Savoury Pursuits Fine Foods is the passion of Paul Helm and Bonny Riedel. Partners in and out of the kitchen, Bonny and Paul have spent 20 years in their pursuit of all things savoury and sweet. Our initial offerings in 1996 were sold at a farm market stand. A year later, when we undertook opening a bakery-café on the main street in Almonte, we joined the Carp Farmers’ Market where you will still find us, Saturdays, May to October and for special Easter and Christmas markets. With our roots in farmers’ markets, we have been heartened to watch the changes both in the Ottawa and Canadian food scene towards a renewed interest in local, artisanal and heritage foods. Injected with a twist of influences from around the world, new ingredients and cooking methods, taste, fun and more responsible production is part of the broader offerings.
Our humble beginnings, first in Paul’s brother’s kitchen (which we quickly outgrew), came from a shared disappointment with the lack of authentic baked goods and artisanal bakeries we had grown up with and had seen on world travels. Also, we were dismayed when we realized many kids were growing up knowing nothing but grocery store commercial baked goods. Paul’s grandmother cooked from scratch, often for large groups on the farm, or for northern paving crews and was a big influence on him. Bonny’s Mom always baked and cooked from scratch, taking the family on annual berry and apple picking treks in Nova Scotia to the Annapolis Valley from Halifax and involving the whole family in jamming, pickling and “putting up supplies” for the winter. Bonny’s father loved spicy foods and worked briefly for a spice company that led to family favourite recipes with curry and chilies before these spices were widely mixed into the North American palette. In fact, we still make her Mom’s Southwestern Nectarine Beef Stew with a few minor adjustments to the original recipe.
Paul, an award-winning theatre director and former computer salesman, went back to school in his late thirties and completed the culinary program at Algonquin College. He was set to launch his new business and this coincided with a short layoff from Bonny’s chosen career in architecture. Initially, Bonny was only to be there as support and the “official taste tester” but the layoff led her to say she could “bake a few pies”! Those words sparked a love affair with artisanal food and they have enjoyed working together ever since.
Savoury Pursuits has gone through many changes over the years, with a café bakery on the main street in Almonte, augmented by vending at the Carp Farmers’ Market that eventually led to catering weddings and corporate functions up to 350 to 500 people. Some of our corporate clients were Gowlings Law Firm and Queen’s MBA Program in Ottawa. As main caterers for many years at The Herb Garden near Almonte, we played a roll in many couples’ special days and we love it when our former brides and grooms still visit us at our farmers’ markets today. With our origins in the markets, we were delighted to be invited to join the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne Park for it’s inaugural market in 2006. We are proud to be one of the ten remaining original members and have joined in the Market’s expansion to satellite markets in Westboro and Orleans. We are also thrilled with the new Lansdowne in it’s ability to allow us to serve our clients throughout the winter inside the Aberdeen Pavilion.
After years of catering weddings (which tend to end late and are mostly summer weekends, especially with the many outdoor venues we serviced) and vending at farmers’ markets, (which start early, especially when we bring product to the market that is so fresh it is still warm, and they are mostly summer weekends), we decided we physically could no longer do both, so in 2012 we closed the catering. We now only do a few caterings by request, mostly in the winter months. Now, we have gone back and are focused on our roots- our growing number of farmers’ markets. This also afforded Bonny the time to take the opportunity to take on a contract for The Table, a vegetarian restaurant on Wellington Street in Ottawa to develop a product line to launch their take home food section. It allowed Bonny to focus on her interest in gluten free baking as well as alternative, healthier flours such as spelt.
2016 has seen exciting new developments in our business with Savoury Pursuits moving to a brand new beautiful shared kitchen in Ottawa. Called the Cauldron Kitchen, it is the product of the partnership between David and Dave. David is an energy engineer with a keen sense of opportunity, while Dave is a seasoned food veteran, and co-owner of a successful craft butcher shop and delicatessen, “The Piggy Market” in Westboro. Bonny and Paul first met Dave as a fellow vendor at Lansdowne and as they searched for a new “home “, they reconnected with Dave to become a main tenant and partner in this dynamic endeavour. Our starting point, before others were talking about the need for a local, sustainable food culture in Ottawa, mesh well with the vision of the Cauldron Kitchen. This summer and fall in the new space has been a great place for us to get more in touch with the Ottawa food scene as we have moved “in town” as opposed to being out in the Valley. We enjoy the synergies that have started between some of the businesses utilizing the space and ourselves, and how these dynamics are exactly what the Cauldron is all about. As “veterans” in the business, we look forward to the opportunity to mentor small, new, up and coming vendors, while continuing to learn from others in the industry.
Also, 2016 saw the end of Bonny’s contract with The Table, so she looks forward to having more time for recipe development with Paul for Savoury Pursuits as well, including more vegetarian and more healthy options in soups and non-pastry products. On that note, we should state other guiding principals in our food. Our beginnings focused on home-made as opposed to commercial style foods with no added preservatives. Our fruit pies are made from natural fruit that imparts rich colour to the fillings. While we do use sugar, we want you to taste the fruit in our pies, so rhubarb, raspberry and sour cherry pies are tart, and our pies are lower in sugar than most. As our farmers’ market network, has increased, so has our use of local ingredients whenever possible. Having used Beking eggs in our bakery since 1996, our list of local producers now extends to fruits and vegetables in season, and all our meats which are also hormone free, raised by farmers who have a commitment to the animal’s quality of life. Many of the producers we utilize also vend at the various markets.
Our clients in our years of catering always appreciated our ability to cater to various food sensitivities. We are very conscientious about cross contamination whether for nuts or gluten and while we are not in a wheat-free facility, many of our clients appreciate our ability to make gluten free products that are tasty enough for them to serve to non-gluten free friends and family. Our soups and savoury pie fillings are not sodium free, but we keep them all low sodium. We are also able to accommodate special orders.
We believe that it is the “touch” in how the pastry is handled that provides a good, flaky product, so we have made to order any combination of fat and flour as necessary. After all, Bonny is baking pies in a family tradition in the Ottawa Valley, so it is truly in her hands and family genes: after about 10 years in the business, her Mom mentioned that her Grandmother used to bake pies for the inns and restaurants around Athens, Jasper and the Smith Falls area-unbeknownst to Bonny, as her grandmother passed away when Bonny was very young. Once again, this underscores our roots in heritage, artisanal foods!