Sarah Woods and Luca Molteni
Owners of The Barn Chefs
Coe Hill, Ontario, Wollaston Township, Hastings County
They’ve worked in fabulous resorts in world-class cities. So why are Sarah Woods and Luca Molteni now honing their culinary craft in Coe Hill, a tiny hamlet in Hastings County, just off Highway 62? Because they love the region, of course. And the region has good reason to love them back.
Woods and Molteni own The Barn Chefs, which, as their website states, offers a slice of Italy in Coe Hill with cold cut meats, custom cakes, breads, chocolates and cheeses. The couple say they create their products with passion and a focus on natural ingredients.
Sarah started cooking as a teenager in Oshawa. She attended George Brown College in Toronto to study Italian cuisine. This opportunity allowed her to work in Italy, where she met Luca, a chef who had learned his craft working in his parents’ hotel in Como, Italy, as well as kitchens in France, England and Germany. They would go on to work in places around the globe, before adopting a child and moving their family to Coe Hill. Here, Sarah explains their journey and why the Ontario’s Highlands region is a great place to live and visit.
You and Luca are both world travelers who have lived very interesting lives. How did you end up owning a business in Coe Hill of all places?
The first two years (of our relationship) we lived in different countries, then Luca was offered an executive chef job at The Sheraton in Bahrain at 20 years old; it was a great opportunity. I was working at The Estates of Sunnybrooke catering and Duffet pastries in Toronto. I packed a bag and moved to Bahrain for a year; from then we moved to Canauon Island (in St. Vincent and The Grenadines) then back to Italy for six years of (working with) hotels and restaurants from Como to Sicily. We then did international consulting for a few years in the Caribbean, Bahrain and India. Then Luca received a contract for Shangri La hotels in China. We spent a few years in Southern China, then a year in Hong Kong, then finally a move to Kenya where we stayed put for five years before moving to Canada to open our own business.
What an incredible mix of places! After working in places around the world, you’ve chosen to run a business in a very rural region, so there must be something special about this area. What do you love about Coe Hill and the Ontario’s Highlands region in general?
Luca loves fishing and I like to walk. We were tired of big cities and we sure have lived in enough of them so we had no desire to live in a big city again. We had a property in the area where we would come in the winter on our holiday and mainly go ice fishing. Coe Hill seemed like the ideal town – away from the city and there was a school, park and a public beach all two minutes away.
It’s clear that you take pride in the products you offer. Your website mentions that “nothing funny” goes into your meats and that a cake must “look great, and taste great, too.” Tell me more about the personal touch you bring to your business. Was it your hope to bring the skills and knowledge you’ve gained around the world back to this rural community?
Yes, we only use organic and natural ingredients, no additives or preservatives. Quality and taste have always been part of our cuisine. Everything is made by hand from our pizza crust to our cured meats and Italian gelato.
We believe that we offer something unique since all our items are made in house the old way and the few that are brought in from Italy are from Luca’s family, like our olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Wow, a truly personal touch. Why did you name your business The Barn Chefs?
Originally our shop was to be set up in an old barn but immigration and adoption took much longer than we thought, so we built the shop on our property in Coe Hill. We purchased the house online, unseen from Kenya, hoping there wouldn’t be any wallpaper only to find a house full of it.
Speaking of adoption, can you tell me more about your son, Matayo? Does he help with the family business?
My first year in Kenya I spent volunteering full time at a children’s home, which happened to be five minutes away from work and home. We wanted to adopt a few kids since we didn’t have children of our own but we were lucky to finally adopt Matayo after many years and struggles. He is only six now so not working yet, but hopefully in the future. He likes to make bread and coffee sometimes.
Our connection to Kenya continues from Canada where we support a group of women who live in the slums of Kibera. We sell jewelry made by them in our store and 100 per cent of the profits go back to them. We also have a small non-profit providing shoes to children in Kenya.
That’s really incredible and something you might not expect before visiting your store. Is there anything else you would like visitors to Ontario’s Highlands to know about your business?
We are not a restaurant but a shop full of handmade quality food. We make over 300 products in our little shop from fresh pasta, bread, bacon, cheesecake, chocolates and much more.
We open in the first week of March; we’re always closed in January and February since it is the slow season and it gives us a chance to get away and recharge for the next year with new items to add to our little shop.
May to October is a great time to come and enjoy our Friday pizza day, with pizzas made in our outdoor wood oven — also handmade by Luca — where you can enjoy an Italian pizza just as good as you would find in Italy. We only make 100 every week and they get booked up quick so better to reserve. We also make homemade Italian gelato from May to October and custom chocolates and gift baskets to order for Christmas.
When you come to The Barn Chefs we offer handmade quality food made with passion. If it is your first time in the shop, make sure to let us know so you can sample some of our products.