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Now, you can taste a bit of world heritage with a walk to your local bakery

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Half a century ago, the United Nations cultural and educational arm, UNESCO, decided to start listing places and cultural practices around the world that it says are of outstanding universal value to humanity in hopes that member countries will make sure they are preserved for future generations. If you wanted to visit all of the sites - and by now there are thousands - you will have to rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles. But now you can taste a bit of world heritage with a trip to your local bakery. That's because this week the baguette, that quintessential bit of French gastronomy, was added to UNESCO's list of, quote, "intangible cultural heritage." We wanted to know more about what makes the baguette so critical to French culture and identity, as well as - who are we kidding? - delicious. So we took a trip to a local French bakery, or boulangerie, to see for ourselves what magic lies in these crunchy, crusty loaves.

Bonjour.

STEPHANE GRATTIER: Bonjour.

MARTIN: That's the extent of my French. Thank you for having us.

GRATTIER: My English is not very good, so...

MARTIN: My French is worse.

That's Stephane Grattier. He is the head baker at Boulangerie Christophe, a French bakery here in Washington, D.C.

GRATTIER: We make every from scratch, and they're good products, so...

MARTIN: People complain that there is no good French bread in Washington. Why do they say that?

GRATTIER: I think it's the process to fabric (ph) the bread, you know. So the bread is a very simple process, but it's very difficult to make a good bread.

MARTIN: Why is it so difficult?

GRATTIER: It's difficult to buy very good ingredients and to make bread with very slowly. For me, it's a very important things, and all the people make the bread but very quickly and with not good ingredients.

MARTIN: So baguette is flour.

GRATTIER: Yes.

MARTIN: Salt.

GRATTIER: Salt.

MARTIN: Yeast.

GRATTIER: A little bit of yeast and...

MARTIN: Water.

GRATTIER: Water. Yes. And I work with levain. Levain, it's like sourdough, but it's a mix of flour and water only.

MARTIN: Oh, it's a - that's the starter?

GRATTIER: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: Oh. And you make it.

GRATTIER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's...

MARTIN: Oh. OK. How long did it take you to perfect?

GRATTIER: A lot of years. Yeah.

MARTIN: Years?

GRATTIER: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Years.

GRATTIER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow. OK.

GRATTIER: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. Well, why is baguette so special? Why are baguettes so special?

GRATTIER: For the French people, it's a symbol, you know. It's very special for, first, the symbol, and the baguette is all the people in France all the day eats baguettes. It's - you go to the bakery, to the boulangerie for the morning, and you buy one baguette every day. It's a - it's a very, very important thing in France.

MARTIN: The UNESCO heritage designation...

GRATTIER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is that - does that mean something?

GRATTIER: It's very important to recognize the work of the baker. The bakery, it's all the work in the world. So it's very important to recognize the French work for the baguette and for the bread. It's - yeah.

MARTIN: We are told - Eleanor, our correspondent in France, tells us that many of the bakeries are closing, the small bakeries. Why is that? Is this - this is true? And why is that?

GRATTIER: The cost of the taxes first, OK? So a lot of people don't work to make this work. Especially the baker work is very hard. You came to do - to work very early for the morning, and it's very special work. To make this - this job, you need to be very passionate, you know? It's not very easy job. It is very hard to do.

MARTIN: You have to have a passion for it.

GRATTIER: Yes. Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: That was Stephane Grattier. He is the head baker at Boulangerie Christophe in Washington, D.C. - baguette at home.

GRATTIER: The most important ingredient in the bread is the love.

MARTIN: Aw.

GRATTIER: When you make the bread, if you don't love the - what you're doing, yeah, it's not possible to make a good bread. It's very important.

MARTIN: Well, that's true of everything, isn't it? Yeah. Well, thank you so much.

GRATTIER: Thank you.

MARTIN: It's such a delight to speak with you. Thank you so much. That was Stephane Grattier. He is the head baker at Boulangerie Christophe in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIDNEY BECHET'S "SI TU VOIS MA MERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.