Food Informants: A Week In The Life Of Sarah Allman, Pastry Chef At A Diamond Mine

A Week In The Life Of A Diamond Mine Pastry Chef

Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.

Sarah Allman has been baking in her own kitchen, bakeries and high-end restaurants for the past 12 years. A native of Peterborough, Ontario (an hour outside of Toronto), she developed her passion for baking at a young age, unknowingly apprenticing with her great grandmother at the age of eight.

In February, she left her job at a bakery five kilometers from her home to bake her wares over 3500 km away, at Diavik Diamond Mine, 200 km from the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. The only thing she loves more than being in the kitchen is being with her four kids, which is why she took the job with the longer commute. She works a two-week rotation at the Diamond Mine, which allow her to spend two work-free weeks with her kids every month. When she worked at the bakery she was starting her day at 7am and on Saturdays -- this left only one full day with her kids.

Working at Diavik for Bouwa Whee Catering, she continues to be a mom at home and it extends to her work family at the mine, who love her baked goods and eat more than their share. Her peanut butter brownie cups have become a mine favorite, to the point that workers stock up before they head home.

Read more about how Sarah keeps so many diamond miners fed.

Wednesday June 12

6:30am: Wake up abruptly because I think I have slept through my alarm that is set for 7am. Today I leave for another two-week work rotation. When I realize I am good, I take the time to lay a little while longer and sort out my day. First I check my email and then I update my status on Facebook, last I check Instagram @northernsugarchef. I also check the weather, at home its already 19°C (66°F) and beautiful and sunny. Now check what it's like at work. Today low of 4°C (39°F) high of 12°C (54°F). Not so bad but I notice the long term forecast is calling for snow on June 21st. Can't leave the winter coat behind quite yet.

7:00am: Alarm goes off, it's time to get Macy and Elliott up. I won't see them for two weeks so we all linger getting up, no one really wants to start the day. I said my goodbyes to my two oldest Ben and Riley last night over a farewell feast.

8:25am: Walk to local farmers' market with kids to get cabbage rolls and pierogies for their lunch from our favorite vendor Taste of Russia.

8:50am: Say my goodbyes and see them off to school. They double check when I will be home again. I keep my composure until they ride away on their bikes. This part never gets any easier.

11:05am: Pack up all my stuff, it seems last minute (bus leaves at 12:06pm) but I have found if I pack to early I second guess myself and end up checking and double checking what I packed.


12:05am: On the GO bus from Peterborough to Pickering. This is my first leg of my 3500km journey to work.

12:20am: I realize I forgot to feed the kids breakfast. We were so excited to go to the market. Oops!

12:51am: Get a Facebook message from Wendell, one of the other bakers I work with. He is already at work and he is giving me updates on what's going on and what to expect when I arrive. I use Facebook to stay in touch with a lot of people from work.

2:20pm: Transfer from bus to the train to get me to Toronto for lunch with a great friend who is a sports and culture writer. Over lunch we discuss updates he needs me to do to his web site ) In turn I get his help with writing my bio.

5:28pm: All checked in to Toronto airport and decide to grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine, it will be my last glass for two weeks. I find a seat at the bar and order a mediocre glass of red. I meet Phil a chatty man on his way to visit his daughter in Holland. I picked a good seat today. He was very entertaining, which makes the time fly by while waiting. I am a talker and I found the best way to put in time is to talk to strangers. He was funny he didn't have his glasses and read the time wrong on his boarding pass. He asked me for help and when I told him he was to be boarding immediately he chugged his beer and ran.

6:25pm: Boarding WestJet flight 669 to Calgary, Alberta. The flight is packed and there is no inflight TV's available. Of course I never get seated next to the half dozen or so cute guys that look like they are having fun. No! I get seated next to a woman who for some strange reason would not stand up to let me get into my window seat. So I am forced to climb over her and her oversized bag that she is clenching for dear life. The dude in the aisle seat is clearly panicked and breathing like this is his last flight. I hope he doesn't know something I don't.

11:05pm: I land in Calgary and two hours is removed from my clock. It is now 9:05pm local time.

10:30pm: I board the plane to Edmonton. This time I am seated with a group of students whom two are right behind me with industrial sized barf bags over their faces and we haven't even taken off yet. Throughout the short 40min flight I endured a disturbing duet of coughing, heavy breathing, big sighs and the constant sound of projectile vomiting and sloshing plastic. During the entire flight we experienced pretty bad turbulence. Later I found out a tornado touched down in Edmonton. To my surprise I was more concerned with the girls behind me and one of them missing the bag and a violent explosion of barf hitting me. As others were white knuckling it through the major turbulence I was fixated on what was happening behind me.

11:55pm: I have retrieved my luggage and now I need to find a bench to lay my head until 5am when I have to check in for my next flight that takes me north to work.

Thursday June 13

2:33am: Fire alarm at the airport has gone off. I pack up my stuff and head to the closest exit only to be greeted by a friendly maintenance guy who assured me it was a false alarm and handed me as set of ear plugs. Back to my bench I go. By the way, sleeping in airports is not all that uncommon. I found a website that describes all the ins and outs to sleeping in airports around the world.

5:15am: I awake from my less than sound sleep at Edmonton International Airport and check into Canadian North. This is the last leg of my travels. Everyone in line are all familiar with one another -- we are all on the same chartered flight to go to work and put in our two weeks in camp. The greetings and questions are always the same. "Good morning," "How was your time out?" "How long you in for this round?" If you were an outsider listening in you would think we were being shipped off to prison.

8:45am: Arrive on site at Diavik Diamond Mine. As you can see in the picture below I really do work in the middle of nowhere.


9:15am: Grab a coffee and an orange and head to the dining room while I wait for my luggage to arrive. I am not even on site 30 minute and requests for pastries are flowing in. Blueberry white chocolate scones, peanut butter cups, cookies...I take it as a compliment; I am missed when I am gone.


10:05am: Get to my room unpack, have a shower and then time for some sleep before I start my shift at 8pm.

5:00pm: I wake up. I go online and book my next round of flights. I notice the prices going up because of summer holiday travelers. I book all my flights from now until the end of August. I am in charge of booking my own travel from Toronto to Edmonton.

6:00pm: My alarm goes off and I make my way down for dinner. I am not feeling very hungry tonight. I load up on snow peas and they are cooked perfectly. I try some beef stir fry, a little too saucy for my liking. There is nothing jumping out at me at the salad station. I wish they had an actual salad bar to build your own salad. I go for some hummus and pita chips, they were tasty and hit the spot.

8:00pm: I arrive at our nightly toolbox meeting and am welcomed back by my fellow crew members. We again share what we did on our time out and update one another on what's happening in camp.

8:30pm: It's time to head to the bakery and get started. My first night back is always a little crazy. I have to see where things have been left and kind of play catch up to get things rolling the way I like. So I plan out my night. I start simple, see whats been left and use up what I can is the first thing.

9:00pm: I plan out my night and what I am going to bake. This is a light night, until I get myself organized.
•Rice Krispie Squares 4 Sheets
•Banana Bread 35 loaves
•Danish (cherry) 6 dozen
•Butter tarts 240
•Pecan squares
•Chocolate Chip Cookies 600
•Blueberry 12dozen
•Bran 12dozen
•Lemon muffin 12dozen
•Granola Bars
•Peanut Butter Krispie Clusters about 200

9:45pm: My night is underway, across from me is Wendell who is working away at making bread. He was away my last rotation on holidays, so now I get to hear all about his adventure to Vietnam. As I mix muffins, I listen to his stories. He has me laughing so hard I swear I am going to wet my pants. It makes the night fly by, it hardly seems like a 12-hour shift.

10:30pm: Check to see what came in on the freight order that arrived today. We get groceries once a week flown in on a Hercules airplane. So if what you ordered doesn't come in you have to make do with what you have. We are normally pretty stocked up on stuff but sometimes things get forgotten. It's not like you can jump in the car and run to the local grocery store. The only way off the island is by plane or unless it is dead winter and the ice highway is open then it's a 16-hour truck ride across land and ice to get to Yellowknife. If you want to learn more check out the show Ice Road Truckers.

Friday, June 13

12:10am: It's time for break. This is the first time I really get to sit down with the rest of the night shift and get caught up. We all have some pretty good laughs together. Over the next two weeks this is my family away from home.

12:30am: I am still amazed that after midnight it is still light outside. We are only 200km from the Arctic Circle and it is now 24 hours of day light.


3:00am: It's time to stock my pastry cabinets before everyone starts arriving for breakfast. Along with breakfast, everyone packs their lunch for the day so the cabinet gets cleaned out pretty quick in the morning. There are on average 600 people eating three meals a day here. I roughly have to bake about 1500 treats a night plus cookies and plated desserts. Unlike a retail bakery where you bake pretty much the same thing every day because your clients are different, here we have to bake new things every day because the clients are the same. My biggest challenge is keeping things new. The BEST part about my job though, it's like having my very own test kitchen. I get to decide what I bake and I have fun trying out new stuff all the time. I am hell bent on making the New York craze "cronuts" and my popcorn chocolate chips cookies are always appreciated by all.

8:00am: My night is done, 12 hours and I am beat. I am going to sit for a minute and have breakfast. Pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit. Then it's off to shower and go to bed. At least I only have 30 steps to walk to my room.

12:11pm: I can't sleep, my thoughts are consumed by what I am going to bake tonight. I am thinking about cookies. I stick to the classics of course but I like to mix it up a little. As I think about recipes and new ideas, it comes to me...I jump out of bed and jot my idea down. Maple bacon chocolate chip cookies. Bacon seems so de rigueur these days so why not in cookies? What better way to wish all the dads in camp a happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 14

6:00pm: It's time to get up and I think I will try out the walking trail around the building, it's a beautiful day. Unfortunately there are not many opportunities to get outside when at work so I plan to take full advantage of it while I can. One thing to be aware of though is the wildlife. There have been many sightings of grizzly bears around camp. Never in a million years would I have thought I would have to worry about bears as a pastry chef.

9:30pm: A gentleman stops by the bakery to tell me how wonderful my dessert cups are. He jokingly tells me I have to stop making such yummy treats because his pants are starting to not fit.


Sunday, June 15

4:00am: Happy Fathers Day! The breakfast crowd are starting to make their way down to eat. My Ultimate Man Cookie -- maple bacon chocolate chip -- is ready to be tested out. I will admit there is some skepticism as I assure them they are worth a try. My cookies are not flying off the shelves as I had hoped.


8:00am: Word is spreading through camp about the cookies. Now I can't keep the tray filled.

10:00am: Go to bed.

6:00pm: I arrive in the dining room for dinner and to my surprise not a single maple bacon cookie left. They were a huge hit.

Monday, June 16

8:00pm: About to start work. I had a hard time sleeping today. I am tired. Also I am feeling a little glum. It seems to happen after a couple days in camp, once I get settled in I start to miss home. I call home and talk to the kids. They are getting excited that school is almost done. I tell them about the bears and my cookies. They love the idea of bacon and tell me I have to make them as soon as I get home.

Tuesday, June 17

5:00am: Make sure I have extra treats made today. It's flight day which means a major shift change as one crew leaves a new one comes in. It's fun to see people enjoy my treats enough to want to take a few home to share.

Wednesday, June 18

When you work and live in camp, one day sort of runs into the next. It's like the movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. You wake up and re-live the same day over and over. Okay it's not quite that bad but you do see the same people day in and day out and it can get pretty routine. It's not like you have the weekend to look forward to like in a Monday to Friday job. It is very easy to forget what day it is all together.

Thursday, June 19

5:47am: Wendell asks, "What are you making? Other than a mess" as he shook his head at me because I attempted to make a double batch of muffin batter only to find out once it was too late that the bowl was not quite big enough. The batter sloshed over the sides and on the floor. It's only day seven of my two-week rotation, silly blunders like this normally happen closer to the end.


7:00am: Wendell goes home and I have my general helper Rosie back in the kitchen with me. I love her company, we laugh and tell stories all night and when the time is right I put on her favorite song, Rapper's Delight. I am guaranteed a laugh as she dances around the bakery singing. She only knows half the words and makes up the rest. There are nights we get laughing so hard we have tears running down our face. It makes it hardly seem like work sometimes. I have to say I work with some pretty fantastic people here.

8:00pm: Tonight I am on bread detail. I normally stick to pastries, cookies, cakes, you know all the sugary sweet stuff. However we're short a baker so I have to make bread tonight as well as help direct Rosie by mixing batters and dough and have her scoop and tray what I get ready. It's a team effort.

11:00pm: Just finished panning my bread to go into the proofer. Tonight I made just over 100 loaves, next I will make 360 plain and cheese buns.


Friday, June 20

3:00am: The sun is rising and it is beautiful.


Saturday, June 21

10:00pm: Our new baker started tonight and I am pleased that he has taken over the bread. I love baking bread but you can only get so creative with it. Give me sugar and chocolate to play with and I am a happy girl.

10:59pm: It is the summer solstice -- the longest day of the year. The sun is still holding on the horizon. It is pretty cool to experience this for the first time. Now the opposite happens in the winter almost 24 hours of darkness and bitter cold unlike anything I have experienced, -54°C (-65.2°F) is not out of the ordinary.

11:30pm: I am more then settled in so I am going to make a camp favorite. Raspberry flakies, made with puff pastry. They can't get enough of these messy little morsels of goodness. Every time I make these, all I can imagine is a big burly bearded miner sitting on his lunch break eating this delicate flaky pastry and bits all down the front of him.


Monday, June 24

2:00am: Last time I was in camp I made a berry oat bar. It was kind of a throw together thing as I try my hardest to embrace healthy baking for those who want a treat without all the sin. Well low and behold they were a big hit. So now I am challenged to recreate them. I have an abundance of ripe bananas so I decide to make a banana nut energy bar. The results are delicious.


Tuesday, June 25

8:00pm: Just when I was getting excited to go home. I was asked to stay an extra week. I took on the extra work because I know we are short staff due to summer holidays.

8:35pm: Call home and break the news to the kids that I won't be home in two days but rather nine. They are a little disappointed but understand. I have the best kids in the whole world. Now my countdown to being home starts again.

This is how my work rotation adds up: I will have worked 12 hours a day for 21 straight days. Commuted approximately 7000km round trip that will consist of 5 flights. I will have made upwards to 25,000 bars, squares and pastries, over 12,000 cookies and according to my pedometer I will have walked 126 miles (12,000 steps per day). All in all I have a pretty cool job up here in the north.


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