Red Hen Artisanale is an educational space featuring the baking skills of Lauren Hambleton who hosts local workshops making a range of items from sourdough to bagels to pastry. Red Hen also offers a weekly “bread club”, a sourdough bread CSA for members. Her beautiful space is located just outside of Priceville.
When did you open Red Hen Artisanale and what’s the story that brought you to Grey County?
I officially opened the doors to Red Hen Artisanale for the first workshop in February 2022. However, I have been teaching baking workshops around Ontario under the name Bake Lab since 2018. I was renting out cute locations, arriving hours in advance of the workshop to set everything up, create a vibe, and welcome people in. At the end of the day, I’d clean everything down, pack it up, put it away, and go on repeat for every workshop. It was getting tiring, the rental fees were really cutting into my revenue, and I knew I needed something more permanent if I was going to expand and make this my sole income source.
I began looking for a property to purchase — somewhere I could live and host workshops out of. Even knowing that I wanted to live more rurally, and that living in a city didn’t appeal to me, it quickly became apparent just how impossible ownership was going to be as one person. At around the same time that I began looking, I met my partner, Aaron. One day, we were sitting on his back deck and it was like a little light bulb went off. I said “hey..so your yard is really big…What if we built something for me to teach out of and I move in?” He was 110% on board. We got lucky in finding a local builder that could start as soon as the paperwork went through with the municipality. Friends and family helped with all of the more finicky details of the build, like the plumbing, electrical, painting, etc. Aaron and I spent many cold nights drilling holes in the walls, tiling backsplashes, assembling cabinets. 6 months from when the idea was born, the studio was complete. I rebranded from Bake Lab to Red Hen Artisanale, my dog Cali and I became residents of Grey County, and workshop tickets began to sell!
What drew you to pastry and bread making?
It was honestly a total fluke. When looking at what I was going to do after graduating from culinary school, I had the vision that I would become a chef and probably open a restaurant. The world of baking and pastry wasn’t even on my radar.
As part of my schooling, I had to complete a co-op — active hours on the job, usually unpaid. There were a few options: work in an establishment in Toronto for 7 unpaid weeks, or work and live in Amsterdam or London on a 1-year, full-time, paid contract. For me, it was a no brainer. I bought a plane ticket and moved to The Netherlands to complete my co-op at the Hilton Amsterdam. Even though I was fresh out of school — at that moment, still technically in school — they decided that I should be in charge of their pastry department of one. Me. I quickly learned that it is the place that I belong. My Chef and General Manager were so patient with me and really eager to taste everything that I created. They’d provide constructive feedback, we’d tweak a few details, and within the year I was creating menu items. If I hadn’t been given that opportunity, I don’t know that I would have stuck with cooking professionally. Pastry found me, really appealed to me, and sent me on the trajectory of trying to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could, and work my way up the proverbial ladder.
The world of bread found me several years later when I was inspired by a Pastry Chef I had. He had taken a bread course at the San Francisco Baking Institute and spoke really highly of the experience. It immediately became my goal to take the exact same course. I enrolled myself in May of 2013, and for a week straight, we made hundreds of baguette, and covered much of the detailed science of fermentation. It was this inspiring trip that really drew me to bread. Bread is something that is so simple in its ingredients, but the options for methods, flavours and textures are nearly endless. With each of the ingredients alone: Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, you wouldn’t be able to survive for very long. But combine them and turn them into bread, and you’ve instantly got an energy source. Add some whole grain flour into the mix and you’re even better off. It’s just so wholesome, and can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.
It looks like you’ve traveled extensively! What have you learned about baking from different places and cultures?
I definitely tried to cram in quite a few kilometers in my early 20’s! After working for a year in Amsterdam, I moved to Italy for a year to live and work in a number of different places, from a pizzeria, to a bakery, to even a cocktail lounge. I worked wherever I could, for as long as they needed the help. A few years after that, I backpacked around the UK and France for a few months and worked in a couple of places along the way. I don’t know that there’s one thing about baking in particular that I picked up, but more so about food in general. It really has the ability to act like glue, bringing people together. This was especially so in Italy. Every Sunday we had a huge lunch with extended family. That always seemed to roll right into dinner where we’d get together with a big group of friends at their house outside of town. It was usually something really simple, but it was like a religion. Instead of going to church every Sunday, it was a social day of a different variety — completely centered around food. Everywhere you go, it’s universal that people are going to have to eat. And everywhere you go, eating and enjoying food, however fancy or simple, is much more of a celebration when enjoyed in the company of others.
What kind of offerings do you have at Red Hen and what are most excited about?
I host a variety of different baking workshops focused on sourdough and the entire life of grains, from seed to flour. During most workshops there is also an opportunity for workshop attendees to mill fresh flour to either work with in a recipe, or to take home with them for future baking.
I teach workshops on pies and making the perfect pie crust, and all about bagels, whole grain pastas, and of course how to make successful sourdough, time and time again. This summer, I am expanding my offerings and hosting a 3 day Baking and Nature Getaway. I really like the longer format workshops that have people coming back for several days in a row. It’s nice to get to know people over the longer time frame, as well as know that they’re walking away with the wheels spinning with inspiration and extra confidence in their baking skills. It’s neat to be the facilitator of such an experience and watch people connect with each other through the act of making bread, and other wholesome foods. I currently have 2 dates posted for this particular workshop — June, and October. Really, all of the workshops get me excited, but I do have more of an affinity for the lengthier options!
What’s your favourite part of being a maker in Grey County? Do you feel well supported in this community? Where do you think there’s room for improvement?
This area has tons to offer. Every bend you turn, the scenery is gorgeous in its own way, and it changes every few kilometers. It’s such an incredible area to call home. There are a seemingly endless supply of unique, small businesses that dot the area, offering a number of different activities to do. There is truly something for everybody here.
I feel very well supported from the wonderful people in my community. There are people who attend workshops that share their positive experience with their own networks of friends and family. There are people who are a part of my weekly bread club that have been coming back for the past year+ and share what’s going on here with their circle of friends and neighbours. It’s really wonderful to feel like I fit in to a strong and kind group of people.
From the tourism perspective in the area, I feel like there’s an overall stronger focus on the bigger businesses, like the ski hills for example. It would be nice to see the promotion of activities and attractions shared more widely across the board with the smaller businesses being more of a focal point.
Any favourite hidden gems in the region that folks should know about?
A few weeks ago we took a glass fusing workshop with Kate Civiero at Infinite Glassworks. It was really cool! We often like to go to Marilynne for a yummy snack and a drink. We can’t wait to check out their new patio! The Bicycle Café never disappoints! And the variety of cheeses and accompaniments at Artemesia Cheese is super, especially with their latest expansion! Justin’s Oven makes delicious food and makes for a great final stop after hiking in the area, or working up a thirst kayaking down the Beaver River. We love going to The Roost every once in a while. We’re always amazed at their variety of wine made with interesting grape varietals, and the view is incredible. I could go on. Like I said, there is something for here for everyone!
Social Media Links: @lohambleton
Contact: 289-700-7917 or email@example.com
Address: 384265 Concession 4, Priceville, ON