Few things in France are treated with the reverence and respect of bread in general and the baguette, the long wand of dough made from a recipe defined in French law, in particular.
It is a bread on to which some still trace the sign of the cross before cutting into it every morning for breakfast, when it is mostly spread with butter and jam.
But now one entrepreneurial baker has come up with an idea that sounds as sacrilegious as putting Dom Pérignon in wine boxes: selling baguettes in a vending machine.
Jean-Louis Hecht has taken advantage of the August holiday period, when many of France’s 33,000 boulangers shut up shop, to install Paris’s first 24-hour automated baguette dispenser.
“This is the bakery of tomorrow,” Hecht told the Associated Press. “It is answering a real need. People who work at night or early in the morning can get their fresh bread. To me it’s a public utility.”
So far Hecht has only installed two machines, one next to his baker’s shop in Paris’s 19th arrondissement and a second in the north-eastern town of Hombourg-Haut, close to the German border, where he also has a shop.
The baguettes are partially cooked before they are put in the machine, then finished off when ordered and delivered crisp and steaming for €1 each.
Hecht first came up with his idea two years ago. Like many bakers he was living over his boulanger, in Hombourg-Haut and was often disturbed by customers knocking on the door for bread after he had closed.
“My wife said: ‘We’ll never get any peace”, so I said, ‘We’ll put out a bread distributor and we’ll be left alone,” Hecht added.
Marc Nexhip of the Paris bakers’ union admitted he had not yet tasted one of the vending machine baguettes, but told AP: “I’m not convinced that good taste can be maintained over time. Maybe for 15 minutes, but not for several hours.”
Hecht is not discouraged. “It’s like with banks: before, everyone went to a teller; now, everyone uses cash dispensers. It will be the same with bread: today, everyone goes to the bakery; tomorrow, they’ll go to the baguette dispenser,” he said.