THE BEST BAGEL IN THE WORLD IS 100 YEARS OLD!
All kinds of bagel: sesame seed, poppy seed, plain, caraway seed, onion, garlic, all-dressed, mueslix, flax seeds, power bagel, whole wheat, multi-grain, blueberry, chocolate, cinnamon and raisin, pumpernickel, sweet, bozo, bagel chips and mini bagel.
Other products: New York style pretzels, Matzoh bread.
Good to know: the word “bagel” comes from the Yiddish beygl, which has no plural form.
Isadore Shlafman arrived in Montreal with his wife in 1919, during the wave of emigration that followed the Russian Revolution. “People were fleeing to the nearest port cities, and boarded the first ship that would welcome them and take them to the New World,” says Irwin Shlafman, Isadore’s grandson and current co-owner of Fairmount Bagel, with his sister Rhonda. As fate would have it, they disembarked in Montreal, flat broke. As young Isadore had been a baker in Kiev, he resumed his trade here, setting up shop in an alleyway behind “The Main” (Saint-Laurent Boulevard) a stone’s throw from Schwartz’s. At the same time as the Montreal Bagel Bakery opened, a new symbol was born that would set our city apart and still exists today: Montreal, bagel capital of North America. Montrealers quickly adopted this delicious round bread with a hole in the middle, rolled by hand and baked in a wood oven.
Isadore Shlafman later moved to Fairmount Street, where the bakery still stands, now bearing the Fairmount Bagel name. “He demolished the back wall of the family’s living room, built a wood-burning oven, and moved upstairs with my grandmother, my father Jack and his sisters. In 1950, Jack took over.” Since then, nothing has changed in the way the beygl is made, nor in the recipe, except for two things: the current bagel weighs 85 grams (as opposed to 60 grams) and no salt has been added since the 1970s, giving in to the anti-salt trend in those days.
They created new varieties of these round rolls, at the request of a restaurant that only had a short life: “Nifty’s” (which occupied the premises of the defunct “Miss Montreal” and whose menu featured only bagel, prepared in all sorts of ways). The restaurant closed down, but Fairmount Bagel carried on making these new combinations, continuing to make the “original” sesame seed bagel, of course, which remains their best-selling bagel to this day.
Naturally, Irwin learned his trade on the job, the same way his father Jack had learned. It’s quite an art to make an Isadore-style bagel. He estimates that it takes six to eight weeks to master the art of rolling a bagel, and then you can start working with the wood oven.
When Isadore arrived in Montreal, he had only ever worked as a beygl maker. The rest came naturally; it was what he did to earn a living for himself and his family.
To understand the place of the beygl in history, let’s take a trip back in time. First, there’s the legend. It seems that a Jewish baker from Vienna invented a small bread roll in the shape of a stirrup, to offer to the king of Poland (a horse-riding enthusiast), who had lent support to Austria against the Turkish invaders. From an apparently more reliable source, the word bajgiel is said to have first appeared around 1610 in Krakow. These little round rolls were intended for babies who were teething. Fairmount Bagel also makes small sweet bagels that are just like these products.
The heat produced by the wood-burning oven. Working conditions can be harsh.
A few years ago, three daily papers (in Montreal, Toronto and New York) organized a blind taste test for the “Best Bagel.” Each paper appointed two reporters to sit on the jury. Five out of six reporters voted for Fairmount Bagel, including a well-known Montreal Gazette reporter who was used to stocking up at another Montreal bakery!
“My grandfather, without a shadow of a doubt, who continues to inspire us every day,” Irwin says.
For 100 years, the mixing, dough rolling and temperature controlling have all been done using “the Isadore method,” a method that is nevertheless the hardest, most demanding and takes time, but that’s how the owners want it. “No new technology has been included in our methods. We make a thousand dozen per day, manually. Our goal has never been to make money, but to make the best bagel for the community.”
Make the best bagel, in a responsible and sustainable way. “As a business leader, my mission is to preserve this beautiful tradition of bagel making that people appreciate, while respecting the environment. Simple!”
“During the ice storm in 1998, we got ourselves a generator that allowed us to run our mixers and keep the bakery operating. We gave out our products on a large scale to the hundreds of workers and volunteers who were dedicated to helping the people. It was wonderful to feel so useful.”
A salad of sprouts, a grilled caraway seed bagel and olive oil, sprinkled with cayenne pepper. As you may have noticed, Irwin is a vegetarian.
ENFANT TERRIBLE SINCE 2008
Web site: fairmountbagel.com
Each month, we feature one of our suppliers, a local producer with whom we are proud and happy to work with.
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