P. Gosselin at work by Thomas DéronSociété nationale des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France
In the past, there were two reasons why you'd choose to become a baker: you were the son of a baker, or you didn't do well at school. But today, the image of the art of baking has changed, and more and more young men and women are making this choice out of passion for the craft.
Since 1973, training has been offered at France's apprenticeship centers (Centres de Formation d'Apprentis; CFA), which now counts around 450 instructors across the country. The instructors usually have a Brevet de Maîtrise-niveau 3 (see below).
Vocational schools and apprenticeship centers
The vocational pathway in the French education system.
This pathway is offered by just under 500 instructors in traditional French baking spread out across vocational schools (lycées professionnels) and apprenticeship centers (CFAs) across France. The final part of the study program is a work placement, often undertaken part-time while studying.
Apprenticeship or vocational school
When the student embarks upon this study program aged 13–14, they must choose between an apprenticeship or vocational school. The choice is often made by the student's family, depending on geographic, cultural, or economic criteria (a baker's student apprentice earns a small amount of money). This helps out parents on low incomes as they get a free education.
The CAP—professional baker's qualification
This two-year qualification is usually achieved at around 14 to 16 years of age. Getting this diploma is the first step to becoming a baker or working under one. The CAP (Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle) is also considered a means of social integration for students who dropped out of school and who often become valued professionals.
Bakery Mention complémentaire
The Mention complémentaire adds a specialization and comes at the end of a program at a specialist hospitality or catering school, or similar institution. It is usually undertaken at around 16 or 17 years old. As a complementary course, it is used to round off a program with a fast-track course in the basics of baking (bread/specialty loaves/pastry).
Brevet Professionnel (the equivalent of a vocational school certificate)
This diploma, generally achieved at around 18 years of age, allows the holder to become a qualified baker. Everyone with this diploma finds a job once they leave school. This highly sought-after qualification also covers team management in a business context on top of bread-making techniques.
Brevet de Maîtrise
This is an additional step that practicing bakers can take to further hone their craft (while working, often as an evening class). This diploma, which is now run by the Chambre de métiers et de l'artisanat (Chamber of Trades and Crafts) and not as part of the French national education system, is a technician certificate (Brevet de Technicien Supérieur). This diploma is seen as one of the final prerequisites to becoming recognized as one of the Meilleurs ouvriers de France (MOF), a prestigious title awarded to France's most celebrated craftsmen.
MOF (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France) Boulanger
You don't need to be one of the Meilleurs ouvriers de France (MOF) to be a great baker, but it is a status symbol awarded to a small number of experts in the craft that brings national and international recognition. This competition is unique to France and is organized every four years by an organizational committee known as the COET-MOF. But you don't have to be a French national to take part—provided you are at least 23 years old and fluent in spoken and written French.