Sourdough baguettes and pain de campagne, carmelised chantilly millefeuille and flan pâtissier — if you ever find yourself in Paris and wandering the 14ième arrondissement, be certain to stop in at this spectacular boulangerie. Run by Alexandre (Basile) Kamir, all of these delectable things and more are still made in an old wood-fired oven, one of the last few still in use in Paris . . .
And as if that were not romance enough, Le Moulin de la Vierge comes with a story . . .
As you know, the boulangerie is operated by Basil Kamir, a former music promoter turned boulanger, and this is the story of how he inadvertently became one of the leaders of the renaissance of artisan baking in Paris specifically, and France in general.
At the time, Kamir was using the then-closed boulangerie as his office. The music business was good, but every day someone would walk through the door expecting to find a boulangerie. (Basil had never removed the sign from the door.) The remaining residents in the area told Basil they needed a boulangerie and they thought it sacrilegious to use the building for anything other than bread. He accepted the neighbours’ complaints with grace and admired the stubbornness of those who resisted giving up their homes and buildings for the planned “renewal” project. But what could he do? He was in the music business. However, soon “urban renewal” project in the neighborhood deemed that the building would be destroyed.
Basil loved the building with its marble counter, copper fixtures, and fine details and couldn’t possibly allow the building to be demolished. Through his work in the music business, he knew the Minister of Culture, whom he called, pleading for intervention to save the building. The reply he received from the Minister was, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is the building will be saved. The bad news is that it must be used again as a boulangerie.”
But of course, Kamir did not know how to bake, but to save the building, [and with the help of the nephew of the person who, in 1893 had modernized the 1850 wooden oven in the cellar], that is exactly what he did. And in doing so, became a leader in the rediscovery of artisan baking, away from pain industriel, and also one of the leaders in introducing biologique (organic) flours back into baking.
But it didn’t happen without some delicious drama. As the story goes, a wrecking crew complete with a crane and wrecking ball showed up at the boulangerie — somehow, word had not filtered down through the bureaucracy that the building was not to be destroyed. As a result, Kamir practically came to blows with the crew, finally going back into the boulangerie and coming out with a shotgun. Even still, the crew would not back down, and neither would Kamir. After some time at this impasse, Kamir and his shotgun went to the basement, crawled into the wood-fired oven (at this point still long unused) and told the wrecking crew they would have to physically remove him. Panicked calls were made and finally, the wrecking crew got the Official Bureaucratic Word not to destroy the building. And the rest, as they say, is history . . .
To date, there are four locations in Paris:
105, rue Vercingetorix
Tel. : 01 45 43 09 84 [email protected]
Open every day, except Sunday. From 7:30 to 20h
Rue Saint Dominique
64, rue St Dominique
Tel. : 01 47 05 98 50 [email protected]
Open daily, except Tuesdays. Open on public holidays from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Rue de Lévis
6, rue de Lévis
Tel. : 01 43 87 42 42 [email protected] Open every day except Wednesday. Open on public holidays from 7:30 am to 20h
166, avenue de Suffren
Tel. : 01 47 83 45 55 [email protected] Open every day except Thursday. Open on public holidays from 7:30 am to 20h