The Final Proof: December 2006
November 7, 2007
By Final Proof
Pamela Gaudreault defines herself through the excellence of her handcrafted loaves at Ecco il Pane – one of the Pacific Northwest’s first artisan bakeries.
Pamela Gaudreault, a lifelong devotee of fresh ingredients and handcrafted food, founded Vancouver’s first artisan bakery, Ecco il Pane, in 1992. Since then, the bakery has expanded, and distributes to local restaurants, hotels, caterers and supermarkets, and – through partially baked, flash-frozen Home Bakes™ – throughout the Pacific Northwest.
What is your earliest baking memory?
I remember standing by the stove as my grandmother made a palacsinta – a Hungarian crepe. She put the batter on a griddle and flipped it. As soon as it was off, I was there to enjoy it. I used to bake at home as a child, experimenting with different ingredients … I remember getting satisfaction from that.
How did you become interested in artisan baking?
It’s part of my heritage. I’m Hungarian, and Ukrainian food is a large part of the culture. Every night, my mother and grandmother would go to great lengths to cook dishes from scratch.
Did this dedication to fresh, healthy food affect your health?
Yes, being well-fueled and going back to school gave me great cognizance of what I was doing. This upbringing led to my personal pursuit of great health and healthy choices in food … which in turn led to positive physiological and psychological benefits.
When did you decide to enter the baking industry?
I didn’t set out with it as a career path. A series of circumstances led me to the industry, and my background complemented the pursuit …. I’m self-taught, but have been very interested since childhood. I guess it’s part of my genetic predisposition …. I made a cake for a birthday, and … a group of people from the restaurant industry tried it and said it was fantastic, and that I should start a business …. It provided wholesome pastries to Vancouver, and was avant garde because it used fresh eggs, real butter and real cream …. It was pioneering because ingredients were really fresh and seasonal, which was not being done at that time.
In your own words, define artisan bread.
Artisan bread, for us, is indigenous to different regions in Italy – it’s not one homogenous mixture. As a result, each loaf has a different crumb and crust. It also has high hydration, which gives it a great moisture level, so it can be reheated and maintain its moisture.
Why wasn’t artisan baking a widespread style when you started business?
It’s complexity. Standard baking schools don’t teach artisan style – or didn’t at that time. They focused on mass-produced or machinery-made breads. Profits came with mass-production, and it was a profit-driven industry.
What was the early customer response to artisan baking?
When we started our pilot bakery, there was an overwhelming response. At the time, the common phrase “pillow bread” was being used among Europeans, because they would use white bread as a pillow when they were traveling across Europe on the train. People were astounded at what we produced … and they desired to have a better quality product.
What is your favourite aspect of having your own business?
Its multi-faceted nature. Running a business is a highly responsible and responsive place to be, which I really enjoy. It’s an area of creative outpouring, where you’re capable of pulling in people’s gifts to create something that’s really outstanding. That’s the epitome of the process – all the ideas, all the gifted people – the aim is to synergize that.
Why choose Italian food as an inspiration for Ecco il Pane?
It was a vision of what I saw as being important to offer. Italian food is all about single, clean, pure, unadulterated ingredients. That’s what their cuisine is all about – the focus is on ingredients.
Now that Ecco il Pane has expanded and distributes products across the Pacific Northwest, how do you stay true to the handcrafted nature of artisan bread when mass production usually entails the use of large-scale machinery?
That’s one of the things we’re working on. We are well known for the quality of our product. We work on meeting market demand and maintaining our quality level.
How has the baking industry changed since you first started?
There’s more competition in the market. Large chain retailers offer on-site bakeries and the local community supports products more. They are more and more present in the almost immediate marketplace – customers have to travel only a short distance to [purchase their products] ….
Customers demand quality. There are also a few more players in the marketplace, and in-store baking components of retail chains are trying to capture some of that.
What qualities are essential to be a good baker?
Excellence, detail and precision.
What advice do you have for people thinking of starting their own bakery today?
Differentiate. Be specific to what it is you’re trying to promote under your brand. There’s more appeal in uniqueness. I believe that one’s general approach depends on the concept and how you define yourself.
What tool is essential for every baker?
What’s one unknown hazard of eating bread?
If you have sourdough with a great bottle of wine. As soon as you have a bite of sourdough bread, it kills the palate …. There’s nothing worse than splurging on great wine, killing your palate and being unable to savour it.
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