The French are know for some pretty innovative breakthroughs: hot air balloon and hairdryers, pasteurization and pencil, mayonnaise and the metric system, and bicycles, Braille and bras. The Gauls gave us the guillotine and are also accountable for the Etch-a-Sketch. But the jury is still out on the recent brainchild of French baker, inventor and entrepreneur, Jean-Louis Hecht, the 2014 winner of the Concours Lépine—the French invention challenge held each spring at the Foire de Paris.
His invention? Le Distributeur Automatique de Baguette (DAB) or what I like to call the Baguette ATM.
When this contraption popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, I was stunned. Zut alors! A baguette vending machine in the land of artisanal bakers? Sacrilege! I knew I had to see this with my own eyes to believe it.
A quick Google search yielded two addresses: one in the 19eme arrondissement and one in the 15eme. The automatic boulangerie in the 15eme turned out to be a short walk from my Pilates studio, so I grabbed my good friend Rachel and we made the trek.
When we arrived at La Panamette, 32 rue Paul Barruel, we found two dispensers filled with partially baked baguettes—one ready and willing to dispense. We drop our €1 coin, and after 10 seconds, it dropped our baton. I was expecting something more dramatic, and certainly more aromatic, unfortunately it was rather anticlimactic. The machines, swathed in bright pictures of a beret-clad lad wielding his wand among the wheat, were not much different than the chip and candy dispensers from home.
While online reviews promise “crisp and steaming” or “warm and crusty” bread, ours was warm(ish) and chewy, on the verge of being crisp, a super marché quality baguette.
That said, I understand the concept. It addresses a real need. While I wasn’t won over by the taste and texture of this bread, these round-the-clock boulangeries do allow people who work evenings or early mornings to enjoy fresh, warm bread when their friendly bakers lock up shop. In fact, his closed bakery doors are what inspired Hecht, a baker of 57 years, to design the DAB in the first place. Living over his boulangerie, in Hombourg-Haut, he was often disturbed by desperate customers knocking on his door after hours demanding bread. Wanting to spend uninterrupted time with his family and not wanting to worry about closing up for vacation, the idea was born. In addition to more sleep and quality family time, Hecht also hopes that his machines will shorten the queues for buying bread and reclaim the towns of France where the baker has disappeared.
I personally love the anticipation of lining up at my local boulangerie and inspecting the visual and scented edible art, but maybe that’s just an expat experience. To me the DAB is purely a novelty in this land that does bread so well. I’ll wait in line and stick to the real deal.
…lining up for a baguette…
Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the machines dispensing Dom Pérignon in juice boxes.