- Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton
Walking into Lucia White’s kitchen is a little like how I imagine heaven must feel.
Laid out on the table amidst cheerful yellow china and fresh roses are dainty tea sandwiches, sugar cookies with lemon curd, peanut butter brownies, a bowl of gorgeously coloured sugar cubes and an Italian almond celebration cake sitting regally on a stand.
Nearby, fresh sprigs of rosemary and lemons adorn the marble-topped island next to a bouquet of slender fennel breadsticks, a plate of almond anise biscotti and a traditional Italian olive oil cake.
|Rosemary Olive Oil cake. Don Denton photography
Known in the community for her divine baking skills and tea spreads, as well as a passion for community involvement, Lucia herself is a vision in elegant black. On this day, her high-necked blouse is subtly striped with black velvet along the full sleeves, the collar clasped together with a cameo brooch. I have the sudden and distinct impression this woman should be commanding a sprawling estate, rather than the sweet little Sidney home she’s invited me into.
Almost immediately, she tells me about her mother, Dominique, who passed away last September.
“She was my total inspiration for everything I do here,” she says, showing me a lovely picture of her mom. “She was so kind.”
|Lucia White's Almond Anise Biscotti. Don Denton photography
Inspiration for the food, yes, but also a foundational part of Lucia’s drive to give of herself.
Lucia’s love affair with food and baking started at an early age, as she helped her mom in the kitchen.
“When we first moved to Canada, she couldn’t speak the language, so she’d ask for my help reading the recipes.”
Lucia moves to the side of the island as we chat, showing off the spread of ingredients for another olive oil cake, one of her signature dishes. Oil from her family’s farm in the south of Italy mixes with flour, chopped rosemary from her garden, eggs — the recipe is technically a secret, so I’ll stop there. Quick as a wink it’s in the oven and she’s moved on to rolling out Turdilli dough, a sort of spiced donut similar to gnocchi dough.
She’s been involved in some way giving back to her local community for years — participating annually in former employer Bayshore Home Health’s Hike for Hospice, for example — but it’s the last few years that her passion for involvement has intensified, largely due to the loss of several friends and loved ones.
“I just want to give back,” she says. “Whether it’s giving my time cooking for people who need it. Whatever’s needed.”
|Lucia White's Rosemary, Mint, Cumber and Fruit drink. Don Denton photography
Well-practiced at hosting spectacular teas since her daughter’s wedding shower in 2012, it was in 2017 that Lucia decided to take the event to the next level and host it as a community fundraiser.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends to cancer, so hospice was the first one we donated to,” she says, adding that her then-employer Bayshore provided much-welcome support. Stasia Hartley, area director, coordinated the company’s involvement, and Bayshore matched the $1,500 that Lucia raised through the tea.
Last year’s fundraiser was put on hold with her mother’s illness and Lucia’s intermittent travel, but she’s excited to hold the tea again this year, and has hopes of expanding it into a much larger event. Her current employers, Don and Joanne Gulevich of Coastal Heat Pumps, are interested in possibly acting as sponsors, and Lucia is actively looking for more support.
An array of teas sits on the counter from Janet’s Teas (“She’s just lovely. She’s such a community person too,” Lucia tells me.). And soon a pot of Earl Grey is steeping on the counter.
Then the oven beeps, and the olive oil cake emerges in a cloud of decadence, putting our conversation on pause. It is a thing of beauty, and Lucia places a slice in front of me, adorned with peeled orange and a light dusting of icing sugar. The flavour is incomparable. Delicately sweet and unbelievably moist, the subtle notes of rosemary blend beautifully with citrus, and at the very end, an unusual and most appealing herbal taste lingers from the olive oil.
|Almond Anise Biscotti, coloured sugar cubes, strawberries and tea cups on the dining room table.. Don Denton photography
I tell Lucia, only half-joking, that I have to restrain myself from licking the crumbs from my plate, which makes her smile.
“I just feel so happy inside when I get to make it for people,” she says. “I know they all appreciate and enjoy it, and that makes my heart happy. That’s how I want my life to be, enjoying every moment with the people you love. This whole situation with my mom passing has really brought that home.”
She’s quick to shower love on those in her life who’ve helped and inspired her along the way: her mother, her husband Ken, her daughters Janine and Chelsey, her cooking “partner-in-crime” Laurie Salvador, even Kimberly Lewis-Manning, the designer who spent countless hours reinventing Lucia’s kitchen into its current sublime iteration.
The last forkful goes down all too soon. I’m left utterly satisfied, but longing for more. And for more than just tasty treats, as well. I’m inspired not only to go back to my own kitchen and break out my mixing bowls, but perhaps to look around my own neighbourhood and see how I might contribute my time, my own passions. And it’s a good feeling. Almost as good as that cake.
|Lucia White's tea cups on her dining room table.. Don Denton photography