In 2018, retired Vancouver Island University baking instructor and head of the Professional Baking and Pastry Department, Martin Barnett transformed the garage of his Saltair home into Seraphina’s Oven, a training centre for artisan baking.
It all started with Barnett’s desire to have a baking space where he wouldn’t have to make a tremendous mess of his kitchen. He set out to create that space, with a patio and outdoor wood fire oven. Along the way, he mentioned the project to his colleagues and the project transformed from “I can do this”, to “we can do this”.
“We started in November last year, and we ran it until the end of June,” Barnett said. “We just scheduled the classes for next fall and winter. It’s an interesting project, we’re not a production bakery, just a training facility. It evolved from a retirement idea, then my colleagues from Vancouver Island University — bakers and chefs — decided that they wanted to jump in, and the project became a community project.”
Each of the instructors at Seraphina’s Oven is red seal certified, and has years of instructional experience. Instructors include pastry chef and VIU instructor, David Nolan, VIU professional baking and pastry arts instructor, Ken Harper, VIU Cowichan culinary arts instructor, Allan Aikman, VIU culinary instructional assistant, Christine Godlonton, and instructional assistant Angelique Frederiksen.
To date, Seraphina’s Oven has held 25 classes. The classes range from beginner level to professional level. This year, Seraphina’s Oven is running a week long course called, baking for a living, that will include a business component for bakers wanting to run their own shops. Class sizes are often limited to eight participants, but some classes can go as large as 13. Instructors are all adept at tailoring classes to the level of the participants, so participants don’t need to worry about their baking skills.
“If you have a class full of people who have never been in a bakery before, then we’re going to tailor the class to them, and if you have a class that’s got six professionals in it, we’ll tailor the class to them. Often, it’s in between, so it’s kind of interesting, because the professionals become mentors as well,” Barnett said.
Classes offered are often based on popular demand. Last year the instructors offered a Christmas baking class after participants expressed interest in learning to bake Christmas pastries. The freedom to be flexible is something that Barnett and the other instructors enjoy.
Seraphina’s Oven has offered a variety of classes, including an Italian food class run by Allan Aikman, that focused on authentic Italian cuisine. The course ran over three Saturday sessions.
“We ran three very successful evening classes focusing on some of the basics of Italian cookery,” Aikman said. “It’s just basically sharing homemade style pasta skills. Students will come in and say ‘I’ve had this machine for X amount of time sitting in my cabinet and had no idea how to use it’. They go home and practice it, and students are always fascinated about our stories and tidbits about Italy.”
Aikman worked for Umberto Menghi at his restaurant, Giardino, a highly rated Tuscan inspired restaurant in downtown Vancouver. Aikman also travelled to Italy with VIU, and returned with authentic Italian ingredients for class participants to cook with.
Seraphina’s Oven is a member of the Baking Association of Canada, the Bakers Guild of America, and Slow Food, an international organization dedicated to preventing the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions. They are also sponsored by Cacoa Berry Chocolates, which supply all chocolate used in classes at Seraphina’s.
The quality of instruction at Seraphina’s Oven, and the quaint Saltair location has attracted professional bakers on an international scale. In June, a contingent of baking students from England visited the bakery, and already booked a week to come back next year.
“That’s what sets us apart from other cooking classes,” Barnett said. “We all have our Red Seal, we’re all journeyman cooks and bakers… between the six of us we probably have nearly 200 years experience.”
“The neat thing about all of us is we all live in Ladysmith,” he continued. “We really like this area, and it’s great that we can give back to the local area, so people don’t have to go to Vancouver or Victoria.”
The fall 2019 class schedule has been released on their website: seraphinasoven.ca. Classes range from $90 - $175. Availability of classes is limited and registration is on a first-come-first-served basis.