Friday, October 29, 2010
I have just walked out of a bakery with the best rye bread I’ve ever had in Paris. Good bakeries are certainly the norm here, and great ones are scattered all over Paris. But, yes, I have found a fantastic boulangerie (bakery) that is literally “nulle part” or in nowheresville It’s called Au Duc de la Chapelle, and is located in a poor, immigrant neighborhood with social housing all around in the 18th arrondissement.
What makes it special is the current owner/baker, Anis Bouabsa who won the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” award in 2004 in the bakery division. The literal translation is “Best Worker” but the real meaning for Anis Bouabsa is more like “Best Artisan Baker”. Then four years later in 2008 he won the Meilleur Baguette de Paris award – a lot easier to translate – Best Baguette, man! Winning that award allowed Anis Bouabsa to supply bread to Matignon (i.e. the French White House) for one year. Frankly, putting nowheresville in connection with upper crust Matignon is mind bending. Plus, Anis is the youngest baker to ever to win the Meilleur Ouvrier award.
The Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition was created in 1924 to reward artisan workers who worked with their hands in fields that required an apprenticeship. It started out by giving 144 awards. Held every 3 or 4 years, by the late 90s it had 3,500 contestants in 180 professions. Within the bakery division in 2008, there were 84 competing, 15 of whom qualified for the final competition where the contestants had to create an artistic cake based on a theme from the cinema. The day of the finals, Anis astounded the judges with his “pièce de resistance”: Charlie Chaplin sitting on a bench! It had taken over 600 hours to make, but obviously the effect was worth it.
I’ve known about the bakery for some years because I had found it on one of my wonderings around the ‘hood. Originally, it was founded by Thierry Meunier, another Best Artisan Baker of France winner. I especially enjoyed the Triple Alliance (whole grain bread) and Pain de Seigle (rye bread). Especially the rye bread – a sourdough, dark ryebread, kind of the color of pumpernickel, but much more tasty in my point of view.
Anis Bouabsa met Thierry Meunier while preparing for the Best Worker contest, and apparently Thierry was so impressed by Anis’s creativity and energy that Thierry decided to pass along his bakery to Anis right then and there.
I find it intriguing that most Parisian bakers print a mission statement on their baguette sacks. This is a rough translation of Anis’s:
“There are many good bakers and that’s great. But what gives Anis that extra bit of ‘soul’ that made him become the youngest Best Artisan Baker of France?
Quite simply, it’s his thirst to learn and desire to always do better. ‘It was in me’ he always said when speaking of his unique way of connecting with what he was working with and to create, in his own way, the best mixtures of different flours.
Organic bread brings together different flours and numerous specialties springing from a generous creativity, or absolutely simple, crunchy baguettes, (plus pastries) which are all available at the first-class shop Au Duc de la Chapelle open Monday to Friday, from 5:30 am to 8 pm in the evening!”
And they say the French don’t work! This guy does. When you enter the bakery, he’s usually there either baking away in the back or even dealing with customers out front.
Anis has said in an interview that “What I create are like my children. I love to discover breads from different countries, stimulate the taste buds of my clients, mix rye flour and wheat flours... I create my own products and I love to do that.”
I can attest that he does wonders with rye bread. Besides the original Pain de Seigle, there is now a Pain de Seigle Céréales (rye flour mixed with other whole grain flours) that is splendid. Plus the baguette that Nicolas Sarkosy got to eat for a year!
I highly recommend this bakery – it’s worth a trip to Nulle Part if you like great bread. Open Monday to Friday, the nearest Metro is Porte de la Chapelle. Once you find the Rue Raymond Queneau, walk down the street and Au Duc de la Chapelle is just past the Boucherie Halel (the Muslim equivalent of a Kosher butcher) at 32 rue Tristan Tzara (the continuation of Rue Raymond Queneau). Voilà!