May 10, 2007

Hello Everyone! (I’m playing a little catch up)

The highlight of my day (Thursday, May 10) was my morning spent with Frederic Lalos, a gregarious and generous baker with a great sense of humor. His boulangerie is called A Quartier du Pain, is located in the 15th arrondissment, and is an inviting and very charming store with an open fournil.

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Frederic was born in 1970 and not into a family of bakers. He nonetheless started his career early – he got his CAP at seventeen, spent three years working for Lenotre (a prestigious patissier), spent a year of military service as a pastry chef at the prime minister’s residence, and then joined the research division of the Grands Moulins de Paris. It was here that he really got to know flour – he got to know the properties of flour and observed the impact of various additives on dough. (Information courtesy of Steven Kaplan).

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Hanging prominently on the wall of his bakery is a certificate for MOF, an award he received at the very young age of twenty-six. When I asked him about the training for this competition, he told me it was the hardest thing he has ever done. The MOF is held every four years, and is kind of like the Olympics of bread-baking in France. Frederic trained non-stop for years – he slept on flour sacks for two of those years – working at a constant and furious pace to master various breads. Part of the examination requires ingenuity and creativity and he experimented with everything, including coca-cola, orange juice, (his friend Fabian suggested other illegal substances).

The competition includes an oral examination in front of MOF award winners and professors. The next day involves twelve hours of practical tests. Frederic told me that if you overbake something by one minute – its over. Everything must be perfect. The competition is based on a series of points, and there can be several winners or none depending on how people do. He passed on his first try with flying colors. This man is clearly motivated, and his enthusiasm and love for what he does is infectious.

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Lalos opened his bakery with the intent of creating a neighborhood spot that drew people in and gave them a connection to the bread-baking process. He took me across the street for a coffee at a brasserie owned by his longtime friend Fabian. They both told me about the things they do together to bring life into the area. There is a street fair where Lalos will produce his pain de algue and Fabian will supply the oysters – pairing a delicious treat for locals.

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Lalos is very proud of the farine that he uses – a special flour produced in the Auvergne region – a mountainous area that produces some of the best cheeses, beef and wheat in France. He described his relationship with his miller with pride – he is in a position where he can be very demanding about the quality and helps control the process.

He walked me through the kitchen and explained the rigorous standards and methodologies. Eighty percent of his dough is made the day before – he believes in a slow fermentation process. He uses different pre-ferments for different doughs because he wants to provide a variety of tastes. He uses a machine to shape his baguettes and hand shapes every other piece of dough – an important part of his methodology.

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His traditional baguette is made with poolish and a small amount of yeast and develops over 12 hours which encourages lactic fermentation. The baguette a l’ancienne benefits from twelve hours of bulk pointage at 8-12 degrees celcius and uses pre-fermented dough, ideally separated out the evening before and developed for twelve hours, favoring an acetic fermentation. Lalos says he wants people to enjoy the baguette a l’alscienne with ham and cheese as it has a more robust flavor. The traditional baguette should be enjoyed in the morning with coffee and milk, its a softer slower taste and more mellow.

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He produces over forty-five breads for four shops and bakes 4000 pieces of bread a day, he employs over 40 people and serves a number of restaurants including Guy Savoy and Yannick Alleno’s restaurant Le Meurice. (I am dining there for lunch on Monday – I can’t wait – thanks again Celia!) He also offers an array of simple desserts, sandwiches, quiches and pizzas. Everything looks delicious.

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I really enjoyed my time here and love his bread. He packed me up a bag filled with breads to try – a pain cereales, pain de levain and a tourte auvergnate. They were fantastic and I want to get more before I leave Paris so you can try them when I get back to NY.

On both Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I hit BE, or Boulangepicier, the “fast-gourmet” outpost of Alain Ducasse. This business was originally a partnership between Ducasse and Eric Kayser (more on him on my May 12 post). I didn’t realize that their partnership had dissolved and its now run by Ducasse. I met the general manager, Gwen Merlier, a generous and all-around-super-nice guide to the business. Unfortuntately, the company policy is no photos – so I can’t give you all the visual info I would like.

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The store is a very modern, sleek space with lots of artisanal products developed by Ducasse, as well as a display case with beautiful looking breads, salads, sandwiches, simple desserts, and pizzas. I can’t tell you how appetizing everything looked. Gwen treated me to a terrific lunch – a sandwich made with a foccacia roll and proscuitto, baby greens, artichokes and parmesan. It was delicious – and what I really like about the bread was that it wasn’t too overwhelming – the perfect amount in the mouth. I also tried their rice pudding with orange compote – a simple but perfectly executed dessert.

Gwen gave me sac filled with breads to try and I have photos of them. They include rolls made with olives and tomatoes, comte and pain cereales. (check out flickr)

Thursday afternoon I also hit some boulangeries in the 18th district – otherwise known as Montmartre. This area of Paris holds the famous Sacre Couer – a gorgeous church set on top of an impossible hill. With my eleven bags of bread I made the trek – in retrospect a really big mistake. But the views were great.

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I schlepped all over the district looking for the more interesting boulangeries. I found another Au Levain du Marais, a store I visited in the 4th district as well. The clerks wouldn’t let me talk with the owner – a very talented Theirry Rabineau, so my information on his bread comes from Professor Kaplan.

Rabineau makes two different kinds of dough to support a variety of breads. His white dough uses little yeast, kneads at ten minutes at a medium speed, autolyses for thirty minutes, and then is given a bulk pointage for and hour and a half. It then slow ferments at 10 degrees celcius.

I bought a tradtional baguette and it was excellent – it reminded me of the one I bought from Poujaran. Very mellow- the crust did not overwhelm the crumb.

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It was a long trek home – sorry for the delay in the update (Mom)! More to come – check out flickr for more photos!

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One response to “May 10, 2007

  1. Rose! You did it, no one ever climbed the Montmartre stairs with 11 bags of bread… Congrats.

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