Chef Steve Hodge is best known to Food Network fans as the co-host of “Project Bakeover”, the year-old Canadian reality-TV series. Together with design guru Tiffany Pratt, Hodge crisscrosses the country, bringing new life to struggling bakeries. Hodge reinvigorates and inspires the owners while Pratt works her magic, transforming outdated stores into beautiful, appealing spaces. The second season of “Project Bakeover” premiered on March 31 on Food Network Canada and continues for nine weeks.
Hodge, a classically trained pastry chef, is also the owner of Temper Chocolate & Pastry in Dundarave, a seaside village in West Vancouver. A graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, he has worked in California and London, in the kitchens helmed by Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay. Returning home to Vancouver, he worked alongside renowned pastry chef Thomas Haas before opening Temper Chocolate & Pastry in 2013. I recently spoke with him to discuss the program and how travel has impacted his life and work.
Vacay.ca: You have said “pastry and chocolate are my life.” Where did this love of baking originate?
Steve Hodge: My mom claims that it came from the time she was pregnant with me and she owned a bakery shop in London, Ontario. She came from a Croatian family that always cooked and she had a reputation for making delicious pies. It wasn’t until I graduated from university and went to culinary school that I realized that passion was always there. I just wasn’t aware of it.
Vacay.ca: What’s your favourite thing to bake?
SH: A classic croissant. One that has a flaky exterior and nice, soft and melt-in-the-mouth once pulled apart.
Vacay.ca: What is it about chocolate that intrigues and challenges you?
SH: Tempering it by hand that involves heating and cooling to prevent crystallization and to give chocolate a smooth and glossy finish. Tempering by hand rather than by machine is what it is all about. Machines break.
Vacay.ca: How did it become the name of your shop?
SH: It’s a funny name but it appealed to me more than using my own name, which doesn’t have the cache of some famous French chefs.
Vacay.ca: Has owning your own shop always been a dream?
SH: When I was in university, my dad and I went to a fishing camp run by a retired chef. He talked to me about my career and said, ‘If you want to own your own business one day, for the next 10 to 15 years, spend a year in one place, learn all you can and then move on. The best experiences you will ever have are the ones that do it wrong.’ I knew I wanted to control my own destiny, to travel and to work at the high end.
Vacay.ca: When I visit your store, what will I discover?
SH: You will discover that we are a high-end, French-style patisserie with modern twists. We have a little of everything. We have a confection side with our own chocolate bars, a pastry side with all types of patisseries and croissants; a dessert side where we do a variety of high-end European-style desserts and a full chocolate section, a coffee bar, and we sell liquor. You can have a coffee and a croissant, soup or a sandwich.
Vacay.ca: Do you have a favourite type of chocolate that you like to work with?
SH: We use a few different brands depending on what we are making. But my favourite is Valrhona, which comes from Tain l’Hermitage in the Rhone Valley of France. It has a higher fat content and the flavour profiles really come through.
Vacay.ca: How would you say your travels have impacted your recipes?
SH: When I travel, I learn about new ingredients, new flavours. Japan particularly was an eye-opener for me. Even in B.C., I discovered a new type of strawberry I had never seen before. You can watch cooking shows on TV or follow chefs on social media but being there is different. You never stop learning.
Vacay.ca: You have worked across Canada, in the U.S., and England. Where else would you like to travel?
SH: All over Europe and South America. Anthony Bourdain and his travels were the greatest thing that happened to our industry. He was an inspiration that brought the culinary world together.
Vacay.ca: What have you learned about Canada through your baking?
SH: I’ve learned how diverse the country is and how many food cultures we have. Every province we go to, everyone is so nice. They cook differently depending on the products they have around them. Our chefs and foods are amazing. I wish the world looked to Canada more for its food.
Vacay.ca: How did you make the switch from owner/chef of a pastry shop to TV star on Canada’s Food Network?
SH: Right place, right time. It wasn’t a thing I was looking to do. Our Temper PR rep would put us on the news to showcase our products. She got us on a national spot which a production agency from Toronto saw and called with the idea. That was the start. The reason I can travel to do it is because of my sister, who is a partner, our manager and the team we have built at the shop. Our staff averages between 22 and 25.
Vacay.ca: What do you like most about doing the TV show and helping underperforming bakeries?
SH: What I love most about the TV aspect is the team I work and travel with. They are family on the road. They are passionate about what they do, and we have become life-long friends. Then there’s the bakery owners, whether they are classically trained or are home bakers. It’s such a fragile business and it is so difficult. We want everyone to do well. Throughout my career I’ve been mentored by some amazing chefs and I love sharing my experiences with others.
Vacay.ca: Describe what happens from the time you arrive at a struggling bakery until you complete the job.
SH: It’s a week in the bakery. I frustrate the team because I don’t read the notes they provide. I think of it as going in blindfolded. That way the show is real. We go through menus, what works, what doesn’t. I introduce new recipes and new techniques. Tiff [co-host Tiffany Pratt] brings in her crew and they work around the clock. It’s an amazing feel-good show because it’s real and it’s heartfelt.
Vacay.ca: What excites you most about helping struggling bakeries?
SH: At the end when you see the owners’ emotion. They had hit a bump in the road, were about to close their doors, and now they realize they are back in business. I see the fire in their eyes. It’s a fresh start. They are young again.
Vacay.ca: How do you account for the success of “Project Bakeover”?
SH: It’s the whole team, not just Tiff and me. If we can all work well together, it will be a success. It’s the same with my shop. One bad apple will bring everyone down — just like a sports team. Then it’s up to the viewer.
Vacay.ca: If you had one word of advice for someone contemplating opening a bakery, what would it be?
SH: Take the time. Go to work or apprentice for other bakeries. It may be a dream, but you have to realize how difficult it is. It’s more than making muffins. When you open a store, you no longer are a chef, you become a business owner.
Vacay.ca: What is your goal in life?
SH: I have an ultimate goal. I want a ranch one day where I can sit on a chair on the patio and watch my children and my grandchildren. I want to know I brought goodness and compassion to what I’ve done because I can see it in my kids and grandkids.