In the beginning
Becky Sutherland can trace her love of baking back to two key influences: her mother and her independent nature.
The youngest of five by the margin of six years, Sutherland was self-reliant from an early age. “I always had a thing in me that I wanted to do something on my own, and seeing my mom in the kitchen all the time just made me feel inspired. I wanted to do the things that she was doing.”
Sutherland’s ambition to pursue baking began in elementary school. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her response was always a baker.
The allure of baking is familiar to those who not only enjoy eating the resulting treats but also appreciate the process involved.
“With cooking, a lot of the time, you have, [for example], a vegetable, and you cook it and it’s a transformed vegetable. But with baking… you take all the elements and it turns into something completely new and different,” Sutherland said.
Her own learning process may best exemplify Sutherland’s enthusiasm for her craft. She is almost entirely self-taught; a high school co-op in a professional kitchen gave her a set of basic cooking and knife skills, but her desire to perfect her technique came from a combination of her mother’s influence and a number of books by Sutherland’s idols.
“I have tons of gurus… My favourite baker is Christina Tosi, who started the Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City… I use a lot of her techniques, and that’s what got me more into the very technical side of baking,” she explained, adding that it takes a considerable amount of time to learn how to tweak her techniques to create certain flavours and textures.
“[I’ve done] a lot of trial and error on my own… making a lot of mistakes to figure out my own thing. But that independence in me would rather experience things myself, make the mistakes and learn from them.”
Over time, Sutherland’s hands-on approach to learning and mastering her techniques has allowed her to grow beyond the kitchens where she learned how to cook growing up.
The big move
Originally from Toronto, Sutherland moved to Hamilton in the spring of 2014, initially to help her friends, who were in the process of launching 541 Eatery and Exchange on Barton Street.
“They knew I was a trained barista, that I’d done cafe management stuff and they reached out to me during times when they needed help before they opened [and] help train new staff,” she explained.
“I wanted to move out somewhere,” she said. “I knew didn’t really want to stay in Toronto; I love the city but I don’t really like living there… so I had a really strong draw back to a smaller city again.”
After moving to Hamilton, Sutherland was taken on to revitalize the café side of Baltimore House on King William Street, giving her free time to also try her hand at baking. During this time, she perfected essential techniques and recipes, and when Baltimore House converted the café side to become part of the bar, Sutherland left to help 541 with their baking program.
“At first there wasn’t very much of a system implemented there and I saw a need for that and I knew that I had a skill level where I could help them out… I just kind of have a heart for the place.”
Sutherland committed her summer to volunteering with 541 Eatery and Exchange after which she worked as the baker at the then-new Saint James Espresso Bar and Eatery on James Street North. As Saint James grew in popularity, so did Sutherland’s baked goods.
Eventually, her treats caught the eye of Erika McMeekin, the woman behind the Hamilton-based Academy of All Things Awesome, a local initiative that aims to increase the city’s creativity by partnering with local artists and organizations for various events. Sutherland ran a “Treat Yo’self” workshop through the AoATA, and later participated in the Hamilton Flea event run by McMeekin and her sister, Whitney.
“Ever since that first class we did together, she [had] really put a fire under me and I started feeling more inspired to take ownership of my baking and making it my own thing,” Sutherland said.
“I decided I was going to take January off to really crunch down and think more seriously about [whether] I wanted to pursue something more serious with baking.”
Owner, Luv, Becky
The sweet spot
Since starting to take her baking more seriously, Sutherland has identified three main phases of her work, a system she picked up from her mother. “She would always go through these phases of making something and she’ll make it over and over and it’s her favourite thing to eat and then she’ll perfect it and then it’s like, on to the next thing.”
Sutherland’s first phase was creating what was, at least to her, the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie.
“That was my first thing that I really developed my method and exact measurements for. So my recipe for that is totally perfect. I wouldn’t change anything about it,” she said.
She then moved onto scones, a project she undertook when she returned to 541 as their main baker. “I was like, ‘alright, I have never made scones before but I’m going to take a whack at it’,” she said, chuckling. She then followed the same process, testing recipes and learning what, to her, went into the perfect scone.
Currently, Sutherland is in the process of perfecting three different types of pie. “Pies I think I’m still working on,” she admitted. “I think pies are really fun because there are so many types of pie that you can make and they all have a few different techniques.”
Sutherland’s three focuses are a traditional fruit pie, a graham cracker or cookie crusted custard pie and a cocoa and rice puff crust chocolate pretzel pie, which has become one of her signature items.
“I don’t really put anything out there that I’m not really, really proud… I’m very much a perfectionist in that way. I want my product to be consistent and for people to connect to it in a way that each time they come back to get it, it’s the same thing.”
Let’s talk business
Sutherland considers the Hamilton Flea her “big push” to creating her own brand. Her positive experience at the event led her to create her professional Instagram and name: Luv, Becky.
In August, Sutherland took a step out of her comfort zone and left Saint James to pursue her own baking on a more full-time basis. She briefly returned to Baltimore House to work as a bartender until December of 2016.
“I decided I was going to take January off to really crunch down and think more seriously about [whether] I wanted to pursue something more serious with my baking,” she said, citing the need for a business license and a proper venue to bake her products. “I did get my business license so that’s been a good little push. But right now I’m still deciding how big I want it to grow.”
Like many young business-owners, Sutherland is concerned about growing too big too quickly. “I’m not going to super commit to a bunch of places right now because taking that next step turns it from something that’s kind of still hobby-like to something where I’m like ‘this is a real business now I need to take care of a lot of things’,” she said. Sutherland added that she will reevaluate her growth once she feels more comfortable with her business and her audience has grown.
“With cooking, a lot of the time, you have, [for example], a vegetable, and you cook it and it’s a transformed vegetable. But with baking… you take all the elements and it turns into something completely new and different.”
Owner, Luv, Becky
Currently, Sutherland’s pies can be found at the Brain on James Street North, and she enjoys doing custom work for customers with personal requests.
The winding road to success
While Sutherland was quick to say that she does not define her trajectory in terms of successes or setbacks, she was able to identify multiple turning points in her career so far, the first being her decision to leave Saint James and start her own business.
“That was a big step for me and just making that step was difficult but it empowered me to try to start something on my own; something I’d been thinking about but hadn’t made any moves towards doing,” she said. “I didn’t have the confidence to do it, but I just had to force myself out of my comfort zone so that I could grow that confidence myself.”
Sutherland was adamant that while she is happy working for herself right now, she would also be happy to go back to working for another restaurant or café.
For Becky Sutherland, it all just comes down to a love of baking.