I first connected with Marc-André Cyr on Twitter. We finally got to know each other in person on visits to Montreal. Marc is a busy baker, who started out in studying cinema, worked in different areas of the food business (cooking, groceries), and finally became a baker. Today he can be found often sharing ideas about grain with other bakers. So let's catch up with the "The Baker on the go", the moniker for his blog!
Where did you learn to bake bread?
Boulangerie Le Petit Breton and Olive+Gourmando, both here in Montréal.
Where do you bake now?
These days, I’m in between gigs, as they say. But I’m always the Baker on the Go, and have been for about nine years. I go to people’s homes and teach them how to make bread; in their kitchens with their own gear and oven. Pretty simple concept but I think I’m one of the only guys out there doing this. Go figure! I can’t say I’m crazy busy with this and maybe that’s why nobody else does it. But it’s always a lot of fun. People contact me by email so it’s always a treat to show up with my bags full of flour and stuff, ring the doorbell, and finally meet the folks who’ve asked for my services. It usually turns into a party.
What is A Taste for Grain?
The first A Taste for Grain – Le Goût du grain event is an idea I had to bring together folks whose passions and livelihoods are built on grain but who, by the very nature of the work they do, rarely get to spend time together. And at the same time, I wanted to celebrate local Canadian grain in all its forms and flavors.
So far, I’ve done only one but I’ve begun working on the next two. Another one in Montréal and one in New Brunswick. This first one took place in two parts; at an amazing place called the Foodlab here in Montréal. First a three-hour conference, conversation, symposium of sorts, by invitation only. Grain heads unite!! Randy George (Red Hen Baking), Loïc Dewavrin (Moulin des Cèdres), and Blair Marvin (Elmore Mountain Bread) all spoke for a few minutes, then we opened it up for questions and discussion. After that, we had guest chefs in the Foodlab kitchen each working with a different Quebec grain to create a cool menu. It made for a wonderful dinner party, and it was open to the public.
Do you think cooks and bakers are different?
Yes but I wish they weren’t. I think they both stand to learn a lot from each other. But mostly, I feel a lot of bakers I know would benefit greatly from some kitchen time.
How’s the food and bread scene in Montreal?
Exciting! There’s lots going on, especially on the restaurant scene. Still lots of room for more good bread, though. There’s a whole half of the city (the west side of the mountain, say) that is dramatically scarce for tasty and pretty bread.
Your favorite grain?
Wheat. C’mon, gluten is magical! Buckwheat is #2.
Mixer or hand mixing, what do you like best?
I’ve come to really appreciate the value of building dough structure with the use of folds. The mixer is useful for initial mixing of the ingredients, and I stop there. At home I was always was a mixer guy, now I barely use it.
What bread did you grow up eating?
The bread I remember the most fondly is all that tasty Jewish deli-style bread of places like Cantor’s and Van Horne Bagel in Montréal. Challah, pumpernickel, kimmel. There was this two-toned, yin-yang rye thing that still haunts me, that I’ve never seen again or since. It was cylinder-shaped, probably baked in some funky tube-like mould. Man, I loved that stuff. My brother and I use to make our kosher beef salami sandwiches for school on that bread. Fond memories.
Sourdough only, or do you use yeast too?
Both! I have no problem with commercial yeast. My favorite baguette ever is made with yeast by my first bread mentor Guy Bonraisin. Can’t argue with that. I don’t buy into the almost dogmatic, and sometimes snobby attitude of some hardcore sourdough users out there.
(You mean like me? – Joke. I didn't ask.) What influences you and your craft?
Ha! Ha! Instagram! I guess I should say something more like…the seasons, the market, etc.
Who influences you?
Most of my baker and cook buddies both inspire and influence me. In the past year, Simon Blackwell and his lovely and skilled crew at Blackbird Baking in Toronto have made their way into to a very special place in my baker’s heart. The passionate work being done by the gang at Elmore Mountain Bread is very inspiring.
I remember seeing an article in a French home style and fashion magazine about Lionel Poilâne many, many years ago as I was first getting interested in bread. I thought he was the coolest thing ever. Sharing tartine recipes in his fancy Paris apartment, wearing a pinstriped shirt and a tie. Probably had suspenders on too. Man, was he slick! His sense of style, art appreciation, aesthetics, skill, interests outside of bread. At the same time, I was also into Ed Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book, which also influenced me on a sentimental, touchy-feely, spiritual level. As you can see, I’m all over the place.
What’s your favorite bread?
Guy’s (Le Petit Breton) baguette and campagnard, anything from Blackbird in TO, challah from Snowdon Bakery.
Do you think neighborhood bakeries are something of the past?
No, I think and hope they are part of the future! In fact, it’s what I’m looking at possibly doing next. In my own beloved neighbourhood of N.D.G., here in Montréal.
How do you feel about the newest renaissance of baking? (Looking back at La Brea etc..)
If you mean local grain, fresh-milled flour, gentler handling of the dough, and all that, I love it and I can’t wait for it to hit Montreal a little more! Hopefully, I can be a part of that.
Who is or was the godfather of bread for you growing up, or the grandmother?
I’m not one of those fellas with a special cathartic childhood memory of something special that got me into food and bread, like those cats on Chef’s Table. I got into bread very late, at thirty years old (I’m 46 now.) Sure my mom cooked all kinds of stuff but what I mainly learned from her was how important it is to be open to anything and everything, food- and music-wise! Thanks Mom.
What are some of the root culture of Acadian bread?
There wasn’t much bread culture in my family, that I know of. In my experience, old-time French Canadian bread in general is puffy white “pain de ménage”, which translates as household bread. Heavily yeasted and under-baked. Not my favorite.
Will you write a book?
I don’t know… if I do it won’t necessarily be a how-to kinda thing. There are already some very, very good ones out there. Richard Bertinet and Dan Lepard’s books have a lovely tone and clear, excellent instructions. And after that, well Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread pretty much covers it all. I’ll leave that to the more scientific types out there. If I do one it will be a bit more anthropological, a social studies book but with cool comic book-style images. Lucky Peach meets Marvel Comics meets Margaret Visser, James Beard, and Harold McGee.
Are you all about bread, and or cuisine too?
Both. It’s all food, right? But the process of bread making brings me a great deal of pleasure, it’s what makes me happiest.
Recipe from Marc-André
Wheat and Wapsee Corn
85% all purpose flour, untreated unbleached
15% Wapsee corn flour
10% pâte fermentée (old dough)
± 72% water
Autolyse 30 minutes (flour and water)
Add salt, levain and old dough
Gentle mix for 4-5 minutes
Rest 30 minutes
Rest 30 minutes
Fridge overnight (16hrs)
Pull out and let sit at room temperature
Rest 30 minutes
Rest 45 minutes
Freelance baker/ Boulanger itinérant