Some restaurants build their reputation from the ground up, but the Fort Garry Hotel starts a floor lower.
Pastry cook Lindsey Driver drizzles icing over apricot-glazed banana bread inside the hotel's basement bakeshop. (Robin Summerfield)
Just beneath the grand lobby of the 100-year-old Winnipeg landmark lays a culinary catacomb. There's a sprawling kitchen, an enclosed kosher kitchen and a bakeshop.
This week, the busy hum of ovens, chefs and clanging pots will grow louder as the white-coated chefs and pastry cooks prepare for one of the busiest days of the year.
The hotel's Sunday brunches typically attract 450 diners. On Easter Sunday, that number will grow to 700. (Mother's Day is the busiest Sunday with 1,000 guests.)
A tray of baked Alaska is kept frozen and ready for its final touches before service. (Robin Summerfield)
This feat presents a special challenge for the basement bakeshop. The seven pastry cooks pump out a spread of brownies, cookies, cakes, tarts, hand-dipped chocolates and breads. They do it inside a compact L-shaped bakeshop, formerly the hotel's laundry and storage room.
Each week, the bakers try to inject some variety into all that quantity. "It's fun for us to try something new," says pastry chef Richard Warren.
Hand-dipped strawberry-balsamic chocolates, chocolate buttermilk fudge cake, raspberry white-chocolate cheesecake and roasted white chocolate reflect that effort.
The bible of the bakeshop--a frayed and flour-dusted recipe book--holds some of the recipes used in the hotel's 100 year history. (Robin Summerfield)
Warren's crew gets some help from a fraying, flour-dusted binder embossed with the hotel's logo. It's jammed with the bakeshop's coveted recipes, some typed out and some hand-written and slipped into plastic sleeves.
Each pastry cook also keeps a personal recipe book. They add new recipes along the way and share their sugary formulas with each other.
Two bakers start work at four a.m. every day. The rest of the crew arrives five hours later.
"There's a camaraderie here," says Warren. "And they work very hard."
That effort will be on full display Easter Sunday when the team rolls out its menu of subterranean sweets. Chew on this fact: there will be more than 1,000 crème brûlées.
Related:French macarons the latest food trend to hit Winnipeg.