Switching from the world of fine dining to the comfy confines of a neighbourhood bakery has had an unexpected side effect for Jiyeon Park: it's made her a better baker.
During her previous stint at Bearfoot Bistro, the relationship Park had to the food she was making largely ended when it came out of the oven.
"It becomes a front-of-house responsibility and I don't have to worry about selling (the bread)," she said. But now, as owner of Function Junction's recently opened 200° Bakery, the feedback Park and her staff get is a little more direct.
"It's definitely (made me improve). When I give a loaf of bread to someone, I know they're going to have it for lunch or dinner with their family and I know they're going to come back and tell me how they liked it or not. It's actually a scary feeling," said Park. "That instant reaction actually puts a lot of pressure on me to be consistent. That's something I didn't really think about."
It's all part and parcel of being "the village baker," as Park put it, something she envisioned for the shop since its conception.
"It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive or anything. It's just good, fresh food," she said.
Now, two weeks after opening, Park is starting to settle in: She knows (most) of her regulars' names, how they like their coffee, and what their favourite sandwich is.
And despite being trained in the French style, Park is quick to note that you won't find any croissants or baguettes on the menu.
"I'm from South Korea and another baker that I work with is from Argentina, so we are obviously not trying to do a French bakery or a traditional pastry shop," she said. "We want to be a village bakery — that's how we envision ourselves — and offer good food in the form of loaves of bread, a bowl of soup or delicious seasonal desserts."
200° Bakery is already carving out a niche among the Function crowd for its rustic, whole grain, naturally fermented loaves. The Alpha Lake Road shop also serves up a selection of sweet treats — the signature 200° cookie made from almonds, walnuts, cocoa nibs and finished with whisky bitters is a must-try — homemade sandwiches and hearty soups, all made in-house, but it's the bread that's triggering childhood flashbacks among the clientele.
"The egg-salad sandwich I thought was the only way I could serve egg in the morning, so I took the buttermilk brioche we make here and made a very simple egg-salad sandwich," Park recalled. "And I got this amazing reaction I never expected. One of our customers said it reminded her of her childhood ... I thought it was quite the compliment and I didn't know an egg-salad sandwich could do that!"
Park was so baffled by the reaction that she got to thinking: maybe all the industrially baked bread people have become so accustomed to is actually doing her a favour.
"The commercial bread that's made in the city and delivered here is probably frozen and gone through that a couple times before it gets to our hands. They can never really be fresh," she explained. "People just haven't had the taste of fresh bread for a very long time because that's the only thing that's available here. I think people taste something fresh and realize it's different."
Although she's left her fine-dining days behind her, Park learned a valuable lesson under the tutelage of Bearfoot's renowned pastry chef, Domenic Fortin.
"I got to work with an incredibly creative and strong team at Bearfoot," she said.
"The way they were using their skill, I didn't understand the first year what they were doing. But in the second year I started to understand that this is maybe not just about the recipe or the technique, it's about the mindset; how you see things and how you try to make something that's never existed before.
"It's this mindset that you're always evolving and changing; that attitude itself is actually the most important thing. That's what I'm trying to keep."
200° Bakery is open Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit 200degrees.ca.
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