The Ace Bakery Artisan Incubator in Toronto was one hell of a fantastic week end! So much fun, inspiring and enriching.. A select few of us artisans across Canada were invited to this event sponsored by Ace Bakery, and wow! did they show us off and treat us like rockstars, all while giving us tools to grow/improve our business with the conferences - a real treat. http://www.acebakery.com/artisan-incubator/workshops/
I met so many amazing people and sampled an array of stellar Canadian products. All of them are the epitome of what they should be, in that they are made artisanally with locally sourced ingredients, utmost attention to quality, and hands on traditional methods - so more tasty, natural and crafted than most similar products you might be used to. You need to seek these out for your pantry or to offer as gifts, you won’t be disappointed..
- A real traditional method Cdn balsamic vinegar –Venturi Schulze, BC
- Cold pressed canola oil and flax seed oil (this is a revelation to anyone, just have to taste!) – Highwood Crossing, Alberta
- Ontario Peanuts and peanut butter, fresh and natural and local! Kernal Peanuts Ltd, ON
- Local, ethical and humble sausage and charcuterie: Chorizo and Saucisson sec – Seed to Sausage, ON
- Cream cheese like you haven’t tasted before – Grey Rush, Primeridge Pure, ON
- Other great cheeses (not only in Quebec!): Cow’s Creamery, PEI; Upper Bench Winery and Creamery, ON
- Chocolate, fair trade with local flavours and lots of personality – Choco Cocagne, NB
- A birch syrup that really is delicious – Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup, Yukon
- Kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented beverages – Pyramid Farm and Ferments, ON
- If you’re into fancy salt, we have a Canadian ‘fleur de sel’ that tops any, great texture – Vancouver Island Salt Co.
- Lavender condiments that are perfectly dosed – Sledding Hill, BC
- More wild things: Origina spices, QC; Candied spruce tips and oil – Upriver Commercial Fishing, BC
- Gelato, traditional and local, neat flavours – Bella Gelateria, BC
- Pub cider and Ice cider syrup (again, not only in Quebec!) - Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, On
- Sour cherry spread – Over the Hill Orchards, Saskatchewan
- Marinated oyster mushrooms – Champignons Charlevoix, QC
- Apple vodka – Ironworks Distillery, NS
Check them out here: http://www.acebakery.com/artisan-incubator/artisans/
Initially, I applied on behalf of Les Jardins Sauvages as an artisan for this contest/program without really knowing who Ace Bakery was. I guess because I live in Quebec and don’t shop at Loblaws. They mounted a campaign with chefs and food industry people, and were looking for the best artisans across Canada to celebrate and promote. We were of course happy to be selected in the top twenty among the 150 applicants, so I signed all the papers and kept up with what had to be submitted. When the date came, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was once again putting my energy in the wrong place, after filling out so many forms, writing recipes, sending out product and etc, while being so busy running our business on the side, not to mention having to close the restaurant for a week end and missing out on a best friend’s wedding.
Lets just say, I left home ‘en reculons’, leery and weary. Only to arrive in Toronto to a series of surprises. First of all, there were the luxuries like the limo at the airport, the swish hotel, the package with taxi chits and spending money etc. – extravagant and superficial maybe, but very bonus to a poor artisan. It would have meant nothing if it hadn’t been for the rest. Most importantly, the Ace Incubator was a big, professional, hyper-organized event focused on us artisans, and it was fun! Ok, there were a few hiccups, but what they were doing was super ambitious. As a chef and caterer, I thought they were crazy given what they were trying to execute, with so many different venues, chefs, formulas and recipes etc.
I quickly saw that all of us were winners simply by being there, to benefit from the exposure and the expertise/resources offered via the panels, to meet and share with others in the industry, mega networking that happens naturally, kinship throughout. I hardly had a chance to spend enough time with everyone I would have liked to; I wish I had attended many other workshops. So much to learn from others and not enough time. However I did have many inspiring conversations and forged some lasting connections. It kind of felt like being at summer camp; when in a short time, you feel like you’re living something important and these people might be friends for life.
Some photo highlights via Ace Bakery https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B8J2TJl3QtdCOFkwUEFyWV9weUU&usp=sharing#grid
Wrap up video – Ace Artisan Incubator Launch Event http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNFokMw7Vfs&feature=youtu.be
At the end of it all, it was an intense, stimulating, fun and inspiring weekend, and all thanks to Ace Bakery. So ironic, me the anti-corporate idealist. It’s not like I don’t know lots of cool rich people (like my customers) and I do believe in capitalism to a certain extent, but I can’t help but be a bit disillusioned as an artisan in an economy that seems to favour the opposite. So, it was especially refreshing to me to see successful business people who are full of heart and still grounded, so warm and generous, who would want to put so much selflessly into such a project. Ok fine, there might be a bit of marketing in there, things they can write off.. But only a special kind of person and company, true philanthropists would choose such a complicated route to give back. It’s because they know what it is like to be an artisan starting from scratch, living the hard life of knocks and what a small company needs; they recognize the value and want to sustain, help support this integral segment of society. When you know the Ace story and see how they grew from nothing, all while sticking to principles (and giving), it all fits – them doing this today; but still, its rare and impressive, heartening. It actually floors me.
This is just what the doctor ordered to help me from becoming prematurely crusty and cynical after so many years in the business. And then there is my partner François, the pioneer forager with 26 years professionally and a lifetime under the belt, the first to put wild foods on menus, always sustainable and with respect to nature, now getting lost in the fray of newcomers less so.. Any recognition (and practical encouragement) is welcome; we needed this.
We will benefit from their mentoring and resources to help grow our business following our needs. This is huge because we are typical artisans caught up in the day to day, who are both lacking and only lazy when it comes to business-sense and PR-marketing. Because we are such a unique, complicated business with so many limited seasonal products, not one thing to mass produce, it will be a challenge to apply big business rules. But there are many ways that their expertise can help to make ‘living the dream’ as passionate artisans more of a viable enterprise. And for that, I am grateful, because it’s something to start thinking about at our age.
A video of me via Ace Bakery http://www.acebakery.com/artisan-incubator/videos/
Good thing I got out of my kitchen this weekend and went to Toronto. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but the Quebec countryside, but I have to say that a visit to Toronto always provides a good kick in the butt (and there are no mosquitoes!). Everyone is so presentable and industrious, very nice, albeit stressed and rushed. The mantras wafting through the air can be annoying or energizing depending on your state of mind – Cruising around, I see, feel, smell and hear: ‘Show off your best. Make things happen. Polish your shoes and your nails. Get your business in order. Go to bed early. Don’t smoke..’ The camomile growing on the side of the road doesn’t smell like anything, not like ours. Its strawberry season and no one knows it. Whatever, I went home with renewed focus to work on our business, while staying true. With a mental note that there is a lot to learn in the big city. In parallel, I will pay more attention to the rest of Canada. I love Quebec and everything local, but there is so much cool stuff going on across the country; we need to step out of the two solitudes and embrace it. It was so much apart of my identity before and then I slowly became more Quebecoise than Canadian. This weekend made me dust off the Canadian flag in my bedroom regardless of Harper.
More Photos from the week end https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B8J2TJl3QtdCOFkwUEFyWV9weUU&usp=sharing#grid