Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fol Epi Bakery, Victoria, BC

Food, Community and Integrity

I sneak a peek through the open door of the bakery and glimpse the baker using a paddle to slide a pizza into the wood oven. It’s lunchtime, and Cliff, the owner of Fol Epi Bakery, is busy so I sit down on the deck with my lunch.

Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a new environmentally sustainable neighbourhood development, which is still under construction on the Gorge Waterway, a very industrial part of Victoria. Across the waterway is a roadbed recycling plant.

Cliff, one of the original owners of Wild Fire Bakery, opened Fol Epi in January 2009. I imagine that it has been a somewhat rocky start as Dockside has been slow to develop. Cliff is a member of the Slow Food movement. All the ingredients are organic, and they are sourced locally as much as possible. They make small batches of just a few quality products.

After lunch, Cliff generously takes a few minutes away from the oven to talk to me, apologizing for the flour on his hands. I am struck by his gentleness and his ethical, principled approach to food and community. “We want to do a few things and do them very well,” he explains. Integrity is an integral part of all Cliff’s decisions – from how he sources the ingredients to how the store is constructed to how he treats his employees.

For example, Cliff buys the vanilla he uses from a slow food cooperative in Mexico where everyone shares in the process. The sugar is fair trade. As many products as possible are organic and local. The store was built using as many recycled products as possible – from the bricks used to build the bread oven to the beautiful wooden beams that now serve as counters.

Cliff has worked directly with a Saskatchewan farmer to bring Red Fife, the first wheat ever grown in Canada, back into production. He is working with a local farmer in order to develop a local source of wheat. “It takes time to secure land,” says Cliff. “It’s a big commitment from the farmer, especially when land prices are so high.”

Fol Epi is one of only three local bakeries which mill their own grain. The others are True Grain in Cowichan Bay and Wild Fire Bakery in Victoria. Again, it’s a question of integrity. Cliff feels that he has more control of over the quality of the grain; it is more sustainable as there is less packaging; and it increases the slim profit margins of bakers and farmers. In addition, Cliff believes it’s more interesting for the baker to be involved in that part of the process.

Cliff’s principled approach extends to his staff. “I want it to be a better way of living for employees,” says Cliff, explaining that he pays more than the average industry wage and hopes to be able to pay more as he reduces his debt. Cliff is also an integral part of the local food community. Charelli’s sandwiches are made with baguettes from Fol Epi, and so many of the people I met urged me to visit his bakery.

And last, but definitely not least, I have to tell you that the food is fabulous! The bread in my egg salad sandwich was moist and chewy and flavourful, and the tiny flourless chocolate cake was a mouthful of chocolate heaven.

Fol Epi shares space with Caffe Fantastico, one of the oldest third-wave coffee shops in Victoria. The owner travels internationally to identify high-quality farms with a focus on organic, fair trade products.

Fol Epi is located on the Gorge Waterway so it’s easily accessible from the series of trails that loop around the harbour. Hop on a harbour ferry, ride your bike or paddle your kayak – but be sure to visit Fol Epi Bakery. It’s fabulous.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fol Epi is a great spot!

However you missed one other bakery that mills their own grains! The Roost in North Saanich (near the airport) mills AND grows their own wheat which they use in the majourity of their baking!

Another must stop next time your catching a flight out of Victoria!