For the first time ever, the United States sent a team of 24 bakers to participate in the Fête du Pain, an annual twelve-day bread festival in France that celebrates bread. In Paris, the Fête occurred in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and concluded on May 16.
During the Fête du Pain, Messe des Boulangers, (Bakers’ Mass) took place inside Notre-Dame Cathedral on Sunday, May 6. The mass is a veneration of bread, and bakers are honored as they are brought to the front seats, led by priests. Later in the mass, the American bakers held baskets of bread at the altar as the bread was blessed by the Archbishop, and then carried the baskets to the entrance of the cathedral as the mass concluded.
“Each person takes a piece of the blessed bread as they leave the cathedral. That’s pretty moving,” explains Jeffrey Hamelman, who organized the American presence at the Fête, including participating in the Bakers’ Mass, and is the former bakery director at King Arthur Flour. “I’ve been baking for 41 years, and that’s the most significant highlight of my baking life,” he says.
Hamelman continued to say that it is incredibly rare that any bakers other than the French are part of this celebration, and “it’s pretty extraordinary” that the United States was invited to send a team of bakers.
At the Fête du Pain, the US participants organized a fully equipped working bakery in full view of the 10,000 people who visited the hall each day.
Eight bakers were required each day for the duration of the 12-day event. There were three teams of eight bakers. The second team overlapped for one day with the first team, and the third team overlapped one day with the second team. Each baker committed to five full days of baking.
“Several cities have their own Fête, but the one in Paris, not surprisingly, is the foremost,” Hamelman says. “There are a number of active working bakeries making products in a temporary building that is erected just in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral.”
Throughout the event, more than 200,000 people strolled through the Fête to watch bakers work and to buy their products, including thousands of school children along with their teachers. It was a great honor for the United States and the American bakers who participated, Hamelman said, noting the importance of this annual festival and its celebration of bread.
The American bakers who participated included Sandra Holl, Randy George, Christy Timon, as well as Carrie Brisson and Kelsey Fairfield, both of the King Arthur Flour Bakery + Cafe in Norwich, Vermont. Hamelman, William Leaman and Jory Downer served as the three team leaders.
“It was the best feeling to bring that experience to younger bakers and to get outside and see such an extraordinary event,” he added. “The hospitality of the French was remarkable. It truly was a festival and a total joining of good baking energy.”
The prestigious French baguette
This year the festival also revolved around a theme: “baguettes onto the scene.” Bakers were instructed to organize outdoor manifestations or offer innovations in their shop, such as new baguette recipes. From May 13 to 15, the village hosted the prestigious contest for Best French Tradition Baguette. The competition pitted 21 bakers from 13 regions of France for the title. In the finals, candidates had six hours maximum, and each had to bake on the spot in front of the audience, completing 40 French traditional baguettes that meet the required specifications. The French baker finalists were David Enguehard of Normandy, Aymeric Rousse of Occitanie and Laurent Encatassamy of Reunion Island. The overall champion was Encatassamy, who is head of the Maïdo bakery in Saint-Paul.