Indian French bakers: Mickaël’s husband-wife team embrace their role and new country
In a modest way, Mickaël Durand has changed our lives. From Mickaël’s Cafe Librairie has come a steady supply of crusty baguettes, loaves of every description, buttery croissants, velvety crème brûlées, and more. The operation grew to include 10 markets last summer and added a successful outpost in Omemee. Here in the Kawarthas we can experience all Mickaël and his brother offer in their two boulangeries in France.
Picture Mickaël’s two skilled bakers — bakers who work night and day and are responsible for everything now coming out of the ovens — bakers whose dream is to one day open their own bakery.
I’m guessing that you’re not picturing a young Hindu from the Punjab (land of chapatti and curries) who arrived in Lindsay two years ago planning to complete Fleming’s advanced water systems operations and management program and return to India; or her husband, who joined her later to be with her, work in a factory, train as a truck driver, and return to his family’s cattle feed business.
Their names are Priya Gupta and Amrish Kumar Goyal. And if Mickaël’s has made a modest difference in our lives, it has completely transformed theirs.
Priya and Amrish drop in on a late afternoon. Priya, who’d started baking at 6 a.m. had finished at 3 p.m. Amrish, who bakes through the night, would be starting at 11 p.m.
They’re a study in temperamental and physical contrasts. Priya — quiet, composed, watchful — is slight. Amrish, more outgoing and animated, is robust. Both have smiles that light up their faces.
Priya mentions that the next day would be their third anniversary, so that’s where our conversation starts. They’d first met three years and nine days earlier — so, eight days before they were wed. It was an arranged marriage and theirs was a traditional Hindu wedding, full of colour and ritual, and spaced out over several days.
It has obviously turned out well. They seem entirely comfortable with each other.
It was a few months after she arrived in Lindsay that Priya, looking for part-time work, dropped off her resume at restaurants and businesses along Kent Street, including Mickaël’s. She was interviewed. Mickaël said he’d like time to think about hiring her. She phoned the next morning to ask, “What do you think?” (Add persistence to her list of character traits).
She was hired to clean but Mickaël soon introduced her to baking. He started with pretzels and bagels (which involve an uncomplicated dough that is weighed, shaped, boiled, and baked) and then moved on to cookies and finally breads, which require the most skill.
English was the weakest of Priya’s three languages, and the processes and foods were unfamiliar, but according to Mickaël she was a quick learner. “I would just say something one time and she got it,” he says.
After Amrish arrived, Mickaël would see him picking up Priya at the end of her shift. He liked Amrish’s pleasant manner, but language was a barrier: Amrish spoke almost no English.
A few months later, though, with his business expanding and a need for someone to work nights, Mickaël asked Amrish to try baking.
Both Amrish and Mickaël have vivid memories of the first night of training. Mickaël, whose first language is of course French, and Amrish, whose first language is Punjabi, used Google Translate occasionally. Mostly, though, Amrish learned by watching.
Amrish appreciated Mickaël’s teaching style. “He is very patient. If I make a mistake, it is okay,” he says. But mistakes didn’t happen often.
“The speed at which he picked it up was insane,” Mickaël says. Amrish had what Mickaël calls “the touch.”
“Bread dough is alive. A good baker has a feeling about when the dough is ready to be shaped and ready to be baked,” says Mickaël.
For Amrish it was all a revelation and an unalloyed pleasure. He’d been working in a factory where time passed slowly. Here, time flew. He loved the environment and everything about the baking. He was eager to know more and sometimes Priya would bring home the recipe book for him or show him small tricks.
The Next Chapter
Their lives have fallen into comfortable routines at work. They have their own shifts, but particularly on Fridays, when everything must be prepared for Lindsay, the Omemee cafe, and Peterborough market, before leaving Priya prepares dough that will slowly proof (rest) in the fridge, awaiting Amrish’s arrival.
Both feel they’re constantly learning. Amrish, working alone in the bakery through the night, has been focused on optimizing oven use on those Fridays he needs to turn out roughly 300 loaves. Priya, working during the day as customers come and go has steadily improved her English and has started taking some of the phone orders. Mickaël plans to give her more experience with customers to complement the technical skills both she and Amrish have.
Off work they prepare vegetarian Indian dishes and flatbreads, watch Bollywood movies and communicate using WhatsApp with relatives in India. But they are also taking pleasure in their new home and the relatively slow pace of Lindsay life.
Both are on three-year work permits. The original plans to return to India have been discarded, though. Soon they’ll be applying for permanent resident status, and the next step will be Canadian citizenship.
Further in the future is that bakery, a dream Mickaël has encouraged. Amrish tells me he has already come up with the name: “It will be A & P,” he says, “A for Amrish and P for Priya.”
*This column was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. See Mickaël’s Facebook page for current information.