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Retired bakers come out to the festival and lend a hand to bake treats and baguettes to raise money for the guild. (Courtesy of William Leaman)

Two years ago, Bakery Nouveau founder William Leaman found himself at Paris’s guild hall for bakers, mingling with 30 of the world’s greatest bakers. Only winners of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (World Cup of Baking) were invited to the night’s festivities; the Seattle baker led the American team to victory in 2005. Back then, Leaman was head pastry chef at Essential Baking Company and only one other team from the U.S. had won before.

As champagne flowed and guests sampled hors d’oeuvres, Leaman struck up a conversation with Dominique Anract, the President of the French Confederation of Bakery and Pastry. Anract took an immediate liking to Leaman that night. It was within these hallowed walls of the guild hall that Anract asked Leaman if he might come back to Paris for La Fête Du Pain (the Festival of Bread) to bake something. 

This coming from a man who judged the worth of baguettes not only by taste, texture, and looks but also exact length and weight; Leaman was curious as to what he could possibly offer the French. The answer surprised him. 

 “He said ‘You know what, William? I love your cheesecake. Your American cheesecake is so good',” Leaman recalls, imitating Anract’s thick French accent.

And that’s how Leaman found himself back in Paris, this time loading up a shopping cart with 500 euros worth of “fromage de Philadelphia” to make Anract’s beloved American cheesecake.  As it turns out, the inventors of some of the finest pastries known to man have a soft spot for American desserts. All one hundred cheesecakes were consumed and Leaman earned an invitation back to the festival. 

After a couple years of organizing and planning (all while opening a new flagship Bakery Nouveau location in Burien), Leaman returns to the Festival of Bread May 5 through 16 with a crew of 24 American bakers. The French have only asked one other country to provide a team to be featured at their festival, the rest were all selected from cities around France.

For 12 days, the best bakers from across the country and thousands of people will converge in front of Notre-Dame. Buses will dispense hundreds of school children to be indoctrinated with their country’s pride of good bread. And bakers will compete for the title of best baguette. 

When some team members suggested serving a classic French pastry at the festival Leaman scoffed. “We’re going to make what we make and do it really well, show respect and make friends—'cause we all need friends in France, I don’t know about you.”

As the featured team, Leaman feels it's their duty to showcase their own American baking, to do otherwise would be arrogant. After all, it was cheesecake that got them this far, they might as well give the crowd what it wants. Leaman will oversee production the first few days of the festival and then his teammates will take over. 

Team America will offer eight different baked goods including brownies, Chicago-style coffee cake, and rye bread with flax seed from Oregon.

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