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The young Frenchman who ignites the oldest oven in the city

Valentín Papin came from Brittany to work with a century-old oven in Villa Ortúzar, a quiet Buenos Aires neighborhood.

There is a kind of secret in this quiet street of  Villa Ortúzar , a corner of   Buenos Aires  with low-rise houses, cobblestone streets and occasional resabuses of street art. Now called  L'épi , the building in Rosetti 1769 has been a bakery for generations and its secret has been preserved in time: there is a century-old wood stone oven with a diameter of six meters. Built in 1911, when bread was distributed door to door through the neighborhood, the oven continues to operate 24 hours a day under the tutelage of a young French man named  Valentín Papin .

 Valentín  is a native of Nantes, in western  France , and started working in a bakery at the age of 15. As a baker, he always wanted to experience life abroad, so he organized an internship in Buenos Aires while studying at university with French chefs and entrepreneurs  Olivier Hanocq and Bruno Gillot , owners of   l'Épi  .

Now he's 25 years old, he's back and his plan is to stay in  Buenos Aires . “I'm already here,” he says. “I like  Argentine  life and work. I am young and it is a very good opportunity to be in charge of the production and to work in such an artisanal way,” he continues.

The work is, as it explains, certainly artisanal. The oven is turned on twice a day and only with firewood, allowing you to make two baked ones, at 5 in the afternoon and at 4 in the morning. Once the temperature reaches 260°C, the loaves make their ingress; the most delicate items, such as brioche, enter once it has cooled to around 200°C. By the way, the temperature never drops from 180 degrees before the fire comes back on for the next batches.

“The process is continuous. We never left it,” says Valentín. “From 4 in the morning until 12 in the evening there is always someone. People who are at noon turn on the oven for the equipment coming at 17 and they do it at midnight for those who start at 4. Everyone works for the other; it is a family, no one sees the product from start to finish, like an orchestra in which one starts to play and others follow the melody,” he continues.

They work with sourdough naturally, virtue that brings its challenges and makes it even more important to work together. “There are things that can fail,” says Valentín. “The weather has a lot of influence: sometimes it starts well in the morning and then comes a storm with a lot of humidity and heat. We have very long fermentations, so it's hard to handle them. You never know how the mass will react, you have to always be attentive, talking a lot among all.”

As a closing, he concludes: “I love how we work here. In  Europe , we usually have machines to make some parts of the work; but, for me, machines cannot replace hands. They will be able to imitate them, but not replace them.”


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