Wednesday 23 March 2011

Can't Have One Without The Other

I went to Saltspring Island today.  Since I’m always interested in seeing and tasting the work of other cooks and bakers, I decided to visit the island’s three bakeries while I was there.  I’d been told that all three were very good.

My first impression of all three bakeries was that they hadn’t evolved their offerings since the 70’s.  That’s okay by me; a lot of my recipes are even older than that.  The island has a big population of “professional hippies” (their description, not mine) so it makes sense that the bakeries produce items from hippie-dom’s heyday.  At least the 70’s focus encourages the bakers to use organic products.

My second impression of all three bakeries was that, despite the excellent raw materials used to make their products, the finished offerings on the shelf were visually unappealing.  Their taste was even more disappointing.  I bought several items at each bakery, sampling a bite or two of each.  Not one was better than mediocre and some of them were downright bad. 

I thought about it a lot on the way home and came to wonder if professional hippie-dom leads one to expect that if something is wholesome, it will also be leaden in texture and unappealing to the eye.  I certainly don’t think that should be the case. I don’t care if your carrot cake recipe dates back to the 70’s but, dammit, it should be the absolute best carrot cake you can possibly make.

You would think that with all of the wonderful ingredients available to these bakers—organic flour and eggs, locally grown fruit and vegetables, cheeses made right there on the island, coffee from the roaster right down the road—they would be inspired to do something really special. 

Maybe the routine of producing the same things day after day for 30 years or more has gotten to the bakers on Saltspring.  Maybe their customers’ low expectations have caused them to relax their standards.  Maybe they were never great bakers in the first place. 

Whatever the reason for the poor quality of their products, my visit to these bakeries reminded me that good ingredients aren’t enough.  In order to produce really good food you must also bring passion to the equation.  Good ingredients without passion will not produce good food, nor will passion without good ingredients.  You can’t have one without the other.

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