From France with loaves

Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution, bread has been a staple in many parts of the world. Yet, in Myanmar, finding a halfway decent baguette or croissant can be a headache. Only in recent years could bread lovers purchase their baked delicacies in Yangon. Behold bread-enthusiasts! Could the recent inauguration of the French Bakery and Pastry School mark the introduction of the best baguette in the country?

When approaching La Boulangerie Francaise (the French Bakery) in downtown Yangon, an inviting and savoury flagrance emanates from the building. Freshly-baked baguettes, croissants, and other types of bread were on display in front of the large oven – where the magic happens.

The spectacular showcasing of French bread was the work of the bakery’s first batch of 16 students as part of their final exam. After a year of vocational training at the French Bakery and Pastry School, the bakers-to-be held their breath as judges observed in silence.

Indeed, buns are not the only boon of this social enterprise. Beyond the dough, the French Bakery is also training the country’s next generation of bakers by recruiting apprentices from underprivileged families from Rakhine, Kachin, Mon, Shan and Kayin states. A year ago, some of them were struggling to find employment as others strived on low income jobs. Some of them even scavenged on the streets to make a living. The Bakery partnered with 15 organisations working with disadvantaged communities to recruit its first ever students.

“The first time we showed them a baguette, they did not even know how to eat it,” said Claire Robaye, project manager at the French Bakery.

Having just completed their one-year training, the apprentices will start a four-month professional internship at different restaurants and hotels, including Pullman, Rosewood, and Melia Yangon and are expected to graduate in December.

The training started mid-July 2018 and encompasses bakery and pastry classes but also English classes, taught by an English teacher, and life advice and job seeking activities, all overseen by a pedagogical coordinator.

“Students come from different backgrounds. Most of them actually stopped going to school at 11 or 12 year old as they had to start working to help their family. They chose not to go to school anymore. That’s why we emphasise practice in the laboratory and a little bit of theory. So they find it easy coming to school to study,” explained Claire Robaye.

There are no educational requirements to apply for the traineeship besides basic literacy skills and commitment. The students are taught by two teachers from Myanmar and Thailand, who themselves are also trained daily by an expert French baker.

The school is run by the European Institute of Cooperation and Development (a French NGO) in partnership with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and LuxDev (the Luxemburg Development Agency).

The bakery covers all costs, including accommodation, food, and healthcare. Funding comes from donors such as the French Development Agency, Accor Hotel Group, Foundation Masalina, and EXO travel. Moreover, students’ baked goods are sold to businesses and individuals, and the proceeds help cover the cost of the food, healthcare, uniforms and stationery.

“I hope they will climb the ladder quickly, and progress in their future careers. Most of them come from families of many siblings, so finding new jobs will assist them to help their communities,” said Claire Robaye.

“When I got the news about the interview to attend the bakery school, I decided to go because it would help build my future,” said May Myat Thu (22), a Kayin student who came from the Ayeyarwady Region.

“I will work at my [assigned] hotel and try my best to learn more about baking. There is an increasing demand for quality French bread from hotels, restaurants and the expat community. So I will divide my income into two parts, for my family and for my own savings, because I dream of opening my own bakery and coffee shop within the next 10 years,” said May Myat Thu, one of eight siblings.

Baking is not as easy in Myanmar as it is in other countries. Humidity and heat varies greatly from season to season, which impacts the baking process. “You need to adapt your recipe and your baking time depending on the season. There is more humidity now, so we need to bake a little bit longer to get crispy bread,” Claire Robaye said.

The French Bakery also hopes to develop fusion pastries to provide Myanmar communities with a taste of their own local products. “One month ago, we taught students how to make mango mousse. These are very much appreciated by Myanmar people. They are delicious,” she added.

Source: Myanmar Times

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