What pops up when you go with what feels right

Lisa Vertefeuille’s Christmas pop-up shop has popped away now, but I still wanted to share this column, because I was so inspired by her grounded wisdom and the idea of always checking in with your feelings, even if it means doing a U-turn.

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Lisa Vertefeuille is a purveyor of happiness.

It’s not her official job description, but happiness is pretty much baked into being the wedding cake maker, cookie wizard and the foodie artist behind The Flour Pot, a one-woman custom bakery that operates out of a sun-lit corner kitchen of Expedition Station, on Prospect Street, across from the Pemberton Museum.

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Open since January 2016, The Flour Pot is no conventional bakery. It’s not open to the public, although sometimes you can spy brides-to-be tasting samples of wedding cakes at her counter.

But for a week leading up to Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 17 – 22, her workspace has turned into a pop-up shop — showcasing an explosion of exquisitely hand-crafted baked delights and festive treats — cookies, gingerbread, macaroons, cakes. By some magic, something new is added every day. It’s a glimpse of what happens when an artist gives her creative juices a festive stir and lets them bubble forth.

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“The pop up shop is a great way for me to grow the business organically,” said Vertefeuille, imagining trying the same thing in the spring, for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

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For the most part, Vertefeuille meets custom orders for wedding and specialty cakes four days a week, while her children are at school, squeezing in the extra time required to run a business around the fringes. “We live two blocks away, the school is two blocks away, it’s the perfect situation.”

She’s been part of the food industry for long enough to have logged her share of 90 hour weeks. “I didn’t want to be here seven days a week. I want to have a life and time to spend with my kids. So the pop up is a good way for me to say OK, it’s Christmas, let’s try something.”

Last summer, instead of opening her bakery to the public, she kept a stall at the Pemberton Farmers’ Market. “It was great. It was nothing to do with my typical wedding cake kind of stuff.”

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She’d source produce from Pemberton and see what she could make. Even her wedding cakes feature local eggs and organic flour. “I’m a food person. Just because I’ve chosen to do cakes, doesn’t mean that’s all I am into. I live here because of food,” she said.

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She’d make chocolate beet brownies or potato and rosemary scones with Helmers’ produce, individual galettes with fresh blueberries. Macarons that developed a cult following. “It was a chance for me to get creative in the kitchen. It was fun.”

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Vertefeuille hasn’t decided if she’ll do the farmers’ market again next year, or maybe open her store to the public one day a week. A one-off pre-Christmas cookie-making workshop for 8-12 year olds was a huge success. She loves teaching kids about food. She has no shortage of ideas.

“I’m a huge fan of Danielle LaPorte — she talks about how, when you make choices, you have to stop and think about how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel scared? Scared is OK, because it usually means you’re pushing your boundaries a little bit. But does it feel good?”

Vertefeuille had started The Flour Pot back in 2011, with 20 wedding cake orders, space rented from Raven at Blackbird Bakery, and two babies at home — a modestly manageable side-project, with support from the Community Futures program. When she and her family returned from her firefighter husband’s one-year exchange in Australia, the studio space was available and she launched. She was definitely scared. “To take the leap and do what I’d been thinking about for so long? It felt so good.”

Trusting her gut has served her well.

Her first gig was a co-op placement under Chef Vincent Stufano at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. She stayed on instead of returning back to the school program. She later opened her own restaurant in Port Renfrew, where she met a Whistler firefighter who loved to surf and who lured her back to the Sea to Sky.

On her return to Whistler, Stufano offered her a job, but so did Chef Bernard Casavant, at his acclaimed artisanal bistro. She turned Casavant down on the spot, thinking the Chateau was the better career move. “It wasn’t until I walked away that my heart sunk. I had made the wrong choice. I just knew it. And you can’t say no to a chef, especially one of that calibre.”

Vertefeuille went home in tears, but her husband convinced her to admit it to Chef Bernard. “What’s the worst he can say?” So the next day, she arrived at the restaurant, sweaty-palmed and nervous, as Chef Bernard was walking in to work.

“Oh, hey Lis, how’s it going?” said Chef Bernard. “I was going to call you today and tell you that you made a bad choice.”

They worked together for years. It’s the only other kitchen with a window that she’s worked in, until now.

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Growing The Flour Pot organically has been intentional. “I wasn’t in a rush to dive in. I did the numbers. I wanted to keep my creative juices flowing, and eventually, once both kids were in school, progress it. That wasn’t always easy — I’d see opportunities or other people doing cool stuff and have to remind myself, it’s OK, it’s not my time. It will happen how it’s supposed to happen.”

As every great food alchemist knows, given the right ingredients, a dab of instinct and the right amount of time, everything unfolds as it should.

Photos via The Flour Pot.

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