Enjoy Fresh Flavour Fast with Corinne Stadel

FreshDish.ca

FreshDish.ca

If you’re a busy parent, or a busy single professional with little time or even inspiration to eat healthy, I recently discovered a convenient solution to add to your regime – it might just save you one or two nights off…

Meet Corrine Stadel, a busy parent herself and owner of Fresh Dish, in South Vancouver.  Fresh Dish assembles fresh meals for you, made to order, fresh or frozen, and either in group portions or single servings. They offer a variety of entrees, side dishes, appetizers and desserts even. Operating six days a week, you simply order online, by phone or email, 48 hours in advance, then pick up or have your order delivered to you. Fresh Dish’s monthly menu will save you time in shopping and cooking so all you have to do is heat and eat!

I met Corrine in her south Vancouver store location to hear about her Fresh Dish experience…

How did Fresh Dish start? I love to cook. …I am a single parent and had a very busy career. Sensational Suppers was a store that I discovered at a trade show, so I went and loved it [similar concept to Fresh Dish]. My teenage daughter started dinner before I got home. Then the franchises became available and I bought a franchise.  About six months later, they decided to close. So I rebranded and went independent.

Beef Kabobs

Beef Kabobs one August menu option, photo credit: Freshdish.ca

Do you create your own recipes? We find recipes, there are three of us, and tweak them; and then we use our own family stuff. Like family recipes that we’ve used for years and years.

What are your favourite dishes? Most of them… but the sockeye salmon on a cedar plank [is great].  I love our pork dishes – our pork is great. I haven’t really had [a dish] that I disliked ever.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Being my own boss. The flexibility of having to raise a family, I can be flexible with my hours to be at home.  …The customers play a big part too, because they give us a lot of feedback. We cater to all our customers. We are open and flexible with our menu – we get a lot of requests for vegetarian, low-fat, or salt free. As a franchise you couldn’t do that.

Seafood Lasagna

The popular seafood lasagna, photo credit: Freshdish.ca

How does Fresh Dish work? The idea is that you buy a series of meat, so that you have a whole bunch of different options [each serves 2-3 or 4-6] and in the morning you just take one out and then cook it at night by following the instructions. [The food marinates during the day as it thaws out]. Some items will come with different steps, like sauté and add sauce; but our soups and chilies are premade and precooked. Our lasagnas are very popular too. Our vegetarians go with vegetarian lasagna, and there’s also a broccoli & spinach, a chicken, a seafood – and our seafood has crab, shrimp, and scallops in it – no imitation seafood. We have customers that order two or three every month.  All our cooked [singles] meals come with a protein, a starch, and vegetables. You just microwave and it’s ready. They usually come off our menu and change weekly.

With hopes to expand I into a bigger location, and expand on their singles meal menu options, which are growing in demand, Corrine’s team is working to add some new products to the mix, including tofu options.

“You are not shopping, no prep work, and it saves you money because you’re not buying a bunch of different ingredients. Predominantly, we all have about 6-8 items [in our routine menus]. This gives you some variety and something different.  Without having to go buy a whole bottle of something, use it once, and then end up throwing something out.”  I related to her instantly, so I am sure you can too…

Perfect Preview to PC Confections

All of these things is not like the other, but I assure you they all belong… Individually they each have their own flavour, and it was an amazing way to start my day this past Thursday. This is a preview post, of how I recently sampled just a few of pastry chef Paul Croteau’s amazing confections for his new business: PC Confections

Stay tuned for full story – its a sweet one!

PCConfections

Perfectly plated PC Confections for a delightful tasting session.

Your Quay to Great Soup with Ralf Dauns

The Soupmeister

The Soupmeister store front sign in Lonsdale Quay Market.

As the heat wave passes over Vancouver, back to school hovers around the corner. Inevitably cooler weather will soon follow, and your iced café becomes an extra hot latte and your salad becomes a soup! While it may not be what you crave on a hot day now, a hearty bowl of soup is a serious staple for fall eating.

But soup takes time, so you can count on your local Soupmeister in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay to dish up the best of the best every time because its all done in house.

Ralf Dauns at work. Photo credit: Soupmeister.ca

Ralf Dauns at work. Photo credit: Soupmeister.ca

This serious soup expert was born, raised, and educated at Masters level in Germany and has now been in soup business in Vancouver for more than 15 years. Ralf Dauns, recently expanded his market location in January 2010 to include more kettles than ever – allowing up to five different soups prepared and served each day during their peak months (September to May).

So before the soup season kicks into high gear, I sat down with Ralf across from his shop in the market, to learn more about his experience, great soup, and a bit about community…

What are your most popular soups? We have a few staples like clam chowder, seafood chowder, Italian wedding. …Some soups fall out of favour and some come back or some ingredients are not available. [It also depends on] the market price, usually the higher the price the lower the quality – so you want to make good quality.

What is your favourite? I like soups with beans and meat, for example, the Sicilian connection: prawns, sausage meat, different beans, a little parmesan cheese, its almost like a chili.  It depends on the time of year and what mood you are in.

Do you oversee every batch of soup? Yes. Between [my sous chef] and me we taste the soup.  Sometimes we bring in the younger guys as well, to taste, so they understand when you add this, they see what makes the difference.

After being in the business this long, what inspires you to make soup now? Number one, as my friend also says, I really love to cook. …And the other thing is the satisfaction you get from all the variety of customers. You get customers of all ages and backgrounds. Then I run into somebody who used to come here as a kid. 89% of our customers are regulars.

Many of your staff are local kids, do you have apprenticeships? Not directly the cooking part, but I try to teach them work ethic, and a bit more independent thinking. …I’m not a big fan of writing a list of what to do all day, like franchise style. There are so much structures everyone has these days, so I give them room to grow and have some creativity – it’s a bit harder that way [laughs], but its better in the end.

Outside the market, what is your favourite place to eat? At Home [laughs] …I don’t go out very much, but if we do go out for a fancy dinner we usually go to Le Crocodile downtown – it’s very traditional French, and very consistent.

One of the Soupmeister's daily menu lists.

One of the Soupmeister's daily menu lists.

Lastly, what is the key to good soup? Main thing is a good stock. If you don’t have a good stock then it gets really tough. Then you have to have fresh quality ingredients. You can’t rush a soup. Soup is not something you can make by weighing things out all the time because your ingredients taste different all the time…. The main thing is a good stock, good ingredients, and time. You have to put some TLC in there or its not going to happen.

____________

This serious soup master enjoys what he does and has taken soup to a fine art level.  His soup has become a staple in the community, and that is heart warming in itself.  During our chat, Ralf said, “what I like about it too, it’s become part of the community,” he pointed out a customer at the counter and continued, “his dad used to come here and now he comes here,” you could tell he was proud, and with good reason – it’s more than just soup, it’s soup with a community story.

Mr. Mikes Gives A Buck!

MikeBurger Madness runs from July 18 – August 26, 2010: Mr Mikes’ aims to raise $50,000 for local charities!

Claire Booth, Mr Mikes Steakhouse & Bar

Claire Booth, of Mr Mikes Steakhouse & Bar, stands next to some fun artwork displayed at their corporate office - same artwork found in the franchises.

Not many places in BC can say they’ve been making the same burger for 50 years. Well Mr Mikes steakhouse chain can, and are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year by highlighting an original menu item: the MikeBurger. Fifty years later, they are still making MikeBurgers and now are giving back to local charities through the sale of each MikeBurger.

At their head office in Vancouver recently, I chatted with Claire Booth, Vice President of Brand Strategy, to learn more about Mr  Mikes story and this anniversary campaign.

What is the story behind Mr.Mike’s? It was a coupe of brothers. It was on Granville st. [911 Granville St to be exact]. They started off with this ‘steak for everyone’ making steak inexpensive. And they had this salad bar concept and when people think back to the Mr.Mikes they know and love, they think about the salad bar. They remember the baked potato wrapped in foil. ….But times have changed and we’ve moved on. Comparable to other steakhouses, our steaks are much better quality now.  There is no story to the name though. [Just the name the brothers chose]

Tell me more about MikeBurger Madness? This is our 50th anniversary campaign. We wanted it to be community focused. We wanted to highlight out MikeBurger because that is the only product that is still on our menu from 50 years ago. It is the same MikeBurger served in the same way. So we wanted to make that the focus.  …[It was key for us] to ensure we were giving back the community that is supporting us. …We aim to sell 50,000 MikeBurgers, and so far we are on track, we’ve already sold over 11,000 [as of day nine of the six-week campaign].

For a list of the charities each franchise is supporting, visit MrMikes.ca!

What are the franchises saying about MikeBurger Madness? They are really supportive.  Corporate office is going to match the winner [most sold burgers], so if the winner manages to raise $5000 then we’ll match it.  A great example is Dawson Creek, they are using the money to go towards building the community a new water park. Chilliwack is also a good example, they sold the most MikeBurgers on the first day [and are going strong still].

On a personal note, have you always worked in the food industry? [Claire joined the Mr. Mikes earlier this year, but has always worked in food related industries]  I really enjoy working in the food & beverage world. You’ve got to be so cutting edge and so aware of what’s going on competitively. …It keeps you on your toes, because there are so many trends when it comes to food and beverage.

…Working for a company like Mr.Mikes, and being so community focused, you can’t help but have a good time at work as well. Because what you are doing is bringing joy to other people so it reflects in the corporate culture as well.

MikeBurger options

Mr Mikes menu Mike Burger options! Source: MrMikes.ca

Can you describe a MikeBurger? It’s different from other hamburgers. Its one of those foods that Mr.Mikes is known for.  …It comes on a garlic buttered toast, and the bun itself is a piece of French loaf. A large oval beef patty, our special sauce and served with fries. Its one of those burgers that you bite in and it is just messy, yummy, and rich! You have to try one if you haven’t! There are different types as well, I just described the Classic MikeBurger, but there is the Bacon, Avalanche, or Mushroom MikeBurger too.

The massive MikeBurger experience is worth the trip to Langley, Coquitlam, or Surrey for GVRD residents.  Summer is the perfect time to explore new places, burgers, and give back to charity as well!

Nostrala, Alpindon, and Grana, Oh My!

Kootenay Alpine Cheese farm

How food is made and where it comes from is always fascinating for me to learn about. Recently, I literally watched the cows come in to be milked on a trip to a family owned and run BC cheese farm, Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co.

Their farm dog guided the herd, with very full udders, into the barn, where the cows are milked twice daily, and receive a hay mixture / treat before each milking. It sounds simple, but this routine is a big process and amazing to witness.

Smelling the mountain air and hearing cow bells jingle, we suddenly had a craving for cheese and headed to the cheese shop for some samples.

The Kootenay Alpine Cheese company makes three cheeses named Nostrala, Alpindon, and Mountain Grana, respectively, each with a slightly stronger taste and firmer texture. After seeing the cows that produce the milk that makes the cheese, the flavour experience was certainly heightened.

Later I was able to ask Denise a few questions about her family’s farm; and I learned some interesting facts that just might aMOOse you too…

The Cows of Kootenay Alpine Cheese Farm

The cows enjoy their treat just before milking.

How did your cheese farm start? We started making cheese three years ago but have been dairy farming for about 20.

What does your family love most about your farm? We all get satisfaction from farming the way we do and we like to see it reflected in the end product.

How many cows approximately do you have at your farm? We milk ~75 cows and then have about that many again that are young stock and dry cows (on vacation from milking for two months)

How much milk does each of your cows produce in a day? Our cows produce about 60 pounds of milk each a day (24 litres each).

What separates you from other local cheese farmers? We are the only certified organic dairy in our area, we are the only ones in our area that intensively graze, we feed a high forage, low grain ration and no corn silage. We have gone away from large high producing pure bred Holsteins and experimented with cross breeding to come up with a herd well suited to organic production (high fertility and health traits and good production on forage)…. Our cheese is unique in that it is a raw milk, naturally aged cheese.

Is there a story behind the names of each of your cheeses? Nostrala means “local cheese” in some Italian dialects so we chose it to reflect our area. “Alpindon” means Alpine Gift to reflect the traditions of Alpine Cheese making. And Mountain

Nostrala cheese

Nostrala cheese served with gently salted rosemary crackers. Yum is the word.

Grana because it is a hard grainy cheese.

Where can Vancouver folks buy your cheese? les amis du FROMAGE and Benton Bros distribute for us.

It can be easy to forget where things come from when grocery shopping in the city, perhaps an out of sight out of mind concept, but this cheese is milked and made in BC! So the next time you indulge on some cheese, maybe to pair with a new wine, I suggest this organic handcrafted mountain cheese made in the Kootenays!

A deLIGHTful career with Tracey Kusiewicz

FoodiePhotographerTraceyK

Credit: Foodie Photography, photographer Tracey Kusiewicz.

Have you ever been served food that looked so good you almost couldn’t eat it? Maybe you took a photo and then devoured it? I admit, I have. There is a scrumptious career out there dedicated to capturing those drool factor moments called food photography. Until I met with one of Vancouver’s prominent food photographers, Tracey Kusiewicz, I had no idea what this world entailed.

After more than 10 years of work in Vancouver, you have likely seen Tracey’s work a few times in local papers, restaurants or cookbooks. Trained in Montreal, specialized in food & beverage, Tracey said, “I always knew that was what I wanted to do”.

In her south main studio, I joined Tracey for a small taste in the life of Foodie Photography. The radio played as I entered her studio, that is literally a kitchen with an open workspace attached, like a small dance floor.  The windows are ceiling high, and let in as much or as little light needed. It’s the end of a full day, Tracey was wrapping up and loading her dishwasher as I found a seat, and my mind reeled with only a million questions…

What do you enjoy photographing most? Dessert (said instantly, I agreed).

What are some of your work highlights? The most interesting things that occur are learning about new cuisines. I’ve done a number of East Indian cookbooks and learning about foods I’m not necessarily familiar with… and learning more by doing cookbooks is really interesting.

What restaurants do you like now? I went to CornerSuite recently, which was nice to shoot.

What inspires you about your work? That it’s different all the time. That there is variety and you’re not stuck at a desk, even though I am quite often [with post-production work]. But its not in a typical office way. I get up really early and my office is in my home. Or I am here [at the studio] or on set somewhere. There is good variety, so you are not doing the same thing everyday.

What’s challenging about your job? It’s feast or famine. There are lulls and then you get crazy busy and you have to split yourself in 10 different ways.

What are you known for? What I think I’m respected for, I have a value added type of service. I do the food photography, some food styling and a lot of prop styling – mould that all together and I developed a style of my own. Clients like that.

Who do you follow in the industry? Its good to look at your competition but you have to be careful that you don’t shoot the same way they do. Images are very influential, and you may not realize it when you look at things you tend to emulate what people do when you like it. I respect my peers. I like what they do but I try not to look at it because I don’t want to subconsciously replicate what they’ve done.

Donna Hay is a food stylist. She is such an icon in the industry, she is Australian, and she has a whole series of cookbooks. She is always very current, and very trend setting with looks.
##

As I started to wrap up, we began to talk about what’s next. Tracey enjoys commercial photography and it is the staple of her client base.  But she continued, “In 10-15 years… I’d like to take a more artistic approach. I’m almost reserving that side of me now. I am being artistic and creative, but I’m not taking full control because I have to satisfy my clients too.”

Foodie Photography post card

Tracey's award winning photography in applied arts, a spoonful of saffron, taken with a special lens.

She crossed the room to find a post card for me, with an artistically photographed spoon of saffron, “I did win an award with applied arts [for this]. …I just did it for self promotion, self fulfillment, to feed my creative soul.”  Her tone changed as she talked about the photo, it was genuine inspiration and calm. She is an artist through and through. I felt inspired myself. I’m going to display the photo in my kitchen, right next to the spice rack…

Almost at Home with Pastry Chef Wendy Boys

Pastry Chef Wendy Boys and Sous Chef Martin Roussel

Pastry Chef Wendy Boys and Sous Chef Martin Roussel make an entertaining pair and a great five course meal too.

Inside Vancouver’s very own Granville Island Market lies a hidden gem of a culinary experience that all foodies simply must delight in – EdibleBC Market Dinners.  After meeting with Eric Pateman, I returned to experience one of his private market dinners hosted by Pastry Chef Wendy Boys.

Shortly after market closing, we were taken to EdibleBC’s retail location inside the market, which transforms at night into a kitchen set for demonstrations.  A black linen table was set with silver and glassware, suggesting formal dining, but it was a casual affair set in the aisle next to shops closed for the night.

Second course

Second course: Local spot prawns, spring greens, grapefruit, pea shoot salad

Informative EdibleBC staff explained the evening’s format, encouraged us to interact and ask questions, and then turned our attention to the main event: Pastry Chef Wendy Boys and her Sous Chef Martin Roussel.

The final two courses

Fourth course, left: Chocolate Mousse with Cocolico sponge toffee awaiting warm caramel foam topping

What followed were five amazing courses created by Wendy, made with ingredients either from within the market, her garden,or her chocolate business. Each course demonstrated right before us as if on a TV set but we could smell the ingredients. The food not only looked amazing, but after seeing exactly how it was prepared it heightened the experience.  It was so casually interactive as well, that I almost felt at home with Wendy.

Fifth Course

Fifth course: Macaroons & Mignardise (second from right her signature vanilla salted caramel)

Known for her signature vanilla salted caramels, the dessert course was certainly a climactic finish. Adding to the feast of an experience, all guests were given copies of each recipe served to try at home, and photos from the evening were emailed to us the next day.

As the night began to wrap up, I was able to briefly chat with Wendy about her background and Cocolico.  When she moved to Vancouver, she was already an established and trained pastry chef with over six years of restaurant experience in Calgary and Montreal, she wanted to try catering and began working at the Lazy Gourmet. “But then the restaurant drew me back,” she said, and worked for another six years in restaurants, including working with Chef Rob Feenie at Lumiere. Later in 2009, she started Cocolico.

What’s the inspiration behind the name of your company? Funny story, I was looking for a name for a long time actually. My company name is Wendy Boys Chocolates Inc. and I thought it was boring, I wanted something more whimsical.  …My favourite word always when I was a kid was coquelicot, a French word which means poppy seed. I always thought it was fun to say, but most Anglophones can’t pronounce it, so we anglo and chocolisized it to Cocolico!”

Is your background mostly French then? I went to French immersion; I’ve always had an interest in French. Then I stuck with it and moved to Quebec, became bilingual, and moved to France. French has always been a big influence for me, and I’ve always worked in French kitchens as well.

Chef Wendy delivered a culinary experience that any tourist – or local – would write home about. If you haven’t tried her signature vanilla salted caramels, the salty sweet confectionery is an an indulgent combination for any sweet-tooth!

Cocolico burnt caramel sauce

Inspired by the dinner, I purchased Cocolico's burnt caramel sauce by Wendy Boys. Cocolico has sold over 30,000 jars to date, making only 140 jars in a batch. It is Wedny's very own recipe, and despite the name, it doesn't taste burnt at all!

The Pastry School Switch-up with Amanda Goats

Orange Tyme Curd Tart

Orange thyme curd tart ganished with fresh thyme and a plump blackberry.

I arrived in Amanda’s north shore home kitchen on a Monday afternoon and was offered, “an after school snack” that trumps all of my previous after-school snack experiences: an orange thyme curd tart. Garnished with a plump blackberry and a sprig of fresh thyme, from her herb garden – in one bite it’s amazing. I had never considered the combination of orange and thyme before, but these are the secrets you learn in the pastry world.

Now a trained Pastry Chef working in Vancouver, Amanda Goats shared her experience with me on the switch from a corporate world to pastry. Amanda grew up in small town BC, where food was the heart of family social occasions. “I have always loved baking, since I was young. My sister and I used to fight over who got to bake the birthday cakes… My mom would also bake all of her own bread. I guess it started from there”.

After working in the corporate world for a while, Amanda’s artistic side grew restless, so she signed up for pastry school. Instantly she said, “I loved pastry school. It was the most fun thing.” Her program covered all pastry and some culinary fundamentals. Despite the intense amount of detail learned in a short time, she said it was all fun including, “…black box competitions at the end [of the culinary course], iron chef style, and you don’t know what your ingredients are. It was intimidating, but really fun.”

French Macarons

A sample of her French macarons, not macaroons, I learned from Amanda the extra o is part of the difference between these and the common coconut cookie.

My after school snack slowly disappeared, and Amanda share more pastry adventures, including what her transition out of school. Fortunate to work straight out of school, she has now experienced designing menus and creative desserts. Amanda even shared an insider perspective on Dine Out Vancouver, where the menus are set with dessert, “On weekends we were doing 400 desserts per night, and I was having to make all that product.”

Is it what you expected? It’s a lot harder and grittier…than I expected. It is physically tiring, but you don’t realize it until the end of the day. It is very hard on you. …I find it comical cooking at home now because the portions are so much smaller. I had to scale my [pizza dough] recipe from work down. I usually make a double batch and I made one-quarter of a single batch here, which made four pizzas. I generally make a double batch [at work], which requires 22lbs of flour and 7.5L of water. …I am definitely a lot stronger.

 

What do you enjoy most? I like the people I work with. Working in restaurants attracts a different type of person, there is a different sense of camaraderie.

Where do you find your inspiration? I have subscribed to bon appetite for years. They are by far my favourite… Epicurious is a mainstay for recipe searches too.

Pastry Chef Amanda Goats

At home with Pastry Chef Amanda Goats

Where do you dine out? My favourite place [right now] is The District. It’s a Belgium pub and all the food is good. They do really good brunch on the weekend too. Fishworks is really good as well.

When did you start your SweetPursuits blog? Before pastry school. A lot of my coworkers and friends were interested in what I was doing.

Amanda is looking into starting her own side cake business now, “I’m excited to do this,” she said with a smile. Simply by talking to her you can tell she favours quality over quantity and has a pastry instinct that is sure to satisfy any customer’s sweet expectations.

Endless Edibles with Eric Pateman

Edible BC retail location in Granville Island Market

Edible BC retail location in Granville Island Market

On a busy afternoon in Granville Island market, I made my way to EdibleBC at the north end of the market. As I passed vendors of fresh produce, meat, breads and pastries, the market hummed to my delight, with tourists and locals. I had the opportunity to meet Eric Pateman and learn more about his business. We found a seat at the Granville Island Tea Merchant, one of Eric’s neighbours, on a first name basis no less, “Good afternoon Eric, what can I get for you?” Just like an episode of Cheers, everyone seems to know his name.

Later Eric explained, “It’s all about relationships in this business”. Owner of EdibleBC, Eric Pateman’s business is showcasing local flavour and he is a pioneer in culinary tourism.

Truly passionate about what he does, Eric’s energy is fresh and inspiring to hear, so when he began his story from the beginning I was all ears, “I’m a fourth generation Vancouverite and I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old. I had my first catering company when I was 17.” Now he is a trained Chef, has an Oxford MBA, and is well known in Vancouver’s food industry.

Eric Pateman displayed in an ad for Granville Island Market

Eric Pateman displayed in an ad for Granville Island Market, as a Birch Syrup expert!

“I’m a local guy, that thought there had to be something better,” and so Eric left Vancouver on a search for something more. He did find some inspiration in Paris, France, during his travels, which he brought back to Vancouver. And EdibleVancouver was born. “I thought it would just be a website where I could tell people where to eat, and didn’t know if would go anywhere. Six months later we had five employees.” His business began as a culinary concierge, for people to tour the great eats of Vancouver, and it grew into events, and now retail, online shopping and even blogging.

In 2005, EdibleBritishColumbia opened on Granville Island in the spring. Known for distributing quality local artisan products, they host interactive market dinners after hours in Granville Island, and other creative culinary tourism adventures.

Inside Edible BC store

A selection of some of the products available at Edible BC in Granville Island Market.

What inspires you about your work? Its different everyday, everyday brings new challenges and opportunities. Companies approach us everyday with new products; we receive 20 – 30 products a week. We promote the best of what everyone else is doing. I’ve done the corporate thing, and this is much better!

How do you choose the products in your store? We have a monthly staff meeting. All staff are involved, products are tasted, reviewed from a marketing perspective, shelf space, etc. If it makes the grade on all the levels then we’ll bring it in.

Voted top 40 foodies under 40 in Canada by Western Living magazine in 2008, what do you think qualified you for this? Because what we are doing is unique. We are promoting small artisan products, and culinary tourism is huge now. Part of it is the business background, passion for what we do, and hitting the market at the right time. If we’d started a year earlier, it would have been a different story.


What is your favourite product?
It varies every month.

What is your current favourite lunch place? Go Fish. It’s the best seafood in Vancouver by far. They do fish tacos, grilled oyster pulled sandwhiches, scallop burgers, and fish and chips. It is outstanding!

Birch Syrup from Quesnel, BC

Birch syrup, featured during EdibleBC’s 1500+ market tours during the 2010 Vancouver Games. Eric describes, “It’s like maple syrup but from birch trees. and comes from Quesnel, BC. Maple syrup takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup, and it takes 100 litres of birch sap to make one litre of syrup.” Birch syrup outsells maple syrup in their store five fold; with a more molasses and trickle flavour it has more cooking implications, such as birch syrup ice cream, salad dressing, or marinades for fish.

Well, if you ask this foodie, follow Eric Pateman and his endless edibles. You can trust his products, because they are passionate about what they do – their signature is sharing other artisans’ signatures! Eric Pateman’s team is still growing and the edible journey has really just begun, they just incorporated EdibleCanada…

The Uncommon Cake Sweetie – Jill Shumka

On a sunny afternoon in Vancouver, Jill Shumka welcomes me into her south Main Street kitchen. I feel like I am walking into a food TV set – a brightly lit and spacious kitchen showcases a double broiler overhanging an extended island stove top. Jill returns to her kitchen and begins to stir what appears to be lemon butter.

A professional ballet dancer turned foodie sweetie, Jill has been passionate about cakes and pastry art since her days in Europe. The mother of two is owner of The Uncommon Cake – a home-based boutique bakery, delivering customized artistic cakes and delicate cookies on request. I am experiencing a tour of her kitchen, and the chance to learn more about her business.

While living in Europe in the late ‘90s, Jill was looking for a career change out of ballet. Switzerland, where she was living, proved to be the sweet inspiration she needed. “Every other store has little marzipan du

cks all in a row and tons of other pastries”.

Slowly whisking butter into the lemon yellow mixture, Jill tells me about her return to Canada and how her business began. “I saw Martha Stewart Living everywhere and learned a lot from there,” but she signed up for culinary school too. “[The school] encouraged me to go to culinary school over pastry because it would give me more opportunity…I also took a night class in cake decorating, but it was very traditional cake designs.”

Jill was looking for more, “I essentially taught myself everything I know [about cakes]”, and she learned from one request to the next as orders came in through friends and referrals. Soon her website was born, bringing us The Uncommon Cake.

As Jill sieves the lemon into a receiving bowl, it dollops through into silky lemon curd – a filling for her next creation!  She continues to wrap the curd and I asked her a few more questions:

What keeps you inspired to bake?

It’s the final product, feeling rewarded by the end result and seeing that you have done a great job – feeling satisfied at the end of the day.

What advice do you have for a new pastry student/entrepreneur?

Learn from a mentor, to dive in and learn a lot in a shorter time.

What is your favourite recipe?

My shortbread cookies. They bake well, cut well and last. It’s a go-to recipe.

What do you enjoy eating, when you’re not making cakes?

If we have time away from our kids, we love Habit Lounge on Main in Vancouver.  They make really good Brie and carrot perogies.

Who do you follow now for inspiration?

Elisa Strauss in New York, of Confetti Cakes, she made a cake for Charlotte & Harry’s wedding on Sex and the City; and Studio Cake styles. For cookies, I like Elenis.com.

Hand crafted fondant art for Jill's next cake creation

Do you consider yourself to be a foodie?

I would have to consider myself a foodie because of my obsession with desserts. Maybe sweetiewould be more accurate.

It would seem she has always been an artist, from the dance studio to what now appears to be her baking studio, Vancouverites are fortunate that Jill Shumka brings an uncommon quality to her uncommon cakes and beyond…