Chef Annabelle Choi’s charcoal sourdough made with local grains

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Annabelle Choi is a talented chef and baker based in Vancouver. She was trained at Ballymaloe, the world-renowned cooking school located on an organic farm in Ireland. She’s known for her sourdough bread making workshops; events that sell out within hours of being announced.

 

We met up with Annabelle on a sunny spring afternoon in the kitchen of Elysian Coffee to talk about her approach to cooking and her love of Canadian-grown products by GRAIN. The series of photos below capture the process of making her legendary charcoal sourdough. 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

How did your education at Ballymaloe inform your food philosophy?

 

Ballymaloe was one of many things that helped me understand the significance of honouring where our food comes from…before it even hits our cutting boards as chefs. The 100-acre organic farm and surrounding natural permaculture illustrated what it means to respect the art of terroir, and how it’s so essential to stay humble in one’s craft, as we’re just mere instruments trying to communicate the true work that is done before it even reaches our hands.

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

 

What are your favorite local grains to work with when making baked goods?

 

I usually exclusively use GRAIN for their legumes & wheat grains, and Anita’s Flour for my bread making needs when I’m doing large orders.

 

 

 

How did you discover GRAIN products?

 

It’s hard to pinpoint as it feels like GRAIN has always been my go-to grain provider, but I think I started using their products right as they started reaching out to wholesale clients. Shira (co-founder of GRAIN) would come into Matchstick Coffee Roasters where I founded an all natural bread program at the time, and we got to geeking out over bread and legumes. I used them for one of my first pop-up dinner events for Kinfolk Magazine, and I was hooked!

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

Do you notice a difference in quality between local grain and legume products and the mass market products?

 

Definitely. When you have a smaller, localized purveyor who cares about their community, consistent quality, and customer relationships, you get a product that doesn’t need much manipulation if at all to create beautiful tasty dishes.

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

Mass produced bread products have a list of the following: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% or less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), DATEM, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness)… I don’t know about you, but the latter just scares me as I can’t even pronounce half of it.

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

How do you approach working with an unfamiliar ingredient?

 

I research first, then play, then dial it in. Usually, someone has done a lot of work trying to figure out where that ingredient came from, and what it’s original purpose was in the natural world. I think if I can first understand that, then I can best honour its potential as an inspiring part of a dish or product.

 

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Have you ever had a kitchen disaster that resulted in a great new creation? A happy accident?

 

Oh man, those situations are ones that I think chefs/cooks both hope and fear for haha. I’ve definitely had my share. Most start with me looking sad at first at the object of my initial failed attempt, but then pushing myself to be creative so I don’t create waste, which usually results in happy, interesting outcomes or at the very least, lessons learnt!

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

Do you have any Vancouver food heroes?

 

One of my all time favourite chefs to have collaborated and eaten with was Jesse McCleery out on Galiano Island. He is co-owner of Pilgrimme Restaurant and is one of my local food heroes as he truly respects where his ingredients come from. Jesse is incredibly humble about his work, where the dishes really celebrate the terroir and aren’t overly plated/precious.

 

Another would be Kris Barnholden from Latab Restaurant in Vancouver. Kris has an excellent palate, considerate and well-thought-out menus where he also celebrates the narrative of his ingredients quite beautifully.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

 

Your sourdough bread making classes are very popular. What are your students most surprised to learn about the bread-making process?

 

Yes, it’s pretty exciting to see so many folks interested in all natural sourdough! I think what most students find surprising during the class is the amount of time and work that is needed for one batch of bread. As someone who personally celebrates the process in all things, I think it’s a very important lesson to learn for folks who are leading busy lives, and are used to modern conveniences. It kind of puts things into perspective and calls on a simpler time when life wasn’t always dictated by money as a means of currency. I think understanding the narrative, from ingredients to the transformation of a simple grain, can become inspiring and worth pursuing.

 

 

Annabelle’s charcoal sourdough (below). 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

What advice do you have for the novice home cook who would like to include more local grains in their diet?

 

Start small, and give into the fear that it might f-up at the first try, and just go for it. I mean, if you can boil water you’re already past the novice stage when it comes to grains. Just remember that grains need to be broken down in some way to make the nutrients available to you, whether that’s by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

 

How can our readers find out about your upcoming workshops and events?

 

The best way to find out about upcoming workshops and events are to head over to my Instagram or Twitter account, @annabellechoistudio, or check out my Facebook page: Annabelle Choi Studio. I also encourage those who are looking to sign-up for bread workshops specifically should email me to be put on the waitlist, as they sell out fast: info@annabellechoistudio.com.

 

We want to give a big THANK YOU to Elysian Coffee for lending us their kitchen and to Shira from GRAIN for providing products for this photo shoot. 

 

You can find local GRAIN products in Saul Good Gifts: Kitchen sink and Superior staples (below).

new home gift vancouver

 

About the author

Jasmine

 

Jasmine is a professional sweet tooth who spends much of her time baking, eating, photographing and writing about treats.

 

She co-founded chocolatecodex.com to share her love of fine chocolate with the world. Follow Jasmine on Instagram: @chocolatecodex

 

 

 

About the Photographer

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Leah Villalobos Bartok is a mother, hiker and lifestyle photojournalist. She has a unique ability to document stories and capture personalities.   

 

View more of her work on Instagram:  @photogbyleahv and browse through her site www.photographybyleah.ca