[Ed. note: King Arthur Flour Bakery director Jeffrey Hamelman concludes his on-the-scene posts from Paris and La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, the "World Cup" of bread baking.]
The last bell has sounded, the last group of weary bakers has cleaned their bakeshops and most likely collapsed.
Except for the concluding awards ceremony today, the 2012 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie is over.
The Netherlands, Poland, Japan, Costa Rica (clockwise from left, above) – four more countries whose work was clean and appealing and meeting all professional standards. Bonne chance à tous!
Jeff Yankellow, a former member of the winning US team in 2005, is serving as team coach this time around. We were sipping a coffee and chatting an hour after finish time this afternoon, and he said that in the four Coupes that he has personally had an involvement in, the camaraderie in this year's competition surpasses all the previous ones.
That's exactly the behind-the-scenes observation that heartens me most.
I also had a chance to visit with two of the US team members, Mike Zakowski (a bread master of the highest degree), and Harry Peemoeller (whose artistic design piece was exceptional).
How can they help but look at the other country's work and make comparisons to their own? Yet the humility was evident and genuine – there's no cocky expectation of a first-place finish.
As the Japanese team's products were being assessed and sampled by the judges, a basket was also offered to some in the crowd. I was lucky enough to sample four of the Japanese breads: the all important baguette; a pain au levain; a sourdough rye; and a most interesting organic bread that contained walnuts and black rice.
No doubt about it, I definitely had opinions, not to be voiced here. It was all in the hands of the judges.
Most French bakers agree that the man who had the greatest and most lasting influence on bread baking in France in the 20th century was the baker, milling expert, and baking scientist Raymond Calvel; in fact, legions of bakers worldwide commend his influence.
Calvel's life spanned most of the century, and his tireless work on behalf of bread quality took the form of writing hundreds of bread-related papers, performing dozens of controlled experiments aimed at assessing the parameters of various bread issues, and traveling around the world for decades giving classes and demonstrations.
Several years before his death in 2005, an organization was formed: L'Amicale des Anciens Elèves et des Amis du Professeur Calvel, Fidèles au Bon Pain – The Association of Elder Students and Friends of Professor Calvel, Faithful to Good Bread (isn't that soooooo French?).
These days it's been shortened and it's referred to as Fidèles au Bon Pain, or simply the Amicale Calvel. From the competition hall I went right away to a quieter upstairs section of the convention center to attend one of the few annual meetings; being an Amicale member, I was delighted to be there.
A general theme that runs through the Amicale is Blé, Farine, Pain (Wheat, Flour, Bread), and topics at meetings and in the quarterly publication touch this trinity from all sides. The main focus of today's meeting was a 2-hour session on conditions of women in French bakeries today. There were six presenters (four of them women) who discussed various aspects during 10 to 15 minute sessions, at the conclusion of which a good chunk of time was devoted to Q & A, and commentaries from the membership.
Although my French comprehension is woefully imperfect, I felt that I was getting the main theme of each speaker's perspective. Topics that were brought up included women working with bread as opposed to pastry; care for the environment and local sourcing of ingredients (a very current theme in the US); the experiences of a young Japanese woman who came to France at 15 to pursue the baking life, and is currently in the course of completing her post-apprenticeship, multi-year Tour de France; the friendliness and sharing that characterize women's presence in bakeries; being a woman bakery owner, and the ways that puts you at another level; the development of smaller production equipment that reduces physical hardship (no one mentioned that that would also apply to men!); the current fashion of spreading the day's baking throughout the day, and how that, too, reduces physical hardship; and the relative ease of lugging flour bags around now that they weigh a mere 25 kg.
One of the presenters quite simply described baking as "un magnifique métier" – "a magnificent occupation." Another opined, to great laughter, that "derrière toutes les grandes idées il y a une femme" – "behind all great ideas there is a woman"! (explanation point by the blogger!).
During the commentary time, a noted Japanese baker gave an overview of the situation in Japan, where women working in bakeries is commonplace. (I've seen enough bakeries in Japan to accurately state here that, unlike the French with their 7-hour work day, a typical work day is double that in many Japanese bakeries). Someone asked me to give a perspective from North America, and I was happy to say that in my own 35+ year baking life, women in bakeries have always had a significant presence.
Further, at the King Arthur Bakery, we are 12 full-time bakers; and just five are men, while seven are women. Not yet willing to put down the mike, I went on to say that the women in our bakery are equal to the men in every way, from mixing to shaping to oven work. Last, no one asks them if the work is too hard, because this is, after all, their chosen profession.
Later, on the train heading back into Paris, I couldn't help thinking about how vigorous and animated the meeting was. And mostly I was reminded again, as I have been each day at Europain and the Coupe, about the global nature of the international brotherhood and sisterhood of bread baking today.
How good this is, I thought. How lucky I am. Characterized and united as we are by one deep source – Fidèles au Bon Pain!
For years, whenever I've visited this exciting city, I've felt that if you sleep enough while in Paris, you're definitely doing something wrong. If lack of sleep, therefore, is an indicator of a successful stay, then I've succeeded admirably.
Looking at peoples' faces at the Coupe today, as we were all milling about in anticipation of the announcement of the winners, it looked to me as if everyone has enjoyed a high level of success – so much fatigue! Hundreds of people were gathered in front of the bakeshops, national flags clutched expectantly, awaiting the 11 a.m. start.
While the ceremony began on time, those who had never attended the Coupe didn't know that before the actual announcement of the winners, there would be some rather lengthy speeches by many people – sponsors and organizers of the Coupe, French baker associations, and so on. It's OK, I said to myself, as 15 minutes gave way to 30 minutes, which soon enough was 45 minutes; it helps build the suspense.
And by the time Christian Vabret, whose vision led to the founding of the Coupe in 1992, was ready to open the first of three envelopes, there was suspense billowing throughout the room. So, without more delay, here is what it came down to in the end:
Third place, Taiwan
Second place, USA
First place, Japan
It was all so thrilling. What a melee of jubilation from the winning teams!
A couple of observations: The US finished fourth last time, so the finish this time is a big step up, even if first place eluded them.
The French finished first last time, and didn't place this time. In fact, this is the first time there has been no European team finishing in the top tier. And astoundingly, it's the first time two of the top three countries are from Asia.
Have I mentioned yet the global network of bakers, and how the Coupe embodies and embraces all of that? It was on full display today. Tonight there will be a big dinner organized by the Bread Bakers Guild of America (which also chooses and coaches the American Coupe team), and well over 100 people will be in attendance; I don't expect anyone will be talking about baseball or the weather.
And tomorrow, many if not most of the thousands of people who have made their way to Paris for this grand event will disperse to their home continents and countries. For myself, I'll have one more day in Paris before heading to the countryside in the Auvergne for a few days. And from there I look forward to returning to Vermont on Monday.
I've really enjoyed writing these blog posts; it's not something I do in my usual work life at King Arthur Flour. As for anyone reading it, I hope you've gotten a little glimpse of what a great event the Coupe du Monde and Europain are.
It's too early to pack a suitcase, but there's no harm in beginning to look ahead to 2016, and the next Coupe.
Faithful to Good Bread,
Enjoy previous posts from Paris: