The Revolution of French Bread Baking (part 1)

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by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

Cliquez ici pour la version française.

Translated and adapted by Jonell Galloway

The reinvention of French cuisine: it’s springtime for French cuisine, and it may not all be thanks to French bread bakers, but they are playing a major role

French bread bakers are in the limelight these days, and are considered as much artists as artisans. Marie-Odile Briet recently paid homage to their creativity, unbridled by the French government’s 1993 “bread decree,” defining in very precise terms what could and couldn’t be defined as “bread.” The most illustrious advocates of the art of bread making, which in essence had to be reinvented, were Gontran Cherrier (Paris), Dominique Saibron (Paris), Christophe Vasseur (Paris), Jean-Luc Poujauran (Paris), Basile Kamir (Paris), Eric Kayser (Paris) and Benoît Fradette (Aix-en-Provence).

They merit the name of bread baker, or boulanger, as well as inventors. But we mustn’t leave out the stout-hearted artisans, working quietly in their bakeries in the wee hours of the morning, with no one tooting horns for them, who are nonetheless master bakers. And where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and this is the proof of the true renaissance of the French bread making profession — a renaissance that has spread from a few Parisian arrondissements to the entire country. It is a true phenomenon that has spread its wings far and wide; it is a movement that has started a new chapter in the history of French bread making. In this new paradigm, there is no longer any plausible excuse for bad bread, for flavorless bread, for bread that is too expensive or too anything. The movement is quietly deepening its roots, backed by a history dating back thousands of years, basking in the glow of its established nutritional qualities. But that’s not all: these master bakers are now an integral part of the whole redefinition of French cuisine. Bread is no longer considered a humble food to fill your belly or to sop up your sauce. It is clearly in the public eye.

If you’re interested in this renaissance of French bread, here are a few names you absolutely must know, French bakers in Paris, in the rest of France, and even some ambassadors outside France: Michel Izard (Lannilis, Finistère), Alex Croquet (Wattignies, Nord), Jacques Mahou (Tours, Indre-et-Loire), Nabil Sbaï (Reims, Marne), David Bedu (Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy), Pierre Nury (Loubeyrat, Puy-de-Dôme). (Please note place names are listed by town or city, followed by the département or region, and if the baker works abroad, the country is listed last.)

Pascal Auriat (Laguiole, Aveyron), François Pozzoli (Lyon, Rhône), Christophe Zunic (Reims, Marne), Didier Chouet (Cesson-Sévigné, Ille-et-Vilaine), Roland and Valérie Feuillas (Cucugnan, Aude), Roland Herzog (Muntzenheim, Haut-Rhin).

Dominique Planchot (Saint-Paul-en-Pareds, Vendée), Bernard Ganachaud (Paris), Guy Boulet (Les Essards-Taignevaux, Jura), Christian Vabret (Aurillac, Cantal), Eric Duhamel (Daylesfor, United Kingdom), Pierre Zimmermann (Chicago, U.S.A.).

This is just the beginning of our list, because there are just so many talented bread bakers out there. Others will be listed in the next articles in this series. This does not mean they are not as good, that they are in order from best to lesser. It’s simply because we’ve met these bakers recently, because they are in the process of revolutionizing, like many others, each in their own special way, a way that we would like to investigate: the world of bread baking, or boulangerie. In reality, each of these master artisans has made himself known in the world of bread lovers through his very particular talent, his own well-kept secret for making bread, his noteworthy business sense, his almost frenzied taste for innovation, and sometimes even his true and rare mastery of the interminable, slow process of fermentation. If we are to look at them more closely, it is through this original talent or gift or vision they have offered to the entire world of bread making, and that only they can convey.

Franck Debieu‘s contributions to the world of bread baking are undoubtedly many, but it is perhaps more suitable here to focus on the most original aspects of a project he’s been working on since 2002. This project is distributed among his three bakeries, all called L’Etoile du Berger, in Sceaux, Fontenay aux Roses, and Meudon Bellevue, suburbs just south of Paris. On our visit to the Sceaux bakery on February 22, 2011, we had a long, detailed discussion with Franck that could rightly be placed in the domain of a “coaching” session inside the oven room and the bakery shop extending from the oven premises. It was this experience and the rich exchange of ideas that took place that served as food for thought for this series of articles.

Mathieu Taillasson and Franck Debieu

Part 2 coming soon.

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10 Comments
  • Gregoire Michaud
    April 5, 2011

    It is indeed nice to highlight real bread bakers around France. The same article for bakers around the world trying to inspire and spread the love of good bread would be nice.
    We try to do our part in Hong Kong and it takes a lot of work!

    • Jonell Galloway
      April 5, 2011

      We’re trying to do our part to encourage the renaissance of good bread. How nice to discover a real food French (?) baker in Hong Kong. Jean-Philippe, the author of the article, will be happy to discover you!

      You might be interested in his excellent book, le Dictionnaire Universel du Pain, which came out last October, and does indeed cover bread from around the world.

      I also see you went to EHL hotel management school. We are based in Switzerland, and my daughter will be going to EHL next year.

  • Jean-Philippe de Tonnac
    April 5, 2011

    thanks Gregoire, ye I would like to make this kind of enquiry all around the world and try to meet real good artists bakers. tell me more about your own experience, please.

    • Gregoire
      April 5, 2011

      Oh wow! Monsieur de Tonnac himself – what an honor! 🙂

      Bread was my first love and still is today. My second bakery book will be published in July, the first one being sold out. So far, I published 4 books: 2 on bread, 1 on cheese and 1 on dessert. But of course, my books are nothing like your magnificent Dictionnaire!

      I am working in a hotel with two 3 Michelin stars restaurants in Hong Kong (one French and one Chinese) and we are striving to uphold the values of good bread everyday. Our levain was born in 2005 at the same time the hotel opened and we feed our “baby” ever since! We occasionally do bread classes outside the hotel, but it’s too busy to make it on a regular basis.
      My blog has more info: http://gregoiremichaud.com

      We’re a bunch of bread-obsessed bakers – for the art, for the science and for the passion.

      I am a Swiss national but have been working around the world for 13 years – and right now, Hong Kong is home 🙂
      The last time I saw a picture of you it was with Dan Lepard. We’re in contact from time to time…

      Very nice to be in touch with you!

      @Jonell EHL is a good school – good choice 🙂 I come from Verbier, in Valais: le pays de la raclette!

      • Jonell Galloway
        April 5, 2011

        Yes, very nice to be in touch. We all seem to have lots in common. I do believe I took that picture of Jean-Philippe and Dan Lepard at a reception in Paris, in honor of his Dictionnaire. Now if we could only get it translated into English!

        Where can we find your books?

  • Jean-Philippe de Tonnac
    April 5, 2011

    Many thanks Gregoire for your message and to share so simply your passion for bread. your journey sounds a real interesting experience, and, like Jonell, i will try to find your books. it should be interesting to know how people in Hong Kong taste crusty bread (pain à croûte), which is so particular in the world. thanks too for your compliments. many things have to be done for bread, and so, we do.
    merci Jonell aussi (pouyr la traduction et le commentaire)

  • Gregoire
    April 6, 2011

    Thanks for both of you replies.

    I will keep you posted when my new bread book comes out 🙂

    All the best and long live real bread!

  • Luca Zanardi
    April 13, 2012

    Me , I’m just an homebread maker but with a view of baking personal and pointed to the quality. Hoping someday to be a professionist someway. Reading about the art of bread making in France, I hope to meet some good artist in bread making also here in Italy, I know that there are also here. But for the moment I have not yet met. Now I’m trying to find good ingredients for my experiments.
    As for the one made last week!
    Bread with flour of Monococco/Einkorn (Triticum Monococcum L.)
    A very teasty and rich of flouvoring bread.
    Take a look here to see the results:

    http://theimpertinent.blogspot.it/p/otzis-bread.html

    I think that also the traditional homebread baking it is evolving. What is your opinion ?

  • ts gordon
    April 25, 2012

    I only make one bread, but I’ve made it a thousand different ways since the late 60’s. It is called Tassajara, owing to the Tassajara Bread Book. In those days, there were gurus (hippies mind you) who taught as they traveled about. I only had that one lesson on how to turn the dough. Every flour was stone ground, the organic oats were rolled and you could get lighter molasses. ..Then, there was the period in the 80’s when they discontinued the cake yeast and nothing would really rise. –TODAY, thanks to Msr. Poujauran’s published statements, I realize I never lost the spirit, nor the refinement of taste. I realize, locally, this does carry great responsibility. I hope to ‘surprise,’ but not necessarily to ‘surpass’ the work of any truly trained boulanger. Either way, you will not find a better Avacado sandwich or Peanut butter-backing slice sold in North America.

  • ts gordon
    April 25, 2012

    I only make one bread, but I’ve made it a thousand different ways since the late 60’s. It is called Tassajara, owing to the Tassajara Bread Book. In those days, there were gurus (hippies mind you) who taught as they traveled about. I only had that one lesson on how to turn the dough. Every flour was stone ground, the organic oats were rolled and you could get lighter molasses. ..Then, there was the period in the 80’s when they discontinued the cake yeast and nothing would really rise. –TODAY, thanks to Msr. Poujauran’s published statements, I realize I never lost the spirit, nor the refinement of taste. I realize, locally, this does carry great responsibility. I hope to ‘surprise,’ but not necessarily to ‘surpass’ the work of any truly trained boulanger. Either way, you will not find a better Avacado sandwich or Peanut butter-backing slice ‘sold’ in North America.~ This is the essence of great bread!

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