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Kelowna: Baking above the clouds at Big White
A career change finds Big White's baker, Sheldon Molitor (below right) and his partner (below left), in a job every town needs, including a ski resort
Ladyfingers don't fit in a champagne flute, baker Sheldon Molitor says as he starts explaining the engineering feat needed to craft a dessert for the Iron Lady.
Molitor built the most amazing tiramisu possible by drizzled ladyfinger batter into a mesh pattern capable of folding into the narrow glassware once baked.
A libertarian baking solution for Margaret Thatcher? Well, it was entrepreneurial, he will admit, but then so was the career change that brought Molitor to baking.
"I.T. was lucrative, but it was just constant, constant phone calls and it just drove me crazy," he says as he recounts a how one customer crawled through the ceiling to find wires chewed by mice, and he engaged in several hour-long conversations leading to the big question: Is the computer plugged in?
His move to baking was completely unplanned. A family member offered him a job with a friend who ran a bakery and was desperate for staff. It was terrible hours and lousy pay, but he wanted to work. It would turn into a life-altering decision.
Molitor has worked with the best, he's taught the best and he's become so proficient at taking people off the street and turning them into bakers that his partner, John Chou, whose background is in telecommunications, now works right alongside him as the cake decorator at Big White.
"He just got better than me in about two days and he had the tenacity to stick with a detailed project to make it look fantastic," Molitor said.
Mid-season Chou will be pumping out a dozen decorated cakes in a night, the pair working from 11 p.m. around the clock until they make their secret maneuvre: sticking the cinnamon buns in the oven.
It's no accident that the Big White Bakery seems to sell itself with wafts of cinnamon goodness floating upstairs to the guests. Timing can be everything in any small business and, when your cinnamon buns come in four varieties (plain white icing, cream cheese, maple, and cream cheese bacon), it's worth playing to one's strengths.
Molitor has been a baker for 26 years, Chou for one, but they've been together for over a decade. They easily complete each other's sentences, making for a great partnership in the kitchen. And Chou seems to know Molitor's training and employment history better than the man himself.
The best bakery Molitor ever worked for was Van Den Bosch Patisserie Belge, he says.
In five years, that bakery's owner, Marc Tilkin, managed to grow the operation from a small shop in Vancouver's Granville Island Market to an 11-store success with a 10,000-square foot plant in Burnaby and a reputation to earn him a British Columbia New Canadian Entrepreneur Award in 1991.
Funnily enough, Tilkin later sold the small chain and went into IT, but it was at the original Van Den Bosch Patisserie Belge ovens that taught him most of what he knows.
"We did everything for the Radisson, the Waterfront, the Renaissance, the Wall Centre and Sheraton. Any hotel in Vancouver that was four stars or better, we were supplying all their baked goods. It was an incredible learning curve," he said.
The liqueur mousse cakes were the specialty, but for Molitor, learning to pour a Frasier Torte was nothing compare to learning how to run an efficiently operation.
This is what he was hired to do at Fratelli's Bakery, another foodie haunt on Commercial Drive. When he left the Vancouver establishment, Fratelli's had six Golden Plate awards.
Asked why he likes the baking world, Molitor has a simple, realistic answer.
"I like the transportability of the job," he says. "You may not make a million dollars, but you'll always have work. Every little town has a bakery."
This has proven to be very true at Big White where Chou and Molitor live year-round with plenty of time for holiday sojourns in the summer.
The bakery produces some of the best fresh and healthy food options on the mountain with salads, homemade granola and yogurt parfaits. And don't forget to try the baguette, a traditional bread made by allowing the flour's natural yeast to surface.