"Nick's knack at packing flats and stacking skids is midst a whiz of ritzy kids, a cracking bats and hacking skids." – Alex Estes (bakery graffiti artist)
On the Back of a Grocery Sack
Fred got this crazy idea to build an outdoor bread oven from a sketch that Marcel had drawn on a shopping bag, during the 10pm break at the Longmont boulangerie. Boulangerie is French for bakery and that's where Fred worked, with a crew of 'oven loafers', cranking out 3000 loaves of French bread each night.
Marcel, the head baker, managed this crew of 'no-collar' bakery bums. Their work ran from 8pm until 6am and most nights, the doughboys went through six or seven sprints to get the bread out. Marcel mixed the dough and filled 20 cabinets, ready for baking on each shift. There's a bit of lingo to this process: French bread is laid on the 'couche', the baker's linen proofing cloth and cabinets are filled with rising dough, waiting to be loaded onto 'tappis' (the oven trays).
The art of baguette baking requires a special incision, a 'coup de lame', to create the traditional opening in the French bread loaves. So Fred and the bakery boys hunched over the loading tappis, razorblade in hand, slicing loaf after loaf to prepare the French bread. It was 'slit, slit, slit' all night long and the sandwich rolls also required endless scissor cuts to make the smaller pieces. 'Snip, snip, snip.'
A fully-loaded oven held over 100 loaves, to be baked and steamed for that special baguette crust. After 15 minutes, the red hot baguettes were unloaded into wire baskets and wheeled to the packing crew in the back room, where the bread cooled in the night air before being put into sacks, grocery bags, then delivery trucks. Sometimes, the bakery boys strolled out for a smoke and a chat with the packers. This packing crew were the unskilled workers, who kept the party going all night with their noisy banter and boom box music blaring out the back doors of the boulangerie – any work was good work, and we took what we could get but B-b-b-baby – you ain't seen nothing yet.