Written by SU Strasbourg student Sarah Hoyoon Lee
People don’t like me in their kitchens. I’m always welcomed warmly as a guest, considering I have what may be the world’s un-pickiest palate and devour any dishes placed in front of me with an open mind, eager stomach, and mouth full of praise for the chef after I’ve made sure every crumb on my plate has been carefully tended.
It’s a different story though, once the act of making said delicious meal is placed upon me. I freak out, burn things, and generally wreak havoc upon whatever space has the extreme misfortune of housing my presence. Thus, it was much to my shock to find myself working and thoroughly enjoying my time at a boulangerie (French for “bakery”) for internship credit during a semester abroad in Strasbourg, France!
Twice a week, I (try to) wake up around 7 a.m. to ride my bicycle along the still-dark streets of Strasbourg to my boulangerie, called “Au Pain de Mon Grand-Pere” or “The Bread of My Grandfather,” where I’m greeted by the friendly faces of my French coworkers (who get quite a kick out of my thick American accent) and given a fruit-stained, overly large white T-shirt to throw on.
On Tuesdays, I work on the main floor which is responsible for making most of the general bread offered at the bakery – pain de mie (sandwich bread), pain de siegle (2/3 rye, 1/3 wheat flour), and my personal favorite, pain au chocolat (you can figure that one out).
Here I usually knead dough, roll it into appropriately sized balls, perform some heavy lifting of trays and bowls, and do my best to appear useful. This has been somewhat successful, save for the few times I have to fish out eggshell pieces I accidentally drop in a mix, or clean up the puddles of batter I occasionally spill on the countertop. But other than that, it’s been pretty smooth sailin’.
On Thursdays, I head downstairs to tackle the sweet stuff – tiramisu, apple tarts, strawberry pie – and exercise immense strength of will in keeping focused on the task and not at the fact that my mouth just WON’T. STOP. WATERING. More difficult than you’d think.
People who want to become professional boulangers have to go through extensive training and vocational schooling – the head chef at the bakery has been working there for 7 years already and he only seems to be about late 20s or early 30s max (haven’t yet crossed that awkward age-asking threshold, but I can fairly assume). This was after he had already worked at 3 other bakeries, graduated from professional school and been an apprentice for 2 years as well.
Fresh bread straight from the oven is a HUGE thing in France, so it’s not uncommon to see a line of early risers waiting to get their daily carb fix at the crack of dawn. It’ll take a lot more than my improper use of every culinary tool at my disposal to keep them away, apparently.
Oh and props to you if the next line that popped into your head after reading this title was, “The same old bread and rolls to seeeell!” We’re kind of soulmates.