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Bonavista Social ClubWhale watching from the bakery’s porch is the best thing since sliced bread.

If she’s perturbed about inviting a bread killer into her kitchen, Katie Hayes doesn’t show it. Although I’ve always wanted a house filled with the scent of homemade loaves, the back of my fridge is a crime scene: Many a sourdough culture has met its demise there (most recently one for Amish Friendship Bread, the culinary equivalent of a chain letter that circulated with instructions to feed it or it will die, die, die!). Listening to my Lady Macbeth soliloquy, Hayes wastes no time handing me an apron. “Oh yeah, it was scarier than taking care of my child!” she says, recalling the first culture she babysat. A Red Seal cook, she’s well aware that in restaurants – where they call it feeding the baby, the mother, or worse – the responsibility for the starter weighs heavily.

I’ve come to the Bonavista Social Club, home to the only commercial wood-fired oven in Newfoundland, to get over the guilt. The bakery is set amid a scattering of homes on the edge of the Atlantic, and the view makes the rest of the world fall away: Against dark hills, the breeze tickles fennel fronds, honeybees bask in southern exposure and humpback whales breach in the distance. The collapse of the cod fishery has spawned new cottage country and new cottage industries, and Upper Amherst Cove, with a year-round population of 36, encapsulates rural Newfoundland’s craggy charms. Like many outport villages, it’s a can-do community. The Rock is hard land to till – as a child, Hayes helped clear bucketloads of rocks from the garden plots – yet she and her husband Shane grow just about everything they need for their bakery, eatery and teaching kitchen, except wheat for the breads and pizzas (though apparently there’s a Jamaican guy on the bay who grows his own). Hayes’ father, Mike Paterson, an accomplished woodworker, built the soaring facilities, right down to the tables, cutting boards and rolling pins.

Sourdough – a product of water, flour, salt and naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria (namely lactobacilli, which impart that sour taste) – is different from other breads. It’s alive, and it’s wild stuff. “You don’t have control, it is the boss,” Hayes says, describing how on warm days in the cove, the dough is practically crawling out of the containers. If bakers’ attachments to their starters are legendary – they name them, travel with them, grow old with them – it’s because the longer the fermentation, the better the taste. A blend of nurture and nature makes sourdough so distinctively delicious.

Loaves of focaccia “proof”Loaves of focaccia “proof” in the kitchen at the Bonavista Social Club, where the scent of baking bread mingles with crisp ocean air.

The bake is a three-day process. We feed the gloopy culture its dose of water, flour and rye, we mix it, we let it proof, we punch it back. My favourite part is shaping the loaves: It’s amazing how the human hand learns, how my palm senses what’s right, how my fingers instinctively reach for more flour. Tucked between folds of cloth, the loaves overnight in the fridge. The next morning, we score the tops deeply with a razor blade before sliding them into the blasting Le Panyol oven. Half an hour later, we pull them out to cool. “Deadly,” Hayes says, slicing into the golden-brown crust. “Killer,” I agree, without flinching. I take the warm slices and a pot of butter sprinkled with local sea salt (call it sel Neuve) out to the porch, where the ocean and the future stretch out before me. I’m as guilt-free as it gets.




Getting There

Air Canada and Air Canada Express offer convenient daily service to St. John’s from a host of cities across Canada. Bonavista is then four hours away by car.

Comments… or add another

Barb Rees

Monday, November 19th 2012 15:41
We must come visit you on our cross country tour(coming from west coast of BC) next year, and traveling from the east coast of NFLD to west this time. I can taaste the bread already. Do you make cinnamon buns? The best cinnamon buns in the world are up in the Yukon made with sourdough. We'll add you to our itinerary. Happy baking!!

John Fisher

Thursday, November 22nd 2012 08:27
We own Fishers Loft Inn located on the Bonavista Penninsula Newfoundland. We accommodate over 4000 guests during the high season may to October. Most of our guests lunch at the Bonavista Social Club and retrun home raving obout the experience. One day our son,his wife and two year old daughter were dining at Katies and Shane's outside on a hot summers day on all things fresh from the surrounding farm when in came a pod of humpback whales that proceeded to breach and dive. Imagine eating in this environment only meters from the North Atlantic Ocean! The Bonavista Social Club has revolutionized the culinary experience in this part of rural Newfoundland .........and it took a couple of 20 year olds to shownusnthenway.

Kerry Charles

Saturday, November 24th 2012 07:03
Having known Katie & Shane and the whole Paterson clan now for several years I am really happy to see the success that talent and hard work has brought to these young people. Kudos as well to bread expert Erin Turke who mentored Katie through the sourdough process. When visiting THE BONAVISTA SOCIAL Club to savour the bread be sure to try some pizza. In my humble opinion it,s the best pizza I,ve had this side of Italy.
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