Tofu is often a staple of a vegetarian diet and it can come in all different shapes and forms. There are big companies in BC that make tofu, but there’s a little one, too, that has been pumping out the soybean based product for 26 years now.
I am a pretty unabashed carnivore, but my wife Ramona likes trying meatless dishes and she ordered a dish that had smoked tofu in it at a restaurant called Noodles of the World in Duncan. She liked the tofu so much we asked about it and found it that it is made at a company called Soya Nova on Salt Spring Island so of course that immediately said to me, Island Artisan so I made a phone call and hopped on the ferry to Salt Spring and found my way to Soya Nova…
It’s a good thing I did talk to owner Debbie Lauzon before I left since there is no sign at the factory, the one in the picture above is on the actual shop, you just have to know the address and turn in off the road. Soya Nova is a collection of small buildings that house not only Debbie’s home, but the commercial kitchen where the tofu is made and a room dedicated to creating the smoked tofu. We watched as Debbie’s son was working away in the steamy kitchen and she explained to me the tofu-making process: “You have to soak the beans, the grind them into a slurry, then cook them, and press out the milk. Then we use a natural coagulating product found in the Sea of Japan and press the milk for 40 minutes and then it becomes tofu! We slice it and put it in water and label it and out the door it goes.”
It is a labour-intensive process all done by hand in an open-cauldron slow-cooked method, and Debbie pointed out that you can go into any tofu factory and probably find a slightly different method. Debbie first started making tofu about 26 years ago when she was living on Mayne Island, and as a vegetarian you couldn’t just go down to the corner store and buy tofu, so she started making it, having learned a bit about it in California…she says she was definitely a flower child back then, but her father called her a ‘blooming idiot’.
Debbie says she was the first person to manufacture smoked tofu in B.C., and she owes it all to someone who brought her a gift of smoked tofu from Germany. She tried it, liked it, and thought she could probably make it here. She brined some, took it to a big seafood smoker in Sidney, BC, and when she tasted the results she knew she had a winner. First she had a company on Salt Spring do the smoking, then she did it at her own smokehouse, pictured on the left. But it required a lot of tending to keep the smoke going.
Now she uses the very fancy smoker pictured here which monitors the smoking temperature and automatically feeds it with wood when needed. It’s natural smoke from BC wood certified for food use, no artificial liquid smoke.
Debbie Lauzon’s favourite smoked tofu dish? A sandwich with her homemade pickles.
Soya Nova has now become a family business, with all three of her children now shareholders and even her grandson folding labels in the shop last summer. She uses about 12 to 15 tons of soybeans every year and she’s trying to convince some local farmers to grow organic soybeans for her. I’d say the business has been pretty good to her, especially since she never even thought of doing it as a business at first until her neighbours created a demand, and then she went a little further afield, by selling her tofu on other Gulf Islands, using the then-free interisland ferries to move between farmers markets on the weekends.
Her big break came when her mother gave her $300 to buy a Vita-Mix blender so she could grind soybeans more efficiently. That grinder is long gone but the business is still thriving.
When she first started the business it was called Supernatural Tofu. But that was just when good old Bill Vanderzalm was pumping Supernatural BC…and she didn’t want there to be any political affiliations between her tofu and the BC Government of the day, so she changed it to Soya Nova, Nova being her daughter’s name. That’s soy nice, isn’t it?