Photos by Kyle West
By: Andrew Mrozowski
Nestled away on the corner of King Street West and Paisley Avenue South lies a small storefront with kitchen accessories on display in the windows. Peering through, you are sure to see a cute boutique filled with cutlery, appliances and cookware. Only if you go into the store, will you find a functioning kitchen and breakfast bar tucked away in the back-right corner.
The Casual Gourmet has made its home in Westdale Village since 1997 but for the last three years, retail has only been part of the equation. Ever since co-owners Tannis Jarvis and Ilona Santa took over the business three years ago, they had a vision for the Casual Gourmet.
“We really wanted to have more than a retail store, we wanted a real interactive place with great experiences,” explained Jarvis.
Jarvis and Santa quickly saw the potential their Hamilton store had to offer and started to reach out to local chefs to host workshops. Since January 2017, over 84 different workshops have been held from ‘A Night in the Caribbean’ to ‘Knife Skills 101’. The Casual Gourmet will be hosting ‘Dinner with Jonny Blonde’ and ‘Winter Soups with the Burnt Tongue’ in the coming months.
“With Hamilton growing and having such a great food scene, we thought it would be great if we could bring in a lot of those Hamilton chefs to really offer those customers a neat experience. They all bring such a wealth of knowledge,” said Jarvis.
One of these chefs is award-winning pastry chef Maria Boyd of Cake & Loaf Bakery. Growing up in Germany, Boyd got her hands wet in the industry by working for a catering company. When she moved to Canada, she attended George Brown College for Baking and Pastry Arts and Management, completing a two-year certificate.
While making cakes, chocolates and running a flourishing business, Boyd realized one thing: she hated to work with chocolate. She didn’t know what her future held in store but was certain that chocolate wouldn’t be a part of it.
Chef Boyd knew that the city of Toronto was too large for her to leave her mark. She turned her gaze towards a smaller city whose food culture was growing each day and where she could find a better sense of community.
Setting up shop just west of Hamilton’s downtown core, Boyd opened Cake & Loaf Bakery in 2011 and has quickly risen through the ranks as one of the city’s top bakeries. The following year, Chef Boyd started to ironically play around with chocolate and confections.
“I always try to get my hands dirty and learn something I’m not comfortable with. I always try to challenge myself,” said Boyd.
Honing her chocolate skills and developing a department for Cake & Loaf Bakery, Boyd pushed herself to become a well-rounded pastry chef but now found herself wanting to share her chocolate-making skills with others.
“I always wanted to do classes, but the bakery never had the space or time to hold them. [The Casual Gourmet] approached us to do evening classes which everyone always wants,” said Boyd.
Presenting her workshop, Chocolate Basics, Boyd taught attendees how to release their inner Willy Wonka by showing them how to temper chocolate, make ganache, truffles, caramel and provide ideas for some festive holiday treats to be shared with loved ones throughout the coming months.
“I want to inspire people to do something that they wouldn’t normally do, or for those who would, just to be able to give them some more things to think about,” said Boyd.
For Boyd, food is about challenging yourself to do something difficult. She went from hating chocolate to becoming a leading chocolatier within the city on the whim of wanting to push herself and accomplish more.
As everyone was gathered around the breakfast bar tucked away in the heart of Westdale village, watching Chef Boyd create a chocolate masterpiece, one could feel the sense of belonging and unity through the power of food. The Casual Gourmet will continue to bring the community together through a diverse range of workshops set for the new year.