Baker who created the £10 loaf of bread dies in air crash

France's most celebrated and successful baker, Lionel Poilâne, and his wife, Irena, have died in a helicopter crash close to their privately owned island off the Breton coast.

M. Poilâne, 57, had developed a family bakery on the Left Bank in Paris into an internationally renowned business over the past 30 years. He insisted on using traditional, hand-made methods of baking bread in oak-fired ovens.

He shipped his outsize loaves of sourdough bread to a dozen countries each day. In British supermarkets, or in the Poilâne branch in Belgravia, west London, the loaves sell by the thousand, despite the price of almost £10 each.

M. Poilâne, a keen amateur pilot and president of the French helicopter federation, was at the controls of his Augusta 109 eight-seater machine when it crashed into the sea in thick fog, close to his converted fortress on the tiny island of Rimains, near Saint Malo, on Thursday night. His wife and a pet dog were the only other passengers.

Poilâne bread is prized by gourmet restaurants, and ordinary shoppers, all over Paris. Long queues gather each day outside the red-brick bakery on the Rue du Cherche-Midi in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the French capital.

M. Poilâne, who had two children, once attributed his success to the fact that his bread was made by "the most sophisticated equipment, the most extraordinarily complex machines in the world – people." He also boasted that the Poilâne logo, a windmill and a donkey, had become "as famous as a Toulouse-Lautrec painting".

He started in the bakery at the age of 14, eventually succeeding his father, Pierre, who had first prepared the 13in- wide (32cm), 4lb (2kg) loaves of crusty, sourdough bread in the 1930s.

It was the younger Poilâne who developed the business, opening other branches and exporting his loaves in the form of frozen, oven-ready dough to other European countries, Japan and the United States.

He insisted, though, that "intention" was more important than "extension". No matter how many "Poilâne" loaves were ordered, they had to be baked in the same way, using flour, sea salt, water and a piece of the previous batch of dough, called "the starter".

All the Poilâne loaves ever baked could, therefore, trace their genealogy through an unbroken chain of starter doughs to the first batch made in the 1930s. M. Poilâne wrote several books on bread-making and frequently travelled as an ambassador for French cuisine and the French way of life. His favourite phrase was: "Bread is the soul of civilisation." He once baked an entire bedroom suite out of bread for the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. A replica of Dali's bread chandelier hangs in the Poilâne bakery in Belgravia.

The Poilâne business employs 130 people worldwide and produces 15,000 loaves a days.

Its annual turnover is €10.7m (£6.8m). With the success of the business, M. Poilâne was able to buy the Ile de Rimains 15 years ago.

Customers at the original Poilâne bakery were stunned by the news of the baker's death. "I have lived in this area for 20 years," said one middle-aged customer, Anne Valentin, yesterday.

"Nowadays, in other bakeries, there are all kinds of fantasy breads. You don't know what's in them. A Poilâne is always the same. It's something you can rely on."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power