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Munch goes to Jean-Marc Chatellier's Bakery

Friday, December 22, 2000

By Munch

Ooo, oooo, that smell!

Can't you smell that smell!

The holiday rush (only three shopping days left!) has fried Munch's brain to such an extent that Munch has actually used a Lynyrd Skynyrd song to describe a French bakery.

Oh well, Munch will proceed anyway. And you'll just have to trust that Munch does know what Munch is talking about.


Bells attached to the door of Jean-Marc Chatellier's Bakery in Millvale bounced up and down as Munch passed through the door of the bakery's plain storefront. Munch had come to the small and inauspicious shop in Millvale to seek out what friends have called a truly authentic (as opposed to a falsely authentic) French bakery experience.

The door closed. A second passed. And then, that smell.

Munch's olfactometer (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, page 809) registered a powerful hit. That's because, like Rip van Winkle, Munch's sense of smell had suddenly awoken from a long slumber. In fact, an 8-year-long slumber. For that is how long it's been since Munch broke bread in France.

How to describe the smell of a French bakery? Munch will refrain from dredging up any more Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics and instead say it smells nothing like an American bakery. Nothing like it at all. Zip. Nada. Forget it. If you haven't bought a baguette in a boulangerie in Boulogne -- or Beaune, Brittany, Brest or anywhere else in France -- you don't get it. (There. French people everywhere should be proud of that haughty statement.)

Thankfully, though, French-born folks like Jean-Marc Chatellier bring the delights of the French bakery to America. Jean-Marc is in his 30s, studied with a renowned patisserie chef in France, worked at La Normande in Pittsburgh before it closed and is now in Millvale, rising at a time when most of us are in R.E.M. sleep to make croissants and baguettes that are truly dreamy.

Munch spotted Jean-Marc upon entering the bakery. He was opening mail behind the counter and looked up only to respond to an older, bearded man who called out a jolly "Ca va?" (meaning "how are you?") to the baker. (Was it Santa buying croissants for stockings?)

Munch regained attention and focused on the bakery cases, which were half-empty. See, it was nearly 2 p.m. on a Saturday, so many of the goodies had already been snatched up by people who rise earlier than Munch. So Munch opted for five items that totaled a mere $6 and change.

Back in the car, spurred on by Friend of Munch, who was hungry, Munch dived into the croissant and gave half to FOM. It was perfect -- the real thing, folks: crispy on the outside and so soft and stretchy on the inside. Munch felt all that butter seeping into Munch's tummy and legs. For a split-second, Munch was back on the streets of Paris, eager to fall prostrate before a statue of the God of Food. (Munch could find no such statue.)

The bread was impressive, too. As FOM broke off a piece, it crackled and snapped, like fire enveloping tree branches. Munch had bought the French country bread (no baguettes left), and though the taste wasn't all that memorable, the sound of that crust will live on in Munch's aural memory forever.

Other goodies sampled were a chocolate croissant (square-shaped with a layer of chocolate inside), an eclair and a cup of creme caramel.

"Where's the caramel?!" exclaimed FOM, upon digging into the cup and only finding "creme."

"Dig deeper!" said Munch. "You are on a search for gold!"

And lo, there at the bottom of the cup was the delicious, soupy caramel that made Munch and FOM drunk with happiness. Jean-Marc also makes Yule Logs, layer cakes, nut rolls, poppyseed rolls, wedding cakes and New Year pretzels, some of the above requiring an advance order.

Munch can think of no better Christmas gift for readers than a recommendation to visit this fine little bakery in the heart of Millvale. Oh, and if you see Santa there, tell him Munch's stocking needs to be filled.

Jean-Marc Chatellier's Bakery is located at 213 North Ave. in Millvale. Phone: 412-821-8533. Open Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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