Luxembourgish craft - Remy Peters & Noémie Hengel

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Who said that only France had the secret of good bread and pastry? Noémie Hengel and Remy Peters, who both already won awards during their apprenticeships, have their own, which they keep in the recipe book of their small luxembourgish bakery: love for their craft, respect for traditions and local roots.

The Grand-Rue in Mertert has never smelled so good at night. Since June, the delicious smell of bread and pastry dough baking at around 3 a.m. has been tickling the nostrils of those who sleep with their windows open. You would hope that the alarm clock would ring right away so that you could have breakfast without further delay.

If you follow it, the smell will lead you to a charming little bakery with a red front decorated with a veil showing its name, in green on white: Remy an Noémie. Inside, Noémie Hengel’s infectious smile will greet you, accompanied by homemade breads, pastries and cakes prepared with heart and respect for tradition and with quality products that will make your mouth water. A paradise for gourmets.

In order to get all these goodies on the shelves and to make sure her future consumer’s wake-up call as soft as possible and to put a smile on their face, Noémie’s husband has been working behind the scenes for many hours. Remy Peters, who has been at work since the day before, explains what makes Remy an Noémie’s bakery different from others. It is the fact that he “completely renounces chemical aids”. “My bread is flour, water, salt and yeast. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In the middle of a large, beautiful white-tiled kitchen, Remy, dressed in his work clothes and wearing a chef’s hat, moves from one machine to the next. “This one is older than I am, it comes from West Germany”, he laughs before taking out his croissant dough and showing us the sourdough that he has been maintaining for over a year. “This is my ‘Corona-Sauer’. (laughs) I call it that because I started mixing it the day before the lockdown.”

In the late morning, Remy can finally rest after 12 hours of work. Indeed, he has been up preparing for the next day’s sale since 10pm. “First, I weigh my food. Then I prepare the pasta that I will knead at midnight, after it has rested for an hour. Once this is done, at around 3am, the first loaves go into the oven. The second batch follows and finally it’s the turn of the buns and baguettes. Everything is ready to be sold at 6.30 a.m., but Remy is not finished yet. For a little more than 3 hours, he will be busy preparing for the next day. “The baguettes, for example, spend 24 hours in the fridge. Only then is he finished with everything “purely baking-related”.

“My bread is flour, water, salt and yeast. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

Remy Peters

When Remy is done, Noémie is busy selling. Her day runs from 3am to 6pm. While her husband puts the first loaves in the oven, she gets up to make cakes. “My thing is English cakes”, she says. “I’m not very good at bread. I prefer modelling. Then, at around 6.30am, she helps out in the bakery before going to look after the customers until their saleswoman arrives, but that doesn’t mean that her day is over. “The bakery is open until 6pm, so I am still available. In the meantime, I take and prepare cake orders, make sugar dough, tartlets, etcetera.”

Gifted bakers

Remy and Noémie form a complementary, young, dynamic and passionate duo. After only a few weeks of existence, they are already experiencing “the success we had hoped for”, as Remy humbly points out. This is something to be proud of, even if it is not surprising when you know their colourful backgrounds. Indeed, both of them fell into the ganache when they were ‘little’, without really wanting to.

 

Typical day

Remy Peters about his typical day.

*in Luxemburgish

 

Having both studied at the Lycée Technique de Bonnevoie, they did their internship in a bakery without knowing if they would like it. The internship was a hit for both Remy and Noémie, but she had to go back a second time before she was sure she wanted to make a career out of it. The next logical step was to embark on an apprenticeship, which they both did.

A bakery apprenticeship lasts three years; a full first year at school, then two years where work in the company replaces part of the course and, finally, a Master Craftsman’s certificate to finish it all off. Noémie, who was named best apprentice of all trades during her course, did hers at the Schumacher bakery. “However, I didn’t take my certificate immediately afterwards. I did it later in Heidelberg, Germany. As for Remy, he did his three years at the Beim Bäcker Jos bakery in Beckerich, where he “helped make the famous pistachio éclair”, says his wife, before adding two master craftsman certificates “for which I received the first prizes” to his apprenticeship.

Now a master craftsman, Noémie continued at Schumacher and Remy went to work at Hoffmann. It was these jobs that led to their meeting. Indeed, in 2017, Hoffmann took over the Schumacher brand and this takeover allowed them to work together. From there, things moved very quickly. “We got together and the idea of opening our own bakery came up very early on”, explains Remy, before his wife adds that “a teacher who knew both of us from high school told us that a bakery was for sale in Mertert. At first we didn’t want to go and see it, but we ended up doing it for fun and came away thinking it would be a great place to start.

That first visit to what would become Remy an Noémie’s Bakery took place in June 2018, but the couple didn’t get the keys until two years later. In the meantime, they each had their own experiences to enrich their knowledge and skills. Remy went to Geneva, Switzerland, to do an internship with a baker and to work with a pastry chef in Vienna, Austria, “to gain knowledge of the German-Austrian baking culture”, while Noémie went to Lucerne, also in Switzerland, and to De Schnéckert and Kaempff-Kohler. “Once we got back, the plan to open our own bakery took off and we did everything we could to open our own business”, explains Noémie.

But just because things are moving fast doesn’t mean they are. Although they received the keys to the premises in June 2020, the couple, along with a friend “who does all the croissants” at the bakery, had to wait a year before opening. “Luckily we had our parents to support us, because we didn’t work for a while, constantly thinking that we would open soon”, says Remy. “But all’s well that ends well, because today everything is great.” The Chamber of Trades, for its part, regularly checks on the duo, who is the pride of Luxembourg’s bakery industry.

Two strong but different loves

It took some patience, but Remy an Noémie is a success that its bakers enjoy like a long-simmering sourdough that comes out of the oven in the form of crusty bread. That’s what Remy is passionate about; every step of a long process that he compares to magic. “Just watching my leaven literally come to life is exciting. Start with a base of water and flour and leave at room temperature, refreshing every 24 hours. After 3 days, it starts to bubble; its first sign of life. It's the wild yeast in the air that's having an effect. At the beginning, it overflows every time so you have to clean it up, but then you get better, little by little. Producing bread that is beautiful, good, crisp and lasts a week, that’s what I love about this job.”

“The demands for cakes are getting crazier and crazier so I have to adapt and innovate.”

Noémie Hengel

“And the diversity of the pastry”, adds Noémie. “Bread requires respect for a routine. My job requires more spontaneity. Customers have very specific requests for their birthday or wedding cakes. They are all unique, no two figures are alike. The requests are increasingly crazy too, with trends coming from the USA that cannot be reproduced because of the amount of butter. So I have to adapt and innovate. Every day is a new challenge that I’m looking forward to!”

A baker not only produces his or her own pastries, but also eats them. For Remy, it’s hard to choose a favourite piece. “I like everything we do. (laughs) But maybe I like the raspberry tarts a little more than the other things.” Noémie, for her part, does not hesitate for a second: “the petits fours!

Pastry

Remy Peters on his passion for pastry.

*in Luxemburgish

One of the pleasures of craftsmanship is to create your own idea from scratch. In baking, you can even get a taste of it. Noémie recalls the time she and Remy spent testing their recipes before opening, “it was great to try, taste and correct”. “We have our own recipe book now. It’s all in Luxembourgish, by the way.”

“It’s a real job that deserves to be respected”, says Remy. Indeed, it is important to him that the craft industry as a whole is more valued. “There are more and more support campaigns, but they haven’t really reached people’s ears yet. If a child says today that he or she wants to become a baker, people will ask him or her why he or she doesn’t want to study. We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves; to be the best baker, you have to have brains. Moreover, getting experience abroad is its own form of study. Everyone should love what they do. That’s what makes you happy, not money.

A full-time passion

Remy and Noémie are happy, and they are eager to discover what the future holds for their new bakery without putting too much pressure on themselves. Indeed, their goals can be counted on one hand. “The first goal was to be able to write black numbers. As for the next step, we obviously want to pay off our loan, pay our employees, produce the full range we set out to produce, do the paperwork in a day rather than a week and finally get some free time back.”

Indeed, their current situation takes up all their time. Noémie would like to take up basketball and Remy would also like to play sports again, but “the time is right to bite the bullet for a while”, explains Remy, before insisting that combining free time and baking is possible. “Of course, a baker won’t be the last one left in the disco because at that time of the day he or she turns on the ovens, but it is possible.

Being a baker therefore requires a lot of sacrifice, but it is the bakery that chooses its bakers, not the other way round. As with any type of craft, there is no point in ignoring one’s vocation. As the saying goes, “choose a job you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life”.