The delightfully inviting smells of fresh croissants, danishes and savoury turnovers drifts over the fence and through a Saltair neighbourhood one weekend afternoon in November.
Follow your nose and you’ll find yourself at Martin Barnett’s home business Seraphina’s Oven where he offers custom training for artisan bakers in a fully-equipped kitchen.
What started with a recipe for bringing together community quickly evolved and rose like a perfect loaf of bread.
The former head of Vancouver Island University’s Baking and Pastry Arts Program realized one of his dreams in 2015 when he built a wood fired oven in his backyard.
“The first time we lit it we had a pizza party and invited two streets. The community has been very supportive,” Barnett said.
“When it came to expanding it my neighbours helped. They helped me paint, with the construction and they were happy to be engaged and see the project through. It inspired them and they in turn inspired me.”
Seraphina’s Oven started offering courses such as sour dough basics and wood fired baking, as well as chocolate treats early in November and many weekends have quickly sold out.
Inside on this weekend, eight participants, ranging from avid bakers to professionals, watch as chef David Nolan pulls out trays of the croissants and danishes out of the oven that the students have made from scratch.
All of the instructors at Seraphina’s Oven are Red Seal bakers with extensive industry experience. Nolan has worked in Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton hotels and his culinary career has taken him around the world.
“We’re a very sharing group of people us bakers so the idea of imparting knowledge to our colleagues is always been top of our lists,” Barnett said.
VIU’s continuing education program offered a variety of baking and cooking classes before school decided to stop holding those professional development opportunities.
“Those courses that we put on were very well subscribed so that’s why we thought we had a winning idea and it’s turned out that way too,” he said.
As Nolan arranges the fluffy baked goods on a large table cast in afternoon sun from a window, proud students reach for their smartphones to capture the moment.
One of them is Amanda Nicoletti who has been in the coffee business for over 15 years and decided to sign up for a class, at least partly, because of her love for croissants.
“I just thought it was perfectly run. I’ve taken classes of all stripes related to food, or wine or baking and it was just really well timed and a great class size,” she said. “They didn’t scrimp anywhere. They had all the best equipment you could want.”
Nicoletti, who lives in Shawnigan Lake, runs Foglifter Coffee Roasters and plans to reopen a Vancouver retail location in 2019 that was closed due to the building was demolished.
“My biggest takeaway from the class was that they were carefully able to walk you through every step of making the two different doughs that we did and the creative things you can do with each dough as a base,” she said. “The two of them (Barnett and Nolan) were just so capable and enthusiastic and willing to answer any question, whether it was about baking in hotels or at home.”
Testimonials such as this one are what inspired Barnett to open Seraphina’s Oven in the first place.
“It’s a professional bakery and it was set up so it could teach small classes. It’s very student-centred and very hands-on. There’s always an assistant so you have the instructor’s full attention.”
“I think people are very interested in traditional baking and cooking and an opportunity for them to be part of learning some of those skills is very inviting.”
Upcoming courses at Seraphina’s Oven include Sourdough and Wood Fired Baking, Croissants and Danish Pastry, Chocolate Treats and Confections, Artisan Caramels and Flat Breads, Bagels, Wood Fired Pizza.
There’s also opportunities for custom baking workshops for both serious home bakers and those already in the industry.
“We’ve kind of got a nice little mix so that the professionals and the serious home bakers and cooks can mingle together in the same kitchen and one doesn’t feel intimated, and one doesn’t feel that their experience is diluted in any way,” Barnett said.
People from Vancouver to Port Alberni have travelled to Saltair to take courses as the community that helped to build and support Seraphina’s Oven continues to grow.
“I’m looking forward taking other classes there because I don’t think it could be any better,” said Nicoletti.
For more visit www.seraphinasoven.ca or call 250-619-4464.