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Tea, Chocolate and Art: Epicurious Stories of British Columbia’s Women Artisans

This article by Jessica Fest appeared in The Culture-ist on September 25, 2012

After visiting British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, I learned there’s much more to the destination than beaches, water sports and eclectic cafes. In fact, there’s a whole community of women artisans bringing innovative and sustainable ideas to the coast. The result is a laid-back culture with a “go local and work together” philosophy that’s impossible not to admire.

Amber Stoby, Le Petite Souris Chocolate Amber Stoby was working in Vancouver when she found herself wanting a slower pace of life. While a move to the Sunshine Coast provided that, it also left her scrambling for a job. She decided to take her love of chocolate making full time, attending pastry school, studying under a chocolatier in France and creating a production space in an old master bedroom in her house. Now, she blends fine chocolate from France and Madagascar with locally sourced and organic add-ins. For example, she gets the dried raspberries in her popular Scarlet Bar locally from the Henry Reed Farm. What she’s bringing to the community: Along with providing an organic, sustainable product, she’s also teamed up with local entrepreneur Charlene SanJenko of Sleek and Sexy personal training to create a healthy line of “Sweet Cheeks” chocolates containing walnuts, coffee beans and pulverized coconut instead of whipping cream. Additionally, she aims to bring out the nostalgic side of people. “In France, Le Petite Souris is a fantasy character akin to the tooth fairy,” explains Amber. “It’s about a loss of a piece of childhood, and I want people to experience the playfulness they may have lost along the way again through chocolate.”

Wendy Weir, Libre Tea Glasses Wendy Weir has always been interested in Chinese heritage and culture, especially when it comes to tea. After exploring the country and immersing herself in the culture through language studies, homestays and historic visits, she was inspired one day while riding the bus. “I was sitting at the front of a crowded bus in Shanghai, when the driver stopped at an intersection,” Wendy recounts. “ The bus driver picked up what looked like a pickle jar but was actually a tea holder. As he took a long sip, I visualized how this busy man was taking a moment to himself, despite the loud chaotic bus. The light turned green, and the driver went back to navigating the traffic.” From there, her idea to help people find “tea moments” in our fast-paced lives was born. Her product, Libre Tea Glasses, allows people to enjoy loose-leaf tea in a simple and portable way. What she’s bringing to the community: “My goal is inspiring tea moments, a moment to reflect during your busy everyday life,” explains Weir. “Just like we analyze the essence, flavor and feel of wine, in China they look deeply into tea.”

Corin Mullins, Holy Crap In 2009, Corin Mullins along with her husband Brian started this artisanal cereal company with $129 after being stranded in the devastating North American Ice Storm of 1998. At that time, Brian was also struggling with various food allergies. These two situations got Corin thinking about how she could improve her husband’s health while also creating a resource that would ensure food security. “I never thought of it as cereal but as a survival kit,” explains Corin. “The Holy Crap production center is equipped to serve everybody on the Sunshine Coast for one week if necessary.” Holy Crap cereal is made with hemp, buckwheat, chia and dried fruit, using no added sugar or salt, and no genetically modified or non-organic ingredients. The serving size is two tablespoons, which is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and should be saturated in water for five minutes before adding to yogurt, pancakes and other foods. The product is so good, Corin and Brian were brought onto the CBC show “Dragon’s Den,” where startups try to get funding from venture capitalists. After being offered money, one dragon wanted to take the business off the Sunshine Coast. The couple refused, saying they wanted to stay in the community that supported them. What she’s bringing to the community: Holy Crap products are becoming standard fare for such diverse groups as high performance athletes, diabetics, celiacs, dieters, outdoor enthusiasts, travelers, and people with high blood pressure, severe food allergies and other food sensitivities.

Traci Stremlaw, Batchworks Traci Stremlaw always loved ice cream, and knew she wanted to create a sustainable product for the community. Because the dairy in ice cream caused issues with laws and stipulations at the local farmers markets, she decided on sorbet because it’s dairy and soy-free. When Stremlaw learned of an old potting shed that was in a state of disrepair, she rallied the community to ban together and turn it into an eclectic space for her shop. Now, locals can enjoy unique flavors like Blackberry Mint, Ginger Yellow Plum and Cucumber Honey Dew Mint. These change depending what’s in season and what she can pick from the local farmers. What she’s bringing to the community: Traci provides a product for vegans and celiacs that is healthy and delicious. Additionally, she helps farmers by giving them an outlet to sell their produce. Many brides use her services, as well as the prestigious Painted Boat restaurant.

Cindy Cantelon, Copper Sky Gallery & Cafe Cindy Cantelon is a local artist in Madeira Park, who wanted to bring the art community together via a gallery. The space also gives people somewhere to browse local creativity. When the building owner who also ran the attached cafe decided to get rid of the space, Cantelon had to decide whether she would takeover the cafe and gallery or lose her project. Of course, she took over the eatery, and turned it into a place that serves up homemade sandwiches, pastries and soups. Ingredients are locally-sourced, and coffee is organic and fair trade. She also allows locals to sell organic and handmade products, and hosts art shows for artisans. What she’s bringing to the community: Cindy gives artists a place to sell their work, as well as somewhere for people to browse metal work, pottery, ceramics, sculpture, paintings and more. Moreover, by locally sourcing she’s helping local farmers, and giving community members something healthy to eat.

 

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