The delicate, buttery scent of freshly baked goods wafts through the air. Traces of honey-roasted balsamic figs, lightly caramelized shallots and seasonally fresh basil and arugula tantalizes my olfactory senses. I’m being welcomed to the wonderful world of galettes.
Though they may look suspiciously like tarts, galettes are a food all onto their own. Their freeform, pastry-free shells are open, allowing one to see their colourful insides. Originally a French creation, Haley Polinsky and Erica Bernhardt of The Galette Girls have reinterpreted galettes to bring the sweet, savoury and rustically elegant pastries to Toronto.
Specializing in fresh, seasonally-inspired galettes, The Galette Girls are a Toronto food pop-up without a fixed location; instead, the two culinary adventurers show up at flea markets around Toronto. They’ve been known to visit locations such as the Toronto Underground Market and the Annex Flea Market. Additionally, they provide catering and picnic basket services.
The story behind the formation of The Galette Girls is one of passion and opportunity. Becoming immersed in the mouth-watering world of food blogs and recipes, Polinsky dove in to a serious interest in cooking and traveled to Vancouver to attend culinary school. Later on, after a gig working alongside Bernhardt, The Galette Girls to-be discovered a mutual desire to open their own business.
On a trip to New York’s famed Brooklyn flea and food market Smorgasburg, the two became inspired by the multitude of pop-up vendors they found in the marketplace. They realized that a pop-up food venture was their perfect entry point into the world of food entrepreneurship.
After returning to Toronto, the two started to brainstorm possible culinary ideas to build their business around. Polinsky and Bernhardt sought to find a product which would stand out in Toronto. They wanted a food that was obviously delicious but also offered them the opportunity to be creative. Moreover, they wanted something that would not be pigeonholed within a specific cuisine.
Galettes were the perfect fit, says Polinsky. “With galettes you can use any flavour you want. There’s nothing holding you back.”
Appreciating the potential in utilizing seasonal ingredients, Polinsky explains that the essence of a quality galette lies in “having a balance of flavours, incorporating contrast and having fresh quality ingredients”. Winter belongs to the hearty flavours of mushrooms, cream and roasted butternut squash, while the warmer months make way for crisp asparagus and vibrant fruits and vegetables.
With names like Gaston, Mathieu and Bertrand, one has to wonder how The Galette Girls anoint their newest pastry creations. According to Polinsky, the French flavour behind every name pays homage to the galette’s origins as part of the French culinary tradition. Some of the names like Gaston and Mathieu are named after friends and family, while other names come about because of “a feeling of what might work and what doesn’t.”
Polinsky recounts an instance earlier in the year where a name simply did not work. “We did a tomato galette named Monique for the Annex Flea market which we thought would be a big hit, but it didn’t sell at all. We thought it was because the name Monique gave off a stuck-up vibe. So we changed the name and it started selling,” she says.
As pop-up food entrepreneurs in Toronto, The Galette Girls run in to their share of challenges and obstacles. The choice to operate as a pop-up made sense because it was a great way to quickly validate whether or not their product would be well received by hungry consumers. Additionally, the pop-up model allows The Galette Girls to change course as needed and acquire hands-on experience as entrepreneurs while still keeping their day jobs. However, the model is far from perfect.
“Being a pop-up, we don’t have a location, so logistics are probably our greatest challenge,” says Polinsky. “Without a dedicated kitchen, every event becomes a challenge in its own right.”
Nonetheless, the experiences gleamed as entrepreneurs is well worth it. Regarding the kind of advice she’d tell her younger self, Polinsky smiles and says, “Our biggest mistake happened at our first event and has never happened again since. We really overestimated how many galettes we had to make and we ended up with about a million of them left over.”
On a practical level, Polinsky says it’s good to “take advice from other people, but interpret it in your own way”. Though others may have good intentions and well meaning advice, what works for one person may not work for another.
Polinsky ends by saying, “take others’ advice and incorporate it within your own unique context and perspective.”
JJ Wong is a contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.