Breaking breadPublished on June 10, 2020

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Elle Crevits is championing a healthy, back-to-basics lifestyle that includes offering up the secrets of making truly exceptional bread. For more than two years, through her Elle Chef business, she has been offering sourdough workshops – formerly in-person and now online – that have been consistent sellouts. Elle has always believed that there is a tremendous resiliency we can feel from being able to make bread from scratch, especially in times of uncertainty like those we are living in now. Affectionately dubbed “the bread pusher,” Elle joyfully serves up refreshing reminders of how simple and pure food can be.

Have you always been interested in cooking and baking? I grew up in a farming community in southwestern Ontario, so I have always understood the importance of knowing where your food comes from and the sense of community that food can offer. As one of the younger siblings, my job was to organize coffee breaks for the farmhands. I saw how powerful it was to have 20 or more employees taking a break and enjoying homemade baked goods together.

What sparked your interest in food sustainability? When I moved to Kitchener/Waterloo for school, I saw an opportunity to build connections between farmers, consumers and folks who don’t have enough to eat. I co-founded an organization called Food not Waste, whose purpose was to reclaim unused food from local businesses and get it into the hands of local food organizations. It was innovative at the time and we reclaimed over 7000 pounds of food in a four-week pilot program before turning the program over to the local food bank. That work still carries on today.

Before COVID-19, you were teaching most of your workshops at the Parkdale Food Centre – what’s your affiliation? I work there as the Project Lead for the Growing Futures program which focuses on food skills and social justice development in youth. I enjoy using my skills in small business and social enterprise, and I’m working to get the program to be more sustainable as we learn through growing, harvesting, cooking, eating and sharing. Teaching my sourdough classes at Parkdale lets me introduce new people to the space and the work we do there, while also giving back to the organization.

How have you pivoted your business since you can’t teach in-person right now? I have been running online, interactive workshops for few months and they are going really well. I send dehydrated sourdough starter to participants ahead of time so they can rehydrate it and be ready for the class and I’ve had students from all across North America. I definitely miss the in-person classes, gathering people together around a big table, sharing bread, breaking it with our hands... I can't wait to get back to that! That being said, after the hot summer months I will continue to offer online classes indefinitely; unfortunately there is no going back, only forward.

What led you to dive into the world of sourdough? Thanks to my farming roots, I was really interested in not only where my food came from, but also who made it and what was in it. I wanted to focus on sustainability, reducing waste and rethinking how I approached food in my own home, including canning, fermenting and getting back to basics. I didn’t have experience with baking bread, so learning how to work with sourdough involved a lot of trial and error. I started teaching because I struggled with sourdough so much at first and wanted others to benefit from my learned experience.

What makes sourdough special? The wild yeast that goes into the starter comes from the air around us, so there’s something special about that, making it a truly local food. Sourdough is built on the model of sharing; you need to get starter from someone to be able to make bread and then you can pay it forward. Sourdough also requires creativity, reminding us to be curious and to experiment. So much of our lives is quite regimented, even in the prescriptive way we are taught to follow recipes. With sourdough you really need to tune into all your senses to get the most out of the experience.

What do you hope people will gain from one of your workshops? The realization that bread only needs three simple ingredients: flour, water and salt. An appreciation for the fact that bread is a universal language that connects us across the whole planet. An understanding that the word “companion” literally means the person you share bread with.

I also hope participants feel a sense of connection to a broader purpose in making bread, which allows us to take back the most basic elements of our food system, with agency and intention. I love watching each group come together – even in virtual classes – because of the shared belief that food is more than what we buy at the grocery store, and I hope they will be inspired to keep baking, experimenting and sharing long after the class.

Paula Roy

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