Skip to main content
food & wine

Montreal bakery seeks to put a name to the grain

Realizing that many people do not know where their flour comes from, Automne Boulangerie wanted to close that knowledge gap.

Automne Boulangerie bakers are working with local farmers and minimal ingredients to redefine Canadians' tastes in bread

Canadians consume a lot of grain – more than 70 kilograms of wheat flour and other milled grain products per year – and we're one of the largest wheat exporters in the world. Athough it's fashionable to know the name of the farm where your vegetables were grown or your chickens were raised, not many people know where their flour comes from. The owners of a new bakery in Montreal, Automne Boulangerie, want to close that knowledge gap.

They are native Ontarian Seth Gabrielse (formerly chef of Labo Culinaire/Foodlab) and Quebecker Julien Roy, who won the 2013 apprentice baker category in France's prestigious Mondial du Pain. At Automne, their goal is to go back to bread basics, which means working with local grain farmers, using long fermentations and sticking to minimal ingredients.

Automne aims to use simple ingredients in its breads.

Quality and provenance of grain is so important to their head baker, Marc-André Cyr, that he runs A Taste for Grain every year, a non-profit event celebrating Canadian grain and all the self-proclaimed "grain heads" who bring them to the table. This year's conference happens May 7 at McGill University and features speakers including American author and self-proclaimed flour ambassador Amy Halloran and Charles Létang, president of the Association des boulangers artisans du Québec.

Story continues below advertisement

In advance of the event, The Globe and Mail sat down with Gabrielse to find out why Montrealers are lining up out the door for their daily dose of local grain.

Co-owner Seth Gabrielse says 98 per cent of the flour used at the bakery is from Quebec.

What separates Automne from other bakeries?

The fundamental difference is to have accountability. When Julien started talking to me about opening something, he was also very interested in that idea: where products come from and some accountability as to how they're produced and who's producing them.

Most bakers here in Montreal couldn't tell you the variety of wheat they use – is it one variety, 10 varieties? And so that aspect really interested us and became the whole philosophy behind Automne. It's the journey that's more engaging, the process. Everything that happens up until we get the grain is really important to us, because it's the story behind the bread that gets people to understand our products.

Is all your flour locally sourced?

About 98 per cent of the flour we use is from Quebec. We've actually found plenty of flour here; we just had to do the footwork. The crazy thing is, after having gone to all these farms, we've realized that it was the bakers that were the disconnect in this whole process. The farmers know each other. The millers know each other. It's the bakers who don't seem to care – they just want the same bag of flour they always get. Meeting all these farmers, we found that we could get our spelt from one guy and Walton wheat from another, there's barley flour, purple corn flour – and everyone's excited to work together.

It has this circular effect: The more we talk about specific local farms, the more bakeries will want to buy from them, the more they'll grow. Our end game at Automne is to mill our own fresh flour on site. A commercial bag of flour, for example, could be months old, so it's a totally new ball game. We want to be like a grain lab: learn, experiment and share.

Story continues below advertisement

The future goal at Automne is to eventually mill fresh flour on site.

What's your bread-making process?

In 90 per cent of the bread we make here, we use three ingredients: flour, water and salt. That's it. Julien uses liquid levain (which is a combination of flour and water) and he doesn't add any starter [yeast] except a bit in his baguettes and jack loaves. He favours long fermentations and refrigerates his dough for 48 to 72 hours. He also refreshes his levain with 28 degree C water which changes the dough's acidity. The result is a milder-flavoured bread with a cake-like texture.

Have you felt the gluten backlash at Automne?

I don't think it's a problem for us. The thing is, grocery-store bread – that white sliced bread – has something like 28 ingredients and one strain of flour, so you're talking a whole string of preservatives plus the processing of that wheat (they literally bleach flour to get it white) and then high amounts of yeast to get it to that texture really quickly … It's no wonder people aren't digesting it properly.

A few years ago, bakers were reporting a little slowing in business, but now it's bouncing back because it's brought the conversation around to people asking questions about the bread they're eating. Now, there's way more interest in different grain varieties such as spelt and kamut and rye. I think that's a really positive byproduct of the gluten scare: People are now talking about grain.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.