Shira McDermott & Janna Bishop
Co-founders, Flourist, Vancouver
There’s transparency in business. And then there’s what Flourist co-founders Shira McDermott and Janna Bishop do: source grains in such a radical, cards-on-the-table way that they literally put a face—via quirky line-drawing portraits on their website—to each farmer’s name.
There are backgrounders, too (naturally). Jamie Draves (Iron Springs, Alberta) grows his 80 acres of golden quinoa with a co-op. Marc Loiselle (Vonda, Saskatchewan) runs a red fife farm that’s been in the family more than 113 years. It’s downright intimate—not exactly what you would expect from a flour supplier. But it’s Bishop and McDermott’s way of reintroducing Canadian grains into our culinary community. While Canada has long been a world leader in producing safe, quality grain crops, the majority of that product actually winds up exported to international markets. With Flourist, Bishop and McDermott work to keep our grains closer to home, selling their stone-milled-to-order flours from 100-percent traceable sources (you can thank Lorne Muller of Swan River Valley for that einkorn). The result is a collection of ultra-nutritious, richly textured and flavoured artisanal flours that so impress pro cooks and home chefs that they barely even blink at a price tag four times that of your standard-issue Robin Hood. “Look at how the coffee industry evolved, moving from pre-ground, preserved coffee with no trace origins to celebrating individual bean varieties and looking to experience a product in its best possible format,” says McDermott. “We want to change the way people see fresh flour.”
And now, after a few years of supplying the restaurant business (and a rebrand from Grain to Flourist), the duo has taken the plunge to IRL retail, gleefully collapsing their supply chain even further. They shipped an Austrian flour mill across the Atlantic to be the crown jewel of their new East Van storefront, the latter designed by restaurant-industry darlings Ste. Marie. Here, the shelves are lined with brown bags of freshly ground flour for the aspiring home baker to peruse, but if you can’t wait to turn sifted red spring wheat into your own homemade loaf, you can grab a latte and fresh fruit galette right there—perhaps even if gluten has given you trouble in the past. “We get feedback every day that gives us goosebumps,” says McDermott. “When someone tells you they can eat bread again after avoiding wheat for 10 years because our flour gives them no symptoms, it’s so gratifying.”
They’re supporting Canadian family farms; you’re getting a banger of a whole-wheat flour for your muffins. It’s radical, yes, but it’s also win-win. In honour of the duo’s community building, we’d like to propose a toast: sourdough, of course.
Photo by Makito Inomata
Q&A with Shira and Janna
What’s been your most memorable meal?
JB: A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend time in Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We set a few crab traps and caught quite a few. We cooked them up right on the beach and ate them with the waves crashing all around us. The experience was wholly immersive and something I’ll never forget.
What’s a kitchen hack more people should know about?
SM: Ripping ripe avocados open with your bare hands and smashing it right on toast or onto your plate, no fork or knife required. It sounds primal and it kind of is.
Guilty pleasure snack?
SM: Melted cheese on any kind of bread. Sometimes with ketchup.
Most underrated ingredient?
JB: Lentils! They are so nutritious and easy to cook. You can add them to almost anything.
Most overrated ingredient?
JB: Turmeric. I don’t think it’s overrated as an ingredient. I just can’t buy into the hype that it’s a cure-all for anything and everything.
What’s your favourite unusual food and drink pairing?
JB: I like drinking coffee with spicy food. I can’t explain it, but I like it a lot.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve?
JB: When the food isn’t salty enough. It happens more often than you’d expect and usually it’s in the more high-end places.
Favourite place to snag a seat in a restaurant?
SM: Whether at home or when traveling, we are always happiest at the bar.