Breaking Bread at Blackbird Baking Co.
I was sitting with Simon Blackwell on sleek gunmetal Tolix stools at Blackbird Bakery Co.'s sun-filled marble lunch counter. Simon had just returned from deliveries, just one of many duties he'd fulfilled since his day began at three in the morning. When I mentioned the eclectic parade of customers I had observed entering his bakery, Simon's Blue Jays-capped head tipped back as he exhaled a gracious sigh of relief. "Yes, we have lots of regulars," he acknowledged. I would later learn that he does not for one moment take their faithfulness for granted.
I first discovered the Blackbird Baking Co. in 2013, on a curating excursion I took with Kim Antonius-Peabody, with whom I co-founded the Fairmount Park Farmers' Market. There were holes to fill in the our vendor line-up; a key one was bread. So we ambled through Kensington Market, hoping for a local bread maker to fall from the sky. We stepped into Sanagan's Meat Locker, curious to visit the popular butcher shop. At the check-out counter we noticed some very good-looking crusty breads bursting out of brown paper bags. We bought a couple of loaves, made by the Blackbird Baking Co., and were immediately taken by their exceptional texture and taste.
The bakery agreed to join our market that first year, and continues to be a vendor. They are swarmed with customers every market Wednesday. Rain or shine, blistering heat or temperamental cold streak, the artisanal handmade bread flies off of market tables. Most weeks at least a few people leave the open-air bakery shop stifling tantrums because every last loaf had been sold.
Simon Thomas Blackwell hails from Vancouver. The son of a baker mother and a baker father, Simon's journey to becoming a member of Toronto's bread-baking elite is no surprise. His maternal grandfather and great-grandfather, whose last name was Ditchfield, were British master bakers. Both worked in a bakery in Walsall, England, and they purchased it in 1900, renaming it Ditchfield Bakery. (The Ditchfield family ran the bakery until 1988.) It was there that Simon's mom learned to bake bread.