The Ayatollah of Bread

All those Americans who are dismayed at French disdain for American food will be gratified to learn that the fiercest critic of the modern French baguette is, in fact, an American — a Brooklynite, currently a European history professor at Cornell, a fellow by the name of Stephen Kaplan. Kaplan is on record as having pronounced the modern French baguette a “tasteless, odorless monstrosity”. Indeed the cruelty he has exhibited toward the French baking establishment has made him something of a celebrity in France, where has been dubbed the “Ayatollah of Bread”, and given two knighthoods (Chevalier of the Legion of Honor).

Kaplan has become famous for bringing his own bread to some of France’s finest restaurants (“Shaming is the only effective technique to deal with bread dereliction,” he says) and for using language like “a global sense of the first moment of penetration” to describe the mouthfeel of a good baguette. “It’s as if the female crumb has completely reduced the male crust to helpless impotence,” Kaplan said of a baguette he found to be insufficiently crusty.

Regardless of how you feel about a grown man behaving like this, you can’t say he doesn’t know how to talk the talk of modern-day academia.

2 thoughts on “The Ayatollah of Bread”

  1. Having had bread all over Europe 40 years ago I have raved about the taste & texture to anyone who would listen. At the time decent bread in the US was almost impossible to find. When I went back a couple of years ago I found that the French had fallen into the trap Americans had years earlier – their bread was crap. Cheap, readily available crap. You are more likely to find good bread in an American bakery than in Paris.

    I hope he succeeds in showing them what they have lost & the see the error of their ways.

    1. You hear that more and more from the Continent, and it’s certainly a sad thing in many respects. However I think these sorts of things are cyclical to some extent. Large-scale cultural and economic forces put pressure on traditions, and people are forced to make a conscious decision about what they want to leave behind and what they want to keep. I think good bread is important enough to most Europeans that they’ll choose to keep it, though it will probably never be as prevalent as it once was. Life today is just too different.

      This is one of the things I really love about food: the way it follows and reflects much larger social trends. It’s endlessly fascinating in that way. Thanks for the email, Frank!

      – Joe

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