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The best baker in Paris: Christophe Vasseur of Du Pain et Des Idées

February 7, 2012

I told you that I would share with you an interview extraordinaire and here it is!

Portrait courtesy of We're Young & Hungry Photography

Pain des amis photo taken by Felicia Shelton

interior of Du Pain et des Idées by Felicia Shelton

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with THE best baker in Paris, ours truly, Christophe Vasseur.
Christophe is the creator and founder of a most wonderful bakery, Du Pain et Des Idées located near Canal St. Martin in the 10th arr. in Paris. I could barely sleep last night as I was certain that I’d have to be on my toes with someone who has realized his childhood dream (and is a huge success!) of creating something that he can be proud of, something he created from start to finish with his own two hands. Respect.

Christophe Vasseur, Best Baker in Paris: The Interview

Felicia: What gave you the courage to open your own bakery especially as you’re not formerly trained in baking?

Christophe Vasseur: I went to business school and worked in fashion, in the silk trade industry but ever since I was a little boy, I imagined myself as a baker. I wanted to work with my hands, create something from start to finish with just my hands and imagination. When I turned 30 I just felt it’s now or never. Working in the fashion industry (working with the finest silk) was no longer suitable for me and I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret not having the guts to go after my dream. I didn’t know whether I was good at baking, whether I had two left hands, I just knew I had to try, I had to take that risk. No regrets.

Felicia: What 3 main qualities do you think are essential to your success as a business man and a baker?

Christophe Vasseur: There are 1300 bakeries in Paris. I believe you have to have DETERMINATION – You are alone in the beginning, your friends and family all think you’re making a big mistake. You have to be determined to move forward no matter what. The second quality is ORGANIZATION – In this or any other business you have to be fast and efficient. Last but not least, PASSION– Without passion there’s nothing. I was not formerly trained as a baker. I went to business school, but I was always and will always be passionate about baking, about creating something with my own hands from start to finish.

Felicia: You weren’t formerly trained?

Christophe: You see, in France, when you go to university, you study a certain subject, graduate and then go and work in that sector. That’s it. Done. If you change your mind after you graduate you’ll have to pay a lot of money to enter a new career field, etc. I trained for two weeks learning how to make pastries then I chose a baker to apprentice under and that lasted for three months. I practiced ALL THE TIME. Talent is important of course, but you see, you must practice, put in the long hours learning and doing. I practiced for four years. I started from scratch.

Felicia: “As we say in the States, Practice makes Perfect.

Christophe Vasseur: Exactly.

Felicia: I’ve noticed a wave of entrepreneurship in Paris. I’ve never seen this before as this is NOT typical French behavior. What do you attribute to this new wave of entrepreneurship?

Christophe Vasseur: People have realized that there’s no more security. You now have educated people who are unemployed or fired at the age of 40 with no prospects for another job in their field so some people are now taking the risk of being their own boss. BUT! Having said this, this really isn’t a culture that supports entrepreneurship. If you fail you have countless people telling you “I told you it wouldn’t work!” and if you succeed people think you’re a thief, liar, somewhere you’ve cheated to be as successful as you are.

Felicia: I would think that ok, if you and I are in the same industry, and I’m not doing as well as you, I’d say to myself “hey, I need to learn what he’s doing, because obviously he’s doing something right, I need to do the same!”

Christophe Vasseur: Aha! That’s your American Way of thinking!  That is not the French way.
Remember, in France, if you succeed you’re some sort of a thief, if you fail, you’re an idiot.

Felicia: Got it.

Our readers should know that you became the Best Baker in Paris in 2008, how did that make you feel?

Christophe Vasseur: Very proud! I loved that my customers were so happy for me. They took pride in my success and that makes me very happy! They’ve supported me through the years.

Felicia:  When invited to someone’s home, what can I offer instead of wine or flowers, for my French hosts.

Christophe Vasseur: Amazing bread or good cheese. It’s becoming common for younger people to show up at someone’s home empty handed, it’s a different generation. We in France were taught that to bring something good, good bread, wine, etc. you’re bringing something to the experience of sharing food together. We sit around the table for hours in France sharing, listening and appreciating good food and good company.

Felicia: Christophe, you have two children. In a world of ever expanding waistlines and artificial food, sweetners, etc. How do you teach your children about real food, about the importance of eating wholesome food?

Christophe Vasseur: We make it fun for them to learn about food. For example, on a rainy day, we may say “Hey, who wants to make a cake?!” I’ll ask them what kind of ingredients they want in the cake, they’ll shout something like apples and strawberries and if we’re in winter, I will say something like “but strawberries are not in season now” etc. They learn through fun.

Felicia:  Smart and fun!

Christophe Vasseur: I’ll tell you a little story about what happened this past Sunday. My son was invited to a birthday party. I told him that yes there’d be des bons bons (candy) and other kinds of stuff that was his choice to eat or not. Well, the mother was about to serve the birthday cake which happened to be a strawberry cake, with lots of strawberries on top. My son respectfully declined to eat a piece. The mother asked him why and my son said, “strawberries are not in season.”

(Christophe smiles a huge smile and pumps his fist saying “YES!” He’s learning and he’s making choices on his own. He’s six years old.

Felicia: Wow! Mom and Dad are doing their job. Great story!

Christophe Vasseur: My wife and I make a point of buying organic food and there’s no t.v. at home. I know that one day my son is going to go hang out at McDonald’s with his friends but he will know what real food is and what real food isn’t. He will make his own decisions based on what we have taught him and what his own experiences. I know that everyone does not have the financial means to only buy organic but you can still teach them good eating habits.
Cooking schools are on the rise in France, I think people are coming back to the idea that it’s pleasurable and ultimately nourishing to cook your own food.

8. What three breads embody the spirit of your boulangerie? Which ones should first time visitors leave with?

Christophe Vasseur: 1. Pain des Amis 2. Chausson aux Pommes 3. La Mouna

Felicia: I can’t get enough of your Tendress aux Pommes! I have to eat it alone, no distractions with a lovely tasse de thé. It, along with your Chausson aux Pommes (with real apples, no jam or applesauce!) are my absolute favorites.

Felicia: Pain des Amis is your top seller. Alain Ducasse serves it in his restaurant at the Plaza Athénée. what’s the story behind the name?

Christophe: I would always make bread for my friends on the weekends. I’d see them during the week and they’d say “why don’t you make the same bread during the week? So I started making the bread during the week.

Felicia:  and the rest is history. It’s really a lovely bread, a nutty flavor, the crust….

Christophe Vasseur: Know that 2/3 of the flavor is found in the upper crust and in the bottom crust. That’s where all the flavor is, in the crust. You should take a piece of the bottom crust with a piece of dark chocolate and taste what happens. With the uppercrust I’d recommend a good slice of ham, a Pata Negra or a piece of Bellota ham

Me: Ok, it’s getting very busy here and I will end this interview by saying thank you for taking time out of your busy day to share your childhood dream, your success, your passion and creativity for your what you do with all of us. You’re an inspiration.

Christophe Vasseur: Thank you so much.

Everyone I’m still floating on my cloud by listening to all that I heard and learned from Christophe Vasseur this morning. I will post more photos of his delicious work tomorrow. I wish that I could share with you everything he told me but I know that YOU TOO have dreams that you’re bringing to fruition. I wish you all the best in your endeavors and let’s all get to work!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2012 4:55 PM

    That bread, and the store are beautiful…I love that he took a big risk and it worked out wonderfully, you truly never know until you try!

  2. February 7, 2012 5:57 PM

    I’ve been having a problem with bread lately and the accompanying pictures just made it worse. Great interview! Very interesting about the difficulties in starting over in France if your first attempt was a bust.

  3. February 8, 2012 6:41 AM

    Great interview. I have yet to try this bakery but it IS on my list of bakeries to visit…and to buy some yummy goodies of course. Good for you in getting the interview and thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. February 8, 2012 6:45 AM

    Thank you! It was a pleasure meeting him. I’m about to post the scrumptious goodies that he has in his bakery as well as that amazing Pain des Amis that me and my honey ate this morning.

  5. February 8, 2012 7:40 PM

    Oh lucky you , I have heard of Christophe and his amazing bread …. and doesn’t it look amazing !!!

  6. January 7, 2013 10:12 AM

    I just watched him with Anthony Bourdain on his program last night, and his bake goods look so delicious! I wonder if he will ship them to the states if you order them? That will be a place that I will go next time I go to Paris.!

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