fraisier (a fresh strawberry cake) in December, we explain why it can't be done. Our sandwiches and other snack food follow the seasons as well. We offer thick vegetable pies in the fall when varietal diversity is at its peak. As soon as tomato season is over in France, grated raw root vegetables (carrots, beets) or céleri rémoulade (grated celeriac in a mustardy mayo dressing) replace tomato slices in our sandwiches. New customers are baffled. We explain. That's when consumer education happens. Some will never learn, they go elsewhere. Most stay. We have lots of students, many families, old people who are the pillars of our community. Some come three or four times a day: for croissants in the morning, for a salad or a quiche at lunch, for bread at any time." Listening to Guillaume (who, while talking to me non-stop in the bakery's kitchen, is also hand-mixing mayonnaise and chopping and grating vegetables for salads and sandwiches), I feel a sudden longing for a life where I too might be able to stop four times a day by my neighborhood bakery...
The bakery gets its flour from Moulin Trottin, a mill whose owner largely shares Guillaume's outlook on territoriality and the environment: the flours Guillaume buys from him are all French and all organic. He shuns such exotic grains as kamut and quinoa: "They come from too far away. Using these flours makes no sense economically-, biologically- or environmentally-speaking. So we do without. Besides wheat, the flour we use the most is petit-épeautre, also called engrain (emmer). Grown in central France (the one from Provence is too expensive) and rich in minerals, it is redolent of our terroir français. Since it is low in gluten and absorbs a lot of water, we have developed a special formula and technique to make the best possible use of its characteristics and to showcase its unique flavor. It is quite popular with our customers."
I ask about dried fruit and nuts. "We buy organic French walnuts. I'd love to buy French hazelnuts as well but we just don't produce enough. The best hazelnuts come from Italy. Unfortunately ninety percent of Italian hazelnuts are gobbled up by a huge industrial confectioner. " He shakes his head: "And that's how the best hazelnuts in the world end up in the worst candy in the world. " He looks dejected for a minute but he soon brightens up: "Right now I am looking for a producer of AOC chestnut flour in Corsica but this year's crop isn't completely in yet. I have to wait. Meanwhile I use the Markal brand. My rule is to go as close to home as possible to buy the best I can find: almonds from Spain, hazelnuts, figs and apricots from Turkey."
Montaigu, a conventional AOC butter from Charentes-Poitou.
Suat Adiyaman, Luc Poggio and Guillaume Viard
Roullos made with rolled out tradibio dough smothered with organic ham and cheese
sometimes made instead with julienned veggies or shredded chicken and cheese
Guillaume met Luc at La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc, an organic bakery which, sadly, is no longer in existence (I remember visiting it a few years ago and being awed by the diversity and flavor of the offerings). (For a picture of Guillaume in front of Mauclerc's woodfire oven, one of only three still in existence in Paris, click here). There is pride in his voice when he adds: "I trained him myself. Now he runs our bread lab."
As for Guillaume, he started as an apprentice in a bakery in Central France (where he is from). Sadly the boss never allowed him to touch anything but a broom and a mop and he spent his days cleaning the floor. So he joined Les Compagnons du Devoir, became a baker, did the customary Tour de France, and after trying his hand at pastry, cooking, and other trades went back to bread when hired by Veronique Mauclerc. "Not only did I learn a lot from her about organic baking but she also taught me self-reliance. At one point though we found ourselves disagreeing about some fundamental choices and we parted ways. I went down South to get my driver's license and started thinking about the bakery I was dreaming of opening one day. I worked a bit for Eric Kayser, a fellow Compagnon and my then-idol (I learned a great deal from his three textbooks). Then Luc and I decided to become partners. It took us more than two years to put the project together: a year and a half to write the business plan, six months to find financing then a year to locate the bakery we wanted. We found our current premises (where a bakery has been continuously in operation since 1904) through word-of-mouth. There were many other interested buyers but the owners liked us from the get-go. So they sold to us. We opened on November 5, 2012 and did well right away: sales volume increased by 50 to 60% the first year compared to the sellers' turnover of the year before (to be fair, they weren't getting any younger and didn't have their heart in it anymore). Most of their customers stayed with us. Le Pain par nature is a neighborhood bakery and we love it that way."
Le Pain par nature is a different kind of business: "We chose to make it a cooperative, which means that the focus is on the business itself, not on the capital. We are required by law to keep it growing as opposed to getting the most money out of it and, again by law, we cannot be anything but salaried employees. Right now the bakery officially has two employees, Luc and myself. Suat - who is a landscape artist by trade - came on board at a later stage, when the company he worked for went out of business. He is expected to soon become a partner."
"We all share the same ideas. Luc was born in Paris but he is keenly aware that organic is the way of the future. Our dream is actually to one day open an école de boulange (a baking school), maybe in my childhood home if we can swing it as it is fairly large and comes with a fruit and vegetable garden. We would just need to build a classroom. We would adopt a holistic approach and teach all aspects of the trade: working with organic ingredients only, we would make sure the apprentices know where everything comes from. They would grow the produce they would use. We would build a mill to help them understand flour. They need to see by themselves that wheat requires time, technique and terroir to grow, that the land has its own nature, origin and history, that life has meaning and that bread is alive. We'd seek accreditation but we couldn't get it, we could remain a private trade school: our graduates would just have to sit for the public exam to obtain their official diplomas. Whether or not we ever open our dream school one day, we already live and work by our principles and I like to think that our bakery is twenty years ahead of our times."
I close my notebook and Guillaume selects a well-baked Tradi-bio among those which have just come out of the oven. He hands it to me. It makes a lovely crackling sound: "Taste it later when it has cooled down a bit". I already know that it will taste just the way it looks, as an honest to goodness baguette, ready to play second fiddle to whatever tasty food will be put on the table but whose crust and crumb make it ideal for that most cherished goûter (afternoon snack) of my childhood: bread with a bar of chocolate inside. The torch is passing to a new generation and it is a lovely feeling.