Dame Farine (Lady Flour) is a small minimalist shop selling some of the best bread to be found in Marseille, and for that matter, in France. (The Bottin Gourmand Winter 2015 edition listed the shop as one of the 100 best boulangeries in France).
We stopped by one afternoon to chat with Dame Farine, Marie-Christine Aractingi
MFT: I understand that you were majoring in Literature; what caused this career change?
I was in the Erasmus program, spending my fourth year in the United Kingdom. As part of the celebrations for the Easter holiday, we all had to make a typical dish from our home country. I chose to make a sort of pizza, and I remember that as I watched the dough rise, I thought that was magical. That’s how it all started. I went on to bake lots of different breads, and did research on the internet. When I returned to France, I went to a baker and asked if I could just watch how things were done; he said come back tomorrow and if all goes well, I’ll hire you.
I apprenticed with that Boulanger for a year, and then another, and another. At the end of three years, I decided that I didn’t want to stay in Paris, and went to Aix-en-Provence and apprenticed with Benoît Fradette at the well-known Farinoman Fou.
MFT: You’re not from Marseille, then?
No, I’m Lebanese and I grew up in Paris.
MFT: Your logo says “Boulangerie d’Art et d’Essai.” What does that mean?
The idea came to me even before I opened my shop. I had a blog called “du pain et du plume” where I wrote about bread. A friend and I tried making bread with all kinds of ingredients: wine apples, cassis, marjoram, cafe , vanilla. And, one day while writing the blog, the phrase just popped into my head. It refers to art cinemas:, it’s a nice phrase that describes inventing things. I wanted my bakery to be a place where I invented things, to realize in the bakery what people realize with films.
MFT: I see that you use “old grains;” what’s behind this choice?
When you start to be interested in this métier you want to do things better and better. At the Farinoan Fou, Benoit Fradett, had several millers, including the one I work with right now; he was my favorite, as I liked the flavor of his cereals, his old grains. Today many people complain that they are allergic to gluten, or to other things. I met another miller who said that even people who said they were allergic to gluten had no trouble digesting his bread, which was made from old grains. In fact, what is difficult to digest are modern grains, with tenacious gluten; and bakers who use a lot of yeast. There are many factors to explain why bread is not easily digestible. My solution, rather than having people run away from bread, is to offer healthy bread. 60 years ago, people didn’t have an intolerance to gluten.
MFT: What do you like about your profession?
When I began, what I loved was touching the dough, the odor of the dough and watching the dough rise. When the dough is in the oven, it’s a magic moment. And to look at my bread and say “I’m the one who made that.” And, although I would not have thought so, I take great pleasure with my clients. I know almost all of them, we use the familiar “tu” form of address, and I love this ambiance.
MFT: How many people work at DF?
One full-time employee and one part-time apprentice.
MFT: What are some of your specialties?
A best-seller is “soleil levain,” it’s made from whole wheat and has a pleasing round form. Another specialty is the “petit poucet,” a little round white bread. These sell very well, as does the bread made from kamut. My own favorite is “métail,” which is a bread made from a mixture of rye and wheat
MFT: What challenges do you face as a shop keeper?
It’s difficult to be constantly creative. It can be exhausting. Clients are always asking for more, for example, they’ll want to know what you are going to do for Christmas. So one is always starting from stratch. Another challenge is to be able always keep smiling, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s also difficult is that to predict what will sell; every day is different. My products are perishable, it’s not like a shoe store. It’s tough when bread remains unsold.
And finally, there is the solitude of the small business owner.
MFT: Our last question, for all the people we interview: what is your favorite restaurant, and is there a place or a walk that you particularly like?
One of my favorite restaurants is “Le Bistro des Dames,” on the place aux Huiles near the Vieux Port.
As for a place or a walk, I love the Calanques of the Côte Bleu. It’s less crowded than the other calanques. You can get there by taking the train from the Gare Saint-Charles.
77, avenue de la Corse, 13007 Marseille