Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Bread Winner

A daughter upholds the traditions of France’s premier baking dynasty.

by December 3, 2012

December 3, 2012 Issue
ABSTRACT: LETTER FROM PARIS about the French bakery Poilâne. In 2002, Lionel Poilâne, who owned the Poilâne company, which, for eight decades, had made Paris’s most celebrated bread, was killed in a helicopter crash with his wife. 
Their daughter, Apollonia Poilâne, subsequently took over as C.E.O. of the company. Poilâne was founded in 1932 by Apollonia’s paternal grandfather, Pierre, who opened the first bakery in the city’s Sixth Arrondissement. In 1973, after Pierre suffered a stroke, Lionel began to take over the company. Lionel opened two more bakeries in Paris, and another in London, befriending celebrities and charming reporters along the way.
For four years after her parents’ death, Apollonia ran the company while attending Harvard University. Today, Poilâne grosses eighteen million dollars a year and employs a hundred and sixty people. The company’s signature item is a wheel of sourdough, also known as a miche. Loaves are sent to the Elysée Palace, as well as to more than twenty-five hundred of Paris’s supermarkets and restaurants. The company also ships more than two hundred thousand loaves a year to clients in twenty countries. Bread, seen through Apollonia’s eyes, is as infinitely variable as the human body. 
The writer visits the Poilâne manufactory in Bièvres, a suburb of Paris, with Apollonia. Mentions a fourth Poilâne bakery in Paris, located in the Fifteenth Arrondissement, which is owned by Max Poilâne, Lionel's older brother, with whom he had a falling out in the seventies.
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