Having been in Paris for over a week now, I can safely say that we have walked past a huge number of bakeries, taking in each time with unmitigated pleasure the sight of golden baguettes, flaky viennoiseries and elaborate pastries. Why, the place we are staying at is sandwiched between two of them, conventional on one side, bio (organic) on the other, and we are awakened every night by the buttery scent of freshly baked brioches. Let me tell you, there are worse alarm clocks! I already know I am going to miss it when we leave.
But one thing I hadn’t seen yet was a gluten-free bakery. So when a baker friend suggested I go take a look at Boulangerie Chambelland, 14 rue Ternaux in the eleventh arrondissement, and said he would call ahead to let them know I would drop by, I put on my walking shoes and took to the streets again.
I certainly wasn’t expecting basketfuls of baguettes but otherwise I can’t say I had a specific image in my mind of what the bakery would look like and I was wholly unprepared for how stylish and welcoming it would be. Zen is the word that comes to mind. Certainly a place to linger over coffee and pastry at one of the colorful tables either inside or out on the terrasse… Chambellan has the feel of an old-fashioned village bakery or, rather, an old-fashioned bakery as pictured in a movie about the good old days back in the village.
I introduced myself and was charmed by the welcome. Carles Roige, the baker, and Isabelle Larignon, the pastry-chef, showcased two of Chambelland’s signature breads for me: pain du village (village bread) and pain aux cinq grains (five-grain bread). Isabelle told me her favorite was pain des athlètes (athletes’ bread) which contains seeds, apricots, raisins, figs and hazelnuts. I thought I had forgotten to take a picture of it but from a closer look at the picture below, I see it is actually the bread to the right of the five-grain one. It does look tasty…
Carles had to get back to the lab downstairs but Isabelle – who was working on lunch pastries – talked to me for a while from behind the glass partition protecting the food prep counter. She sounded surprised when I asked her if she and Carles -both conventionally trained- had found it hard to adjust to gluten-free baking. She said it had been a simple matter of following recipes that had been rigorously tested over and over. No big deal…
Most of the breads are leavened with a rice levain, The focaccia is the only yeasted one. The bakery uses rice flour almost exclusively (buckwheat sometimes too). I asked about binding agents (back home gums or algae routinely make it into gluten-free products, which I find a real turn-off). Chambelland uses none. It relies on its rice flour. The founders -Thomas Teffri-Chambelland (who created l’École internationale de boulangerie) and Nathaniel Doboin- source the grain in the Camargue region in the south of France (they apparently tested many varieties, both in the Camargue and in the valley of the Po river in Italy before finding the one with the required baking properties) and built their own mill (at Sisteron in Provence) to eliminate as many variables as possible and guarantee a steady and uninterrupted supply. Talk about dedication and determination! The results are impressive.
I didn’t get to taste the bread. It was mid-morning and I wasn’t hungry. But I bought a chocolate chambelline and a pain de sucre which we sampled later in the day.
I am not going to lie and say we became instant converts. The Man, never a huge fan of rice, thought the pastries tasted too much like rice pudding. I thought they were good. But then I love rice in all its shapes and forms and were I gluten-intolerant, I would greatly appreciate having a gluten-free bakery such as Chambelland in my neighborhood. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination (a risk in conventional bakeries offering a gluten-free line.)