In any case, he had finished his "wwoofship" (don't look up the word, I just made it up!) and already crossed Canada from British Columbia to Quebec mulling his options along the way when he recalled an article he had read months earlier about a guy who had switched tracks mid-career to become a baker. He had trained at École internationale de boulangerie in Provence, France. Something clicked. Matthias emailed the school director, Thomas Teffri-Chambelland. Thomas replied immediately. The month was November and the next training cycle started in January. Matthias lost no time in making up his mind. Figuratively speaking, he hopped on the next plane to France.
He trained for three weeks at the school in the organic artisan baker program (which focuses on baking with natural leaven and all organic flours and grains), interned for a month at La Conquête du pain in Montreuil, near Paris, then another six weeks in Montreux, Switzerland. There the flours were much stronger than the ones he had become accustomed to in France. He learned to work with and adjust for very different doughs. It was good training for the CAP de boulanger (certificate of professional ability) exam which he took and passed in short order as a candidat libre (independent candidate). Immediately afterwards, in September 2013, he received a call from Thomas asking if he would be interested in a job at La Fabrique à pains, the bakery he was opening at 4 Rue Pierre de Coubertin in Aix-en-Provence.
Tourte fermière (khorasan starter, 5% rye)
Baguettines aux olives (olive twist)
Tourte de seigle (100% rye)
Business is brisk. I hear customers ask for du pain bien cuit (well-baked bread). Music to my ears because too often on this trip I have heard the opposite: pas trop cuit, le pain, s'il vous plaît ("on the lighter side please!"), a request that drives me nuts. I want to scream: "Don't you know that a well-baked crust makes for a much more flavorful bread?." But do they care? Probably not. Is blandness becoming the new taste? (Pounding my head against the keyboard right now!)
Being a baker is hard. The job is physically demanding, sometimes exhausting but Matthias says he forgets it all when someone says: "You gave me back the taste of my childhood," or "Thanks to you guys, I am eating bread again" or, as recently happened, "Your bread is extraordinary." Customer satisfaction is a strong motivation. Another is the knowledge that a baker can work almost everywhere because everybody eats bread (especially in France), which means that the job is pretty much crisis-proof. It also offers plenty of room for creativity and épanouissement (self-fulfillment). Matthias thrives on being part of a team: "This is all teamwork. Everybody has a role to play. It is essential to stress this fundamental truth. I don't know yet what the future has in store for me but because I love collaborating with others, I can't see opening my own bakery anytime soon. I love teaching, working on different projects, and I can think of many exciting possibilities within the framework of my job here."
Khorasan (on left) and rye (on right) starters
Local flours from Moulin Pichard
I ask Matthias if he misses his environmental work. He doesn't. His job is deeply satisfying on that level as well: "It may seem far-fetched but in fact there are similarities. We are closely associated with organic farming. Ninety-five percent of our ingredients are locally sourced. We know how they are produced. We work with a miller in Haute-Provence (Moulin Pichard), we get our olives from Nyons, our walnuts from Grenoble. We emphasize both terroir and quality which means we remain true to our values and our beliefs and we make the most of our skills."
Who knew that sometimes you need to bounce around the world to find your inner baker?
- La Fabrique uses all organic flours without any additive. All are locally sourced
- Most bread are naturally leavened. La Fabrique keeps three starters: khorasan (kamut), rye and rice (for gluten-free breads)
- The starters are fed twice a day
- Tourte fermière is made with young levain to cultivate a lactic aroma
- The doughs are very hydrated (hydration is 110% for instance on the khorasan), which is why many of the breads are baked in pans
- Autolyse: anywhere from 30 to 90 min (three hours for the baguettes)
- Commercial yeast is used only for baguettes (2 or 3 g of fresh yeast per kilo of flour)
- Baguette dough ferments for 24 hours (including an 18-hour old bulk fermentation)
- Percentage of salt: 1.8% (in line with European recommendations)
- Shaping is kept to a minimum.
- Owner Thomas Teffri-Chambelland built his own mill where he mills riz de Camargue (rice from the Camargue area of Provence) for La Fabrique's rice-buckwheat bread. For more on Thomas, take a look at this video (in French).