June 29, 2004
[The Baguette, by Jean-Paul Gaultier]
What you see here is a baguette created by Jean-Paul Gaultier, as indicated by the signature navy blue stripes. Well, see, I can't just eat any old baguette, it has to have some style, you know?
I bought it at an art show that just opened at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, a beautiful exhibition hall on the Boulevard Raspail. The show is called "Pain Couture", and it features bread creations by Jean-Paul Gaultier, who designed a collection of dresses and accessories, all made with the world's most glorious food (and no, I don't mean chocolate this time).
The huge glass panes all around the hall are decorated with slatted shutters made with 4,000 baguettes, and a string curtain of 5,000 ball-shaped mini-loaves separates the two main rooms, for a beautiful graphic effect.
When you step inside the hall, feeling like you've been transported into a Hansel & Gretel tale, you are magically met with the intoxicating smell of a bakery : a wonderful, fresh, sweet, warm, mouth-watering smell of bread and pastries baking. Nothing artificial about it : the downstairs exhibition area has been converted into a huge fournil, a baking oven, where two bakers busy themselves all day, baking batches of white and blue bread and pastries.
You can walk all around the fournil area, observe their work, and breathe in the delicious fumes coming out of the ovens. I had a chance to talk a little with Hannibal, who was the baker that night, and he explained that they created a food coloring especially for the exhibition, a mix of plants and seaweed. Methylene blue was my first thought, as Frédérick E. Grasser-Hermé -- wife of Pierre Hermé and cook/writer herself -- uses it in her last cookbook to color a dish of coquillettes (elbow macaroni). Apparently, they tried this too, but bread dough turns slightly yellow when cooked, and this caused the methylene blue to turn green. Not quite what they wanted.
The dress collection is on display in the main room : dresses made of huge wicker baskets, in reference to the traditional baskets bakers use, filled with baguettes and rustic loaves in every possible size. A dress with a bread bodice and a long, trailing skirt made with slices of pain de campagne, ending in a flutter of crumbs. A dress made entirely of petits beurres, linked diagonally together and forming a long trail -- which I couldn't help notice formed butter stains on the flour lined with brown bakery-style paper. And my personal favorite, a sleeveless mini-dress made with langues de chat, those small oval cookies, thin and crispy, linked together in horizontal rows. That dress was displayed on an electrically motioned mannequin, shaking it gently from side to side to demonstrate the pretty movement the cookies will make when the lady wearing the dress mingles graciously at a party.
Of course, no fashion collection is complete without a line of accessories : in glass cases are displayed pairs of shoes, an umbrella, a hat, a Kelly purse -- the buckles slightly burnt, a laced bodice, and even a thong!
Walking around, taking in the precision and artful skill with which all these creations were made, you cannot help but smile with delight at the wittiness of JPG and admire the talent of the bread-artists who helped him.
In the second room on the ground floor, a large bakery counter has been set up. Smiling hostesses, dressed in white with a baker's little hat, will sell you the products that are prepared and baked in the downstairs ovens : navy-blue striped pain de mie, white and blue baguettes in three different shapes, croissants with interlaced ribbons of blue dough, financiers and chouquettes. I got one of their "vaguelette" baguettes (a baguette easily shared in little loaves, each one decorated with a little pointy wave) and a little bag of chouquettes (respectively 2 € and 4 € -- fashion has a price, but the benefits will go to charity).
We enjoyed the baguette with a nice platter of cheese, while watching the France/Greece quarter-finals in the Euro 2004 : the bread was delicious, and it seemed quite fitting to be eating white cheese on blue bread to support "Les Bleus" (the French football team has a white and blue outfit, not to be confused with the Greek flag). As for the chouquettes, they were delicious : much browner than we're used to, but nicely caramelized and moist.
And this came as a nice treat to alleviate the acute football-induced grief as our team lost, rather pathetically, to the Greek.
261 bd Raspail - 75014 Paris
01 42 18 56 50
Tue to Sat - 12pm to 8pm
Until October 10, 2004
The Best Baguette in Paris
La Baguette et les Tartines