Behind the curve

I was waiting in the barbers last weekend, reading the paper. I can’t remember which one. Paper, that is – I know which barbers it was.

In it, there was an article about croissants. Seriously, there was. And it was an angry article: a supermarket – Tesco, I think – is planning to impose straight croissants upon the world. Aside from being an oxymoron (can you have a straight crescent?), there was dismay at the death of a time-honoured breakfast treat. It cannot be a croissant if it is straight, they said. Straightening out the pastry is sacrilegious. Sacre bleu! It’s just not French.

Let me be straight (or not – I’m not taking sides); I don’t really have an opinion about the shape of croissants. Would I eat a straight pastry? Yes I would. Do I think a croissant ought to be curved? Traditionally, yes they probably should. What interested me about this article (in the loosest possible sense of the word) was that this was the thing the journalist was upset about. Let me explain…

The article asked whether French people would be happy to sit down and munch a straight croissant. No they wouldn’t, it cried, and this is probably true. What they know a croissant to be, that is not what Tesco will be selling. I fully suspect that they would say non, merci. But without the merci.

Croissant

My challenge is this: when you put the curved controversy to one side, would a French person recognise the supermarket croissant at all? I don’t think they would.

A French croissant, all curvy and tasty, will be made of flour, water, whole milk, sugar, salt, butter and yeast. It will be lovingly made in a little French patisserie by a none-more-French pastry chef, who mutters, cajoles his assistants, and greets his customers with enthusiastic bonjours.

Based on information uncovered for the Swallow This book, a supermarket croissant – whatever the shape – will contain “ingredients you won’t find in any home baker’s larder or, for that matter, in the kitchen of any self-respecting pastry chef.” The book also describes the “baking off” process, where the supermarket in-store bakeries finish off pre-made frozen patries that have been manufactured in factories elsewhere, sometimes many weeks earlier.

Before anyone utters a c’est pas vrai and starts getting upset, don’t forget my many reservations about that book. But needless to say, what is produced today in a supermarket bakery – all curves and crescents – is not at all what a French person would expect a croissant to be. At least, not the type of imaginary French person who shops in the patisserie described above. But because the croissant is a crescent, people don’t seem to worry. It may not be a croissant as a French person would know it, but because it looks like one, then that’s okay. It is only when a visible change is introduced that people say mon dieu, this will not stand.

I worry, however, that it is the hidden changes that we should be concerned about. Or, at least, aware of. How many of us would turn our noses up at a straight croissant, but would happily munch our way through a curved croissant, whatever it contains? And that is the challenge, my friends, for most of the things that we should be thinking about are things that we cannot see. Out of sight is out of mind.

And the conclusion to this all is… who knows? It was my turn in the chair so I didn’t finish the article. But I do have a pretty awesome haircut now, and that’s the main thing. Another £7 well spent. Until next time…

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