Bakers Journal

Notes from the Executive Director, February 2023

February 15, 2023
By Martin Barnett

A delightful visit to Montreal’s St-Viateur Bagel. Photo supplied by Martin Barnett

Sane working hours
Hello! January has zipped by and we hope those bakeries that took the opportunity to have some time off enjoyed the rest and have come back, in 2023, invigorated and renewed. 

Time off is very important. A new local bakery recently asked their followers on social media what their hours should be. This triggered me a little as to how important it is to find the balance between serving your customers and having a productive, sane and balanced work life. You cannot please everyone, and it is part of our service to stay in business. Cutting back on hours doesn’t mean reducing profitability. Scheduling will be easier and your staff will thank you too. 

We should also consider not working graveyard shifts. Is this really necessary anymore? There is nothing wrong with starting very early in the morning but the toll that those overnight shifts take on our bodies (not to mention our social and family lives) is too much. How many owners/supervisors get a dreaded phone call at 11 p.m. to let them know that the overnight shift is down a body? We have made great advances in proofing and retarding yeasted products. Consider investing in this equipment or be condemned a slave to working in the dark! Here’s to a healthy workforce!

It’s almost the end of January and I am still eating panettone! In my opinion, no other sweet-yeasted product comes close to this quintessential Italian festive bread (except maybe Colomba di Pasqua). It gets better with age, and remains moist and flavourful for months. It is challenging to make properly, but the satisfaction gained as a baker is above even that delivered by perfect lamination or a wedding cake that doesn’t make the bride cry!

Panettone purists
I mention panettone because it was in the news recently. Traditional panettone bakers are all up in arms with the interpretations of the traditional and sacred Italian bread. In the New York Times, Julia Moskin starts off her piece with: 

In the last decade, the Christmas classic has burst its Italian borders and gained a global profile. Like Basque burnt cheesecake and French croissants, panettone is being tested and transformed far from home, with new flavors like black sesame, Aperol spritz and cacio e pepe. There are Japanese versions leavened with sake lees and Brazilian ones stuffed with dulce de leche; supermarket minis that cost $2 and truffled ones that fetch nearly $200. 

In her article for The Current https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/panettone-christmas-1.6693627 Megan Williams, a CBC reporter who is usually crafting articles about Italian politics, weighs in with the heading “Panettone purists say chocolate and cherries are fine – just don’t call it a panettone!”

Tradition versus innovation?
We seem to be obsessed on two fronts: those who defend the traditional at all costs and those who push the boundaries of innovation. And I am not just talking about panettone. Is a Black Forest cake a layered German chocolate cake drenched in kirsch, filled and topped with dark cherries and whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate shavings? That’s what I was taught. However, a question on this was removed from the Canadian Red Seal Baker apprenticeship exam because interpretations of this classic could not be 100 per cent defended! 

While I am on the subject of classic desserts: the Nanaimo bar. This dessert, so classic that the recipe is etched into a brass plaque at city hall, is now available in a multitude of weird and wonderful representations: vegan, gluten-free, maple bacon, spring roll raspberry and even deep-fried! Not to mention the sweet pea ice cream Nanaimo bar available at our own Amanda Cohen’s acclaimed eatery, Dirt Candy, in New York City! 

On the one hand, we have food producers around the world pushing for “terroir” status for Champagne, Cheddar and Pani di Altamura. On the other hand, the dessert you order at the latest en vogue restaurant may be a vague interpretation of what you were expecting, causing you to say, “Please, please don’t mess with my apple pie!”

What do you think? Sacred to keep the traditions or important to keep reinventing, changing and innovating? Let us know. Send a recipe for something that you would never, ever change or present a completely reimagined product. We will publish your offerings in a subsequent issue.

Victoria gathering
Over 70 people registered for our first Bakers’ Town Hall in Victoria at Camosun College’s culinary facility, generously hosted by Chef David Lang and faculty. The event, which was originally planned as a small, informal get-together, soon outgrew the original venue, so we were grateful for Camosun’s offer.

The delegates came from all disciplines of the industry, and from all over British Columbia, even though this was touted as a local event. There were pastry chefs, chocolatiers, artisan and commercial bakers, workers and owners. Many brought samples of their products and there was a veritable cornucopia to enjoy!

The event was facilitated by the Baking Association of Canada with the aim of talking with grass roots and emerging bakers, hearing these voices and encouraging membership in the BAC. Judging by the number of attendees, this event was long overdue!

Mark Dyck (Bakers 4 Bakers online forum and Rise Up! podcast) emceed the event. As one of the main themes was to celebrate new and emerging businesses, Mark moderated a panel of three entrepreneurs who are embarking on, building out or scaling up their businesses: Leah Hayward, Smør Scandinavian Bakery (in planning); Louise Pickles, Hank and Ludo (opening this year); and Josh Houston, Stark Raving Bread (scaling up, building a new shop). 

These bold, adventurous panellists gave us a candid insight into the bakery business building process. This was followed by a Brainstorm/Slam in which each table had to tackle four questions in 10 minutes: What are your major challenges? What are your recent successes? What are your priorities? What would you like to see at a future local event? Because of time constraints, we had to shut down the earnest and enthusiastic conversations after 20 minutes. Eavesdropping, we found the conversations between people who had only just met were lively, enquiring, respectful and urgent. See the table on this page for a summary of the responses.

On behalf of the BAC I welcomed bakers with these words: “It’s been a long time since we’ve all been able to meet like this. Since March of 2020, all of us have seen the world change, have felt the ground shifting beneath our feet. We’ve seen shortages, shutdowns, unrest and uncertainty. It has been a time of retrenching and replanning, reworking budgets and stretching resources. These years have shown our communities, and Canada, what is really important – it’s us. It’s bakers. It’s true! One of the warmest words in English, or French, is ‘companion’ – one who breaks bread with another.”

B.C. Chapter chair Gary Humphreys and I gave a short presentation on the joys of BAC membership and Bakery Showcase in Vancouver, and Chef David Lang talked about Camosun College, opportunities for students in work placement and the future vison of baking- and pastry-themed courses to satisfy local demand for training. There was also a draw for two gift baskets generously provided by Snow Cap Enterprises.

BAC would like to thank all those volunteers who made the event possible, those who brought wonderful goodies, the faculty of Camosun College Culinary as well as those who travelled across the province to attend.

We look forward to replicating the Bakers’ Gathering across the country as a way to connect and reconnect to our industry.

Talk of the Town Hall 
What are your
major challenges?
Staffing

Pricing

Supply chain

Inspiring and motivating staff

COVID

What have been
your successes?
COVID made us better!

Good work/life balance

Expansion

Customer loyalty

Improved quality

What are your priorities? Staff retention

Automation/efficiency

Maintaining quality

Empowering workers

Steadying the ship

Expense control

Post-COVID production

What should be the next local event? Bakery tours

Job fair

Community baking event

Fundraiser for educational resources

“Passport”-style promotion to 

attract customers

Mentoring

Educational workshops

More like this event

MEMBERSHIPS
Not a member of the BAC yet, or know someone who would like to join? Sign up here: https://baking.ca/membership.

Martin Barnett

Executive Director

Baking Association of Canada 

mbarnett@baking.ca


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