Carter Bouchard has had visions of bagels dancing in her head for a long time. The pandemic prompted her to finally make those dough-filled dreams of starting her own bagel bakery a reality.
"It was the kick in the pants that I needed," says the 26-year-old chef and owner of Salt and Sunshine Bagels.
Bouchard grew up in a food-loving family and has been cooking since she was 15 years old. She enrolled in the culinary arts program at Winnipeg Technical College — now the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology — in high school and went on to graduate from Red River College, where she won a culinary exchange scholarship to study in France. After school, she worked at Marion Street Eatery before landing a job in the kitchen at Passero, where she’s been for three years.
Like everyone in the restaurant industry, Bouchard’s work hours dried up under the public health restrictions. She needed extra cash and she wanted to keep working with food; bagels were the answer.
"I’ve actually been thinking about this for four years now," she says. "Before I was like, ‘No, I’ve gotta find somewhere that’s going to teach me and show me how to do it.’ And then once the pandemic hit, I was like, you know what? I’ve just gotta figure this out on my own."
Bouchard was so adamant about having an authentic bagel-making internship, in fact, that she travelled to New York a few years ago to find a bakery owner who would take her under their wing — although her plans of staging (doing unpaid kitchen work) didn’t quite pan out.
"They seemed to not really be into that whole free-labour thing," she says with a laugh. "It was fine, though; I ate so many bagels while I was there and just kind of got an idea of the style I wanted."
She prefers a big bagel with a fluffy interior and decent amount of chewiness, "If the bagel doesn’t bite back, then it’s not my kind of bagel."
Bouchard has fond childhood memories of visiting the Great Canadian Bagel — a bagel café chain popular in the ’90s with former franchises in Winnipeg — with her parents. Chocolate chip, devoured in the car before they made it home, was a favourite.
Before she started selling to the public as Salt and Sunshine, Bouchard tested her products on family and friends. It was during the tinkering process when she landed, accidentally, on a feature that makes her bagels stand out from the crowd.
"I’m such a perfectionist, so I was rolling them out the traditional way with the hole and I didn’t like the way they looked," she says. "I was like, ‘I’m not going to put a hole, who says I have to?’ So I didn’t."
Bouchard doesn’t see hole-less (or whole, as she calls them) bagels as an affront to the tradition, but rather as an opportunity to give customers more surface area for spreads and a better base for bagel sandwiches.
Salt and Sunshine lives online and in the small rented kitchen at the Irish Association of Manitoba on Erin Street, where Bouchard spends two-and-a-half days each week mixing, resting, boiling and baking more than 300 bagels for hungry customers. A friend from culinary school helps out with the physically demanding rolling process.
‘I would not be able to roll out 300 bagels by myself," she says. "Our biceps are pretty jacked, not gonna lie."
Customers can order online at saltandsunshinebagels.ca for pickup on Thursdays. Bouchard stocks three standard flavours — sesame sea salt, everything and chocolate chip — each week, as well as a rotating specialty bagel. Coming up with new variations, such as lemon poppy seed and salted rosemary honey, keeps the job interesting.
"That’s kind of like a creative outlet for me," she says. "I just want to really do my best to try and spice things up a little bit and put my own flair on it and my own skill set that I’ve learned from other places."
Bouchard also makes a variety of flavoured whipped brown butter and labneh spreads to pair with her bagels.
Social media, particularly Instagram, has been a boon for her business, which one day she’d like to turn into a full-time gig and a brick-and-mortar shop. Until then, she’s excited to be part of the wave of new online food businesses popping up during the pandemic.
"I think it’s awesome — it’s like a new era of cooking," she says of the trend. "For me, it’s a nice stepping stone, instead of jumping straight into owning my own storefront… I’m going to see how it goes and what I need to do and learn before I take that leap."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.