s a child, Claire Livia Lassam’s grandmother would whisk freshly cut strawberries with sugar in a large pot over the stove. She would then hand her a little spoon to gently scoop up the foamy, sweet and syrupy strawberry film that lay on top of the slowly thickened jam, and eat it.
This memory would serve as the starting point for Lassam’s affinity towards preserves. It would remind her of sharing the gifts of the summer in the colder months, when fruits were no longer available to be readily picked. Much like making jam, LIVIA Forno e Vino is a labour of love, nurtured through the power of community and humbled by the uncertainty of process.
The traditions of sharing knowledge, preserving culture and recipes while creating lasting memories in a communal space have been at the forefront of running a successful bakery and cafe for Lassam, the owner and operator of LIVIA.
While her taste for sweetness came through the teachings of her grandmother on her Danish side, Lassam shares that her Italian grandmother, Nonna, also helped in planting the seed of opening her very own bakery. “I started planning my first bakery when I was eight. It’s…very singularly the only thing [that I’ve wanted to do], ” she tells me over Zoom, where we’ve connected for a quick call on a late August day.
“What I really love about baking and cooking is the community it creates. I really love how food connects us on a really fundamental level.”
LIVIA is known for their delicious signature sourdough, and she admits that it's success is a measure of their community. It all started with their eleven-year-old starter named GAIA. “Our starter wasn't even our starter,” Lassam explains. She shares a story about how two days before a farmers' market, she had transferred her sourdough starter into a clean container that had been run through a dishwasher with new chemicals—and unfortunately killed the starter. “[The starter] came from a friend and [was] sort of a moment of panic. But I actually quite like that it came from a friend… it was a community starter.”
While baking is seen as this cathartic process of creation and the benefits are usually sweet, it is also humbling and unforgiving. Baking requires sweating the small stuff.
The attention to detail needs to be thorough, and Lassam uses this attentiveness in all she does, including the creation of a physical space for where their bakery would live. The goal for Lassam had always been to open one, and she and her husband, Jordan, took the time to craft a place that would bring Lassam’s layered, textured, and cozy vision to life. The details mattered. It was important to piece together a beautifully worn-in space for people to stay a while, for children to grow, friends to fall in love, and communities to thrive and flourish. Not only did it become about the atmosphere and the food, but also the neighbourhood and community they were inviting in.
She wanted the space to take care of the guest through carefully considered elements. “[When] everything is thought of and everything is looked after, that just allows you to feel a sense of calm. That is what I really want. I want people to feel calm and cozy and invited in.” This is felt through the individually plucked tiles, the hand brushed paint strokes on the wall, and the one-of-a-kind sought out decor. Each piece has a purpose, and that purpose ultimately is comfort.
LIVIA takes care of its community, and the community takes care of LIVIA too. The bakery and pasta bar on the corner of Kitchener Street and Commercial Drive (in the middle of Little Italy) has fostered connections deeper now through the pandemic. “The handwritten letters we got during COVID, the number [of people that] brought us flowers in COVID when we were just struggling,” Lassam reveals. “They just knew we needed something, something that shows us that there was still beauty. The community we're in is really extraordinary.”
It’s important to note in this case that a community is not created by one person. Everyone plays a role, and each role is equally as important when coming together to create a welcoming atmosphere that also serves delicious food with fresh ingredients. Lassam follows a simple method when creating recipes: Keep it simple.
“I think a lot of people make very complicated Italian food. And that, to me, is antithetical to the food that I was raised on and the food that my grandmother used to make. I really just wanted it to be this very simple ingredient-focused thing.”
But this desire for simple ingredients goes beyond the ingredients themselves. There is a deep appreciation for the often overlooked stars of the show: the farmers. “Farmers are just nice people," she says. "If you spend your days out in fields growing vegetables, you're just a nice person. It's true. That's just how it goes.” When the land is looked after and nourished by people who care, the ingredients will also be nourishing—creating mutual and reciprocal benefits for all to enjoy. She has been sourcing her produce from three small farms across the lower mainland, varying from Surrey to Kelowna: Zaklan Heritage Farm, Cropthorne Farm, and Stoney Paradise Farm.
“I really love working with farmers,” Lassam says. “And we do so much preserving, which is like one of the things I'm most passionate about… making jams.” Lassam lights up at the opportunity to speak about her connection to the farmers she works closely with and she goes on to speak about Cropthorne Farm, a small farm based in Delta that specializes in growing tomatoes. “They have an unbelievably productive space... They do a ton of crop rotations throughout the season and it's actually astonishing how much products they're able to grow on that tiny little area. It really gives me hope for the future of organic farming.”
Lassam brings this outlook around productive spaces to LIVIA, where she optimizes her space by making jams.The dismal months during the winter bear no fruit but that's not to say there are no rewards. Her team uses out-of-season fruits to create danishes in the wintertime and a hefty portion of their time is used to create jams and preserves. “There were... 65 gallons of peaches this year [so] that we can have peach danishes all through the winter. We did, I think, almost 100 gallons of poached blackberries so that we can have blackberry danishes and blackberry cakes and stuff throughout the year.”
On top of the poached fruits used for danishes and other pastries, they also make jams to sell as well. It would appear that finding space for all these jams would create a little bit of a jam in itself but Lassam says “you have to keep it going, you have to figure out ways to make it work. Our space is too small [to] have a walk-in freezer and be freezing all this stuff. So, [we] put it in jars. And that's like the most fun thing in the world to me!”
For a baker, patience is always required.
A good harvest is worth the wait, burning sugar, starting from scratch, and borrowing a starter for sourdough from the neighbours are all a part of the process. But the joy in the brief moments of abundance in the summertime offer sweetness in the grey and gloomy winters in Vancouver.
Lassam leaves us with a shred of optimism as we gear up for a cold winter. A moment of reflection to begin again through a memory that takes you back to better times. “In the middle of February when it's cold, and it's been raining for four months, and you're like, oh god, the sun is not coming and it's miserable... and then you open a jar of canned apricots to put on the danishes, and you can smell it. It smells like summer and suddenly… There is absolutely hope for the world. It's going to be fine! The sun will come out again! And you eat a little poached apricot, it's perfect! Nothing is better,” she explains, “nothing is better.”