‘I’m Very Proud of the Baguette Recipe’
Where Didier Martin comes from, bread is to be taken seriously.
‘In France, if you don’t have your bread for your meals, that’s not good. People go every day to the bakery to buy their bread for lunch and dinner. It’s a necessity to have fresh bread.’
Born in a village outside of Saint-Tropez near the French Riviera, Didier spent his childhood at the local bakery, where it wasn’t uncommon to sell thousands of baguettes in a single day. His parents were good friends with the owner, whose son, Christophe, eventually took over the business.
After college, Didier moved to DC and opened David Rios Salon & Spa on Wisconsin Avenue. The salon did well, but his business partner frequently lamented the lack of nearby bakeries that served lunch.
‘One day I said, ‘I’ll call Christophe and see if he’d be interested to partner with me and open a bakery here.’ That’s how Boulangerie Christophe was born.’
Didier quickly fell in love with the two-story space at 1422 Wisconsin Avenue, including a cozy backyard patio. Christophe and his son, Benjamin, were on board, but had the challenge of recreating French favorites with American ingredients.
‘It took Christophe and Benjamin three weeks to adjust everything to make sure the bread we have now is what they have in the bakery in France. In America you can’t import French flour. We had to test a lot of different flours. And the water is very important, and also the temperature where it has to be for the dough to go in the chamber, where it grows slowly overnight. It’s really a science. I’m very proud of the baguette recipe.’
Beyond the basics, Boulangerie Christophe worked diligently to perfect a signature pastry—the tarte tropézienne. As a young baker, Christophe’s father worked for the Saint-Tropez pâtisserie owner who created the filled brioche pastry, and passed along the original recipe to the Georgetown bakery.
‘When we started, people don’t know what it is and don’t buy it. When they stop to try and love it, they come back and buy more. Now we can see we have to produce more every day.’
Since opening Boulangerie Christophe in February 2017 to unexpected neighborhood fanfare, Didier says they’ve had to adapt to cultural differences. The bakery has never sold close to 1,000 baguettes in a day, for example. Fresh bread simply isn’t a necessity in the U.S., yet sandwiches and salads are in high demand—as is caffeine.
‘The big difference between France and America is the bakery in France has no coffee. You just go to buy your pastries and savory stuff, but then you go to the coffee shop to get your coffee. Here, in every bakery, you need to be able to provide coffee.’
Cappuccinos aside, the first floor is akin to anything you’d find in French boulangerie. Upstairs, a small restaurant space offers traditional, provincial recipes, from quiche Lorraine to salad nicoise. Didier says the salade de chevre chaud, with lavender honey roasted goat cheese, is a warm reminder of childhood.
Didier still visits Saint-Tropez once a year, but says he’s happy to make a life in the U.S., where he’s been given the opportunity to chase his dreams.
‘Here it’s very business-oriented. The U.S. system is done to make the business successful. In France you pay a lot of taxes, and high taxes on wages. It’s very hard; you can see a lot of companies struggling. Here, if you’re good in what you do, you can make it.’
Didier has, in fact, made it. He’s considering opening additional Boulangerie Christophe locations, and a production facility where the bakery can accommodate hotel and restaurant catering requests. But he’s resisting the temptation to try too many things—rather, to stick with what he knows.
Bread, at its very best.