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March 28, 2024

Love, loaves and local: sourdough master baker shares her culinary adventures on April 10

Lauren Hambleton

BY JOHN BUTLER — Lauren Hambleton, founder and proprietor of the Red Hen Artisanale, loves food. She loves making it and baking it, particularly sourdough bread and its relatives. But even more, she loves the people who consume and learn to make the foods she has spent much of her life’s journey learning how to prepare. This journey led her to establish the Red Hen Artisanale, a tree-nestled Saugeen Riverside baking and teaching studio between Markdale and Priceville. It’s a journey you’ll enjoy hearing about when she gives a free presentation at the Grey Highlands Public Library‘s Flesherton branch at 101 Highland Drive (adjacent to the arena) on Wednesday April 10 at 2:00 pm.

This is latest in a free lecture series co-sponsored by the Grey Highlands Probus Club, the Kimberley Community Association, the Grey Highlands Public Library and the Grey Highlands Museum. These popular events, open to everyone, are usually held in the Kimberley Community Hall but ongoing repairs to the hall have led this latest presentation to be moved to the Flesherton library.

Lauren’s presentation, entitled The Little Red Hen: One Baker’s Search for Love and Community, from Across the Ocean to the Heart of Grey County, describes a search that began during her childhood in Guelph. Her parents were fond of making meals from ingredients fresh from the fields: one of her earliest memories is sitting on the kitchen floor with her older sister, getting fresh cherries and strawberries ready for her mother, a school secretary, to turn into preserves.

It’s the creative aspect of the culinary arts that has always attracted Lauren — combining simple ingredients into a complex but cohesive nourishing whole. Baking in particular attracts her because the combination of a few basic 'back to the roots' ingredients, transformed by fermentation and heat, can produce an astonishing array of edibles. Sourdough baked goods hold a special place in her heart because the fermentation involved in sourdough is longer and more complex than the process produced by prepared yeast in most baking — the many acids produced in this longer process yield a more multilayered set of taste sensations.

Lauren is a Culinary graduate of Humber College. After graduation, she spent three years travelling through Western Europe, gaining work experience to enrich her career. She worked in Amsterdam, Rome and cities throughout the UK. In May 2013, Lauren enrolled in the bread program at the San Francisco Baking Institute, where her love of bread was nourished and flourished.

From 2014 to 2017, Lauren was Pastry Chef for Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant near Niagara-on-the-Lake — North America’s most-visited winery. She developed a bread and pastry program designed around crafting as many items in-house as possible, working under the restaurant's directive that most ingredients should be sourced within Canada. This included baking fresh sourdough bread daily for the restaurant and for special events on the property. In 2016, Lauren received the Top 30 Under 30 Award from the Ontario Hostelry Institute for her work. During her time creating menus, artfully arranging desserts on plates and writing schedules, her favourite days were when new employees became a part of the team. She enjoyed teaching new cooks the menu’s recipes and simple hacks to make kitchen life more efficient.

Lauren's teaching career began when the first members of the pastry team at Peller Estates were assembled. In 2017, she began her formal educational career at Humber College, where she taught Baking + Pastry for five years, from 2017 to 2022. At the same time, she ran her own series of baking workshops held in quaint locations throughout Southern Ontario, from one room schoolhouses in the Brant County countryside, to bright little studios along the Grand River in Elora. A year after pouring the concrete foundation of her studio in Grey County, she left the comfort of Humber — first temporarily, then permanently — to focus on the growing and thriving Red Hen Artisanale (Lauren will explain the origin of the name in her speech.)

Lauren fondly describes her baking studio as a retreat in a cedar forest. “It’s a place to relax and reconnect, by disconnecting, for me and for guests,” she says. The studio is adjacent to her family’s home, near the hamlet of Glenelg Centre. The studio — a white board-and-batten structure she designed herself — comprises one large room illuminated by light from its many windows. In addition to several butcher-block islands for students to use, the space is taken up by a sink, plenty of countertops, and a wood-burning stove that keeps the space warm and cozy in winter. Two ovens have pride of place in the studio. One is a conventional house oven that Lauren uses to demonstrate to workshops participants how they can bake their bread in their own home ovens. The second is a small three-deck stone bread oven that she uses for baking higher volumes.

The studio is adjacent to her vegetable garden where she grows much of the produce she uses in her cooking, as well as several varieties of wheat. She hopes to harvest enough wheat seed to expand the crop in future years so she can harvest, mill and use her own wheat in her products.

In addition to being a centre for baking education (Lauren’s studio offers a wide range of baking courses and sessions), it’s where she does her own baking, including sourdough loaves for members of her Bread Club in her stone bread oven — members of the club receive a fresh loaf of sourdough bread each Friday for a month (a different type of sourdough bread each week). Many members sign up month after month.

Why her location in south Grey? “That’s easy,” says Lauren, “I fell in love with someone from the area.” But she’s quick to point out that the natural beauty of Grey County, as well as its agricultural and culinary heritage, makes it the ideal place for her studio and its offerings.

The website for the Red Hen Artisanale provides a clue to Lauren’s work, and to her presentation on April 10, when it says "Surround yourself with good people, and good things will happen." Given the expectation that good people will attend her presentation, she will do her very best to make sure good things happen in the Flesherton library that afternoon.

And Lauren’s very best is pretty impressive.


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