting up a bakery requires knowledge, because you will buy machinery. Thinking you will save money, you often buy the wrong machine, believing it will do the right job. Some bakers that I help mentioned to me they should have met me before they started their businesses. One of my quotes is: DO IT RIGHT FIRST TIME.
What baking trends do you see in the future?
The future of our industry will suffer for lack of manpower, because the good bakers are going to start artisan bakeries everywhere. That is why a contest like the World Baking Cup is important. It helps to bring the young people to our industry with worldwide knowledge. v