Toronto chef laid off from restaurant starts his own strudel business
A Toronto chef de cuisine who lost his job during the COVID lockdowns is now paying homage to his German heritage, his family and using his extensive restaurant experience to run his own strudel business.
Ben Begero of Strudel Dude has worked at restaurants C5, Gladstone Hotel, Barsa Taberna and Byblos, and helped open the Drake Commissary, where the robust baking program rekindled his love of pastry that began long ago.
Begero grew up in the town of Bammental near Heidelberg in Germany, where his parents cooked most of his meals, though he spent some summers with an aunt and uncle who owned a bakery an hour south in Karlsruhe where he'd babysit and help out.
"This is where my love for sweet things became apparent," Begero tells blogTO. "Apfelstrudel is something that my dad would make for dinner every couple of months."
"The combination of flaky pastry, warm apples and delicious vanilla sauce fascinated me. Maybe I knew then that this was something truly special."
In early 2020, Begero's father died in Germany.
"Not being able to attend the funeral due to COVID was incredibly difficult," Begero says. "I like to think he would be very proud to see that I'm continuing the strudel tradition of our family."
That year dealt Begero another blow when he lost his position as chef de cuisine at Sapori. He decided that starting his own business, Strudel Dude, would be the best way to showcase his talents and keep him happy.
As he was experimenting with recipes and techniques, he stumbled across a cookbook his grandfather had given him 20 years before, and the strudel recipes he found there form the basis of the Strudel Dude line.
Begero's strudels are inspired by Austrian and Hungarian styles, with dough stretched paper thin by hand and filled with a semi-sweet mixture of almonds, raisins and apples and then paired with a creme anglaise. Each strudel is brushed in butter, coated in cinnamon sugar, and dusted with icing sugar.
Many other strudels are made with unstretched puff pastry and pre-cooked apples thickened with cornstarch and carageenan. There's a demand for a high-quality strudel in Toronto, especially in a somewhat unexpected place: the Brazilian community, which Begero has a connection to through his partner, Ariadna.
"There was a huge demand for strudel in this community due to the German expats who settled in the south of Brazil after World War II," says Begero.
His strudel is available through Brazilian Market Online, Beast Bodega, Grow, Gather & Co. and Schmaltz Appetizing. You can also order directly from Begero through the link in the Strudel Dude Instagram bio or on their Facebook Messenger for a $5 local delivery fee, or you can do a pick-up from Milou, where he's baking.
Begero plans to create more flavours of strudel in the future highlighting local, seasonal ingredients like Ontario sour cherry, wild Quebec blueberry, poppyseed and fig, and peach.
Other ambitions include putting together baskets with his products and those of local producers, and maybe even getting some kind of home delivery dinner service up and running. He may have gone over to the sweet side for now, but he's itching to get back to savoury.
"I'm currently only able to cook for myself and my partner, who loves this situation," Bergero says. "She is definitely benefitting from my need to cook awesome food."
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