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HomeArts & CultureFresh Café serves up artisan bread and pastries

Fresh Café serves up artisan bread and pastries

As I approach the main entrance of NSCC Akerley campus, I see Chef Larry Bergeron conversing with one of his students. They’re laughing and joking, as the head of Boulanger and Baking Arts often does with his students in the kitchens and halls alike. Before we sit down to begin our interview in the airy and bright lounge, he strides over to the new Fresh Café, the small business he and Jean-Luc Doridam (head of Baking and Pastry Arts) began developing two years ago. He returns with two coffees in hand and a warm chocolate brioche. With this gesture, it’s clear from the beginning that Chef Bergeron does not only work in the hospitality business; he lives it.

Fresh Café opened in late September, the manifestation of dreams 15 years in the making. The traditional craft breads and delicate pastries are the combined efforts of the Boulanger and Baking Art students, along with the students in Baking and Pastry Art. The coffee, a unique blend created specifically for Fresh Café, comes from Java Blend Coffee Roasters, a long standing Halifax staple.

“Bread is a staple of life,” Chef Bergeron said. “For some it is a part of their religion: it can be symbolic, it can tie into language, it can represent a region geographically.”

(Photo by Kennedy Chadwick)
(Photo by Kennedy Chadwick)

When Chef Bergeron speaks, no longer are we in rainy Dartmouth, but suddenly we are in the southern regions of France; the smells of baguettes around us, a skill only the fervent artisans possess.

For Chef Bergeron, Fresh Café is the ideal combination of his two specialties: craft baked goods and small business entrepreneurship. The café itself, with the exception of one full time employee on Fridays, is entirely run by students, a requirement as part of their culinary arts program. Students run, manage, price, operate and provide all items for the café. Entrepreneurship is completely entwined with day-to day lessons. It is not a set section taught by sitting in a classroom, but rather taught through experience.

“Teaching our students how to serve people with respect, with dignity, how to be there for the customer with a smile on their face, how to speak proper English,” Chef Bergeron said, “it’s all a part of teaching them how to become successful entrepreneurs.”

“As a small business, it’s vital to know who your customers are… you want them to feel like they are VIPs,” he added.

“It’s a chain reaction. If someone enjoys a visit, whether because they were given a free sample, or were asked for their opinion, or they were educated about a product…they are more likely to tell their friends, and if those three people come visit, the chain repeats.”

With the Boulanger students having more than two hundred different varieties of bread in their arsenal, and producing over 12,000 loaves of bread a year, along with supplying the cafeteria with 90 percent of its bread, there is more than enough to meet the demand of the Halifax market. Chef Bergeron points out that nothing goes to waste: freshly baked items are sold in the café, and the one day old items are sold in the cafeteria at a reduced price.

After seeing the scavenged tables at the end of the day, with few—if any—items remaining, it’s true that few foods would ever see the tragic end of the compost bin.

As for what’s next for the little café that could, Chef Bergeron envisions an expansion to include a bakery that is entirely gluten-free. Cakes, pastries, bread — everything made accessible to everyone. For now, the school is still relishing in its newest addition.

A poster in the hallway outside of the Boulanger kitchen depicts a cartooned Chef Bergeron with French baguettes in hand. In a speech bubble above his head reads the sunny chef’s personal motto: “Remember! A day without bread is like a day without sunshine!”

Fresh Café operates from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday, at NSCC Akerley Campus in Dartmouth.

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