As the flour was settling on an especially busy week of Valentine’s Day preparations, Sabine Thorson, bakery manager at Commercial Drive’s popular Livia cafe, found a bit of time to respond to a handful of our questions…
First of all, please introduce yourself. Who are you, what do you do, and how did you get to where you currently are?
My name is Sabine and I manage the bakery at Livia on Commercial Drive. I’ve been there for a year and a half and leave covered in flour every day. I worked at a handful of other bakeries around Vancouver since I was 18 but was drawn to the hyper-local charm and high bar quality I saw was happening at Livia. The job came with the challenge of baking bread commercially. Who knew that fresh baked bread would become so critical to pandemic adaptation? Claire, Livia’s owner, has bre(a)d a culture of passion blended with a detail-oriented aesthetic that really gelled with my perfectionist side and I love being part of the team.
Bakers keep such odd hours! What’s the best thing about working so early in the morning?
Is there a “best” thing about waking up super early? Thankfully at Livia we have fabulous over-night bakers that allow us to start at the slightly more reasonable hour (for a baker) of 5am. I suppose I like the calmness of the early morning: the city is still asleep on my commute, having the bakery to myself, and making my way through the morning’s task list. Not to mention that first shot of espresso from the bar. Little things!
Tell me about your home kitchen. What’s your favourite thing about it?
Is it surprising that my home kitchen is my happy place? My friends make fun of me for having a collection of gadgets and utensils that rival most appliance stores. I just like to be prepared for whatever I may feel like making that day. My partner thinks I’m crazy for all the baking I do outside of work as well, but doesn’t seem to mind the results. I think if I had to pick a favourite thing though, it would be how well the kitchen blends into the rest of my apartment. In the days when we could actually have people over, it was a place I could retreat, keep food coming and still be apart of what’s going on. As a slightly socially awkward person, it’s honestly a dream set up.
What was the first experience that triggered your passion for baking?
When I was younger I was always in the kitchen with my parents and trying to help as much as possible. But my first memory of baking is definitely from Christmas. My mom and I were rolling truffles and tossing them in cocoa. I’m pretty sure I ate as many as I rolled and somehow ended up covered in cocoa powder. My kitchen passion was born then and I have always been happiest while baking.
What has been your most memorable kitchen experience, so far?
Honestly, this year at Livia has comprised some of my most memorable moments. Four months after I started, the café closed its indoor space and pivoted to a service window and increased its wholesale business. This presented a great number of challenges, though rising to the occasion has been so fulfilling!
Some highlights: The undeniable fact that the simple things like fresh bread and buttery pastries were a comfort for people when they needed it most. So many people happily sat outside in the rain and cold to enjoy the company of others and to add a sense of normalcy to their lives. In addition, seeing a crane set up an industrial bun machine in our closed-up indoor space to accommodate wholesale orders was mind boggling. In a universally tough time for the restaurant industry, with every day being a unique puzzle, adapting to whatever is thrown our way — it won’t be forgotten any time soon.
I’ve heard of bakers adding a personal touch to their baking. What’s the Sabine baking signature?
When it comes to sweets, a little bit of salt goes a long way.