People of Niagara – Deb Molokach

Life is full of twists and turns.

Some can be good….and some… not so good.

But one of the interesting things about life, is that often, something that seems bad at first, turns out to be kind of good. It might not feel like it at the time, but when you look back a few years later, you think “Hey, if that hadn’t happened, I might not be where I am today…..and I like where I am much better.”

My next guest in the People of Niagara series had something like that happen. A sudden layoff from her job in Toronto was the impetus for her to create a new life and career. She took circumstances that might’ve looked “bad” at first and turned them into something pretty darn good.

A few months back,  I received an email from Deb Molokach, who is the pastry manager at de la terre café + bakery in Jordan Village. I was thrilled at the thought of chatting with her for a blog post, because I’m intrigued by people who work in breadmaking and pastry. The job seems to require such creativity, dedication, and close attention to detail – plus a lot of long hours too. It also seems to require a lot of patience – and as patience is a virtue I seem to be lacking, I’m fascinated to talk to those who possess it.

But then.

Deb promised me an added bonus treat – a croissant making demo.

No one can resist a croissant demo.

We’ll get to that soon, I promise.

First, I want to tell you a bit about her and her story.

Interestingly, Deb wasn’t always in the breadmaking and pastry profession. About thirteen years ago, she was living in Toronto, working at a desk job at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her background is in sculpture and the fine arts, but during her spare time she loved to bake, creating edible works of art for friends and family.

Then one day, life threw her a curve ball. She was suddenly laid off from her job.

In spite of all the uncertainty that this situation can provide, Deb decided to turn this into an opportunity. She wondered, what did she really want to do next? Should she try looking for another job in the fine arts field, or venture into something completely different? As she considered all of the possibilities, she realized that she was feeling pulled in a new direction. Her sister lives in Niagara, and she’d always loved the region. So the decision was made to move from Toronto to Niagara, and with that first step she was on her way.

So the first thing I asked her, is what does she love about living here?

After her move in 2004, Deb took a job with Anna Olson in her popular Port Dalhousie bakery and food shop. Deb says it was a wonderful experience for her, and that “Anna was so gracious and encouraging, and helped me with my personal love of bread making”. She enjoyed her time as the first night bread maker there.

Then in 2008, she saw an ad in the local paper looking for an artisan baker at de la terre bakery. When she met with the owner, Chef Jan Campbell Luxton, she felt an instant rapport with him, saying, “I knew there was an immediate connection with real food, real ingredients, keeping it local, and baking with spelt flour – which was rather unheard of at the time.”

She’s so right. I remember trying to find spelt flour in Toronto back in the mid- 2000’s, and it was incredibly difficult.

Thank goodness times have changed.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll find de la terre bread and pastry all over southern Ontario, at various stores and farmers markets. Every delicious morsel is produced right here in Niagara. The Vineland location is where all bread production happens, and Deb oversees all pastry production at the Jordan Village location.

It certainly sounds like a very busy job to have, so Deb told me what a typical day in the bakery is like.

As I thought, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. First, there’s the creative side required for making all the delicious goodies. Then, there’s the practical side, juggling the demands of clients and staffing and production. I think it must be challenging to balance both of these sides – creativity doesn’t always stick to a schedule! Deb agreed that it can be demanding to fit everything in, and that “….the long hours are exhausting, but it’s a huge payoff when when customers keep coming back for more”.

Customers certainly do keep coming back. And with so many scrumptious things to choose from, it can be hard to know what to start with.

Deb has some advice for that.

Oh yes. So much goodness to pick from.

BUT THE CROISSANTS.

Oh, the croissants.

Deb developed this croissant recipe through many hours of testing and perfection.

And friends, it is pretty perfect. So as promised, let’s watch her making some for me.

(I got to eat these later, right out of the oven. It is pretty close to one of the most fabulous culinary experiences I have ever had. No joke.)

Into the oven they went.

What you didn’t see in the video clip was that Deb also made for me some of the amazing herb and cheese croissants

And also some of the chocolate raspberry croissants

Plus an apple galette

And a crème brulée tart. The secret for the crème brulée tarts is that they must be eaten fresh, right away.

I was glad I could help out with that.

Aside from all the tasty things I got to try, I had such fun with Deb. She was so easy to work with, in spite of the disruptions we had in getting the shoot going. On the first day we had planned, there was a problem with the microphone system. We were all set up, and just couldn’t get them to work properly, so we had to reschedule. Ken and I came back a few days later, when Deb was just finishing up a long day at the bakery. She was such a trooper through it all, and we were both pretty tired at the end. Then, as usual, the B&B consumed my life over the summer, so it took a bit longer to get this post up than I planned.

Thanks for being so great, Deb.

You can see some of the fun we had in the outtakes below.

So let’s sum up all the things I learned from our chat. First, it reinforced my belief that sometimes things that look bad at first can turn out to be better than we thought. I think we’ve all had experiences like that, and it’s a good thing to remember. Second, I learned a lot about making croissants and pastries, and some of what goes into running a busy pastry department.

I also learned that eating an herb and cheese croissant right out of the oven is one of the most divine experiences you can ever have.

Trust me on that.