Extraordinary answers from a 16-year-old baker apprentice in a faraway French countryside
You can spot the kid from the cosy rural bakery at night, riding his bike up and down the hills of Burgundy, to get to work.
He is only 16 years old, you would guess him +10 more though, for all the responsibility and ‘joie de vivre’! A hardworking, happy and settled apprentice, just about to become the youngest baker at the most famous local bakery.
ONLY ON SUNDAY WE START AT 2h30
You started to work at the bakery when you were 14. Tell me why.
Because I liked it. Once, when I was little, I remember being at the bakery and I totally loved it. The smell of the fresh bread pulled out of the oven, the structure of the dough. With time I forgot but then I returned to a bakery for an internship and it all came back to me. So I said “That’s what I’ll do!”
So it was the ambience! How did you discover this tiny charming plane-tree square (the bakery location)?
By chance. We didn’t even know the village! They were looking for an apprentice and I was trying all those that were looking — within the sector. I started here during the week of Christmas. It was madness! Most of the work is at Christmas time indeed. I liked that.
Why did you stay?
Well the bread is good. I like the way they work in front of the customers. Then the boss is cool, we have good fun, we still get along well, so I stayed.
What are your hours?
1 week of school, 3 weeks of internship. I do my 35 hours, only on sunday I start at 2h30. I cannot do the same hours as it is required in a bakery, you know, the French laws are very sensitive in this matter. I don’t have the right to climb a ladder, touch a machine or take a knife…
…because you’re an apprentice.
Yes. If I were an employee, I would have the right to climb a ladder :). The baker starts at 3h30 during the week.
How is it now, after 2 years of experience. Not even a small team is immune from conflicts.
I like the ambience and the place is calm, though there is lots of passages. Conflicts depends… When people care only for themselves, then there can be loads of conflicts. You need to care for others at work.
NO SUCH THING IN THE VILLAGE BEFORE
I remember one night, my husband got from work and brought some bread with words “this 1 is made by the apprentice”. You see, there was no such thing as an apprentice before, it was news in the village! And he bought your bread because he felt for you, when the baker was justifying its lack of perfection with a little too sincere “made by the apprentice”. Wasn’t it difficult to listen to?
No. He had no choice, he needed to form me.
But another time the baker also told him: “Oh my apprentice! That is a real one! Really good worker, perseverant.” And that is something we all saw in you.
Well right, even if it’s not finished, I am still there to finish. Or if it’s hard, if am not getting it right, I am there to finish.
Where does that come from?
I did judo since very little (2,5 years, in baby category) and I did competitions where I often finished first. I always hated to loose. As far as I wasn’t at the hospital, I invested myself completely. I had the same coach from the very beginning and he wanted it to be perfect. Then my parents also like me to be among the best. So when I start something, I finish it, or I just don’t start it at all.
What do you consider precious in your character?
Going above the limits.
What is the point?
The perseverance is to become the best. Always look for the excellence. When I loose I am frustrated, but I win on the patience. So the frustration gives me patience. I don’t get depressed, that’s not something that will lower my goals. 2 years ago (in French championship), I broke my collar bone, yet if the doctor didn’t tell me to stop, I’d still be there.
So where is the limit?
The hospital. In judo. But I don’t have limits otherwise. Let’s say, if 1 day I have no more dough or no more flour, that’s the limit at work.
YOU JUST NEED TO PROVE THEM THE CONTRARY
French bakery is known to be a terrible job choice for life.
Starting at 2h30, by 9 am I am already done with cooking everything. So we could start easily at 4 am.
A reorganisation which doesn’t modify the bread quality?
Yes, it only takes some improvements.
When I was little, I recollect the same feeling as you described about the bakery. So when I say terrible, I don’t mean not wonderful, but did you think it through?
Yes! As children we don’t see all that stuff like working at night! My advantage is that my oncle is a cook and my godfather is a confectioner. And they have a life, they have kids, so I know it can work. It’s just a different organisation. We can always have a life, whatever the job is.
Have somebody discouraged you?
Yes, the majority. That does not stop me. You just need to prove them the contrary.
HOW IS AN OLD BAKERY FULL OF OLD PEOPLE CHARMING
Sometimes before winter holidays you feel the smell of fresh bread in the whole square. Do you never get enough of it?
I think I have it on myself by now! But that’s the goal. It should smell good!
Is it all positive? The ambience of the place where you work, the village, the French countryside?
Yes, I prefer that! I don’t see myself going to the city. Between 4 walls and the road… No way! I love the countryside. I always lived in the countryside. I prefer to be in the vineyards than to get bored in a flat. Going to the city and doing long studies, perhaps not even knowing what you wanna do, or sitting at the desk, that doesn’t tempt me. I prefer using my hands, giving to people. Even though they do give me money, I give them something back, I give them bread, the nourishment. I prefer to be an artisan.
Each time I enter your bakery, I feel like it’s something to pin on a touristic map of the region. Totally authentic.
Yes, because we show all that is behind. We hide nothing.
There are so many incompatible situations and relations, but that’s what makes it interesting and real. It is like entering a movie.
Many try to do that now. The industrial bakeries started with opening the backstage to the clients in fact, because that’s what people reproached them for. But about the stories, we all know each other here. In the city, you go get your baguette and that’s about it. You cannot discuss there.
Translate to those who don’t see it that way: How can you close yourself in an old bakery with the old people?
It comes from the inside. Perhaps it’s that I like the old, perhaps that even attracts me on the countryside, that it is ancient. There were generations, they all worked with hands at time, without machines, they were putting their heart into it. You feel it, a shoe made by a shoe-mender on mesure is not the same as one that passed in a machine 15 000 times.
How does your future look?
Diploma in confectionery and if I may take over the boutique, then I will. The baker is reaching retirement age in 2 years and I need 3 or 4 more. The question is, whether he can wait for me, whether someone doesn’t buy it before…
Is it feasible? Not too expensive?
Yes it is. Possible, but very expensive. Since I am very young, the banks won’t be friendly.
And that doesn’t scare you.
Nothing scares me. My dad will be behind me with the accounting. I would keep at least 1 shop-girl for the day or for the evening, since it’s open too. But with a really good set-up I can even make it all myself. Or I’ll take an apprentice for some help. But you do need a brilliant organisation.
Is it a dream?
It is not a dream but a desire to see, how the bakery can work at its best. And of course I’d be upset if it didn’t work.
Our new baker would be 19 years old so.
Yes, or let’s say 20.
Will you continue with the warm greetings “Bonjour madame Bruneau!”?
I will. I don’t do it since I don’t dare yet :) but I will keep many things, almost everything.
Yes, I know them all by heart.
Why will you continue in patisserie?
It’s more of an emergency exit, because if 1 day I fall allergic to the flour, what do I do?
Allergic, even if you don’t eat it?
No you just inhale it. We do that all the time. They did 1 test with the infrared light, you don’t even see each other, there is an immense cloud all around! Worse than a dense fog. In patisserie, there is a bit of flour, but it’s air-conditioned, vented.
The industrial bakery MB has a rather good bread and it lasts long. How is that possible?
Yes, it stays soft but good. I must really say it is not bad at all! But they buy a ready-made mixture of flour and there is plenty of conservators inside. They do knead but the mixture is already all done, it works itself, so they don’t really need to.
Is it difficult to fight the price of the competition?
It depends on the quality of the bread. But what is expensive stays rather psychological. If we increase the price per kilo for certain products, the customer will think we cheat on him, and we still get very tight with the expenses. The prices here are correct, you are lucky.
Do you learn from the local or big companies?
The big ones have always bread on stock. Their vitrine is overflowing until I don’t know what hour in the evening. But it costs them nothing, compared to us. The thing is not to throw too much. You’d need to have just what you need. We in fact do it this way, in the evening you usually buy only a baguette and a flûte (French bread vocabulary), or rather longuette and a vigneronne :) (local synonyms).
FEEL THE AMBIENCE
Ambience, when you take a bike at night, to get to work.
I treddle. The bikes are equipped now, it almost climbs a hill on its own. I put my flashy vest and my lamp and it’s on. A 40 minutes bike ride.
Do you like your life?
Oh yes, I love my life. From ever. And it’s getting better and better. When you experienced things, you can be happy for having a memory of it and make a decision for the future, to do what you wanna do. I don’t do things against myself.
What is it that blocks you in life?
Age. I am to small for everything.
Did you always want to be older?
Yes. It’s for all those French conventions that annoy me.
What is the ambience that you really dislike:
Electricity in the air. There are 2 types: 1, when people are facing each other and yelling, the other, when they are silent but throwing at each other looks so nasty that the air is all tensed up. It is something I really cannot bear.
When it’s not far from night-fall, when it is calm, a little fresh breeze, no noise, at worst with 1 of my friends, that’s the top. Release after the whole working day.
If you could change something:
I would erase all the people that speak behind your back, criticise you for nothing.
Ambience of your childhood:
Walk or run in a forest. We are peaceful in a forest. There is just one squirrel and some ragtag, that’s enough.
“I prefer that the children live at the same time when I am about to live my life fully.”
Today you know you will succeed. It is something radiating around you. What is the advice for that?
If I don’t find the job, there is always a plan B, which always serves to something. To have an ambition, a goal. And set yourself an objective and when you reach it, set another 1.
Is there any objective apart from the bakery?
Oh if I could have a little family, I would not say no. Perhaps not now, but at 22 or 23, it wouldn’t bother me. To have a child.
Who inspired you?
I guess my parents were raising us this way, they met young. They did not live it wrong way. Perhaps people see that being young is only once and it doesn’t last long, the later they’d have the kids, more can they profit out of their youth. But it is not my opinion. If you have a kid, you can still party :D Of course not every night, you need to take care of your kid. They are just afraid to change.
So what is it good for, to have a chlid?
It can set you 1 more objective. It’s about seeing him growing, not seeing him growing when we’ve already lived our life. I prefer that the children live at the same time when I am about to live my life fully.
Originally published at www.eclatdeflacondanslacheminee.com on September 25, 2015.