Thursday, February 28, 2013

Earth Bound Bakery: The People, the Products, the Future

It’s hard to grasp what goes on behind the scenes when you drop into a store, make a few purchases and leave. I shop at Earth Bound Bakery once a week, but I didn’t know anyone’s names or what they did. It was time to spend a little longer at the bakery and begin to find out more about their roles.

Trent Loewen opened Earth Bound Bakery (next door to Dad’s Organic Market) just over four years ago. The grains and produce are organic as are as many of the other ingredients as possible.

Trent uses lots of local ingredients as well. That can be a challenge, but it obviously stimulates his creativity. In the summer, there are tomato basil or asparagus croissants, while in the winter the standby is mushroom and sharp cheddar with an occasional roasted yam and jalapeño.

“I work with what I’ve got,” Trent says. He was recently offered a box of over-ripe bananas and made an amazing lemongrass, lime leaf, coconut, curry, banana soup.

Bakers work crazy hours. Trent and his assistant, Jason, come in at 2 in the morning. Jason, who plays in a couple of local bands (Activist Maguire, Who Drew a Porno?), leaves at 10 or 11, but Trent stays on to help at lunchtime when the bakery is extra busy. (Sorry, no photograph. Jason had already left when I arrived.)

Jason’s first task is to laminate the croissant dough, folding in the butter, chilling, rolling, chilling and rolling again.

I was surprised to learn how much work goes into preparing the croissants. The starter contains milk and sugar and is refrigerated overnight.

The chocolate for the chocolate croissants starts out as large packages of organic, fair trade Cocoa Camino 70% cocoa chocolate chips, melted, poured onto a sheet pan, rolled, chilled and then cut into chocolate sticks.

The filling for the bear claw-shaped almond croissants (with whole almonds for claws) is made from scratch from almond flour, butter, sugar and eggs.

Laura B. 
Laura B. is responsible for almost all the baked goods apart from the breads. Everything she makes is vegan. “It’s easier than conventional baking,” Laura says. “There’s less errors and it tastes the same. No one can tell the difference.”

The apple pie muffins are wheat-free as well as vegan, and Laura makes 3 dozen every day. This past Saturday, there were also protein-packed cranberry quinoa almond muffins for a healthy breakfast. Laura makes 150 cowboy cookies every Tuesday and Friday and they usually sell out.

Thursday is cupcake day. Laura has just started baking with agave nectar. I watched her ice a batch of agave lime cupcakes with coconut buttercream frosting. She used chilled coconut cream in the frosting to give it an intense, completely natural coconut flavour.

Laura C. 
Laura C. is responsible for preparing the starter and other ingredients for the next day’s bread.

Earth Bound maintains three different cultures (liquid white that works relatively fast, solid white for a denser bread and red fife) and they make five different kinds of bread every day as well as a changing selection every day of the week.

One of the most popular loaves is the hemp and sesame seed with its wonderfully crunchy crust. I watched Laura stirring together large quantities of black and white sesame seeds and hemp hearts.

She also put seeds on to soak for the power bread (decorated with a Superman stripe to indicate the hearty helping of energy-rich ingredients in every slice).

Laura says that she had never made bread before working at Earth Bound, and she particularly enjoys substituting for Jason when he’s away. “Then I’m involved from start to finish,” Laura says. “It’s more fun. I like shaping the loaves.”

Working in a bakery takes a fair amount of physical strength. Laura handles large sacks of sesame seeds and flour as well as containers of starter. The large mixers must be scraped, and I was glad I left before they started doing dishes.

Laura is a proud Dog Mum, so be sure to ask after Jasper the next time you’re in the bakery.

By day, Joanna serves customers and looks after dishes and clean up. But by night, she plays the bass in the Seahags, “an old-timey country garage band.”

Joanna says that customers ask a lot of questions about ingredients. “I think we get a lot of people with allergies,” she says, “as they ask very specific questions.”

“11 to 3 is our crazy time,” Joanna says, as lots of people come in for lunch as well as to buy baked goods. On quiet days, once everything is cleaned up, Joanna also does some vegan baking. “After I get it all cleaned up, I have to decide if I really want to mess it up again,” she says. “I do that about once a week.”

Joanna says that they have some wonderful customers. One little girl brought them a Valentine’s Day card, while others have brought them a bottle of wine. “Sheila gives us each $20 at Christmas,” Joanna says. “She went out and bought painkillers when Laura had a headache, and she gave us a tray for our coffee supplies.”

The Future 
When Dad’s Organic Market added on an extension, Earth Bound gained some extra space in back.

“It changed my life,” Trent says. Now they have a back door! Before that, supplies were delivered to Dad’s loading dock and carried through Dad’s to the bakery. Garbage went out by the same route.

They also gained some storage space so they no longer have to reorder all their supplies on a weekly basis, and Trent will be adding a walk-in cooler.

The extra space is good news for customers as well. Trent plans to move the washrooms and the display cases further back. This will create some additional seating room, increasing the number of seats from 10 to 25.

The bakery will stay open during renovations, although they may not be able to serve lunches. We should start to see changes in the near future.

Pop-Up Restaurant
Now that the bakery is well established, Trent wants to do more cooking, so he plans to hold occasional dinners and some brunches. He may publish the menu in advance, but it’s more likely that people will book a seat but won’t know what is on the menu until they arrive.

Trent anticipates offering two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts. He is known for his vegetarian cooking, and he himself is vegetarian most of the time, so vegetarians will be sure to enjoy the dinners.

Trent says we can expect French/Mediterranean cooking with a bit of ethnic influence. “I like Mediterranean food,” he says. “It’s fresh, healthy. Not fussy.”


Jen Pederson said...

Great post, Penny! I love Earth Bound. My favourite visit was about a year ago when I was quite pregnant.
My husband and I stopped in for lunch and, while the seats were full, we thought that by the time our food was ready the people who had finished their coffee would move along as the lunch crowd started to arrive.
When our food was ready, there was nowhere to sit. We waited for several minutes - it probably wasn't all that long but I was pregnant and hungry and wanted a chair! The staff heated our soup up for us, but still no seats. While I was getting impatient, these were also paying customers who may well have been in the midst of an intense conversation - but I was getting desperate and our lunch breaks were slipping away.
Then Trent found a solution for us that didn't alienate any other patrons. He set up a card table and two folding chairs back behind the counter, by the ovens and the racks. I joked that it was like being at the chef's table! Our food was delicious and, while my husband got a bit flushed, I felt like Sam McGee as it was the first time I'd been truly warm all winter!
We'll look forward to the expansion. Thanks for the blog, I really enjoy it.

Penny McKinlay said...

What a wonderful story, Jen. Thank you for sharing it. I've found that all the staff at Earth Bound really try to be aware and help their customers.

Darren Craddock said...

I use Earthbound quite a bit since being introduced to them when I first arrived in the city. I'm the chef at Riverside Country Club and quality of the food I purchase is at the top of my list. The quality of bread that Trent and his staff produce day after day is outstanding. You can taste the 'love' that goes into each item. I try to use Earthbound products as much as I can and recommend that everyone else go and try it out, and you will not be disappointed. That's a promise.

Penny McKinlay said...

Thank you, Darren. That's high praise from someone with your expertise and experience.