Tracey Muzzolini is my hero. Over time, she’s also become a good friend. You simply must visit her amazing bakery the next time you’re in Saskatoon.
Tracey is co-owner of Christie’s Mayfair Bakery on 33rd Street in Saskatoon and in many ways, Christie’s is the seed that begat Orange Boot Bakery in Regina. Cindy and I have been going to Christie’s for years and for years we dreamed of opening a bakery just like it at home.
Wow, there’s a lot of moxie in that last sentence! How does one even begin to dream of opening a place as great as Christie’s? I mean, Tracey has been working at the bakery her entire life, slowly taking over from her parents along with her brother Blair. She’s competed as part of Team Canada at the Louis LeSaffre Cup (a qualifying competition for the World Cup of Bread Baking) and is a frequent teacher at Bread Baker’s Guild events. She’s even opened an authentic Italian pizza shop on Broadway Avenue that is as awesome as the family bakery. I used to be in serious awe of Tracey. It took me years to get the nerve to even email her, let alone introduce myself in person.
But that’s the thing about bread bakers. The good ones are the most open, friendly and helpful people you could ever hope to meet. They know how hard baking can be, so if you’re serious, they’ll support you any way they can.
I first met Tracey at a Guild course she was teaching in Edmonton in 2008. At a “Guildhall Gathering” (think wine & cheese, and bread of course) after the class I expressed my intentions of opening my own bakery. Maybe it was the wine that did it, but I think it was the first time I told anyone other than Cindy of my dream. Her reaction? Tracey sat me down between her and Nancy Rubiliak (owner of Tree Stone Bakery in Edmonton) and they proceeded to grill me for an hour about whether I was serious or not.
Did I have what it takes? Baking great bread is only one part it, they said. How will I find bakers? How will I maintain my equipment? Where will I get ingredients? What will I do in January when nobody goes to bakeries? Do I really want to leave my cushy desk job for a life of long nights and a small bank account?
For a while I thought they were discouraging me, but it was actually some much needed Tough Love. Better to go into this with my eyes open. Tracey and Nancy added two years to my journey that night, but when we finally opened Cindy and I were much more prepared for what we were getting into. Not completely prepared, but better.
Tracey also reinforced that the best bakers are always learning from each other. When she was first getting interested in artisan bread, Tracey went to California to work with Craig Ponsford (World Cup winner, renowned baker and teacher.) These days, Tracey teaches around a class per year for the Guild in order to share what she’s learned with aspiring bakers. Orange Boot Baker Jennifer Avery will be heading to Calgary for a class Tracey is teaching on Viennoiserie in November – and the cycle continues.
These days, I’m not nervous when I visit Christie’s. Just excited. On Saturday I want an onion baguette and maybe a potato loaf. I want a Country Sourdough to tear into in the car and get crumbs everywhere. I want to taste her croissants, mainly to enjoy them but, in a small way, to compare them to our own. Do we need to improve? We gaze at her sandwiches (named after soccer players – excellent!) and Cindy wonders why we don’t have sandwiches yet at Orange Boot. And as Cindy looks at the tall stools in front of the windows, she starts mentally rearranging things at our place.
And if we’re at Christie’s early, when Tracey is finished baking but still at the bakery, we can shout hello and share a smile and a visit and swap war stories and talk about what we’re doing for Christmas baking and what’s happening at the Guild and a hundred other things. Because we’re all bakers and we’re all friends and we love great bread and we just plain love good bakeries. And Christie’s Mayfair Bakery in Saskatoon is a GREAT bakery. Please go there the next time you head north.
PS – One more thing. Whenever we visit Christie’s in the morning, we almost always drive straight back to Broadway Avenue to Christie’s il Secondo for a pizza for lunch. It is perfectly acceptable to have a croissant and coffee for a late breakfast and a pizza an hour later. Nothing wrong with that at all. Give it a try!