France’s hottest boulanger

TV chef wants to pass on his passion for the dishiest breads

THE DARK eyes and the flashy hair give an image of a young man who could be a right handful – but, speaking to boulanger Gontran Cherrier, he comes across as surprisingly gentle: and so in love with bread.

Called France’s hottest baker, the 31-year-old has been keeping armchair bakers on the edge of their seats for his Canal+ TV show but wants to kindle a new love affair for viewers and readers – to fall in love with bread in all its forms.

Not just the humble baguette – for which he still starts work at 2am so his bread can be on the table at some of the top hotels and restaurants in Paris – he wants to bring the world of bread to France.

He says: “Bread is not just something you put on the table to accompany your meal – bread can be like a gourmet food, it has different flavours and textures.

“Maybe we should see bread like dishes – you can put what you want on top or inside. It’s not just bread.

“People love baguettes but for me that is just the starting point.

“How can we ignore ciabatta and focaccia where you can put anything on top and have a meal?”

But he is also thinking of different breads: bagels and pain d’orge, or seins de sainte Agathe.

“I am in the bakery at 2am as we have to prepare the different breads for my customers, but of course we have to start the day before as the dough has to rest for 16 hours in the fridge before we bake it.

“But I also have to make time to look at new recipes – for each new customer I have to come up with a new speciality bread for them.”
Gontran – everyone calls him by his first name – is full of plans and his mind races as he talks: a book on sandwiches, other new books, but mostly ways to open up the world of bread to more people.

“I have prepared certain types of bread to go with certain cheeses, recently it was a pain de campagne with gherkins that went perfectly with Appenzeller Swiss cheese; or the pine-forest flavoured bread that I paired with a Tête de Moine.

“I really liked the garlic-flavoured bread that was made to go with Comté cheese from the Auvergne.”

For the son of three generations of bakers the perfect baguette has good crisp crust with a lot of flavour. “I like it when you have enough salt – I know that is not healthy now but you can stay reasonable and have a good taste.”

He looks for a regular shape, with no étranglement thin sections; seven or eight regular and equal slits in the surface; a golden crust with no trace of burning and “a lot of bubbles in the mie dough.”
You should smell the wheat and a little fermentation and acidity – almost buttery.

Now his publishers Hachette Pratique are working on translating his books Gontran Fait Son Pain, Pains and Toastés into English – and open up a whole new market.

His latest book Toastés has recipes for croque-monsieur and sandwiches but also for bruschetta and other world foods, whereas Pains has 40 recipes, including the Breasts of St Agathe.

Gontran’s next project is to start a Paris workshop where he and his team of three bakers can create the vast quantities of bread he needs for his day-to-day clients.

Plus he needs room for his own taste laboratory – but, as he said, like bread the projects take time.