Suresh: La Rosa Chilena is a really tiny convenience store and bakery on Wilson Avenue. As soon as you step through the narrow entrance, you’re greeted with this wonderful aromas of baked sweets. You can even see the kitchen and this massive oven right in front of you.
Over the years I’ve come to know Octavio and Magaly Farias, the couple that run the bakery, along with the Chilean restaurant of the same name a few doors down. They’re joined by their two sons, Christian and Jesse.
I’ve come to understand that food is a life-long labour of love in this family.
Ismaila: How so?
Suresh: Christian shared the family history with me. His parents were very successful back home in Valparaiso, Chile, where they operated five different food businesses in one strip. But because of the violence in the city during the mid-1980s, they left and came to Canada.
They opened La Rosa Chilena in 1995, in the space of a former wholesale Italian bakery.
Those owners couldn’t remove the oven because the space was built around it. So Octavio inherited it, and he started making Chilean breads like hallullas, a popular sandwich bread.
He also makes Chilean empanadas. They’re very large, there’s a vegetarian version and there’s one stuffed with beef and olives.
Ismaila: Sounds delicious. But you know I’ve got a sweet tooth….
Suresh: Well this is the place for you. There are about a dozen or so sweet pastries, and they’re all very good. But I want to focus on a few.
There is this one pastry called the milhojas, which is a stacked dessert, which essentially translates to ‘a thousand sheets.’ It’s made with sheets of really thin puff pastry and it is slathered with dulce de leche and coated in icing sugar. It’s this beautifully crisp pastry that crumbles so easily when you bite into it, and you get that richness from the dulce de leche. It is quite a treat.
Ismaila: Just hearing about this is making my stomach smile.
Suresh: There are also alfajores, which are another traditional confection with dulce de leche that is common throughout Latin America. Picture two cookies made with orange zest and orange juice in the egg-based dough. And it sandwiches a thick layer of dulce de leche, and then its coated with coconut shavings. It is rich.
Ismaila: What’s your favourite thing on the menu?
Suresh: My favourite treat here is the Brazo de Reina, which is this wonderful rolled sponge cake. It’s a thin sheet of cake that gets a coat of dulce de leche, and then it’s rolled up and dusted with icing sugar and coconut flakes. I love it because of how delicate the cake is here, and it’s not overly sweet. This is classically a cake that is eaten around tea time in Chile.You can grab a slice of it, or the entire log.
Ismaila: This bakery has been around for over 25 years. How are they faring through the pandemic?
Suresh: Christian told me that Magaly closed down the restaurant during COVID, which is really unfortunate because this is a wonderful little place. But the family decided to focus on the store and bakery. So now you’ll find Octavio, Magaly, Christian and Jesse running the shop there.
There’s some uncertainty as to what is going to happen to the restaurant. And whenever I speak to Octavia, he always threatens me, jokingly, that he’s going to retire soon and close the bakery. I don’t want to hear that!
I asked Christian how he felt about this and he said that his parents need a break, they haven’t taken a day off in years. But when they decide to do so, Christian and his brother Jesse plan to continue their legacy—at least keep the bakery and the store thriving.
Please visit them. This is a really special bakery for me. It is a cornerstone in our food culture in the city.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.