This week, ACCENT Paris staff members Audrey Casabielhe and Marion Bonnefond describe one of their favorite on-site activities provided through the ACCENT Paris Study Center: a visit to a local boulangerie! During these visits, students make their own delicious creations while learning what it takes to run a successful small business in France.
This is why we at ACCENT Paris have been developing activities for our students that are linked to food, which is a huge part of French culture. According to statistics, 98% of French people eat bread every single day. One of the most enduring experiences of French culture is to line up at a good artisan boulangerie early in the morning with the locals, participating in the daily ritual practiced from France’s biggest cities to its smallest villages. The experience is sensory, the smell of fresh cooked bread, the sound of the crust cracking softly as the baguettes cool down, the pride of an artisan baker as he stacks the bread high and watches the customers’ eyes light up.
It is in the spirit of this French tradition that we have been working with a small bakery for some time now, and visits have always been a success with our students. The story of this particular bakery is quite unusual: two young women, Camille and Florentine, who studied Food Agronomy Engineering decided that they didn’t want to live the life of “somebody else,” not when they could realize their own dream. One woman had wanted to be her own boss since she was a teenager, and the other had developed a passion for bread making over the years. After graduating, they decided that it was now or never: they were going to open their own bakery!
However, Florentine and Camille’s path was not without its obstacles along the way. Being a baker in France is a traditionally male-oriented profession; there are 130,000 bakers in France, and most of them are men. One of the bankers they met with actually told them that he thought that they should open a Sephora instead of a bakery!
Nonetheless, these kinds of preconceptions did not deter the two young women from their goal, and eventually they succeeded. They fell in love with an old bakery located in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. This became the future site of the business, a bakery that would be named Basso.
It has been two years since then, and along the way, they decided to set up workshops for groups to come and discover how baguettes, croissants, and pains au chocolat are made. Through these workshops, the women at Basso are able to illustrate the work of a professional baker and pastry chef, and share this very important part of French culture. Such an important component of French culture, in fact, that by law, the traditional baguette must be made from wheat flour, water, yeast and common salt—with no additives or preservatives! Additionally, according to a law passed in the wake of the French Revolution, bread must be made available to the people on a daily basis. This in turn dictates when bakers are able to take vacations!
This past September, we shared the secrets of the French bakery with eager students from the University of California. The students visited the bakery one afternoon, and Camille welcomed us inside and showed us around the shop. The students were able to see the back end of a French bakery, and the different rooms like where cakes are prepped, the oven, and where the dough is left to rise.
The students were then guided in making various baked delights: baguettes with dough that had been rising for over five hours, croissants and a pains au chocolat, and finally, they prepared apple tarts, which require over two hours in the oven to become delicious delicacies, crispy and caramelized. They also had time to discuss and pose questions to Camille about her work and her business.
The students loved this activity because it gave them a practical look at running a small business in France, and a hands-on approach to learning about the culinary specialties they love to eat during their stay in the City of Lights.
Best of all, the students were able to bring their creations back to their apartments and enjoy them the next day!
~Audrey Casabielhe, Marion Bonnefond, ACCENT Paris
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