Old world ways endure for baker

Reza Amiri shows off some of the hand-crafted treats he creates at Middlegate Bakery. 

by  Mario Bartel - Burnaby NewsLeader
posted Dec 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Reza Amiri is a baker ahead of his time.

While many western bakers are just beginning to buy into the demand for gluten-free baking, he's been doing it his whole career. In fact, baking with flours made of chickpeas or rice instead of wheat has been a staple of his Iranian culture for centuries.

Now, after a nine year journey from Tehran, Amiri's brought his sweet and delicately spiced confections to Burnaby's Edmonds area, taking over Middlegate Bakery last summer. On Saturday he's throwing open the doors to formally introduce his 12 breads and dozens of pastries and cookies to the community and vice versa.

For Amiri, baking is "bread in the bone." He trained as a pastry chef in Iran where bakers dedicate their livelihoods and shops to cakes or one of the seven types of national bread. He eventually ran two bakeries, employing more than a dozen people. He even gained some acclaim when he once constructed an 18-layer mother's day cake that weighed 350 kg.

After a year in Turkey where he worked in a hotel kitchen, he settled in B.C., kneading dough and tending mixers in various bakeries around Metro Vancouver. When an opportunity to take over MIddlegate, a neighbourhood institution for 50 years, presented itself, he jumped right in. The chance to stoke his very own ovens again was worth the long hours that start at 8 a.m. and often don't end until 1 the next morning.

"You have to love your job," says Amiri. "I just love to bake cake."

And cookies, walnut puffs and gata, a kind of sweet bread that's often served at breakfast or with tea. Many of his confections don't use wheat flour, some are spiced with ginger and cardamon. His shortbread is sprinkled with pistachio, almonds, coconut. Everything in the display cases of his compact shop, just around the corner from a giant Save-On grocery store, is a treat for the eyes, nose and taste buds.

The proximity of his massive neighbour, with aisles packed with packaged breads and cakes encased in plastic bubbles, doesn't phase Amiri.

"Here, I am creating the taste of art," says Amiri.

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