Nevertheless, there is plenty to remind Poilane of her homeland here at school. She has continued to pursue her love of riding as a member of Harvard’s equestrian team. And then there’s always the weekly call home—more specifically, the conference call she makes to the management team of the company she owns.
Poilane became the CEO of her father’s bread company on Nov. 2 of last year. The date is specific—her parents died in a helicopter accident on October 31, 2002. That same day, Poilane, who discusses the accident with practiced detachment, also acquired her mother’s functional sculpture business. Founded in 1932 by her paternal grandfather, Poilane is a privately held bread company with two stores in Paris and one in London. From her office, which doubles as her dorm room, Poilane presides over the stores, as well as the factory in Paris. She also manages the 23 trucks that distribute the newly baked bread to destinations within a 24-hour driving radius (to ensure freshness). Fortunately, since she was a toddler—“a little shit” as she described herself—Poilane has wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps. While other kids ate her family’s bread, this enfant terrible spent time playing with dough, studying its texture and watching it rise in the oven.
After numerous summers of merely observing, Poilane eventually learned to make bread. Although she began devoting her free time to the trade when she was 14 years old, Poilane’s real apprenticeship officially began last year, when she deferred a year from Harvard.
“It’s a nine-month-long process,” she explains. “You learn how to bake bread from A to Z—You learn about the ingredients in the bread, in what proportion they are used, how to shape the loaf, the rising times and the stages of the bread preparation.” In addition, she says, “You also learn about the different parts of the oven. It’s like you learn about the different parts of your computer, you know, like where the on button is, except with a brick wood-heated oven it’s a little more complicated than just pushing the power button.”
Poilane has her daily bread Fed-Exed to her here so she doesn’t have to tolerate what she regards as poor American substitutes. Apart from the paper shredder on the floor of her Matthews double, Poilane is not letting business intrude on her freshman year. “The one or two hours you spend procrastinating I spend working,” she says. “It’s nothing demanding at all. It was always my dream to run the company.”