For the love of bread
If I were to write a movie set in Pemberton, the main character would be a pastry chef named Raven Burns who has a wild pet crow that follows her to work each day, and who runs a bakery called Blackbird Bakery, that is set-designed to look like the perfect archetype of a bakery, and is open every day from 6am (well, 8am on a Sunday). There, the protagonist would go through flour by the tonne, watching all the town’s unfolding secrets, seeing everybody when their faces are still naked, before they’ve had a chance to put on their armour, when they’re just clawing their way out of the Dreaming and into the reality of day. But I’m not writing a screenplay. And although any resemblance to persons real or fictional is coincidental, (I don’t think she talks to birds), pastry chef Raven Burns has definitely helped launch me (and my sleep-stained face) into a workday with a perfectly pulled americano and a fresh bagel or croissant. She also bakes the buns used at Mile One Café and Western Promises Food. After training under acclaimed chocolatier-pâtissier Thierry Busset, (who Gordon Ramsay has called “one of the finest pastry chefs in the world”), and feeling a little fried from the 13+ hour days required at C, she took a summer job at North Arm Farm making pies, which led her back to a love for bread. And into Pemberton.
So I asked her the whys and what-fors, to discover how we got so lucky…
First off, tell me, why bread?
Methodical. Beautiful. Nostalgic. And I love to work with dough.
What do you make?
Sourdoughs, Potato, Spelt, Raisin.
What kind of volume are we talking about?
Average? 40 loaves a day. Plus bagels, of course… plus buns, buns, buns…
So, how much flour do you go through a week?
For pastries, bread and all – 280kg.
If you developed an allergy to flour, and could no longer do what you’re doing, what would you do?
Painter, maybe a teacher.
How do you “identify” yourself? Baker?
Not really a baker.
Yes. Ever since my mentor Thierry Busset looked at me and said “You are the Chef now,” I have never looked back.
If you ask the right person, but I say “of course”.
How long has Blackbird Bakery been in operation now?
Almost 2 years.
How long did it take for you to build the business to a critical mass?
How was the transition turning the business into a sole proprietorship?
It was always my dream, so pretty easy.
When did you know that you were an integral part of the local eco-and-social-system?
When I see the smiles as I walk through town, the conversations in the morning with every customer I can. When Elliot from Riverlands brings us basil with love. I don’t as much know it as I feel it.
You have a lot of steady regulars. What is it that people come for with real dedication?
One of my nearest-and-dearest said he comes in for the smiles and the great quality, both in staff and product.
The foodie ecosystem in Pemberton is starting to flourish – you use Paula’s coffee, Isabelle’s tea, and Bruce’s potatoes, Michael and Randy source buns from you, Lisa is using your space for The Flour Pot…
I pick products that I believe in, humans I believe in, I think Randy and Michael do the same, and how wicked is it that the best is actually here? It makes decision-making so easy.
Why is that B2B collaboration and local sourcing important?
We are a small village. Our local economy is so important. Every penny that is spent here, that could have been spent somewhere else, is a conscious choice. I feel better, the Village feels better, we are able to grow in the right way.
But aren’t these people your competitors? Like The Flour Pot?
I say let people do what they are best at, give them help, give them time and sometimes look at the big picture. I was not making wedding cakes.
What do you think will make that local producer/foodie economy/community stronger?
Smart choices. On Wednesday go to Farmers Market before you set foot into the grocery store. That’s just for starters.
What do you personally like making/baking best?
Baguette and Danish.
Where did you train?
Dubrulle Culinary Institute, but my real training was with Thierry Busset. He is the master.
What’s your professional background?
Fine Dining. Cin Cin, Blue Water Cafe, C Restaurant.
Who have been your best teachers?
Thierry Busset, Jean-Pierre Sanchez, and, as much as I can’t believe I going to say this, Quang Dang of Diva. He was the Chef de Cuisine when I was at C, it was both of out first “chef” positions and we both learned lots.
What did you take away from them?
Pride, sourcing, quality, and never ever, ever, ever, cut corners, for anyone.
Finally, are you, in your heart, sweet or savoury?
I am more warm baguette with kiwi butter.