“Pioneering the ‘Spread on Toast’ Concept:
A Conversation with Louis-Émile Tartine”
Good afternoon, Monsieur Tartine.
Good afternoon. Is that chair comfortable enough?
It’s perfect, thank you.
May I offer you a drink?
I wouldn’t turn it down!
I’m in the mood for a Campari-soda myself. How does that sound?
Make it two.
Here. I hope that’s strong enough.
I’m sure it’s just right. Say, how about a “toast”?
I beg your pardon? Oh, yes, “toast,” I see. Haha, very droll. You Americans! Cheers, then.
Cheers! Well, should we start?
Whenever you’re ready.
All right. Unesco has declared 2008 “The International Year of Toast.” But frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I mean, it’s only toast.
Get out of my house!
[Unfortunately, M. Tartine abruptly terminated our interview at this point, and within a month he was dead. The following is the conversation as I imagine it, had things worked out as planned. It combines questions I intended to ask with answers that, based on my reading of various other interviews, I feel confident M. Tartine may well have provided.]
Oh, it’s you.
What a handsome ascot! Where did you get it?
I don’t know. Something my wife picked out. She chooses all my clothes.
I see. Well, where should we start? Maybe you could begin by describing the toast of your childhood.
Certainly; I remember it as if it were yesterday. In those days, bear in mind, the word “toast” referred merely to plain, roasted bread.
Any particular type of bread?
It varied. Given a choice, obviously, everyone would have eaten fine white loaves, but in reality only the upper classes could afford them. Working families such as mine ate darker, heavier breads made of rye and other coarse flours.
Was it always eaten toasted?
Oh, my, no! Who would have had time for that?
I don’t follow you.
Don’t forget that this was long before the home kitchen was a showroom for all manner of gadget and appliance, as it is now. When I was young, only the rich had a ready means of toasting bread at home.
So how did you do it?
We didn’t. That was the baker’s job. His oven was the only reliable source of heat in town.
You mean you bought the bread already toasted?
No. It worked like this: You’d buy a loaf from the baker and take it home. Then, when you wanted toast, you’d cut off the desired number of pieces and take them back to him to be toasted. Being the youngest child, I was usually assigned this errand. As the bread toasted, I and dozens of other children waited in a cluster outside the bakery door.
So then you’d take the toast home?
Yes. But one had to run as fast as possible, before it could cool. Unluckily for me, I wasn’t a particularly fast runner, and I received many brutal beatings from my father for bringing him lukewarm toast. My father was a remarkable man.
Tell me more about your father.
Get out of my house!
[TWO DAYS LATER]
I’m sorry—have we met?
Yes, I was here two days ago. You were telling me about bringing toast from the bakery as a child.
I’ll take your word for it.
I’m curious as to why people wanted their bread toasted in the first place.
Why? Goodness knows. I’ve never given it any thought.
Were the breads of that era more flavorful toasted, maybe?
Not really. In fact, they were far tastier fresh. Come to think of it, I suppose it was a matter of texture.
Good toast has a very pleasing crunchiness about it, wouldn’t you agree?
I guess so, but...
People today have no idea how rare crunchiness used to be! It seems as if everything’s crunchy now: potato chips, cookies, candy bars. There’s crunch everywhere you look. But in those days, yes, we had crispness, plenty of crispness—celery, apples, that sort of thing—but real crunch was a scarce commodity, and toast was about the only affordable source of it for the common man. It was one of our few real pleasures in life. That and worshiping Satan.
Haha, my little joke!
I had you there, didn’t I?
For a moment, I guess...
Hahaha. You Americans!
May we continue?
Be my guest.
So, with your discerning palate, I gather the toast struck you as quite bland.
I picture you thinking, “Something’s missing here. Surely there’s a way to make this more flavorful.”
I can’t say that occurred to me, no.
But such drab food...
Good Lord, man, it was only roasted bread! How delicious was it supposed to be? Let’s not get carried away.
Yes? Spit it out!
What about the innovation you’re internationally famous for?
You know, spreading stuff on toast.
What about it?
It wasn’t for the sake of flavor?
It had nothing to do with flavor—it happened by accident!
With all due respect, Monsieur, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop insulting my nationality.
What?! Get out of my house!
To read the rest, well, you’ll just have to buy the book!