Where do you go for the taste of authentic Parisian artisanal bread? Middlesex would not be many people’s number-two destination on this front. But in Upminster, you will find a self-proclaimed sourdough "mini revolution" under way. (Any sightings of Frenchmen roaming the countryside wielding their baguettes in an aggressive manner are purely coincidental.)
Wholesale baker Boulangerie de Paris is the brainchild of Amar Chibane, who has spent the last 11 years training and baking, with tutelage under a master baker in Paris, as well as work in London. "I’m not really pretentious, but I’ve taken all the knowledge I need from Paris, learning every day, day after day, and my experience has improved. I have a lot of ambition here in London to explain my little revolution in bread, which is the philosophy of Boulangerie de Paris - to change people."
Now he wants to be the baker of choice for the capital’s top restaurants. The breads have a minimum eight-hour fermentation for each piece, which are made using organic French flours, some stoneground; all water used is filtered.
With a 30-strong list of sourdoughs, isn’t that a nightmare to manage daily? "Not at all. When you have good organisation, it is nothing," he shrugs. He even insists the process doesn’t have to hit the price tag: the bakery’s launch price list included an 800g rye raisin loaf at a bargain £2.10.
"I am not going into business to make lots of money," he reasons. "If I wanted that, I’d open a small shop in London." And he’s not going to be shipping French reserves over to fill the skills gaps - the idea is to train people up and spread the word. "If you are motivated to learn, then I say, ’Come, my friend, and you will work and you will learn’."
=== Going it alone ===
The business: Boulangerie de Paris, 26 Riverside Way, Uxbridge UB8 2YF
Ownership: three partners, with the bakery run by Amar Chibane
Brief: to be the number one bread supplier into top London restaurants, with the likes of Bacchus and Sketch already signed up
Cost of start-up: £100,000
Biggest outlay: a Spanish-made wood-fired oven at E50,000 (£39,733). "The bread takes the calcium and magnesium from the wood," says Chibane. "It makes a difference with the colour of the bread and a really thin crust. The taste is totally beautiful."
Other kit: a spiral mixer will raise the temperature of the sourdough, but the slow-motion Axe Oblique mixer keeps it closer to 24?C, which Chibane claims is the ideal temperature. "If you are working a sourdough with a spiral mixer, it is pointless, because you will kill your sourdough."
Breads: 100% sourdough baguettes, fruit and nut breads, rye and French/Italian speciality breads. One of the most requested loaves in the UK has been a Fig Campagne, made with organic figs
Capacity: "The biggest fear from customers is that our bread is so good," says partner Fouahde Belaid, "that we’ll end up making much more bread and lose the quality; but we’ve pledged we won’t make more than 2,000 pieces a day. If we do grow we’ll have to be sure we’ll keep the quality. Otherwise, we’ll stay small and open a shop."
Contact: 07882 164860
=== The pros and cons ===
Putting together the marketing materials: "I am only 26 years old, and I am very passionate. But it is really hard for me because my English is really bad! My business partner works in PR - he got on the phone and delivered samples and we had 20 restaurants taking our bread straight away. We’re staying really focused about the organisation, and we’re growing bit by bit, step by step, because I want to keep this quality of bread."
Instigating a revolution: "I want to take fresh bread to the people. With a lot of bread in London, you think it’s fresh but it’s frozen. I want a mini-revolution. Because I really love my job, I’m a proper baker, I take these breads home and I break my teeth - it makes me upset! I really want to explain my philosophy, to scream it!"