Bringing local ingredients and artisans together
By Bakers Journal
IO Bakes” stands for Inspiring Olivia, so it makes sense that the owner Olivia Lam, signed up for the Inspiring Bakery Contest. The contest’s Founding Sponsor, Ardent Mills were impressed by her treat boxes that helps her local artisans while donating to a good cause. Bakers Journal sat down with Lam, owner and baker, to see what inspires her. “For a long time there was quite a struggle to find baked goods that were completely nut-free, because there’s always that possibility of contamination. So, I wanted to offer treats for other people who were like me. And so that’s why I started the bakery.”
Her bakery is allergy-free (nut-free and gluten-free) and she works with local farmers to acquire seasonal ingredients. “I wanted to keep the money in the local economy,” says Lam. “A lot of times I try to source local ingredients from farmers or there’s vendors in Ottawa that actually produce cocoa powder and sugar, and things like that. It was actually a lot easier to find those ingredients than you would think.
“It’s nice because seasonally, people are always looking for different treats: We follow the trends of the different produce that’s available or the flowers that you can have. It’s quite nice to be able to change the menu of them that way.”
Creating a menu made with seasonal and local ingredients sounds like it might present a challenge, but not for Lam. Her cookies are as artful as they are sustainable, made with local edible flowers that are in season. “Our most popular item is our lemon curd,” says Lam. “People really, really love our lemon curd.”
Versatility is one of Lam’s defining traits. Having opened in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Lam began thinking beyond pastry, and ways to help her fellow makers. Monthly treat boxes not only helped keep her business aloft, but she reached out to bring a source of income to local artisans, too. Each month, a themed box is on offer from their website. For June, she offered a Father’s Day themed “Dad Box.” It offers a four-cupcake selection (lemon-strawberry or double chocolate) four palmiers, four vanilla cake pops and a bag of coffee from Mighty Valley Coffee, a local roaster situated in Smith Falls.
Lam connected with makers in her area through an artisan market in Ottawa called Freewheeling Craft. Their motto is “Local goods made by really good people.” Each monthly treat box includes something from a local artisan. “So far, we have included items from women-owned businesses in Ottawa, from scrunchies to tea. We hope to continue providing a portion of our sales to a different charity each month.”
“For March we did a theme around International Women’s Day. Additionally, for International Women’s Day, our boxes included a local product and a donation to a women’s charity called Interval House Ottawa. We try to highlight causes like that; if there’s no holiday in that month,” explains Lam. Part of the charm of the monthly box is her spirit of inclusion and her willingness to help the economy by helping her neighbours. Her generosity isn’t limited to her business. During the pandemic, Lam continued to donate to Interval House Ottawa, a shelter for the homeless.
“I think [the pandemic] affected them in that there was less for them. The shelters have limited space. Resources are thin, even food banks are low, because so many people are in need of those resources… I think every dollar really does count.