Without a doubt, baking fresh artisan bread is having its hey day- and rightfully so. Buying local, fresh bread is bigger than ever and has many benefits including supporting local businesses, and all around healthier products to fuel our bodies.
Felix Yau, 20, is an Assistant Sous Chef for the Joey restaurant location in Coquitlam. While a fast-paced, high performance environment is nothing new to this young chef, his passion lies within a more ancestral process.
Felix made his cooking debut at the age of 3, where he cooked scrambled eggs. “I would hang around the kitchen when my mom was cooking”, says Yau. Eager to become more involved, Felix’s love for food became more of “an addiction” than a hobby.
While most kids his age were watching cartoons, he recalls that “the food network was always [his] go to place after school”. His favourite show was the extremely informative “Good Eats”, hosted by Food Network mega-star Alton Brown. By the age of 8, Felix was baking muffins and cookies regularly.
“Baking just felt good. The whole house [felt] soulful. The smell, the warmth, it was a special experience for me.”
At age 10, Felix baked his first loaf of bread for his mother. “She told me it was way too yeasty and salty, but that the texture was good.” He kept at it, honing in on his skills over the following decade. “It was very fulfilling”, says Yau, who had expected the worst on his first attempt.
(milk & honey boule: made from Farmhouse Cheesecrafters Milk & butter from Agassiz, and Wendell Estate Honey from Roblin, Manitoba)
When Felix began getting an allowance in middle school, he admits that his obsession got “a little crazy”. He spent his weekly allowance in its entirety on flour for the following three years… Which is not typical behaviour by any means for a 12 year old.
“I got desperately, desperately obsessed with baking traditional French bread, because that’s what I loved eating… That crusty outside, and the fluffy inside. Reading about it for such a long time, I knew it would be challenging. It’s so simple, but the process is so meticulous.”
Needless to say, this youngster went through a ton of flour in his early years; but not without good reason. “Food is supposed to make you happy, and put a smile on your face. So, I felt like if the bread wasn’t perfect, then [people] wouldn’t get that experience.”
The sort of passion that Felix has for his craft is organic. He prides himself on the freshness and quality of great ingredients to create a euphoria when biting into a delicious slice of his warm, fresh bread.
Ultimately, Felix embodies the attitude of a fantastic baker, and will never compromise the process for the sake of time. He preaches “keep it simple, stupid”, as in use simple, sustainable, local -where possible- ingredients. The rest of the process really comes down to science.
While bread certainly has changed over the past 100 years, Felix aims to change “only the products, not the process”. While baking bread is in theory quite simple to do, real bread had very much been lost since the dawn of Wonderbread.
The convenience of buying sliced bread has outweighed the obvious setbacks from a health perspective, not to mention cost- loaves of white, sliced bread are now upwards of $4.00 each- when most people have all the ingredients necessary to make bread at home.
(blend of pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds)
Felix takes pride in being a frontier of this “bread journey”. The rediscovery of artisan bread is more eloquently the rediscovery of the true art of bread making. With the importance of health and clean, sustainable food at the forefront of foodie culture, Felix says “it just makes sense”.
In the future, Felix hopes to open his own bakery, where he can sell his remarkable bread and baked treats featuring local top-quality ingredients. He knows that once he achieves this goal, it won’t truly be work.
“My passion is baking bread, and it resonates with me that way.”
Keep your eyes peeled for his business, named FIFE after the ancient Canadian grain founded in the 1800s. The name speaks to his mantra of simplicity in a profound way, and there is no doubt that he is a young Vancouver chef to watch.
What is he putting in his bread this fall? Anything warm, hearty and nutty. “Of course pumpkin, but nuts and figs work too”. Go with the seasonal, and whatever nature has to offer… Put that in your bread”.