Interview with Apollonia Poilâne, the Bread Empress

Loaves are rarely described as “chic”- except in the case of “Pain Poilâne” that is, the delicious bread beloved by generations of distinguished Parisians and international fans past and present; including Salvador Dali, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Man Ray, Steven Spielberg and Robert de Niro. The renowned bakery, opened in Paris in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne, was transformed into an international bread empire under his son Lionel, exporting loaves all over the world and opening a bakery in London in 2000. After his tragic death in a helicopter’s accident in 2002, the business was taken over by his elder daughter, Harvard graduate Apollonia, now 27. Chic-Londres caught up with the young bread tycoon at the recent opening of Cuisine de Bar, an informal, affordable and very yummy all-day dining concept in the heart of Chelsea.

What is the concept behind Cuisine de Bar? It is about creating a simple meal which doesn’t necessitate specific preparations or the presence of a chef. We serve garnished toasted bread, known in France as “tartines”, with a seasonal salad.

How did you get the idea to open a café? I first wanted to open a second bakery shop in London and this is how I discovered this address at 39 Cadogan Gardens. The place couldn’t have a bread oven but when I saw it, I immediately thought about opening Cuisine de Bar. The concept was formed in 1995 by my father, when he opened one next door to our Parisian bakery in 8, rue du Cherche-Midi.

Why London, where you have also opened in 2000 the only Poilâne bakery outside of Paris? My father loved to travel and he wanted to expand outside France. He chose to open a shop in London because he loved the fact that this city was so multicultural.

You inherited this business when you were only 18: what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs? I am too young to give advice- that would be quite pedantic. But I have a lot of passion about what I do, which I believe is a very good thing.

What are your favourite restaurants in London? I have recently discovered The Ten Cases, which I really enjoy. I also really like Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and the Tangerine Dream Café at the Chelsea Physic Garden.

What makes a good bread? I can’t reveal every secret, but its quality comes from good ingredients as well as from the baker’s experience.

What are your future projects? We have recently opened a new shop and a new Cuisine de Bar in the Marais in Paris, followed by the one in London. I have also just published a new anthology of texts about bread called Du Pain et des Mots… So at this point, I am just going to start processing it all!

Cuisine de Bar: 39 Cadogan Gardens SW1 (Sloane Square) and Poilâne Bread Shop : 46 Elizabeth Street SW1 (Knightsbridge)

Apollonia Poilâne (Photo: Baudoin) and Bar de Cuisine

Apollonia Poilâne (Photo: Baudoin) and Bar de Cuisine