When I arrived in Kochi, out of curiosity I searched on Google if there were any French bakeries in town. I found a couple of names but only one that looked owned and operated by French people.
The bakery was located in a touristy part of town, Fort Kochi, very close to the homestay where I was staying so I decided to stop there for a croissant and a drink one day. Alice, one of the owners was there, and I asked her if she would answer a few questions about what it’s like to own a French café in India.
Her story was very interesting and I’m happy to share it with you.
From the west coast of France to the west coast of India
Alice Délices is not just the story of Alice… She runs the place with her husband and with James, the Manager, who was born and raised in Kochi and has been with them since the beginnings of Alice Délices. Through the years they trained him on French baking techniques.
It had always been Alice’s dream to travel to India. They did so one year and little did they know that their life was about to change! Alice and Julien fell in love with Kerala, and Fort Kochi in particular. They could imagine themselves living there for an extended period of time, but they already had a life and a family in France so they had to come up with a plan…
Alice and Julien are bakers from Brittany. They have a small bakery there that they opened 15 years ago in the small town of Pont l’Abbé in Finistère, the westernmost region of France.
After deciding to open another bakery in the south of India, they spent the next few years trying to make this dream a reality and came back to Fort Kochi to open the business in 2016 with 2 of their 4 four kids, the older ones (already teenagers) staying in France and visiting sometimes.
Paroles de Pain, the bakery in France
Julien is a baker by trade and spent 3 years touring Brittany to work specifically with bakers using traditional all-natural methods. He wanted to bake bread like in the olden days and to master the art of baking long-fermented sourdough. Traditional sourdough is made with 3 ingredients only: flour, water and salt – which when left to ferment naturally produce cultures that make bread rise. Sourdough is tasty and is also the best bread for your health.
After his apprenticeship and a few years perfecting his craft, Julien and Alice opened “Paroles de Pain”, their own organic bakery.
They equipped the kitchen with a wood-fired oven and use exclusively organic stone-milled flour.
Be respectful of men and the environment
They spent as much energy training their staff as they did working on their products. They wanted every aspect of the business to reflect their values and made sure their employees were treated like family.
Everyone was invested in the success of the small business. Happy workers make great products and happy customers. Many employees have worked at the bakery for years.
When the couple decided to open the bakery in India, it didn’t mean they were ready to let go of their “baby” in Brittany so they came up with a creative solution in sync with their values. The business was already running smoothly and they had a great team in place so they decided to take it one step further and started a process to transform the business model into a worker coop. The transition was completed over the course of 2 to 3 years and now they’re proud to share their success story.
If you can read French, here’s the bakery’s website: http://www.parolesdepain.com
A French bakery in Fort Kochi
They converted a beautiful space on the touristy Rose street into a cozy coffee shop with a small but well-equipped kitchen and a backyard where you can relax while you enjoy tasty pastries, lunch and coffee.
Of course, setting up a French bakery in India came with a few challenges and they had to adjust to the way things are done there and to a much slower pace than in France.
After finally completing the renovations and jumping through administrative hoops, they were eventually able to open the bakery in the first weeks of 2017.
I was curious to know what kind of ingredients they use and how they manage to make French baked goods in a hot and humid climate.
They did have to make major adjustments to all their bread recipes and croissants are not as fluffy and layered as back home but they taste very good and the breads are excellent as well.
Although they’re bread bakers, they’re also offering a few cakes like lemon tart, carrot cake, cheesecake, brownie… The last ones are not typically French but they are much less challenging to make in this environment and people love them!
In India, most people cook with ghee (clarified butter) but they managed to find a farmer in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu who could make some butter with the proper fat content for them.
The flour is also local which is another reason why they had to adjust all their recipes.
They couldn’t get a wood-fired oven like in their Brittany bakery but they were able to find a bread oven they liked in Bengalore, the largest city in south India, and to get it shipped to Fort Kochi. With that, they were ready to open and confident they could bake some pretty good French-style breads!
They also serve hot and cold beverages like masala chai, lemonade and good coffee (espresso and French press). Good coffee is hard to come by in India so you don’t want to pass on an occasion to enjoy some when you find one!*
A success story
Now in their third year, they’re still as happy as on the first day and even the kids don’t want to go back to live permanently in France!
Last year, James, the Indian Manager, was able to visit the bakery in Brittany for a few weeks and to be trained as a baker with the team at “Paroles de Pain”. Now, when they take a trip to France to visit the family, they leave him in charge of everything!
I really enjoyed the relaxed homely atmosphere at Alice Délices and the food was excellent, it truly felt like stepping into a little café in Brittany. I wish them many more happy years in Fort Kochi!
*Unless you go to Western-style coffee shops (located mainly in larger cities, some touristic areas and the more recent neighbourhoods), most of the time you’re served a very light and sweet instant coffee that barely tastes like coffee! This is a good example of the definition of small business. Small businesses serving the local community with high quality products.