A Tale of Two Bakers

After a BodyAttack (death) class at Club Med Gym, I decided to treat myself to some terrace time in the city. I'd brought my Costa Rica guide book and figured that I could map our vacation route while enjoying un café and maybe some other yummy things.  I'd earned it.

I chose Chambelland's terrace, the little gluten-free bakery in the picture-perfect Popincourt village. I love their chambellines, which are beautiful, thick breads with fleur d'oranger and sugar on top.  Children kicked soccer balls against the closed storefronts while their parents ate, and I enjoyed a jambon de bayonne sandwich with a fresh citronnade.  Two women chatted next to me and shortly thereafter, a man in a white jacket, who could only be the boulanger asked to share their table with his guest, an older gentleman, "from Washington".

My ears perked when I heard mention of the states, and then of course, they spoke in English and my ears perked some more. I tried to read my guidebook and take notes,  but it was impossible not to listen to their conversation - I was enthralled.  A quick Google search  (thank you Iphone!) confirmed that these were two great boulangers - bakers - and that they both loved bread.  The American was Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst Bakery, and the Frenchman, Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, co-owner of the boulangerie Chambelland.

They talked about flour mills (Teffri-Chambelland has a gluten-free mill!), boulangerie schools (read about Chambelland's here), French vs American hiring practices and intricacies (nope, you can't fire someone for putting too much salt in the bread...), workers rights and contracts (nope, you can't break a contract without following a major procédure in France).  The French baker revealed that real bakers are hard to come by in this country,  the American talked about the sales of his breads at Whole Foods. It was fascinating.

And now I kind of want to be a baker.

I loved Teffri-Chambelland's English, full of faux-amis (French words that sound like the English word, but don't mean the same thing), and his French outlook on his future projets. I loved Furstenberg's enthusiasm despite his age (he started making bread after the age of 50!), his request to meet Teffri-Chambelland's children who were in the neighborhood, his own son, François being French, too.

Part of me wanted to say hello, but the French side of me stopped myself. That would be intrusive. The American side of me won for the blog - how could I not tell this story? Two bakers meet in Paris, talk about bread and the future of the almighty boulangerie. One lives in a country where bread is a staple in almost all households; the prix du pain (cost of bread) is listed at every grocery store and the government awards the best baker every year.  He goes against the grain (literally!), opening a gluten-free bakery in the land of the baguette tradition. But it's hard to have a small business in France, the rules are strict and workers have the upper hand. The other comes from Wonderbread-land, where buying daily bread with an amazing thick crust is not culturally the done thing. People buy pre-cut loaves that come in plastic and last the week, costing 1/3 the price of a fresh pain au levain.. But hiring practices are more flexible,  employers rule the roost.   Such different worlds!

And the conversation ended there, or at least the part that I got to hear, as Teffri-Chambelland lead Furstenberg into his laboratory in his petit 60 meters squared bakery in Paris.

For the love of bread.

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