I met baker Louis Lamour through Facebook's "Universal Bread" page. He has an interesting background, coming to the food world after first spending years in finance. Watching his baking videos, I tried them with great success, and decided to to invite him here to share his philosophy on bread baking.
How did you become a baker? You started in management, what made you switch careers?
I’ll answer these two questions at once.
I come from a family that was passionate about food. My mom was a great cook. Going to buy bread was always a serious task. We’d buy it everyday and go to different bakeries for different breads.
I studied management and graduated from a British university and a French business school. I never had a passion for finance and management but since I was good in school, I was never really asked what I wanted to do.
I specialized in Human Resources so I naturally went to work in recruitment. I was working in a firm specialized in Capital Markets. In 2008, during the sub-prime real estate crisis, my clients told me they would not recruit for the next six months, meaning no salary for me. I then questioned myself about what I REALLY wanted to do. Bread was the obvious answer. However I had very little knowledge about the reality of commercial baking. I trained in Ecole Ferrandi and Institute National De Boulangerie et Pâtisserie. I studied bakery and pastry.
Where do you bake?
When consulting, I bake at clients. I bake at my friend’s bakery; “Le P’tit Père”, in Paris, where I shoot my videos. And I bake my sourdough bread at home. No yeast, to have good bread and to get rid of my excess sourdough.
You worked in larger established bakeries, what were the pluses and minuses?
Larger bakeries are very interesting because you have to give to others your passion about bread and getting the best results. Also, you shouldn’t have to do yourself the most tedious parts of the job - moving flour bags and cleaning. However, employees aren’t always as motivated as you and you still have to take care of it.
The downsides are that everything has to be planned, leaving less room for improvisation and experimentation. Your job is to make sure that the bread will be ready on time. And you have to make sure that the quality will be “acceptable” for the customers. There is definitely less passion in the larger scale places where I have worked. People don’t usually seem as involved.
Another downside is that you need to spend a lot of time doing planning, recruitment, training new staff, etc. and you have therefore less time to actually TOUCH dough.
Is sourdough possible to use without the aid of commercial yeast in a bakery today?
Yes it is! If you have a bakery in a place where people understand the concept of sourdough and will be happy with a denser product, it is actually feasible and recommendable.
However it isn’t possible for every bakery in the world to stop using yeast.
First of all, I don’t believe yeast is evil. When analyzed, most sourdoughs contain saccharomyces cerevisiae. The bakers often don’t even know it. It occurs mostly by contamination from the air, the mixers or the tools.
I also think that when used correctly yeast can give great results. Furthermore, not all breads are suitable for sourdough. For example, look at the West African market. Parents have to feed large families with 250g baguettes on which they spread various things. Off course you’re going to have to use yeast and ascorbic acid to give them a result that is suitable for them. And in my opinion there is no good bread or bad bread. You must give people the bread that they want or that they need.
Gluten Free, fad or serious subject?
We all know that “ gluten intolerance” is different from “gluten sensitivity.” Most people who don’t eat gluten don’t even understand that gluten is a protein that is good for them. Many studies have also show that when given random muffins, with or without gluten, “gluten-sensitive” people had the same reactions, according to them. However I believe the trend will last a few more years and it isn’t commercially aberrant to start selling gluten free products. However it isn’t my thing and I leave it to others.
Is there a crisis in bakeries as in kitchens, with less young people willing to enter the market?
Yes and no. In France, traditionally, if you weren’t good in school, you were sent to a manual job. To make the trade more attractive, instead of inciting to increase salary, they lowered the required level to obtain the diploma. The result is that many “bakers” entered the profession not from passion but because they didn’t have a job. And it was not too difficult.
On the other hand, you also have people from all walks of life, although most are from intellectual jobs that they quit to start learning the trade. They are usually very motivated and eager to learn. The problem is that, after awhile, most of them to become an actual baker is a long process. And that it is very difficult in terms of hours and physical effort. Many quit after a while.
The interest today in ancient grains, is it all just marketing?
Definitely not. Ancient grains will not replace high yield and high gluten varieties for the same reasons as to why yeast and improvers are necessary in some bread. But in many cases, ancient grains require less fertilizers and overall treatment when growing.
They also lead to flours that are very suitable for making ancient-type sourdough breads. People in developed countries will pay growing attention to the quality of the food that they eat. They would rather eat bread made from wheat that wasn’t engineered and chemically treated.
How do you judge good bread; taste, shaping, what? ?
All organoleptic (look, taste, smell, feel) aspects are important in bread. Appearance is just one of them.
Shaping is probably the least important in my opinion. It is something mostly bakers pay attention too. The same goes with open crumb structure. It is definitely a sign of good craftsmanship, but I’d rather have a bread with a slightly less open structure if it has great taste and a good crust.
Bread lovers like good taste and good texture. As I grow older I am more and more interested in food textures, in general. And in bread, in particular. Crustiness, crispiness, chewiness, shortness of bite. These are aspect I pay growing attention to.
Sometimes at restaurants, I am served bread that could be great but it was packed in cardboard when still hot. The result is a chewy crust and an off-flavor. That annoys me very much.
What are some new innovations or trends like stenciling that you like or dislike?
Some great bakers like Eli Colvin and Josep Pascual make breads that look awesome with stencils. Customers buy with their eyes the first time, so it is definitely worth paying attention, too. It is also something that allows you to differentiate like shaping and scoring.
As other trends are concerned, I believe that we tend to forget that slow fermentation (not retarded fermentation) is rather new. I think it is amazing. It allows better control and better quality of the final product.
There will always be new trends like bi-color croissants, no-yeast sweet dough, square baguettes with blade dividers. Some will last, some last. I like that our industry always tries to better itself. I think there is something for everybody.
Do you think bread can have a stamp of gout or terroir depending how it is baked or where it’s produced? For instance, a baguette, does it taste different from one place or another?
I believe all the aspects of bread making will have an impact on the final product. The sourdough will be impacted by the microbiological fauna. Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis for San Francisco sourdough.
However, in most case, cycles of feeding and flour quality will have more impact on the flavor profile. One very important ingredient that is often overlooked is water. As a baker, you are somewhat dependent of the water you are provided by your city’s utility services. You cannot make good bread with bad water. Treatments exist but I know very few bakers that actively try to improve the quality of the water they use.
You’ve done some really interesting videos, which helped me with both baguette and croissants. Will this lead to more or will you do a book?
I love making the videos but they are definitely time-consuming. And I don’t gain anything financially from them. I love being able to share my passion. I’d like to ask other bakers to show their recipes and tell their stories. However time is the biggest constraint.
Since you worked overseas, what places did you find new ideas for baking?
I believe every baker can teach you something; a different way of shaping, scoring, putting filling in a product, even maybe a way to clean more efficiently. Asia is great because their expectations of bread are so different from my bread culture. They are the kings of soft and filled products. Japanese and Taiwanese bakers have such a dedication to their trade. It is so impressive; a shoutout to my friend Johnny (Yung-Hsin) Chen, who just won the Mondial du Pain representing Taiwan.
What is your favorite bread?
The one I haven’t taste yet. I love to try new breads.
What do you think about while you bake?
I love working alone listening to music; jazz, classical or electronica. You can think about anything. Often I think about my girlfriend, my family or politics.
How do you change the overnight baking routine, is there a simpler way, or this tradition demands graveyard shifts?
If you operate on a large scale, the graveyard shift is necessary. It is a beautiful thing. I love riding my bike at two a.m. in Paris. I love being able to go the bank or the barber in the afternoon. That being said, I don’t have kids, yet. When I’ll do, I’ll try to keep the night shifts to a minimum.
There is a large home baker community in the world. Why do you think the interest exists? What is good or bad about par baked breads?
Because bread is an amazing product. It is one of the oldest transformed foods known to men. It is mentioned many times in the bible and the koran. With the exact same ingredients and recipe, two bakers will not get the same outcome. It is fascinating how many parameters enter in the process.
How should bread be paired with food?
There are so many ways it can be paired. Food can be used as inclusion, as toppings and as fillings. It can be used as a plate or a bowl. You can use anything liquid as hydration; eggs, fruit juices, and veggie juices. Fondue, bisque, cheese and charcuterie wouldn’t be the same without breads. Spanish pinchos are an example of restaurants where everything is served on bread. It is a food on its own.
Why shouldn’t bread be heated when served in restaurants, or should it be?
I might shock a few people but in many cases, restaurants should use par-baked frozen bread. If there is no baker that can deliver freshly baked bread close to serving time, par-baked frozen can be a good alternative. I will always prefer good quality artisan breads over industrial bread. Sadly, too often artisans disappoint me.
I’m getting more and more interested in milling on a small scale.
Will you open a bakery in Paris?
Maybe. Stay tuned.
What do you like to do when you don’t bake?
Running. Snorkeling. Spearfishing. Skydiving. Mixed Martial Arts. Visiting bakeries, food markets, or restaurants.
Do you like eating bread?
No, I love eating bread. I don’t eat bread to live. I live to eat bread!