Herves Love of The Boulangerie
You know, often when I sit down to write a blog I’ll make myself a little snack and depending on what time of day it is I’ll maybe have a glass of wine or a strong, black coffee. My snack though is almost always the same. A chunk of crusty bread and piece of cheese. The bread will be homemade, fresh from the oven that morning and the cheese will be whatever comes to me first – I love it all. The honesty of this simple meal is what makes it taste so good – for me, very few other ingredients come close to making me smile.
Bread is the humblest of food – in the depths of poverty and despair you will hear people speak of eating nothing more than bread and water. But with just a knob of creamy, salty butter or a small dish of fragrant olive oil you can elevate it to the stuff that foodie dreams are made of. Throw in a soft, ripe cheese or thin strips of fatty San Daneille Ham and sun ripened tomatoes and oh, my, goodness…. Food of the gods!
I’ve talked before about Herve’s love of the boulangerie and his desire when we opened Pig’Halle to have the area at the back transformed with a wood burning oven and plenty of space for sacks of strong French bread flour. The smell of fresh bread wafts around the entire restaurant early every morning and we can all be found, attempting to spread butter onto still warm slices of white French Boules while chef discusses daily specials and we look over the bookings for lunch time.
The few simple, cheap ingredients, the kneading of the dough and waiting for it to proof before sliding it into the hot wood burning oven is all pat of the daily ritual in our small kitchen at the back. We started baking for our own use – to serve in both Pig’Halle and Duo. The Deli would stock a few fresh loaves for customers to pick up on the way home and we would all waited patiently until lunch service was over before greedily piling salty little boquerones or slices of mortadella onto thick slabs of crusty bread. Now, people drop into the deli just to pick up a loaf of bread on their way home and maybe a slice or two of Pata Negra, or a little tub of tapenade. Like I have always said, good food is infectious – word will spread!
Of course, it was inevitable – the baguettes started and as long, limp rolls of dough came out of the oven all crusty on the outside, fluffy in the middle the experiments started. Inbetween lunch and dinner service the chefs set out to outdo one another in a host of creations that could only be described as French / New York Deli hybrid sandwiches. These are mouthwatering half baguettes packed full of homemade tapenades and hummus, slow roasted vegetables, thin slices of fatty sausages and deep pink hams, raw carpaccio, seared tuna, crisp salad leaves and antipasti of all descriptions. Before long our lunchtime takeaway queue has become as long as the one for a table.
So, with his passion at an all time high Herve decided now was a great time to go back to school! He is in constant touch with his old culinary school in Paris as we work with them as part of a programme to place young, French students into International Restaurants. A foreign exchange programme where these poor kids who arrive at us still end up under the supervision of an old French Chef! Anyhow, this time it was Herve’s turn to be the student and back to his old school in Lavelle he went to spend 4 days in the classrooms with young 18 year old culinary students learning the ancient French Art of Boulangerie. Nothing had changed he said, except for the teacher!
The French Boulangerie and the patisserie that will often sit by its side is a wonderfully essential part of everyday life in France. We’re not so bothered about pre-sliced plastic wrapped bread. This highly skilled artisan craft remains one of the oldest and most respected in the French home and professional kitchens. You will know, as Herve did, how to make bread. But the experts, the men and woman whose hands can shape and knead dough until it is soft, dense, crusty, light… whatever the occasion or meal is calling for, these are genuine craftsmen who have taken decades to master their art. Such is the importance of the daily trip to the boulangerie, that many a penniless artist has dedicated a work or two to the this most adored of corner shops!
So he sat and he listened and he paid attention and learned some new techniques and recipes. Herve studied general catering as a teenager but this was four days of intense boulangerie. His knowledge in this area has been, which by his own admission, all self taught or picked up here and there as he worked with different chefs. He relearned the gentle art of feeding your starter mix daily for amazingly dense and delicious sour dough, the natural fermentation giving the bread the flavour and texture that makes it so, so wonderful. He relearned the art of rolling little doughy pastry crescents into buttery croissants and stuffing pasty parcels with dark, rich chocolate to make pain au chocolat. He was humbled and challenged by children younger than his own, teenage boys and girls brimming with youthful confidence and desperate to proof thier worth – we have one coming to work with us this summer! He has told me that he loved every minute of it and has come home head full of ideas for Cidar & Apple Bread (get in line people, I married this man and I’m first!) and French Chorizo and Saucisson Savouries.
And I promise that very soon, very soon indeed you will taste this humblest of food made with the rekindled knowledge by Lavelle’s oldest and happiest student.
Hope to see you all very soon,
Au Revoir, Paula
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