How long have you been baking and how did you get into it?
I have been a baker for almost 29 years now. I grew up in Tunisia, and I have vivid memories of absolutely loving the aroma of something baking in the oven as a kid. In this part of the world, bread is a necessity to life – growing up, we incorporated it into every single meal. It was indispensable to day-to-day life, so I’ve always had an inherent attraction to baking.
At age 21, I did 2 years of baking and pastry school, and after that I decided it was a good time to see more of the world. One of my favourite sayings is that life is a like a book, and if you never travel and experience other places, you are only reading the first page – so I decided to move to Europe. I spent 2 years in Switzerland and 2 years in Sweden, working at bakeries in both countries. Then in 1994, my family and I moved to Montreal. Once in Canada, I had the opportunity to work for a variety of bakeries with diverse cultural influences, including Italian, Portuguese, and Asian. I was given the chance to practice everything I had learned in Europe while continuing to expand and diversify my knowledge of baking in a Canadian climate. Being exposed to all these different cultures, practices, and techniques has really helped shape my own baking practices.
Why do you think it is important for people to buy bread from a local baker as opposed to a grocery store?
One of the major downfalls of shopping for baked goods at big grocery store bakeries is that they tend to streamline and simplify the baking method. Baking in large facilities and having the machines do a lot of the work has its consequences. This can mean using cheaper and processed flour that is less nutritionally dense, offering less variety in types of breads, and losing the human touch in the process. With handmade breads and pastries, you can almost taste the labour of love that went into making them, and this is where they really stand out in contrast to the products from larger operations.
I really try to encourage people to shop at local bakeries as opposed to big grocery stores – primarily because artisan bakeries are becoming fewer and farther between. Encouraging and supporting local artisan bakers is important because they can give a more valuable contribution to the community in the form of jobs, better quality products, and the ability and desire to reincorporate the human touch into the baking practice.
What made you want to join The Loft? What are you most excited about?
One thing that really appealed to me about joining The Loft was the opportunity to work on building something from the ground up. Starting a bakery from scratch can be an incredibly rewarding challenge. I’ve been working in larger-scale commercial baking for the past while, and being in this environment I’ve started to feel like a cog in a machine where I am not necessarily able to exercise my creativity and passion for baking. As such, I’ve really started looking forward to returning to a more artisan-style of baking, one where the human element is much more evident in everything I do.
Working at The Loft, I’ll have the opportunity to interact with our customers on a regular and daily basis. I think it is incredibly important being able to engage and connect with the community on this level, and to be able to hear what they have to say about what we are making for them.
What is your favourite thing to bake and why?
Definitely an authentic, delicious loaf of sourdough bread! I like to make mine with unbleached flour because it is naturally aged and much more nutrient dense than bleached commercial flour. I’ve had the same whole-wheat sourdough starter for at least 10 years, and it has been a long time trying to get the right balance of ingredients to make a great loaf. Now that I have a reliable starter, I absolutely love making sourdough.
That being said, I love making a variety of baked goods at home – my kids are always asking for things like cakes, scones, and tiramisu. I actually end up baking a lot in my spare time, which some people might find kind of crazy, but baking at home is a different experience. It’s a great way to spend time and connect with my family. My wife and I love baking pita bread together on the weekends, and I love dreaming baked goods up with my kids and seeing their eyes widen at the finished product.