Quang: So Many Men in One
"I own bakery when I 19. Dad Chef cooking in embassy. I learn how to cook and bake from dad. I saw people [bakery owners] making money easily, so I quit mechanic job in 1978 and open bakery in Hanoi, Vietnam." Struggling to understand Quang, I stop him mid-sentence at least two times and ask him to repeat what he's just said. During the course of our conversation, I hand him my pen and notepad. This is how we intermittently communicate for the next two-and-a-half hours. My face lights up with understanding every time Quang passes back the notepad.
To say Quang is a baker is to see him one dimensionally. Quang is a business man, food-medicine man and medical research helper. In 1979, he was forced to abandon his bakery and life in Hanoi following the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. Born to a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother, Quang was considered Chinese in nationality, making life tumultuous.
"I am Chinese, live in country and [they] think I look like spy for Chinese. Vietnam government allow to go south [Vietnam] to clear land and make home or go back to China. That's reason we go to ocean refugee camp in Hong Kong. One year later , I apply to land to Canada."
Following English language classes at Humber College, Quang worked at a furniture store for three months, after which time he was laid-off. He then found a job in a bakery, where he was employed for one year. Saving whatever money he earned, Quang went into partnership with a friend in 1981, and together, they opened a bakery in Kensington Market.
Due to landlord conflict and rising rent, Quang was forced to close his Kensington Market location. Returning to the bakery one morning, he found his oven on the sidewalk. Unable to deal with the situation, Quang's business partner accepted a buy-out of the bakery from Quang and returned to China. Quang, however, decided to start over at another location.
He set his sights on what was supposed to become a sushi restaurant on 460 Bloor St. W in the Annex. He bought out the lease from the restaurant owner, unaware that 15-thousand dollars in rent was pending. Luckily, the landlord pursued the previous tenant. 21 years later, Quang continues cooking, baking, even curing ailments and contributing to medical research, from the Bloor St. W Kensington Bakery.
Since 1991, his café has featured a rotating, all-natural, vegetarian and gluten-free menu, dished out as single or combo servings; hot or cold. His decision to appeal to this dietary niche is partly inspired by his overseas business partner, whom is a vegetarian, and their collective pulse on food trends.
Referring to a food and health conference in Toronto 15 years ago, Quang tells me there were 5-thousand celiacs in Toronto at the time. Currently, more than 330-thousand Canadians have celiac disease and rates have nearly doubled in the last 25 years in western countries.
But Quang applies his culinary knowledge beyond cooked, savoury dishes for those with allergies and sensitivities. Low-sodium breads are baked twice a week in-house with no sugar, preservatives and bleach in the flour. And the popularity of his breads are not just with customers. Quang's bread is leavening research and has been doing so for 15-years.
With direction from Dr. Vladimir Vuskan's research team at the University of Toronto, Quang baked bread using Salba (Chia) for a 12-week study. Salba or Chia is a whole food source of dietary fibre. The results of the study were positive. It was found that the addition of whole grains reduced the risk of major and emerging cardiovascular disease risk factors in individuals with well-controlled, type 2 diabetes.
Another study headed by Dr. David Jenkins - popularly known as the "father of the glycemic index" (GI) - tested for how patients with raised LDL cholesterol levels responded to oat bran with psyllium baked breads. Patients also consumed soy, almonds and plant sterols as part of the study's recommended diet. The results are not in yet, but the "viscous" or sticky fibre texture of oats and psyllium are known to help lower cholesterol.
Yet another one of Dr. Jenkins' studies features Quang's canola oil bread with wheat. The objective is to see if replacing carbohydrates with canola oil, a healthy fat, will lower LDL cholesterol and HbA1c levels; the latter of which is a measure for blood sugar. The diabetic patients are also being directed to consume foods that are part of a low and healthy GI diet.
"He [Quang] produced what we thought was the best bread," says Dr. Jenkins, on why Quang was chosen as the baker for the studies.
As the research continues, so does Quang's desire to self-medicate. He looks to those around him to cure common ailments. He tells me how he cured one of his female staff from sharp, menstrual cramps. "Every time cramp she not come to work. That's why I say I have to fix you." And fix her he did with Genuine Health's Green + Daily Essentials supplement and a diet high in vitamins B and C.
I am surprised that Quang knows his employees at such an intimate level, but then he studies me: "You skinny girl, not meat eater. Need iron and vitamin A." He fixes me a glass of fresh, chilled, bright orange carrot juice. As I drink, Quang extols the virtues of vitamin A and how its consumption will help me feel less tired, especially when I menstruate.
Weeks later, I return to Kensington Bakery to take pictures of Quang baking bread. I am in the basement kitchen, behind the scenes. This is the third time we are meeting. Upon every return, Quang relays more vitamin and mineral-rich facts for what truly sounds like the benefit of my sole, healthy-self. And as always, he is ever ready to sit down and launch into discussion. But time for myself is short.
Just as I finish recording a video clip, Quang relays a Chinese Medicine recipe for curing cold hands and feet. The main ingredient: sliced moose horns. He also asks me if I went for a previously suggested blood test, so he can give me recipes that will boost my energy levels.
Just then, I realize that the story of Quang never ends. His passion for food and healthy eating are relentless. He'll never say it, but he is some sort of food-medicine man, ever ready to impart his knowledge if you're ready to listen. And though now past, his desire to persevere in a country that could not have felt like home when he first arrived, is remarkable. He is a true business man with food consciousness at the centre of his being.
But more than this, Quang is a high energy, multi-dimensional, genuine person. It's who he is at heart: Baker, business man, food-medicine man and medical research helper. Say hello and pull up a chair. There's just so much to know about this man, who came to Canada with very little or no money in his pocket and a virtual absence of English on his tongue.